Naval Academy ace right-hander Noah Song wasn't too bothered by not getting drafted after a standout junior year in 2018.
Song knew heading into Major League Baseball's amateur draft he was set on going back to Navy for his senior year. The only thing that would have changed that was being picked in the first two rounds and a signing bonus of at least $1 million.
The first two rounds came and went, so Song's adviser informed the league he would not sign with any team if he was drafted.
There's a strong chance that things will be a little different for the Claremont, Calif., native and his draft status this year.
After another spectacular season that ended with Song being the first player in program history to be named as a first-team All-American, he's ready to give the chance at a major-league future another shot. Thanks to some extra development and tweaking his pitching arsenal, he produced career numbers in several categories and is thick of the conversation as one of the best college pitchers in the country.
"I think it's more realistic," Navy head coach Paul Kostacopoulos said of the possibility that Song will get drafted in the first two rounds. "I think he's a better pitcher now. He was hovering around those top initial rounds, but I think he's much more viable because he has improved and he is much better."
Prior to returning to Navy for a final year, the 6-foot-4 Song's junior season was the best in his collegiate career. He had a 1.92 ERA with 121 strikeouts and four shutouts in 89 innings. Batters were swinging at air far more often than making solid contact, as 361 of them combined for a 1.78 average against him.
Still, Song knew there was some extra growth he could get out of one more year leading the Midshipmen. He was right; the right-hander is top 10 in Division I with a 1.44 ERA (sixth), 11 wins (tied for first) and 161 strikeouts (first). He is also one of four finalists for the Golden Spikes Award, given to the top amateur player in the nation every year.
"I think there was a certain amount of development left that I needed to go through during my senior year," Song said. "I think my pitching coach and I were about to polish up a few things. So I think it was definitely a big advantage being able to play one more year of Navy baseball."
One of the areas that Song knew he needed to improve upon was improving his secondary pitches, namely the slider. Navy's pitchers threw sliders at a high percentage in 2018, and that philosophy was going to stay the same heading into the 2019 season.
Song is a big believer that hitters are going to catch up to fastballs no matter how hard a pitcher can throw, so he knows the importance of having a number of pitches that he can turn to in any count or situation.
"That's really what separates you from everybody else and from any reliever that is really getting only three outs," Song said. "That's the only way you can be a starting pitcher is to command two or three plus pitches."
Kostacopoulos said Song would often revert back to his fastball in tight games. That wasn't the case in 2019; now he has more trust that his other pitches can get the job done.
"He's slowed the game down and said, 'I can create timing problems for the hitters just as well as trying to bump up my fast ball all the time,'" he said. "I think that was a big epiphany. He really started to believe that, and I think that's what made him the pitcher he was this year."
An improved collection of pitches translated to more wins for Navy. The Midshipmen finished the year 39-17, which was the best single-season performance since 2016 when they won 43 games.
And in 2019, there were only a handful of pitchers in Division I who were as good as Song when it came to winning games. Song finished tied for first with six other pitchers to lead the nation in wins. That list includes players like Vanderbilt's Drake Fellows, UCLA's Jack Ralston and Fresno State's Ryan Jensen.
Song nearly doubled his win total from his junior year, which Kostacopoulos thinks attracted more professional scouts.
"Certainly, a pitcher doesn't control that all the time, but the wins are important," Kostacopoulos said. "It shows competitiveness. Sometimes guys have dynamic stuff but don't get the job done. There's something in there that they call an intangible and I think he's got all that and more."
Song, who doesn't like to look at statistics, thinks that winning is far more important in college baseball than the individual numbers.
"The one thing that matters in college baseball is winning," Song said. "It's the only thing that truly matters at the end of the day because after your four years are done, you just somebody who passed through as opposed having a team legacy."
Song doesn't want to say how things will turn out for this year's draft. It's too unpredictable and there are plenty of good prospects. But Kostacopoulos thinks his pitcher has a good shot of being picked in the first two rounds.
Song feels the same, but he prefers to approach it same way he did last year: being perfectly OK with whatever results come his way.
"This is really it, so it either happens or it doesn't for me," he said. "I don't want to see it as an end all because I won't be disappointed one way or the other."
Photo Credit: Courtesy of Navy Athletics