GOLDEN SPIKES AWARD NEWS

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Golden Spikes Award Winner to be Announced Live on Baseball Tonight on Thursday

Announcement to be made leading into Red Sox/Yankees series opener
July 12, 2021
CARY, N.C. – USA Baseball announced today the 43rd Golden Spikes Award winner will be named live on ESPN’s Baseball Tonight: Sunday Night Countdown on Thursday leading into the Boston Red Sox and New York Yankees series opener. The program will air at 6 p.m. ET/5 p.m. CT on ESPN.

CARY, N.C. – USA Baseball announced today the 43rd Golden Spikes Award winner will be named live on ESPN’s Baseball Tonight: Sunday Night Countdown on Thursday leading into the Boston Red Sox and New York Yankees series opener.

The program will air at 6 p.m. ET/5 p.m. CT on ESPN. Karl Ravech hosts Baseball Tonight alongside analysts Eduardo Perez and Tim Kurkjian, plus Senior MLB Insider Jeff Passan contributing news updates. 

Kevin Kopps (Arkansas), Jack Leiter (Vanderbilt), and Kumar Rocker (Vanderbilt) are the final three amateur baseball players in contention for the prestigious award. 

2021 marks just the second year in the history of the Golden Spikes Award that not only do all of the finalists hail from the same conference, but also the second time that they have all played in the Southeastern Conference (SEC). All four finalists for the award in 2015 also suited up in the SEC (Andrew Benintendi, Arkansas; Alex Bregman, LSU; Carson Fulmer and Dansby Swanson, Vanderbilt).

Additionally, this is just the second time ever that all the finalists for the award have been pitchers (2011).

For more information on the Golden Spikes Award and its past winners, visit GoldenSpikesAward.com or follow along on social media at @USAGoldenSpikes on Instagram and Twitter.

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GSA Spotlight: Florida Atlantic's Nolan Schanuel

May 26, 2023
Blame Rikuu Nishida. Florida Atlantic University first baseman Nolan Schanuel leads the nation with a .460 batting average, 67 walks and a .523 on-base percentage. He is also second in the country with a 1.411 OPS, third with a .888 slugging percentage, and Schanuel’s 51-game on-base streak is tied for

Blame Rikuu Nishida.

Florida Atlantic University first baseman Nolan Schanuel leads the nation with a .460 batting average, 67 walks and a .523 on-base percentage. He is also second in the country with a 1.411 OPS, third with a .888 slugging percentage, and Schanuel’s 51-game on-base streak is tied for the longest active run in the nation.

Pitchers who have failed to get Schanuel out – which includes just about everybody – can blame the aforementioned Nishida, a starting outfielder for the Oregon Ducks.

Last summer, Schanuel and Nishida were teammates for the Hyannis Harbor Hawks. It was there that Nishida introduced Schanuel to some eyesight drills.

“The goal was to engage my eyes before games – wake them up,” said Schanuel, who has 20/10 vision. “I try to read the seams so I can see which way or how the ball is spinning.

“When I’m in the box, that’s the biggest thing I look for, and those eyesight drills have helped me tremendously.”

Schanuel, a lefty swinger who shows up on several 2023 mock drafts as a late-first-round selection, was named Conference USA’s Player of the Year on Tuesday.

He is also one of 25 semifinalists for the Golden Spikes Award, which is given to the nation’s top player. He is one of just three mid-major players on the list, joined by Grand Canyon infielder Jacob Wilson and Southern Miss right-hander Tanner Hall.

“Nolan is the best player in program history,” FAU coach John McCormack said. “There’s no doubt in my mind that he’s a first-rounder.”

McCormack said outfielder Jeff Fiorentino, who played 58 MLB games from 2006 to 2009, had previously been at the top of his list as the top Owls player. But McCormack said he got a recent text from Fiorentino.

“He said, ‘Coach, Nolan is way better than I was.’”

Schanuel, a native Floridian who grew up in Boynton Beach – just 14 miles from FAU’s Boca Raton campus – was seemingly born to hit.

At 18 months, he was already hitting plastic balls in the family’s living room.

“He was whacking the ball all over the house,” said his mother, Erin Schanuel. “After mom and dad, the next word he learned to say was ‘ball.’”

Schanuel had an outstanding prep career at Park Vista High, striking out just 16 times in three years (175 at-bats).

He was named a first-team All-American as a junior, batting .446.

As a senior, Park Vista got off to a 10-1 start, and Schanuel was hitting .520 with 14 runs, 13 walks and no strikeouts when the season was cancelled due to COVID.

Schanuel never made it past the regional semifinals, and losing one last chance at a state title was crushing to the Park Vista star and his teammates.

