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The 'future face' of Kansas baseball

Rookie hurler Dominic Voegele is already one of the top arms in the Big 12 & there's more where that came from

9 min read
Kansas pitcher Dominic Voegele smiles on his way to the mound during a KU home game this season. The freshman starter has been among the best pitchers in the Big 12 this season. [Kansas Athletics photos]

One of the best stories for the Kansas baseball team this season — the success of freshman starting pitcher Dominic Voegele — originated when KU assistant Brandon Scott trusted the word of an old friend just a few weeks after joining the Jayhawks.

Turned out to be a good move.

Voegele, a 6-foot-2, 190-pound freshman from Columbia, Illinois just outside of St. Louis, has lived up to the first three letters of his first name, often being dominant on the mound as the Jayhawks’ No. 2 starter who is tied for the Big 12 lead with seven victories so far, the most by a KU freshman since 1993.

Voegele’s numbers put him among the best pitchers, regardless of age, in the entire Big 12 Conference.

Entering this weekend, his 2.65 earned-run average ranks second among Big 12 pitchers. He ranks fourth with 68 innings pitched and 23 runs allowed – 20 of those were earned. And he’s in the top 10 in the conference in opponent batting average (.218) and strikeouts (66).

The best part about the whole thing is that his immense success as a rookie has neither impressed him nor surprised those who brought him to town.

“His trajectory here is exactly what we thought it would be,” Scott, KU’s pitching coach, told R1S1 Sports this week. “I think the only surprising part of it is how he’s handling it all. To him, pitching against K-State was no different than pitching against Edwardsville High School. He’s special.”

And until KU called, he was largely unknown.

Voegele had offers from other schools, but noted that there were, “none that I would’ve been this happy to take.”

That’s not because he didn’t have talent. He topped 90 miles per hour with his fastball by his junior season of high school and was known throughout the area he grew up in as one of the more dominant pitchers on the prep baseball scene.

These days, however, most players get noticed by scouts and college coaches in the summer, and while Voegele — pronounced Vague-lee — played plenty of baseball during the summer months, it was always with his hometown friends for his father Matthew’s summer program. And the group did not attend the most high-profile tournaments and showcases in the country.

“We had a bunch of talented kids in the area,” Voegele told R1S1 Sports. “So, we didn’t really need to go out and recruit for summer ball.”

That limited his exposure, but, as the old saying goes, it just takes one coach to like ya. And that one, in Voegele’s case, was Southern Illinois-Edwardsville head coach Sean Lyons.

Of course Lyons would’ve loved to have Voegele pitching for his Cougars one day. But he’s been around baseball long enough to know when something like that is unlikely. This was one of those cases, so he called Scott, who he had worked with for the previous seven seasons, and told him about Voegele.

“I’ll never forget when he called, he told me, ‘Brandon, I saw a kid pitch tonight that if I can’t get him, I want you guys to get him. And it was Dom,” Scott recalled. “So, I reached out to Dom and just took the word of a guy that I trust.”

That was on a Monday. And it came with a huge disclaimer. Lyons told his friend, “I don’t coach in the Big 12, but I think this guy is one of the best arms I’ve seen in 20 years of coaching.”

By that Saturday, Scott and the Jayhawks had Voegele and his family on campus for a visit. One day later, after returning home to Columbia, Voegele called to commit to Kansas.

This was in August of 2022, before the start of his senior year of high school. Voegele immediately fell in love with KU — the school, the facilities, the city and more — but it was a few words from KU head coach Dan Fitzgerald that further convinced Voegele that Kansas was the right place for him.

Those words came roughly a year later, after Voegele was drafted in the 20th round by the Arizona Diamondbacks in the Major League Baseball draft. He said he didn’t know for sure whether he was going to be drafted and enjoyed the fun of watching his name get called with friends and family at a two-day draft party. But he also knew, before he was even selected, that he probably wasn’t going to sign and instead would attend Kansas.

“The reason he didn’t sign as a pro was, and he literally said this, he goes, ‘I want to make a million dollars and be a first-rounder,’” Scott recalled. “And Dan said, ‘Come here and pitch on Friday night in the Big 12 and you can do that. If you pitch well. And he’s doing that.”

All of it — his path, his early success, the outlook for his future — sits just fine with Voegele, who, by his own admission, is pretty low-key and prefers to just do the work required for him to be great.

During an early-season stretch of freezing cold weather, he thought about how much nicer Florida or Arizona would’ve been at the time. But even with that being true, he would not have traded the chance to come to Kansas for anything.

The fact that he’s the No. 2 starter on a team contending for a trip to the postseason is merely gravy. The hope he and his family had when they picked KU was that it would offer him the opportunity to play early. It did, and Voegele grabbed it by the throat.

