LINCOLN — Mason Ornelas’ old baseball coach at Texas A&M helped him develop a change-up he could throw for strikeouts. Ornelas’ new coach, he said, wanted him to leave.
So Ornelas, who last season struck out 42 batters in 37 innings for the Aggies, announced his transfer to Nebraska on Tuesday. NU coaches have told him he’ll be given the chance to start somewhere in the rotation — A&M used him as a middle reliever — and he has plenty of connections to the team and region.
His twin brother, Mitch, was a baseball manager for the Huskers last season and set to join NU’s social media creative team. Their parents, Vanessa and Michael, played basketball and baseball, respectively, at UNK. Mason’s former coach, Rob Childress, just joined the Huskers’ staff as a director of player development.
But Ornelas had no intention of transferring from A&M, especially since he plans on graduating next spring. New Aggies coach Jim Schlossnagle, who took over for Childress, effectively pushed Ornelas out, he said.
“He pulled my scholarship, and he cut a lot of guys,” Ornelas said. “He’s making a whole new team down here at A&M. I’m not going to play for a guy like that, the things he had to say, the things he did. I’m just not going to play for a guy like that, so I entered the portal, and Nebraska and Coach (Will) Bolt were one of the first to reach out to me.”
Bolt recruited Ornelas out of L.D. Bell High School in Fort Worth. He had a good relationship with NU pitching coach Jeff Christy, as well. And when A&M’s season ended this spring, Ornelas had a chance to see Nebraska’s series against Michigan.
“I was really impressed; I loved what I saw,” Ornelas said. At the time Childress was still A&M’s coach. “They’re up and coming.”
Ornelas was equally impressed with NU’s play against Arkansas. The Huskers’ progress and potential were one reason they landed Ornelas over his other finalist, Oklahoma. Childress’ return to Nebraska played a factor, too.
“I have a hell of a lot of respect for him,” Ornelas said of Childress. “I’ll do anything for that man. Great coach, great human, great father.”
NU gets a pitcher who notched most of his high school outs through groundballs. In college, with Childress’ help, Ornelas turned his change-up into something special. Against mostly opponents in the SEC — the nation’s best league — Ornelas had a 5.11 earned-run average and a 3-2 record. His best outing of the season — considering the opponent — was three scoreless innings at eventual national champion Mississippi State.
“It’s always a battle in the SEC,” Ornelas said. “You’ve got to bring your A game. Being the long relief guy — coming in after the starters — you’ve got to come in to do your job and, especially in conference, you’re not going to get a clean inning every time.”
Ornelas hopes to win a starting job at Nebraska, and given NU lost Saturday starter Chance Hroch to graduation — and will likely lose Friday night starter Cade Povich after he was taken by the Twins in the third round of the MLB draft — Ornelas will likely get that opportunity. He said he throws his fastball 89-to-91 miles-per-hour and is working this summer with a Texas-based pitching instructor on extending his stride and “doing more with my body’s lower half” so he can throw with more ease.
“The coaches said starting would be the opening default,” Ornelas said. “Coach Bolt saw me pitch in high school, he knows what I’m capable of, but, of course, it’s earned. I'm not going to come in and think I’m just the Friday night guy or Saturday guy. I’m going to come in like a new guy, first day, earn my spot.”
It’s not an opportunity Ornelas believed he had any longer at A&M under Schlossnagle.
“He said, ‘We’re going to give scholarship money to guys who can contribute to the team,’” Ornelas said, and “I took, from that, he doesn’t need or want me. If that’s what he wants to do, that’s what he wants to do.”