Mason Erla, a 6-foot-4 Michigan State University righthander found his pitching rhythm during the 2020 season.
Little did he know there wasn’t going to be much time to enjoy it.
Erla, a 2016 Cass City High School graduate and son of Chuck and Michelle Erla, armed with a fastball that hits 97 miles per hour, racked up a 2-0 record with an earned run average of 1.04 and averaged over 14 strikeouts per nine innings before the season was canceled due to the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic.
Those numbers caught the attention of Major League Baseball scouts.
“I feel like what I’ve done this season has honestly put me in the best-case scenario for what we are dealing with,” said Erla. “I did what I needed to do and I’m in an alright situation with how many rounds there are. I still have a very good likelihood of getting picked.”
Baseball America released its top 400 prospects for the 2020 draft in early April and Erla was ranked 157th overall. It was then announced on May 8 that because of COVID-19, MLB will shorten the draft from 40 rounds to five, which means Erla is near the cut line.
“Obviously it does affect me and my teammates because there won’t be as many kids in the draft, which is unfortunate,” Erla said. “But I think I have put myself in the best position possible.”
The MLB draft will take place June 10 and 11.
If Erla goes undrafted he knows that he still has a home in East Lansing.
“I have two years of eligibility left at MSU,” he said. “We were granted a do-over year, so next year will be my redshirt junior year all over again.”
Erla’s baseball career at MSU did not start off the way he had hoped. He suffered a season-ending injury early his freshman year (2017), which came on the heels of missing his senior season of baseball at Cass City due to a football injury. And while the injuries have taken a toll, Erla, now healthy, has never doubted his baseball future.
“Baseball has always been a very important part of my life and it’s something I would never give up easily or have negative thoughts about,” he said. “I see baseball in my future for a long time whether it’s playing or coaching. So, I never thought this wasn’t for me.”
After redshirting as a freshman, Erla bounced back in 2018 with a stellar season. He went 6-4 – leading the Spartans in wins – with an earned run average of 3.73.
The 2019 season did not go as smoothly.
“Personally, for me, last year I had a really bad year,” Erla said. “I had a lot to prove and so did the team. We had a chip on our shoulders and wanted to show a lot more than what was previously shown.”
He finished with a 2-10 record and an ERA of 5.49 in 14 appearances. Erla made a few changes in the offseason.
“I was not happy with my arm strength and velocity from last year because in the past years I had shown a lot more velocity,” said Erla. “I decided to skip playing summer ball because I figured it wouldn’t be beneficial for me being a starter. I stayed home and did a throwing program that is designed to strengthen your arm. I came back in the fall and showed signs of higher velocity but still wasn’t the same as what it ended up being this spring.”
Erla worked hard at getting back to form, and it showed in his first spring appearance, a Feb. 14 scrimmage against Morehead State, where he threw seven innings, striking out 11 batters.
“I worked hard all fall and all winter, and it paid off in the spring,” Erla said.
Erla earned some early awards in 2020. He was named Big Ten Pitcher of the Week, Collegiate Baseball Newspaper’s National Player of the Week twice and became the recipient of MSU’s Robin Roberts Most Valuable Pitcher Award, which was handed out after the short season.
MSU was looking forward to a turnaround year after going 20-34 in 2019 and finishing 11th in the Big Ten.
“We were really happy with how things were going. The last couple years as a team we struggled and, me personally, last year I had a really bad year,” Erla said. “Everything was going well this year. We weren’t perfect but we were competitive, and we were where we should have been all along competitively. It’s always a little more fun when you’re winning. It was really good to finally be winning and playing like we always should have been.”
The game of baseball is a family tradition as Mason’s older brother Morgan played college baseball at Bethel University in Indiana and has been a pillar of support in Mason’s baseball career.
“Growing up, like usual, the little brother looks up to the big brother and that was the case with us,” said Erla. “He led me in the right direction with the values he holds and the work ethic he has. It’s guided me in the right direction which has helped me become the man I am today. He was always my role model and still is to this day.”
Morgan Erla was named the Cass City baseball head coach before the 2020 season. But he will have to wait until next spring to make his debut at head coach.
The Red Hawks baseball program has developed some big-time talent as of late.
“I don’t know if it’s necessarily linked to Cass City specifically, but when I was younger my dad had us in travel ball and I think that’s the big driving factor to having a lot of talent come out of the small communities,” said Erla. “That’s how you develop and get better is by playing more, so if you get the chance to play in Detroit and all over the state of Michigan and really all over the Midwest, you get in front of talent that’s equivalent to you and that makes you better.”
Sandyn Cuthrell (Central Michigan University) and Kendall Anthes (Saginaw Valley State University), both 2020 grads, are the latest Red Hawks to join the college ranks.
“Last summer I threw with Sandyn quite a bit because we both live in town. So it made it easier for us to get together and we did the same throwing program,” Mason Erla said. “Kendall, I haven’t worked out with him specifically, but he knows I’m here and I’ve had talks with him about the recruiting process when he was going through that. I obviously went through it. It becomes a lot to deal with, so I helped them out with that.”
Erla was looking forward to the possibility of working with the entire Cass City baseball team this spring.
“Before the (Michigan High School Athletic Association) canceled their season, I was hoping I was gonna work with those guys because the (National Collegiate Athletic Association) canceled play before the MHSAA did and there was a small glimmer of hope I could work with my brother and those two guys specifically,” Erla said.
Regardless of what happens next, Erla said he plans to remain involved with baseball one way or another and hopes to one day be able to give back to the Thumb area.
“I always wanna have baseball in my life in some way, shape or form and obviously, coaching is a very good likelihood,” he said. “I’ve always wanted to open some kind of baseball training facility, so kids don’t have to drive to Bay City, Detroit or wherever to get the training they want.”
Scott Bolsby is a sportswriter for The Advertiser. He can be reached at email@example.com.