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Julianel had talent, just didn't catch a break
May 14, 2010, 01:23 AM By Terry Bernal, Daily Journal Correspondent
This past offseason, after nine years of professional baseball, former Carlmont standout Ben Julianel decided to hang 'em up.

While the left-handed pitcher never made it to the Major Leagues, he pitched for three different Triple-A teams over the final three years of a venerable career. Beginning his career with the Cardinals organization, Julianel went on to pitch for minor-league affiliates of the Yankees, Marlins, Twins and Rockies. He appeared in 284 minor-league games from 2001 to 2009 -- many of which he worked as a situational lefty -- posting a career record of 35-27, and a 3.66 ERA, with 39 saves.

The 2009 season, however, blossomed into the most pivotal of his life. He went from believing his career to be over when he was released midseason by the Twins. Two days later, he got a call from the Rockies, who signed him to a minor-league contract. All the while, he and his wife Christy were expecting their first child in October.

When Julianel reported to Triple-A Colorado Springs, the Rockies were scuffling in fifth place. Julianel, of course, was intent on realizing his major-league dream. Never imagining the Rockies would make the playoffs, he went full tilt, certain all the while he would be home in Orange County by his wife's side by the time she was due to deliver in late October.

While Julianel settled in after a horrific start at Colorado Springs, the Rockies heated up, eventually winning the National League Wild Card. They eventually lost to the reigning World Series Champion Phillies in the Division Series -- all without Julianel.

Julianel, however, champions the belief that everything-happens-for-a-reason attitude. On Oct. 27, he realized home -- not a World Series dream -- was where the heart was, when his daughter Gwen was born.

"Reflecting on it now, I think it wouldn't have been good [to be playing]," Julianel said. "I wouldn't have missed [her birth]."

It was actually Colorado's playoff run that hampered Julianel's chances of making it to the big leagues last year. On July 11, Rockies left-hander Alan Embree was struck in the leg by a line drive, breaking his tibia. Since Embree was the only southpaw in the big-league bullpen, it seemed Julianel might get the call to replace him.

"I'm looking around the clubhouse like ... 'Who's it going to be?'" Julianel said. "If it's a left-handed reliever, it's going to be me."

Colorado opted to recall right-hander Matt Belisle, who spent five previous seasons in Cincinnati. The word from the Rockies organization was pretty cut-and-dry.

"It was pretty much: 'Yeah, things have changed. We're in a playoff race in the big leagues, and you don't have any experience,' " Julianel said.

Strong character

This is where the fortitude of Julianel's character has always persevered. Every step of his baseball career, from high school to the pros, coaches have praised his work ethic and team-first attitude.

"He did a nice job for us when he was in [Colorado Springs]," said Chuck Kniffin, former Colorado Springs pitching coach. "Things just didn't work out for him, but he was a trooper."

While Julianel finished his stint at the batters' paradise of Colorado Springs with a 5.46 ERA, he indeed had the hot hand at the time of Embree's injury. He had a 2.69 ERA through the month of June. In road games, he held opposing batters to a .140 batting average.

"I think at the time, Ben was throwing the ball well. When the organization [is going to make a call-up], a lot of times they look at the hot hand," Kniffin said.

In this case, however, they had several hot hands, so they opted for the one with experience.

Local beginnings

Julianel graduated from Carlmont High as the Blanket Award Winner in 1997. Over his junior and senior seasons with the Scots, he posted an 8-7 record, with a 1.95 ERA as a junior, and a 1.91 ERA as a senior. In summer ball with Belmont Joe DiMaggio, he won back-to-back team MVP awards in 1997 and 1998, and set the all-time Belmont single-game strikeout record with 16 against Coeur d'Alene, Idaho.

He went on to pitch for two years at the College of San Mateo.

"Benny was just as competitive as they come and was a great Bulldog," CSM manager Doug Williams said.

After transferring to San Diego State, Julianel put himself on the prospect map. He posted a career record of 9-8. He finished with one of the best games of his collegiate career, a complete-game win over Air Force in Game 2 of the Mountain West Championships, in which Julianel struck out 16 en route to a three-hit shutout.

Former San Diego State pitching coach Rusty Filter, now at Stanford, remembers recognizing both Julianel's team-first enthusiasm and his pitching talent.

"He first walked on saying: 'I just need to make this team. I'll pitch for you out of the bullpen if I have to.' And, I looked at him and told him: 'Ben, you're much better than that,'" Filter said.

Going pro

In 2001, Julianel was drafted in the 12th round by the Cardinals. He saw success as a starter at short-season affiliate New Jersey, going 6-6 with a 3.48 ERA. The Cardinals identified his fastball-slider combo as the formula for a future reliever, though.

"He was a guy we saw long term was going to be a reliever," Cardinals Director of Minor League Development John Vuch said. "He was chance prospect guy ... and a guy that could reach the Major Leagues."

The move worked, and in 2002, Julianel helped Low-A affiliate Peoria to a Midwest League Championship. Throwing to catcher Yadier Molina, Julianel racked up 100 1/3 innings. He would go on to appear in four postseasons in his first five years of pro ball.

At the 2003 trade deadline, Julianel was traded to the Yankees along with another minor-leaguer for big-league pitcher Sterling Hitchcock. According to Vuch, Julianel, "was one of the guys [the Yankees] were asking for."

In December 2005, he was traded to the Marlins straight-up for big-league reliever Ron Villone.

According to Vuch, the Cardinals were interested in resigning Julianel after the Twins released him last year. St. Louis was simply too loaded with pitching depth to do so. While Julianel never pitched in the big leagues, that doesn't mean the talent wasn't there.

"It's not necessarily a difference in talent, as it is in a difference in opportunity," Vuch said.


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