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Your Random D-Back: Keith Hessler

An undrafted amateur free agent who reached the major leagues. How many do we have of those?

St Louis Cardinals v Arizona Diamondbacks Photo by Jennifer Stewart/Getty Images

The origins of today’s Random D-Back Keith Hessler, or Heßler as you should write it, are clearly in Germany. There the neighbourhood of Heßler is in the town of Gelsenkirchen, located in Germany’s heart of industry, in North-Rhine-Westphalia, although the town is probably more known for its popular football team Schalke 04.

Gelsenkirchen was a very small village until mid 19th century, when industrialisation rapidly shaped the “Ruhrgebiet” and Gelsenkirchen eventually became a bigger town after authorities put various neighbourhoods and towns together to form the city it is today, although limited in size due to its boundaries with other industrial towns.

So, if you ask me, I’d guess Keiths family moved to the United States somewhere in the early 19th century, when there wasn’t much more than some agricultural settlements in Heßler, and even less witches because most had been burnt, until the 18th century.

Keith was born in Washington, DC, but grew up in Olney, Montgomery County in Maryland, north of the nation’s capital. After that he went to the Springbrook High School, which is in Silver Spring, Maryland, a bit closer to Washington from where he grew up. Without a doubt his high school period was of great influence on Keith.

“My high school coach, he was a big influence to me. He always believed in me. He’s who got me to keep playing and do the right thing professionally.” - Keith Hessler on playing baseball at his high school, in a high school news paper in 2016

For the Blue Devils he mashed with the bat and was ranked the #1 left-handed pitcher in the state, so there was a bit of fanfare, but a combination of TJ and coming from a small school means there is no national interest. But Hessler does play on a regional showcase team and has enough exposure to be able to commit to Coastal Carolina University, longing to be in warm weather and away from home. Playing on that showcase team was a struggle too though.

Hessler recalls the difficulties he had when trying out for his local youth travel team at age twelve, “even at that age it’s pretty cut throat, I had blisters on my feet from my new cleats so my tryout didn’t go so well. My dad asked the coach for a second tryout and I did much better and ended up playing on that team for a few years.” - Storytelling on Keith Hessler’s battle to get on a local showcase team in Maryland, on a Everett media outlet in February 2023

The Coastal Carolina University program convinces him, he feels there is a click with his new coaches, but he also remembers the years in college as a battle, in balancing grades and baseball performance.

“It was tough,” Hessler said, “But the school gave us enough resources to help us like tutors, and study hall. The coaches knew you’re a student first, but grades apply into your sport so you can’t just slack off.” - Keith Hessler about his time in college in a high school news paper in 2016

Because of the TJ he doesn’t play in 2008 for the Chanticleers and therefore repeats as a freshman in 2009, with some tough results. In 2010 he pitches better but without leaving much of an impression. It is definitely not enough to warrant a top draft pick, but Hessler seemingly ends up in professional baseball when the Diamondbacks try their luck with him in the 28th round of the 2010 draft.

“I was eating a burrito and a teammate texted me and said congratulations and I responded” “Thanks! It’s a great burrito”” not knowing I’d just been drafted.” - Keith Hessler on getting the news he was drafted by the Diamondbacks, on a Everett media outlet in February 2023

But although baseball-reference shows otherwise, he doesn’t pass the physical with the team and returns to finish his studies in North Carolina. He doesn’t get drafted after the 2011 season and everything seems to be over before it has even happened, but the Diamondbacks come back knocking at his door.

“The same Bay Area scout who called me the first time called and offered me a free agent-signing opportunity. He told me the team needed to know within 24 hours if I accepted so I talked to the people I trusted around me. I decided that it was time to go and packed a suitcase and signed for $1000 and a plane ticket to Phoenix.” - Keith Hessler on signing with the Diamondbacks, on a Everett media outlet in February 2023

It pays off: after signing he impresses in 43.2 innings of relief for the Missoula Osprey, with a 2.89 ERA and a 3.10 K/BB. In 2012 he does fine in A for Missoula as well, but in 2013 hits a wall in Visalia, then an A+ team, as a starter. The Diamondbacks forget about that experiment and from 2014 forward Hessler is a reliever.

In 2015 he starts the season in Visalia but then is bumped up rapidly through the organisation: after 10 games in Visalia he is promoted to Mobile, in AA. By mid June he is pitching in Reno, but demoted back to AA again. He returns to AAA in July and then, all of a sudden, is added to the 40-man roster to make his debut in the majors in August, after the Diamondbacks trade away Oliver Perez and need a new lefty in the bullpen. Why not Hessler?

