Despite lack of hype, Billy Corcoran emerges as Amarillo Sod Poodles top starting pitcher

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Pitcher Billy Corcoran has been a mainstay in the Amarillo Sod Poodles starting rotation. [James Abel/ Press Pass Sports]
He’s no bonus baby, not a fast-track prospect, and on paper at least, isn’t in the picture of a future Arizona Diamondbacks pitching rotation.

All Billy Corcoran is right now is the best pitcher on the roster for the Amarillo Sod Poodles.
In an up-and-down first half of Texas League play, Corcoran has perhaps been the biggest constant for the Class AA Sod Poodles, at least on the pitcher’s mound.

Since getting called up from the Diamondbacks Class A affiliate in Hillsboro on May 14, Corcoran has been the linchpin of the Soddies’ rotation, with a 3-2 record and a 2.40 ERA in a very hitter-friendly league, with the Sod Poodles home venue of Hodgetown being the best example of that.

That kind of performance would be expected from a high draft pick making great progress in the Diamondbacks organization, and indeed, Corcoran has only been in pro ball less than two years. But he didn’t enter the organization with any fanfare, as he signed as a free agent after pitching four years of college ball at Pittsburgh.

Corcoran has the image of a scrappy underdog whose emergence as a pitching prospect could be seen as a surprise. As a free agent, he’s one of many, but that may be the biggest reason he’s stood out on the mound for well over a month in Amarillo.

“There’s a lot of free agents around in our clubhouse,” Corcoran said. “It definitely puts a little bit of a chip on your shoulder knowing that you got here without any of the hype and you’re still treading water. It’s a chance every day to prove who you are despite what happened in the past.”

Billy Corcoran of the Amarillo Sod Poodles is 3-2 on the year with a 2.40 ERA. [John E. Moore/ Press Pass Sports]
Or in Corcoran’s case, what didn’t happen in the past. Minor league rosters are full of a wild mix of high draft picks, foreign-born free agents, players getting second chances with at least a second organization, and even a few guys who got a taste of the big leagues and are fighting to get back there.

Corcoran somehow slid under the radar despite standing 6-foot-8. He’d been drafted out of high school by the Texas Rangers in 2018, but didn’t catch enough interest from a major league organization four years later to consider him as a draft pick.

Now he’s made his way up the organizational ladder faster than many prospects who are more celebrated, and it’s not premature to say he might have a future in pro baseball.

“I really didn’t want to change anything I’d done up to this point when I got here,” Corcoran said. “I had some success in Hillsboro, and I wasn’t going to change what I was doing just because I’d moved up a level. If I had to make any adjustments, I’d make those adjustments when need be.”

It’s safe to say those adjustments have been successful. After losing to Frisco in his Double A debut at Hodgetown, giving up nine hits and six earned runs in 2 1/3 innings of a 10-2 defeat, Corcoran has pitched well enough to win every game he’s thrown, going at least six innings in his next seven starts and not giving up any more than two earned runs in any of them.

Billy Corcoran earned a win against San Antonio in his last home outing. [James Abel/ Press Pass Sports]
Corcoran is riding an impressive string of six straight quality starts, and with a little luck he could be at least 4-1. After going 2-0 in Hillsboro, he’s adapted to Amarillo to say the least.

“I think Double A’s a very talented level of baseball,” Corcoran said. “You can’t take any days off here. You don’t get here by accident. After my second or third game I realized I was fit to be here. I’m sure everybody goes through ‘Can I play here?’ and ‘Am I good enough?’”

Sod Poodles pitching coach Tom Gorzelanny has seen up close how Corcoran has come to succeed.

“He’s a guy who really likes to work and get after his job and craft” Gorzelanny said. “When he goes out there and pitches in a game, he has a process he goes through. As a pitcher he knows what he wants. He makes quality pitches to get outs.”

A native of Chester, Pa., Corcoran and his size made a big enough impression to earn him an early scholarship offer from Pitt. The Rangers noticed him as well and selected him in the 36th round in 2018.

