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ROCKY MOUNTAIN HIGH: Northville grad paving inspiring path to MLB

 ROCKY MOUNTAIN HIGH: Northville grad paving inspiring path to MLB

Northville High School graduate Dugan Darnell delivers a pitch for the Hartford Yard Goats.

Armed with a level of perseverance that matches his fastball, Northville High School graduate (2015) Dugan Darnell is in the midst of an incredible journey toward Major League Baseball.

A lifelong infielder who earned an opportunity to play at Adrian College with his bat and glove, Darnell was promoted to the Colorado Rockies’ AAA minor league affiliate in Albuquerque on July 3 — as a hard-throwing pitcher.

The one-step-from-the-majors promotion was well-deserved after Darnell compiled a 6-1 record with seven saves and a 1.55 earned-run average over the first three months of the season while pitching for the AA Hartford Yard Goats.

“He’s got wipeout stuff,” Rockies Pitching Coordinator Doug Linton said of Darnell on rockies.mlblogs.com. “He’s got a splitter that can get a punchout anytime he wants to. It’s a plus pitch. It’s filthy.”

Flame-thrower

Darnell has lit up the radar gun this summer with a fastball that reaches 97 miles per hour.

“He’s got two plus pitches,” Linton said. ‘That alone gives you a chance to make the big leagues. He’s got the two pitches to be able to pitch in the big leagues. Now can he control the strike zone enough? That’s the big piece of it.”

Another big piece of Darnell’s life story is his resilience.

Dugan Darnell
Dugan Darnell

After being switched from his longtime position of shortstop to third base at Adrian, the Bulldogs coaching staff became enamored with the 6-foot-2, 200-pound infielder’s arm strength.

“Once they saw Dugan making the long throws from third to first, they told him, ‘You have an absolute laser’,” recounted Dan Darnell, Dugan’s dad. “When they put the radar gun on him he topped out at 98.”

Darnell was named Adrian’s closer and he responded with flying colors, earning a program-record eight saves and a sub-1.00 ERA. Darnell struck out 14.48 batters per nine innings — a reflection of his impressive arsenal.

Never give up

After going undrafted in the 2019 MLB draft, Darnell wasn’t ready to give up on baseball.

He signed with the United Shore Professional Baseball League’s Eastside Diamond Hoppers in 2020 and was named an All-Star after striking out 37 batters in 21 innings.

Following the 2020 USPBL season, Darnell distributed a video of himself pitching to several MLB teams. Jon Weil, who at the time was the Rockies assistant general manager of player personnel, made the unconventional decision to sign Darnell to a minor league contract based on the video.

During the 2021 season, Darnell pitched well enough for two Colorado single-A minor league teams to earned a 2022 promotion to the AA Hartford Yard Goats.

After going 4-1 with a 5.29 ERA in 2022, Darnell was spectacular prior to his AAA promotion.

Tough place to pitch

His dad noted that Albuquerque’s elevation (roughly 1,600 feet above sea level) is similar to Denver’s. Other than a hanging curveball, light air in high elevations can be a pitcher’s worst nightmare. Although Darnell has a 2-0 record at the AAA level, his ERA was an uncharacteristic 8.27, due partly it would seem to the way baseballs cut through thin air.

“Obviously, we’re incredibly proud of Dugan,” Dan Darnell said. “He’s worked very, very hard to get to where he’s at now. Plus, every level you reach in baseball, the hitters get exponentially better, but he’s making progress.”

Dan Darnell said he and his wife Mary Lou take turns traveling to watching their son pitch.

If Dugan continues to make the strides he’s made the past four summers, they may be watching their son take the mound at Coors Field in the not-too-distant future — an occurrence that seemed close-to-impossible in 2018.

Ed Wright can be reached at 734-664-4657 or edwright@socialhousenews.com.

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Ed Wright

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