This won’t be the first time Moline’s Dakota Bacus has competed in the Arizona Fall League, but it might be the right time.
After the most successful season of his six-year professional career, the 26-year-old right-handed pitcher will represent the Washington Nationals organization in the league that is regarded as a finishing school of sorts for professional baseball’s top prospects.
The six-team league based in the Phoenix area begins its five-week schedule on Oct. 10, and Bacus will be part of a Mesa-based team managed by former Quad-Cities River Bandits manager Omar Lopez.
It will be Bacus’ second experience in the league, having gotten a chance to pitch in it following the 2015 season.
“All of a sudden I found myself facing nine studs in a row rather than the three or four that are in the lineup for a lot of minor-league teams,’’ Bacus said. “A lot of the guys I faced that fall are in the big leagues now. The one thing I learned from that experience is that you can’t overdo it. I think I made it bigger than it was.’’
Developing an understanding of that continues to guide Bacus as he works now.
It’s all about the next pitch for Bacus, something he now believes is the way it should stay for the rest of his career.
“The thing I’ve really started to understand the last couple of years is how this game is the same no matter what level you compete at,’’ Bacus said. “There are going to be talented hitters at every level, and it is about what you do with that next pitch that matters. Nothing more. Nothing less.’’
That approach worked for Bacus throughout the 2017 season.
He split time between high-A Potomac and AA Harrisburg in the Nationals farm system and in 23 relief appearances — 12 in the Carolina League and 11 in the Eastern League — Bacus combined for a 2-2 record and a 1.80 earned run average. He struck out 33 batters and walked seven in 40 innings of work.
The combined effort rated as Bacus’ best season since posting a 1.20 ERA over 30 inning in the Arizona Rookie League in 2012 after the Athletics selected him in the ninth round of the 2012 draft out of Indiana State.
“I came into this year feeling like it was a put-up or shut-up year for me,’’ Bacus said. “I’ve been in pro ball for six years, and coming off of a season where I didn’t have the kind of year I was expecting, I showed up at spring training ready to prove I belonged."
Bacus felt he had little choice.
“Six years in and starting in 'A' ball, I realized that my time to make it happen was dwindling," Bacus said. “I needed this type of season, and the way it has worked out, I’ve been able to gain confidence that I’ll take with me to Arizona."
Success in 2017 for Bacus began in the offseason.
His work centered on developing confidence in his ability to throw each of his three pitches effectively in the strike zone.
Early in the season, that carried over into creating the ability to throw any pitch in any count and get the ball over the plate for a strike.
“Whether it was a curve or a slider or a fastball, I’ve been able to get it over, and I’ve been getting more movement on my two-seamer now, and I throw my curve more often,’’ Bacus said. “It’s a combination that has been working for me.’’
That led him to the opportunity to take his game back to the Arizona Fall League, this time more prepared for what lies ahead.
“It’s a privilege to have the chance to pitch in the fall league, something I couldn’t pass up when I was asked,’’ Bacus said. “It’s an opportunity to show people how I’ve improved, and it’s a situation that may give me a chance to earn a spot on the 40-man roster.’’
It’s also a chance for Bacus to continue doing what he has been doing, one pitch at a time.
“I’m ready for this opportunity,’’ he said.