“When we found out (that their senior season was over), we all cried together,” Schanuel said. “What hurt the most was my teammates were all guys I grew up with and had played with since T-ball at age six or seven.

“We were all brothers. We would go on team dinners. We did everything together. To know that our season got cancelled was very emotional and disappointing.”

There would be brighter days.

As a freshman, Schanuel finished eighth in Conference USA with a .444 on-base percentage and 10th with a .343 batting average. He also led FAU with a .409 batting average with runners in scoring position.

Last year, he had a huge sophomore season, making first-team All-C-USA while batting .369 with 16 homers, 56 RBIs and a 1.135 OPS.

This year, as mentioned, Schanuel is hitting .460 with 18 homers, 62 RBIs and a 1.411 OPS with more games left to play, including Wednesday’s C-USA tournament game in Houston against Western Kentucky.

Schanuel credits some of his success to former FAU hitting coach Greg Mamula, who is now running the Delaware program.

One policy that Mamula started at FAU – and that Schanuel still follows – is to make batting practice have consequences.

In essence, if a player swings at a ball or takes a strike, he gets booted out of that round of batting practice.

“It’s just a way to put a punishment on things,” Mamula said. “But Nolan is as good as anybody I’ve ever coached in terms of swing decisions.

“His rate of walks and hit-by-pitches (a total of 84) to strikeouts (14) is absurdly good. What he sees with his eyes is better than 99.9 percent of his peers.”

Schanuel, 21, also credited Mamula with having him switch from the toe-tap loading mechanism he used in high school to the leg kick he started in college.

“The leg kick,” Schanuel said, “has unlocked more power in my swing.”

Weight training is another factor.

As a high school senior, Schanuel stood 6-2 an weighed 185 pounds. He wasn’t powerful, failing to bench press even as little as 135 pounds.

Just three years later, Schanuel towers at 6-4 and 215 pounds. On his best day, he said, he can bench press 225 pounds five times.

“In high school, I didn’t have access to a gym like I do now,” Schanuel said. “I weighed 225 this past fall, but I feel faster at 215.”

Speaking of speed, Schanuel is average – or perhaps a tick below – in that department.

Yet, he is 14-for-14 on steals this season and has a streak of 20 successful swipes going back to last season.

“I wouldn’t say I’m fast at all,” Schanuel admitted. “But I’m a good baserunner. I find little timing things — whether it’s the pitcher, the catcher or even the pitching coach if he is calling the pitches.

“In a tight game, baserunning could make the difference between a win or a loss.”

Defensively, Schanuel is versatile, playing first base, third base, right field and left field. First base is his best position, his coach said.

“I think Nolan can be a Gold Glove first baseman,” McCormack said. “But he can also play as a corner outfielder, and he has a tick above average arm that is very accurate.

“If a pro team wanted to experiment, he could play second or third base to see if it pops. He would have to work at it to do a better job with his feet and hips.”

The only thing missing from Schanuel’s college resume is postseason success.

Just like he wasn’t able to win a state title in high school, Schanuel – as great as he has been – hasn’t been able to pull FAU into an NCAA regional.

That could change this week as the Owls compete in the C-USA postseason tournament. Schanuel acknowledges that his Owls likely need to win the tournament to make the regional field.

Can he and the Owls get there?

“Going into this year, I thought this was a regional team,” McCormack said. “But we haven’t performed like (a regional team on a consistent basis).

“Nolan has done his part, but we haven’t put enough talent around him, especially on the mound. We haven’t been able to get over the hump the past (two) years.”

Schanuel said there is still hope, adding this: “We all have to be ‘on’ this week – each player on the team.”

As usual, Schanuel — with his keen vision — sees things clearly.

D1Baseball.com is your online home for college baseball scores, schedules, standings, statistics, analysis, features, podcasts and prospect coverage.

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GSA - 2023Semifinals16x9-nonames

USA Baseball Announces 2023 Golden Spikes Award Semifinalists

The 45th Golden Spikes Award to be presented on June 25 on ESPN
May 22, 2023
Fan Voting Link CARY, N.C. – USA Baseball today announced the 25 semifinalists for the 2023 Golden Spikes Award, continuing the process of identifying the top amateur baseball player in the nation. The 45th Golden Spikes Award will be presented on June 25 at 2:30 p.m. ET on ESPN, leading

Fan Voting Link

CARY, N.C. – USA Baseball today announced the 25 semifinalists for the 2023 Golden Spikes Award, continuing the process of identifying the top amateur baseball player in the nation. The 45th Golden Spikes Award will be presented on June 25 at 2:30 p.m. ET on ESPN, leading into game two of the College World Series finals.

Eighteen different universities are represented in this year’s semifinalist group, including five schools – Florida, LSU, Stanford, Virginia, and Wake Forest – who placed multiple players on the list. In addition, eight players have played their way onto the list since the Midseason Watch List was announced in April.