“Pretty shocked. Didn’t believe it at first. Just caught me off guard. Took a lot to sink in and then it finally did when I was on the plane here.” - Keith Hessler answering to what he felt after he got the call-up to the big leagues, retrieved from a Derek Montilla vid on YouTube

But there was a bit more to that...:

“I thought I was getting sent down (to double A) again. The game went into extra-innings and I still hadn’t got my name called even though I was rested. After the game, my manager, Phil Nevin called me into the office and told me “Remember what I said last time? I told you to keep pitching and working at it and you’ll be a big leaguer…well now you’re a big leaguer Keith!.” - Keith Hessler recalling his big league call-up on a Everett media outlet in February 2023

Hessler wasn’t the only one who was surprised. Probably the entire Diamondbacks world had no idea who the team was calling up and he would end up as one of many rookies to make their debut in the 2015 season.

We’ll see if Chip Hale uses him as a LOOGY like his predecessor, who only had 19 of 48 appearances this year in which Perez retired more than one batter. When he appears, Hessler will become the 42nd player and 24th pitcher used by the Diamondbacks this season. The 26-year-old will be the eighth player to make his major-league debut with Arizona in 2015, and the fifth pitcher, after Archie Bradley, Enrique Burgos, Zack Godley and A.J. Schugel. - Jim McLennan on Keith Hessler in August 2015 on the AZSnakePit

As Jim McLennan explained in that article, Keith Hessler made his debut in front of a packed Chase Field, as it was the game where the Diamondbacks retired Randy Johnson’s number. Hessler does not disappoint and has Joey Votto fly out and strikes out both Todd Frazier and Jay Bruce in what is a clean inning. A pretty impressive debut and he is given the ball with which he gets his first major league strike out.

His second outing against the Phillies is again a clean appearance, but Hessler is less lucky in the following 6 outings, giving up 9 runs over 3.1 innings and 6 games. But not all is bad in those games, because he hits the record books.

He gets his first major league hit in an extra innings game against the Pittsburgh Pirates although he inexplicably hustles to second base and is thrown out easily by future Diamondback Starling Marte, much to the visible chagrin of Chip Hale. He becomes only the third pitcher in Diamondbacks’ history to achieve a hit in extra innings.

His enthousiasm and competitive spirit should be praised, but it doesn’t save him from getting demoted to Reno by the end of August. However, he is soon back as a September roster addition and finishes the season in the MLB, giving up just 2 runs in 10 games of middle relief and LOOGY.

That gives hope for the 2016 season, but Hessler is somewhat surprisingly assigned to the Mobile BayBears in AA. There he starts the season pitching to a 5.06 in 5.1 innings of relief when he is all of a sudden recalled to the major leagues, because...yeah...this is the 2016 season, right? On April 29 he pitches two clean mop-up innings against the Cardinals when down 8-0. A couple of days later he gets the ball again in a game against the Rockies and is hit hard: Colorado is already up 5-0 but get 3 runs off Hessler. The lefty is designated for assignment the following day and traded to the San Diego Padres.

Just like in Arizona Hessler has troubles keeping batters from reaching the base, allowing too many walks, but he manages a respectable 3.38 ERA for San Diego and is moved up and down a lot. However, most of his time is spent in El Paso in the PCL, where he achieves a very good 2.95 ERA. He isn’t able to repeat that feat in 2017, so the Padres don’t see the urge to use him in the majors and he is released by El Paso in August and ends up pitching in the Atlantic League. A showcase in the Dominican Winter League lands him a minor league contract with the Rockies, but his time there is remembered for struggles and injuries and by the end of 2018 he is released and decides to call it quits.

After ending his professional baseball career he is an assistant pitching coach for the Whitworth Pirates, a Christian private college in Spokane, in 2019 and then is announced as a coach for the Cascade Collegiate League in 2020. That obviously doesn't go through but in 2021 Hessler gets a new job as the pitching coach with the Everett Community College Trojans in the state of Washington. He repeats in that position in 2022. After the departure of the head coach, Everett decides to hand the job to Hessler, so he is now in his first season as head coach of the Trojans after leading a powerful and successful pitching corps.

“Our baseball student athletes, especially the pitchers, thrived in the classroom, and were consistently prepared to compete at their very best, which has in turn presented them with opportunities to pursue their athletic and academic pursuits at the 4 year level.” - Everett’s CC athletic director on Keith Hessler’s achievement during his presentation as head coach, in a NWAC news outlet in 2023

No doubt that his success as a pitching coach is partly explained by his own thoughts on what makes a good athlete:

“You have to be good at baseball of course, to reach the Majors, but it’s how you are as a person, being a good teammate. I’ve seen players with enormous amounts of talent not reach the Majors because they’re not a good teammate, like they did things wrong off the field. Just be a good teammate and be a good person.” - Keith Hessler on the importance of being a good teammate, in a high school news paper in 2016

2015 and 2016 is not that long ago, but, be honest:


Do you remember Keith Hessler?

This poll is closed

  • 21%
    Yes, it hasn’t been that long ago.
    (3 votes)
  • 14%
    I totally forgot about him but, yeah, do remember him now!
    (2 votes)
  • 64%
    Man, even after reading this, I still have no memories of him at all.
    (9 votes)
14 votes total Vote Now