How Fidel Ulloa matured into becoming a top relief pitcher for LSU baseball

How Fidel Ulloa matured into becoming a top relief pitcher for LSU baseball
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Fidel Ulloa would get so nervous on the mound that Reed Peters could almost see him shaking.

He threw with tremendous energy and intensity, but Ulloa couldn’t control those emotions on the mound. Anytime he started struggling with his command, his nerves would only get worse.

“The main thing was just trying to calm him down,” said Peters, baseball coach at San Joaquin Delta Community College. “I believed that his stuff was definitely good enough, he just had to throw strikes.”

Coming out of Lodi High in Northern California, Peters believed Ulloa had the talent to be a Division I pitcher. But he had a lot of work to do if he wanted to reach his potential.

He was extremely raw and needed to mature, both physically and mentally.

“I don’t think he really realized how good he really was,” Peters said.

Fast forward two years and Ulloa is well on his way to realizing his potential as a top right-handed relief option for LSU baseball. After transferring in from Delta this past summer, Ulloa has yet to allow a run in 4⅓ innings for the Tigers ahead of their three game series at the 2024 Astros Foundation College Classic in Houston, Texas.

First pitch for LSU’s first game in the tournament will be against Texas on Friday at 7 p.m. at Minute Maid Park.

“Stuff’s great. I mean, he’s got a chance to have a great season,” coach Jay Johnson said. “Most importantly, he’s just in command of himself and just out there executing pitches.”

Mental maturity

Sunday was a unique experience for Stony Brook pitching coach CJ Whelan.

For two years, Whelan was Ulloa’s pitching coach at Delta. He’d known Ulloa since he was coming out of high school and now he was watching him pitch for the reigning national champions.

“All the progress he’s made and how he’s developed over the last two and a half years now has been really cool to see,” Whelan said. “But yeah, definitely different being on the other side of the field from him.”

Ulloa works fast on the mount now but used to work even faster. Whelan remembers having to slow him down constantly, even if he was just playing catch with his teammates.

“We’d first start off with, say 30-45 feet, (and) he’d just wanted to throw every ball as hard as he could,” Whelan said. “It was like ‘No, you need to slow it down a little bit. Get it going and then at the end of catch play, that’s when you can start letting it fly.’ “

Ulloa needed to learn how to handle his emotions, how to relax. That’s where Peters, who leads Delta’s mental game training, played a crucial role in his development.

Peters played in the Los Angeles Angels organization for five years and the San Francisco Giants’ organization for two before becoming a two-time state championship winning coach with Delta. But it was his time with the Angels where he learned about the importance of the mental side of the game.

The Angels’ mental game coach at the time, Ken Ravizza, co-wrote the books “Heads-Up Baseball: Playing the Game One Pitch at a Time” and “Heads up-Baseball 2.0: 5 Skills for Competing One Pitch at a Time.” 

“We do two hours a week of mental game training with all of our guys and just teach them routines to go through,” Peters said. “And getting themselves under control and pressure situations and just having a plan behind every pitch.”

For Ulloa, this meant learning how to breathe better on the mound to help control his emotions. He also developed a routine between pitches to maintain that control.

Doing so allowed him to throw more strikes; and once he started pounding the zone with both his fastball and slider, he began to dominate by the end of his sophomore year.

“He wanted the ball in those pressure situations which is evident in his playoff performances,” Peters said. “When you look at his playoff performances, he dominated.”

Physical development

Bryan Babcock remembers seeing Ulloa in the weight room for the first time.

He had no experience lifting weights and it showed; Ulloa was a 160-pound kid who could barely lift 95 pounds on his front squats.

“It wasn’t his fault, he just never had been exposed to it,” said Bryan Babcock, Delta’s strength and conditioning coach. “He just lacked strength, rotational speed, power, all of those attributes that you’re looking for in a high-level pitcher as a strength and conditioning coach.”

Despite his lack of physical training, Ulloa could still throw up to 91 mph. But he needed to strengthen his lower half in order to reach his potential.

Babcock immediately put him to work doing front squats, reverse lunges and trap bar deadlifts. He also had him perform jumping movement exercises to help improve his explosiveness and undergo mobility training to try to maximize his physical output on the mound.

“If you came into the weight room, and you didn’t know it was a baseball team, you’d think it was like a track team working out or something with all the jumping and dynamic movements we do,” Babcock said.

Those exercises along with a few mechanical tweaks from Whelan helped Ulloa add 4-5 mph on his fastball. By the time he finished his sophomore year at Delta, he could reach 97 mph.

Under Whelan, he also improved his slider. He started throwing the pitch harder to help tighten its movement and sharpen its break. 

“It used to be kind of like in between a curveball and slider and now it’s more slider-ish,” Whelan said.

All these improvements culminated in him generating interest from not just LSU but numerous other schools around the country. Johnson remembers having to fend off plenty of competition for his services but there was only one school that came to mind first for Ulloa.

“Everybody wanted him,” Whelan said. “(But) the thing is when we first talked about schools, he said ‘I want to go to LSU.’ ” 

That dream has come true for Ulloa. But it wouldn’t have happened if it weren’t for the work he put into improving his mind and body.

“I think if he can continue to do what he’s done so far at LSU, I think the sky’s the limit for him,” Peters said. “I can see him pitching in the big leagues if that’s the case.”

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About Marc Lemoine 1529 Articles
Marc is an Economist and a well experienced weightlifter who has won many championships. He intends to build a bright career in the media industry as well. He is a sports freak who loves to cover the latest news on sports, finance and economy.

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