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Former Bull has Major League aspirations

In four years at USF, Yuri Higgins compiled a 10-9 record and struck out 194 opposing batters. ORACLE FILE PHOTO

After spending four years as a fixture in USF’s starting rotation, former pitcher Yuri Higgins has now earned the chance to make money doing what he loves.

Higgins signed with the Chicago Cubs this week, joining teammates Danny Otero and Davis Bilardello as former Bulls who have signed with pro teams this summer. Chicago selected Higgins with its 38th round pick in the draft earlier this month. The former USF right-hander reported to the Cubs’ facility in Arizona this week to begin training.

Higgins was one of the most consistent faces on the USF roster over the last four years. He made 82 appearances during his career with the Bulls, starting 16 games and compiling a 10-9 record. In his final season with USF, Higgins had 81 strikeouts, giving him 194 for his career and placing him at 15th on the school’s all-time strikeout list.

Despite coaching Higgins for only one season, Coach Lelo Prado knows the type of talent Higgins has and wishes he could have coached him longer.

“I wish I would have had Yuri Higgins since his freshman year,” Prado said. “I think he would have had a chance not only as a pitcher but as a center-fielder too. He’s a great athlete with a great arm.”

Higgins earned a shot to play in the outfield late this season. This opportunity gave him the chance to show his toughness as well. While diving for a ball during a game against Seton Hall, Higgins broke his left wrist. Two weeks later, Higgins was asked to pitch against Connecticut in the Big East Conference tournament. Although the Bulls lost 2-0, Higgins allowed only two hits in seven innings against the Huskies while wearing a cast on his glove hand.

“It shows what kind of heart he’s got and what kind of man he is,” Prado said. “In the conference tournament he could barely catch the ball and probably pitched the best game of his career.”

Days after reporting to Arizona for rookie camp, Higgins spoke with the Oracle concerning his career at USF, the excitement of being drafted and his future as a professional baseball player.

The Oracle: This has to be a dream for anyone who’s played baseball growing up – getting signed and having the opportunity to play professionally. How do you feel about that?

Yuri Higgins: I’m pretty happy. I wasn’t very optimistic that I was going to get signed when the draft was going on. I saw the 20th round and the 25th round go by and I thought I wasn’t going to get drafted. But then they called me and it just brightened up my day. I was so happy. Now I’m just living it down in Arizona right now.

O: What have you been doing out there so far?

Y.H.: Well, I’m in rehab right now. On the second-to-last week of the season I broke my wrist. So when it came to the last game I pitched against Connecticut in the (Big East) tournament, they got a special cast made for me so I could catch the ball. When I got here, they did x-rays and told me that I couldn’t play until my wrist was 100 percent. So I’m in a cast right now. I’ve just been throwing and lifting weights and running. (The organization) is going to keep me here in Arizona until I get some innings in and my wrist starts feeling better.

O: Now that you’ve experienced a professional camp, how well do you think your career at USF prepared you for the next level?

Y.U.: I think college helps a lot compared to some of the players that are here already. I feel that I’ve learned more with the college coaches because here (the coaches) just tell you to go pitch. I guess when the instructional season comes around that’s when they get to instruct you, but right now you’re just taking what you have from college or what you have from high school and putting it to work.

Location is the key down here, and velocity is nothing. I’m seeing people up here throwing 96 or 97 mph and they’re getting hit around just because they don’t have any location.

I learned a lot with Coach Lazer Collazo back at USF about location and hitting your spots and stuff, so that’s helped me out a lot.

O: So would you say that ball control is the biggest change you’ve noticed since jumping from college to the pros?

Y.H.: Yeah, it’s all about consistency with location. You can throw 80 mph and get away with it here as long as you hit your spots. If you have two pitches you can throw for strikes – that’s real good.

O: What kind of celebration did you have when you got drafted and eventually signed?Y.H.: My friends threw me a surprise draft party that I didn’t know anything about, and then the next day my mom threw me a party at the recreation park that I worked at. It was a big thing with my family, and I had the chance to talk and thank everybody for being there throughout my life.

I’m just so happy for my mom too. My mom is who I give all my respect to, because she played softball and she got me to where I am now. I never had a father figure. I never had a man in my life. It’s always been her, my auntie and my grandma that’s been in my life, so I’m happy for her and I’m happy for myself right now. I’m going to try and do it for my family.