That was flattering, but not enough to sway him from a scholarship and a chance to pitch in the prestigious Atlantic Coast Conference for Pitt.

“I actually committed to Pitt when I was a sophomore in high school,” Corcoran said. “I went into the draft not really expecting to go so I was pretty set on going to Pitt. I loved (pitching) coach Jerry Oakes who recruited me and I ended up having a new head coach when I got there in Mike Bell, and they were both great.

“It was a great opportunity at the time. I thought about it for about a month and at the end of the day we decided that we thought it was best I go to college.”

Corcoran put in four years at Pitt, but his name wasn’t called in the 2022 major league draft. It was an initial blow to his ego.

“At the time it definitely hurt not to get picked up,” Corcoran said. “I really just got a chance because of Jerry Oakes who knew one of the scouts for the Diamondbacks and got me the opportunity. I’m going to just cherish this every day and not going to take it for granted, because I might not even be here if a few other things don’t go my way.”

Billy Corcoran of the Amarillo Sod Poodles pitches during a game against the Tulsa Drillers earlier this year. [John E. Moore/ Press Pass Sports]
After signing with the Diamondbacks, Corcoran was assigned to their rookie league club, where he made four appearances in 2022, all in relief. He’s steadily climbed the ladder since, starting 2023 at low A Visalia in the California League where he made 11 appearances before he was promoted to high A Hillsboro.

That’s where Corcoran started this season as the Diamondbacks made the commitment to him to develop him as a starter. He was 2-0 with a 2.22 ERA before his promotion to Amarillo, where his progress has continued unabated after a rough first start.

Sod Poodles manager Tim Bogar, who played nine seasons in the major leagues and has been in player development and management for over two decades, sees Corcoran as a bit of a throwback.

“Billy’s been good since he’s been here,” Bogar said. “His first start was rough, but I thought it was more nerves than anything. Since then, he’s settled in and he’s dominated the strike zone. He knows how to pitch.

“He reminds me of a late 80s, early 90s pitcher who knows what to throw, when to throw it and where to throw it. He makes guys make weak contact. It’s nice to have him go deep into games. It gives the bullpen a little bit of a rest.”

Corcoran’s first start against Frisco may have been typical of what Soddies pitchers getting on the mound for the first time at Hodgetown experience, especially coming up from Hillsboro’s pitcher-friendly park. Whatever mental block he may have about pitching at Hodgetown has since disappeared.

“Everything I heard was that it was very hitter-friendly,” said Corcoran, echoing the obvious. “That’s all right, you just have to pitch to your strengths. You’ve just got to stay away from the long fly balls.”

Corcoran doesn’t necessarily have an overpowering fastball, but he compensates by getting ahead in the count. In 41 1/3 innings in Amarillo, Corcoran has issued only nine walks. Gorzelanny said that the key to Corcoran’s success has been as much cerebral as physical.

“It’s more about instilling ideas and not being so much about throwing it out over the plate as it is to hit spots and be able to adjust to hitters and what’s working,” said Gorzelanny of Corcoran. “He’s a smart pitcher who knows what he wants and he also handles himself well on and off the field. He’s been the utmost professional in his short time up here.”

Billy Corcoran of the Amarillo Sod Poodles sits in the dugout before the game earlier this season. [John E. Moore/ Press Pass Sports]
How long Corcoran stays with the Sod Poodles remains to be seen. On paper, he seems ticketed for Triple A Reno before long if he keeps producing at his current rate.

Having already progressed at a level which exceeds the Diamondbacks investment in him, Corcoran is trying to enjoy the track occupied by more celebrated prospects.

“I would say that it fueled my fire to get there and see how many guys are really talented and worked hard,” Corcoran said. “It just made me want to work that much harder to be as good as those guys or better. It’s not so much the money but the way they act and the way they play on the field is something I want to replicate as well.

“A lot of things in baseball are out of your control no matter where you’re at. No matter where you’re at they could send you home tomorrow, they could send you down tomorrow or they could send you up tomorrow. You just have to come every day willing to work.”

Whether you’re drafted or not.

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