Alberta baseball fans may recognize left-handed pitcher Taran Oulton from his work on the mound for the Edmonton Prospects of the Western Major Baseball League (WMBL), but the 21-year-old has been a stabilizing force for the William Woods University (WWU) Owls this season.
The Owls – who play out of Fulton, Missouri in the American Midwest Conference – have an overall record of 21-11 on the year, including a 10-3 showing in the conference, good for second place.
For his part, Oulton has collected five wins over eight starts. The 6-foot tall junior has not pitched less than six innings during any one outing, and he has yet to yield more than two earned runs on game days. Over 55 innings, Oulton has struck out 50 batters while walking 15 hitters. He has also surrendered 56 hits, but just one of them for a home run.
Ian Wilson of Alberta Dugout Stories pitched some questions to the hurler recently. Here’s what he had to say:
Q: Your hometown is St. Albert. Tell us about growing up there and how you first got into baseball.
A: I actually was born in Calgary, but I ended up moving all over Alberta for my mother’s work. I moved to St. Albert for Grade 11 and 12, specifically to join the Prospects Baseball Academy. I lived with a family friend for two years – Gale McCormick – and attended Bellerose Composite High School. I started playing ball at a very young age and it just turned out that I thoroughly enjoyed the sport, and I guess I was naturally talented at it, too.
Q: Who were your major baseball influences when you were starting out in baseball?
A: When I first started to play in a competitive atmosphere I played for John St. Jean (Okotoks Outlaws coach). He taught me the early development skills and tools. He also helped me realize that I had potential to do something with the sport.
I later moved to Rocky Mountain House and John directed me to Harold Northcott. Northcott taught me more tools on the mound and saw true potential in my ability. I asked him about Vauxhall Baseball Academy and he said he had a better idea for me. He called Taylor Burns, the pitching coach at Prospects Academy, to get me a spot on the team and that’s when I moved to St. Albert.
Cam Houston, Taylor Burns, and Sean Erickson played a phenomenal role in turning me into a hard working, respectful man. They truly taught me what it takes to work hard for what I wanted, and they helped me start my college baseball career.
Ryan Schmidt, Scott Reller, and Jamell Cervantez coached me at Hutchinson Community College for my first two years. They were a big part of the next step. I had a rough start to my freshmen year but Reller took me under his wing a little and put in extra time with me because I think he knew I had a lot more to offer. Cam Houston and Taylor Burns were role models for me. They both played in the KJCCC (Kansas Jayhawk Community College Conference) and tore it up. I wanted to be just like them, still do. But to say the least, I wouldn’t be the person I am today without the help of the coaches I have been blessed with.
Q: What players do you look up to?
A: Most of all, for role model status, Madison Bumgarner has always been my dude.
Q: Tell us a bit more about Prospects Baseball Academy – that’s a well-known program that seems to pump out great ball players from your neck of the woods. What was your experience there?
A: It was a great place to be every day. The coaches are hard-nose, blue-collar men, and they expect your very best every day. Needless to say, they don’t accept soft attitudes there. It was college before college. They teach you ownership, hard work, and loyalty. They love every one of us, but they are not scared to light you up if need be. We faced a lot of really good competition, and traveled to the U.S. for recruiting trips and a chance to compete with the elite. The Prospects have – and will continue to – put out well-trained athletes.
Q: How well do you know a lot of the other Prospects grads – guys like the Cloud County crew (Sabrowski, Langley, Bondarchuk, Huggins), Jackson Wark, Noah Gapp, etc. – and do you keep in touch with a lot of Prospect Academy alums?
A: These dudes are some of my best friends of all time. I played in the academy with Sabrowski, Langley, Huggins and Wark, and played against Bondarchuck. I spend a lot of time with those fellas over Christmas and summer breaks. Cole Jackson is in Cloud County, as well.
As for Noah Gapp, we played a summer and a quarter together. He’s one of my favourite guys to be around, and I’m extremely happy he is playing ball as a career now. Well deserved. (Gapp joined the Ottawa Champions of the independent Can-Am League last year). My first year with the Prospects in 2015 he took me under his wing a bit and taught me to play hard, and have fun. I do my best to stay in touch with everyone, but clearly it’s not easy. You meet a lot of people travelling so much for baseball.
Q: Tell us about WWU and the program there – how has your experience been there?
A: William Woods is a nice campus, and a nice school. We don’t have super-nice facilities, but a lot of us are juco (junior college) guys so we know how to make do. We mesh as a team very well, and they have done a tremendous job accepting me as a newcomer this semester. I love the guys, and the coaches, and I’m happy to play here.
Q: Away from the ballpark, how do you like living in Fulton, Missouri – do you get off campus much?
A: I don’t leave campus often. It’s a small city, but I grew up in much smaller, like Nanton. It seems like a nice place and the people I meet around town have high hopes for our ball team, so that makes me feel welcome.
Q: You are off to a solid start this year. You received Pitcher of the Week honours in February, you’re throwing close to a K per inning, and whatever your stats lack in pop they make up for in steady performances. What is working well for you this season and why the success?
A: I take every day extremely serious between starts. I make sure I get my running, my lifting, and my throwing in. While I do those things, I know that I am doing them for a reason, so why waste time and half-ass it, right?
I throw five pitches, so I spend a good amount of time each day throwing and keeping a feel for my pitches. That way when I’m on the mound and something doesn’t want to work, then I have four more pitches to choose from. I have been taught that every day before your start is your preparation, so do it right. That way when game day comes it’s muscle memory to work hard and get after it. The success comes from the coaching I have had. They prepared me to be responsible and do my best to help my team.
Q: Tell us about your approach to this season. What specific goals do you have and what are you hoping to work on over the year?
A: My approach for every game is to compete to the best of my ability, and have a presence on the mound. I want them to know I mean business and they aren’t going to beat me easily. Every day I work on having smooth mechanics, and I work on getting stronger, too. That way I can stay healthy, and possibly pick up some more velocity, as well. My ultimate goal is to make a career out of baseball. But this season’s goal is to do anything I possibly can to help my team win a national championship.
Q: Why do you wear No. 30?
A: Honestly, that was just the number I was given. I transferred here, so I couldn’t exactly request a certain number.
Q: It’s game day and you’re starting. What music are you listening to before the game?
A: On game days I like to listen to some high-tempo music. But I like the lyrics to mean something to me. That way I feel myself a little, and I feel that I have a little more flavour and feel when I am in my feelings.
Q: Any pre-game rituals or superstitions?
A: I don’t really have any. When I warm up I try to make every movement perfect so that I practice being mindful of my movements, and making sure I don’t take any reps off. That correlates to the game in my eyes. If you can’t warm up and throw properly being locked in each rep, then how can you expect to pitch seven or nine innings and be successful?
Q: Have you made plans for the summer yet? Can we expect to see you playing in the WMBL, and if so, would that be back with Edmonton?
A: If I am in the WMBL I will be with the Prospects.