Today the Washington Wild Things’ 2021 roster grew by two more, as the team announced that right-handed pitchers Michael Austin and Jesus Balaguer will return to the team for the upcoming season. Austin originally signed with the team in 2018 and was with the team through 2019. He did not play in the 2020 pod but was under contract with the club. Balaguer also joined Washington for their run to the Frontier League Championship Series in 2018.
An Eldersburg, Maryland native, Austin started 20 games for the Wild Things in 2019 and had a 4.08 ERA over 117 innings of work. He walked only 46 batters and fanned 76. He allowed two earned runs or fewer in 11 of his final 13 starts that season, including consecutive one-run over seven frames appearances to close the year.
Austin pitched a career high eight innings and allowed one unearned run on four hits without a walk August 7, 2019 against Joliet in a game he received a no decision.
“Coming off a strong 2019 second half and an extended training period, we are eager to see Austin’s progression,” said president and general manager Tony Buccilli. “He has solidified a role being a quality piece in our rotation but internally he is fired up to break through and take the next step in his development. We appreciate his buy in to our culture and collectively going all in on the 2021 season.”
Austin said he has a desire to battle and compete every chance he has, and that’s part of why he decided to return to Washington. But that is not the only reason.
“I am returning in 2021 to win a Frontier League championship,” said Austin. “We fell one game short in 2018 and I’m ready to make another run at it.”
A product of Century High School, Austin holds the school’s career records for hits, RBI and runs scored as well as season records for batting average, hits and runs scored. He was also a pitcher and earned first-team all-league honors two times.
He’d matriculate to Bethune-Cookman after his high school career finished up and played three seasons for the MEAC school. In 2014, Austin had his best season for the Wildcats, as he sported a 3.09 ERA in 23 games (one start). He had three saves and tossed 32.2 innings that season and allowed only 11 earned runs (15 total).
Austin transferred to the University of Maryland-Baltimore County (UMBC) and played for the America East Conference school in 2017. He led the UMBC Retrievers with 66.1 innings and fanned 47 while walking just 22 on his way to a 4-3 record for the team, which won a conference championship that season.
After his collegiate career ended, Austin was signed as an undrafted free agent by the Royals’ organization, where he pitched in 14 games between two rookie-ball teams in 2017 before his release. He struck out 17 batters over 16.1 innings.
In 2018 with Washington, Austin had a 4.08 ERA in 14 games, 12 of which were starts during the regular season. He struck out 63 in 70.2 innings and walked only 25 batters. In the 2018 Frontier League playoffs, Austin was the winning pitcher in game 3 of the Frontier League Division Series against Evansville, as the Wild Things’ clinched a sweep of the set behind five first-inning runs and six innings of shutout ball for Austin. He struck out seven in the effort.
Austin said he’s been training hard for the 2021 season after not playing in 2020.
“[I’m] getting as much pitching mechanical knowledge that I can to put me in the best position to move forward,” said Austin.
A former Houston Astros’ and, albeit just for spring training, Arizona Diamondbacks’ farmhand Balaguer saw action with the Steel City Slammin’ Sammies in 2020. Over eight appearances and eight innings. Balaguer logged a save and allowed just two hits, walked two batters and punched out 16, good for two per inning.
The year came off a successful year with the Wild Things in 2019 after a great start to his Wild Things’ career in 2018’s regular and post-season.
“Jesus remains one of the prominent power relievers in the Frontier League and such a valuable late inning man for us,” said president and general manager Tony Buccilli. “Beyond his success on the field, he has assisted in the development of so many young pitchers in the bullpen. We appreciate his passion for winning, his dedication to our organization and the enthusiasm he brings to the ballpark daily.”
Balaguer said he wanted to come back to be with his teammates and continue working hard to win a championship.
“The amazing fans, teammates, coaching and staff [are great],” said Balaguer. “I feel like Washington is my second home. I will always give my best and do whatever I can do to help our team succeed.”
A native of Cuba, Balaguer played professionally in Cuba for three years, two of which came for Industriales. He played for the same team as Houston Astros’ infielder Yuli Gurriel and Diamondbacks’ outfielder Yasmany Thomas. During the 2014-15 season, Jesus was 6-1 with a 3.60 ERA in 36 games from the pen with 37 strikeouts over 45 innings.
He signed as an international free agent with the Astros before he was the Astros’ short-season minor league reliever of the year in 2017 in his first season in minor-league ball. He split time between three teams that season: Quad Cities (A, Midwest), Tri-City (A-, NYPL) and Greeneville (Rk, Appalachian). He was 5-2 with a 2.73 ERA in 33 innings. He had four saves and struck out 53 batters that season while allowing just 20 hits.
The right hander pitched for Buies Creek (Carolina League, A+) in 2018 for 23 games before his release. He fanned 43 in 33.1 innings. That’s when he came to Washington. During the regular season, Balaguer pitched in 10 games and logged 18 innings. He allowed 12 hits and fanned 34 batters. During the Wild Things’ playoff run, he didn’t allow a run over 7.2 innings of work. He allowed just two hits and struck out 13. Had Washington won the championship series, Balaguer was penciled in as the series MVP.
The hard-throwing Balaguer had his contract purchased by the Diamondbacks’ organization following the season but never ended up appearing in a game in the system. He pitched in one game for the Kansas City T-Bones in 2019 before coming back to Washington. He sported a 2.33 ERA and had a 5-3 record in 35 games. Balaguer accumulated 46.1 innings of work and struck out 55 to walking only 16. He allowed 12 runs all year.
“Personally, I want to continue to improve my command on the mound,” said Balaguer. “From our team standpoint, my gal is to give my best and help my teammates win the championship.”
Austin and Balaguer join Spencer Bivens, Clinton Hollon, James Meeker and Max Tannenbaum as pitchers announced for 2021. More signings will be made public next week
ABOUT THE WASHINGTON WILD THINGS
The Washington Wild Things are a professional baseball team in the Frontier League, partner league of Major League Baseball, that plays in Washington, PA. Since their inception in 2002, the Wild Things have won six division titles and earned numerous playoff appearances. Fans and media can stay aware of all the happenings in the Wild Things’ organization by following the team’s social media platforms and website, washingtonwildthings.com. For other inquiries, call the front office at 724-250-9555.