“Obviously everybody wants to be the Big 12 pitcher of the year or freshman of the year, blah, blah, blah,” Voegele said. “But when I got here, I was mostly focused on getting as much playing time as I could, whether it was starting, relieving. Just get on the field.”

“The pitching staff here is awesome,” he added. “So, I always knew if I had a couple bad games there at the beginning there was another guy waiting to come in and take your spot. So, I just tried to keep applying pressure, lay low and do my thing.”

Voegele’s path to becoming a regular starter right away was mentioned during his brief recruitment. And even though he thought the talk from KU’s coaching staff about him being a No. 1 or No. 2 guy as a freshman was “kind of a reach,” he likes to laugh about it now.

“Maybe they were right,” he conceded.

Although his velocity pops and he touched 95 miles per hour last weekend, Voegele is not known as a guy who goes out there to overpower hitters. He pitches. And he uses everything in his repertoire to set up hitters, locate his pitches and maximize the effectiveness of one pitch he throws.

He considers his slider his favorite pitch, and he picked it up later in his high school career while watching Tik Tok videos with his father.

“It’s mostly just grips on there,” he said. “But me and my dad would go on there and look at MLB guys and see what they’re throwing and then I just tried it with a bunch of different grips and found one I liked and just took off with it.”

He hasn’t messed with the slider too much since coming to Kansas. For one, it’s already working. For two, his focus has been on his secondary stuff and using that to help him thrive and survive against Big 12 hitting.

He remembers vividly his first start as a Jayhawk — a 3-inning outing against Illinois-Chicago on Feb. 17 in Corpus Christi, Texas — and, despite needing a little extra time that day to calm the nerves before taking the mound, really has operated like every game is “just another game” from that point on.

The 19-year-old Voegele cites his win against then-4th-ranked TCU in mid-March as his best moment/memory to date. He went five innings, gave up two runs, struck out five and allowed just three hits. That, he said, was the first and maybe only time this season that he thought to himself, “this is way bigger than I thought it would be.”

Last weekend, in an intense three-game series at Kansas State, Voegele was on the mound for the Jayhawks’ lone win against their in-state rivals.

He pitched six innings of four-hit ball in that game — a 4-0 KU victory — and actually told Scott in the dugout after the bottom of the sixth that he could go out there for another inning.

Scott had already made up his mind to go to the bullpen, but he said he loved seeing Voegele ask for more.

“That was a clear sign that he’s starting to be more confident,” Scott said.
The adrenaline that came from a clutch strikeout of K-State standout Kaelen Culpepper might’ve had a little something to do with it.

Never far from his side is Voegele’s father, who has enjoyed watching his son’s development so much that he tries to help out however he can.

That often includes giving his son and KU ace Reese Dutton — who room together on the road — an advanced look at KU’s upcoming opponents.

“He thinks he’s like a pro scout,” Voegele joked. “He’s always sending me a bunch of information about who we’re playing. And I was talking to Reese about some of it recently and he was like, ‘Damn, your dad’s pretty on point on that stuff.’ So, he’s probably got a huge balloon head about it back home right now.”

Be that as it may, the younger Voegele does not. Never has, really.

He said he’s still far too worried about giving up a three- or four-run inning that would make him look bad if he celebrated too much the inning before, so he keeps it all to himself and just goes about his business, pitch by pitch, game by game, start by start.

He’s aware of how high his ceiling projects, and he believes that, as long as he keeps working and improving, he can reach even his biggest goals.

To get there, he plans to keep grinding, add weight and muscle, improve his flexibility, arm strength and velocity and emphasize using every part of his body to pitch and not just his arm.

“Right now, I’m just focused on the moment and what we’re doing today,” he said. “But if I continue to get bigger and throw harder and keep developing my pitches, I don’t know. Sky’s the limit.”

Scott will be the first to tell you that that’s a deadly accurate analysis of Voegele’s potential career trajectory. And that the young KU pitcher’s sky-high ceiling applies to both his time with the Jayhawks and his baseball life beyond college.

“I think he’s getting better every start,” Scott said. “The fastball’s ticking up, he’s gained 15-16 pounds since he got here. He needs to gain probably 10 more. Next year he needs to be 95-96 (miles per hour) instead of 92-94, but that is the natural progression. His spin is great. His command is really good. He possesses everything you need out of a first-rounder his junior year.”

“Dom’s gonna be the face of the program for the next two years.”

Voegele and the Jayhawks, who have won 12 of their last 15 games to play their way into postseason contention, will host Houston this weekend in their final home series of the season.

As usual, Voegele will be the starter in Saturday's game, which is slated for 2 p.m. at Hoglund Ballpark. Friday's game starts at 6 p.m. and the finale, on Sunday, is slated for a noon first pitch.

After that, the Jayhawks will close the regular season next weekend with a three-game series at Texas in Austin, before heading over to Arlington for the Big 12 tournament, May 21-25.

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