Former Sheridan Yellowjacket and UCA Bears pitcher Tyler Cleveland has been drafted by the Seattle Mariners in the 2022 MLB draft.

He was the 432 overall pick in the draft.

Cleveland, who was the Southland Conference Relief Pitcher of the Year a year ago, led the ASUN in strikeouts with 101 in the Bears’ first year in the league. He also tied for the lead with seven victories (7-2 record) and was third in earned run average with a 2.93.He was named first-team All-ASUN.

Cleveland, who started 14 games as UCA’s Friday starter, had four complete games and struck out at least five batters 11 times, including 12 against Jacksonville State and 10 twice, against Eastern Kentucky and Bellarmine. His 192 career strikeouts places him in the Top 5 in UCA history in just two seasons.

Cleveland, from East End, Ark., and Sheridan High School, was UCA’s fifth pitcher drafted since 2018. Cleveland was the ASUN Pitcher of the Year in 2022 in UCA’s first season in the league, and was the Relief Pitcher of the Year in the Southland Conference in 2021.

“He’s worked really hard and he’s earned that opportunity,’ said UCA head coach Nick Harlan. “To his credit, he made some really nice adjustments that changed his game. He evolved quite a bit. His willingness to make some pretty extreme adjustments really got him to this point. And he worked really, really hard at it. He didn’t take any days off, he was very diligent in the process because he wanted to be really good at what he did.

“So it’s really fun to see his progression and I’m very happy for him.’

Cleveland redshirted at UCA in 2019 and then made six appearances in the covid-shortened 2020 season, going 0-2 with a 10.29 earned-run average. The switch to a sidearm delivery, of which Harlan referred, changed the entire trajectory of his career. He was UCA’s closer in 2021 with a league-high 9 saves and a 2.43 earned-run average, with 84 strikeouts in just 66.2 innings.

“(My) over the top was pretty average, and to be a difference maker in our program, I wasn’t where I needed to be, the consistency wasn’t there,’ said Cleveland. “And that’s what we preach (at UCA). I knew from the series at Southern Miss during the covid-19 year, that I was going to have to change because I just couldn’t figure it out. And I embraced it, and then covid happened and I was able to practice it all the time playing summer ball. And it just naturally happened, being an athlete and being free and letting it go.’

Harlan said that work ethic and dedication is what sets Cleveland apart.

“He’s got the combination we always talk about, the combination of talent, skill and character,’ he said. “In my mind, you need those three things to be a professional baseball player. And I think you need those three things to be a Friday night starter like he was. And he possesses all three things.

“He’s got the talent, the athleticism. He has the skill, which he’s worked really hard to improve. And he has the character. He was raised really well. He just has all the attributes as a person that allows him to sustain success.’

Cleveland, a 6-foot-3, 185-pounder right hander, started 14 games as UCA’s Friday starter in 2022 and had a 7-2 record with a 2.93 earned-run average. He recorded four complete games and struck out a league-best 101 batters, giving him 192 strikeouts for his two-year career, placing him in the top five in school history.

Cleveland was an ABCA/Rawlings NCAA Division I All-South Region selection and a second-team All-American by Collegiate Baseball. He was also named a Freshman All-American and a third-team All-American in 2021 by Collegiate Baseball.

“Honestly, choosing UCA was probably the best decision I ever made,’ said Cleveland. “I had a chance to go to some bigger,  Power 5 schools as a walk-on, the opportunities were out there. But I chose to go somewhere that I felt like was home. And Coach Harlan, Coach (Allen) Gum, Sim (Coach Hayden Simpson), they kind of molded me and helped me mature.

“Changed arm angles, and that kind of set me apart. So without them, I don’t know that I’d be in the position that I am today.’

Cleveland said he had talks with several teams on Monday so he knew a call from someone was coming Tuesday. He just didn’t know from whom.

“Because of the calls on Monday, I knew there were several teams in play, knew something was likely going to happen today,’ he said. “But they obviously can’t promise anything.

“It was just a big adrenaline rush, but you’re actually just sitting there more anxious than anything. Then when you get the call, it’s like, all the stress is gone and you don’t have to worry about much anymore, they take care of everything else. You just get to live out a childhood dream now.’

Harlan had the unique opportunity to work with Cleveland both as a pitching coach (2019-21) and head coach (2022).

“Like anything, the longer you’re around someone, your relationship evolves,’ said Harlan. “I just felt like we had a high level of trust with one another. We had an open line of communication, and that makes it really enjoyable to coach someone you communicate well with. And he was always committed to the team first. Every decision that he made with us was about the team. He wanted the team to be successful and he was very selfless and was willing to do whatever we asked and pitch in whatever role we needed from him.

“Just a very selfless young man, and his teammates and coaches, we all have a great deal of respect for him for that reason.’

Harlan said Cleveland has the tools to pitch either out of the bullpen as he did for the Bears in 2021 or in the rotation as he did in 2022.

“I know he pitched in both roles with us, as a starter and reliever,’ he said “And with three pitches, he can get through a lineup multiple times. We’ll let them decide that, but all I know is if you put him out there, he’s going to find a way to get outs, he’s going to throw a ton of strikes, he’s going to be in the zone with a lot of movement and he’s going to compete.

“I think Tyler Cleveland can get outs at any level. I believe he can get outs anywhere.’

Cleveland said he is fine with any role.

“Whatever they need, obviously,’ he said, “but I think the way I’ll fit and be able to go up in the fastest way will be in a bullpen situation. You don’t see many sidearm starters, if any, at the professional level. They might use me for long relief just because I was able to go so long (in college), but whatever they need, I’ll be willing to do.’

Cleveland joins Noah Cameron (Kansas City Royals), Gavin Stone (Los Angeles Dodgers), Cody Davenport (KC) and Tyler Gray (KC) as UCA pitchers drafted since 2018.

The AA affiliate of the Mariners are the Arkansas Travelers, who play at Dickey-Stephens Park in North Little Rock, a stadium the Bears have played several games in over the past five years.

“That’s step 1 on my list,’ he said. “That’s about a 20-minute drive to the stadium. That would be perfect.’