Houston alumni getting comfortable in minor leagues
Life in the minors is rough, especially for guys diving into the world of professional baseball for the first time.
From the intense schedules to the higher levels of talent, it is easy to fizzle out quickly in the farm system.
For Jared Triolo and Fred Villarreal, two former Cougars that were drafted by the Pittsburgh Pirates and the Seattle Mariners, respectively in 2019, life after their time in Houston has been much more forgiving.
“It’s always been a vision and a goal to make it to professional baseball,” said Triolo, who in 2019 slashed .332/.420/.512 as an infielder for the Cougars. “Wouldn’t say that I knew it would be like this from the beginning, but I’m excited with how it’s worked out so far.”
Since joining the Class A West Virginia Black Bears, Triolo has recorded 47 hits and 76 total bases.
Along with his success at the plate, the native of Nashua, New Hampshire, and 2019 New York-Penn League All Star has started 44 games in the infield for the Black Bears, nabbing a .952 fielding percentage.
The minors has also given Triolo an opportunity to meet new people with the same mindset as his.
“I’m hoping just to get acclimated to minor league baseball and establish relationships with some of the other players and managers,” Triolo said. “The best part is being able to make new friends that are on the same mission as you.”
One of the more important connections he has made, however, has come from off the field with his host family.
The Pirates are one of the few organizations still using host families for its farm players, according to Triolo, and his has “been really good and kind of like another piece of home in West Virginia.”
While Triolo laments his departure from Houston and subsequent move to Monongalia County, West Virginia, after three years, he promises to occasionally return to the place that crafted him into a professional baseball player.
“It was tough telling these coaches that have helped me grow so much over the past three years that I wouldn’t be coming back for my senior year,” Triolo said. “I will definitely be back around the campus frequently to give back to the program that helped me out tremendously.”
Across the country in Washington, Villarreal, currently pitching with Class A Everett just 30 miles outside of Seattle, has also enjoyed his time in the minors.
“Best part of it all for me would probably be just still getting an opportunity to play the sport I love in a professional level,” Villarreal said.
The 21-year-old, despite being on his second team after being assigned from the Arizona League Mariners to his current Aquasox, has embraced his role as a reliever, a part in which he improved greatly during his time at UH.
“If you look at my baseball stats from my freshman and sophomore years you’d cringe,” Villarreal admitted. “But junior year was a different story.”
Villarreal, in his final year at UH in 2019, led the team as its top reliever with a 2.29 ERA en route to 10 saves and five wins on the season.
So far with the Aquasox, Villarreal has gotten the nod seven times, letting up only one run and taking home a win Aug. 13.
The righty, proud of his play through his first season, believes his stats and future in baseball “right now look promising.”
While Houston prepared him in “every aspect” for his professional career, there is one thing Villarreal will not miss from his college days—the hitter-friendly aluminum bats.
For Villarreal, it’s simple: “Facing wooden bats is nice.”