As the amateur baseball season enters the home stretch, we are excited to honor this season’s top players,” said USA Baseball Executive Director/CEO Paul Seiler. “The talent in amateur baseball is as exceptional as it has ever been, and the twenty-five players on this list are the best of the best. We look forward to watching the remainder of the season as we move closer to naming the winner of the prestigious Golden Spikes Award in June.”

The list includes five players who were named semifinalists a season ago, as Dylan Crews (LSU), Jake Gelof (Virginia), Tanner Hall (Southern Miss), Tommy White (LSU), and Jacob Wilson (Grand Canyon) all return to the semifinalist list for the second consecutive year. Crews is making his sixth appearance on a Golden Spikes Award list, having been named to the preseason, midseason, and semifinalist lists in the past two seasons.

Crews and White are joined by LSU teammate Paul Skenes as three of 11 semifinalists who also earned a spot on this year’s preseason and midseason lists. Chase Davis (Arizona), Gelof, Hall, Rhett Lowder (Wake Forest), Yohandy Morales (Miami), Nolan Schanuel (Florida Atlantic), Kyle Teel (Virginia), and Wilson have also all appeared on all three 2023 Golden Spikes Award lists thus far.

Along with LSU, top-ranked Wake Forest boasts three representatives on the list, as Lowder is joined by teammates Josh Hartle and Nick Kurtz. Additionally, Florida (Jac Caglianone and Wyatt Langford), Stanford (Quinn Mathews and Alberto Rios), and Virginia (Gelof and Teel) each have two players on the list.

In total, eight different conferences placed at least one athlete on the semifinalist list. The SEC leads all conferences with eight players, while the ACC has the second most represented on the list with seven.

Fan voting will again play a part in the Golden Spikes Award in 2023. Amateur baseball fans can vote for their favorite players on GoldenSpikesAward.com, beginning on May 22 with the naming of the semifinalists. USA Baseball will announce the finalists for the award on June 7, and fan voting will once again open at GoldenSpikesAward.com before closing on June 21.

The 2023 Golden Spikes Award timeline is as follows:

  • June 5: Golden Spikes Award semifinalists fan voting ends
  • June 7: Golden Spikes Award finalists announced and fan voting begins
  • June 21: Golden Spikes Award finalists fan voting ends
  • June 25: Golden Spikes Award winner announced

To stay up to date on the 2023 Golden Spikes Award, visit GoldenSpikesAward.com and follow @USAGoldenSpikes on Instagram and Twitter.

A complete list of the 25-player 2023 USA Baseball Golden Spikes Award Semifinalists is as follows:

Name; Position; School; Conference

  • Max Anderson; INF; Nebraska; Big Ten
  • Jac Caglianone; LHP/1B; Florida; SEC
  • Charlie Condon; 1B/OF; Georgia; SEC
  • Dylan Crews; OF; LSU; SEC
  • Chase Davis; OF; Arizona; PAC-12
  • Jake Gelof; INF; Virginia; ACC
  • Caden Grice; LHP/1B; Clemson; ACC
  • Tanner Hall; RHP; Southern Miss; Sun Belt
  • Josh Hartle; LHP; Wake Forest; ACC
  • Nick Kurtz; INF/OF; Wake Forest; ACC
  • Wyatt Langford; OF; Florida; SEC
  • Rhett Lowder; RHP; Wake Forest; ACC
  • Quinn Mathews; LHP; Stanford; PAC-12
  • Yohandy Morales; INF; Miami; ACC
  • Ethan Petry; OF; South Carolina; SEC
  • Alberto Rios; OF; Stanford; PAC-12
  • Nolan Schanuel; INF/OF; FAU; C-USA
  • Matt Shaw; INF; Maryland; Big Ten
  • Paul Skenes; RHP; LSU SEC
  • Hagen Smith; LHP; Arkansas SEC
  • Kyle Teel; C/INF; Virginia; ACC
  • Brock Vradenburg; INF; Michigan State; Big Ten
  • JJ Wetherholt; INF; West Virginia; Big 12
  • Tommy White; 3B; LSU; SEC
  • Jacob Wilson; INF; Grand Canyon; WAC
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Article - Shane Lewis1

GSA Spotlight: 26 Notes on Shane Lewis – One for Each Home Run

May 12, 2023
They call him “Suga” Shane Lewis, and that could be because the Troy left fielder makes such a sweet first impression. Lewis, a draft-eligible sophomore, ranks second in the nation with 26 homers and is tied for fourth with 72 RBIs. He is also fourth in the nation in slugging

They call him “Suga” Shane Lewis, and that could be because the Troy left fielder makes such a sweet first impression.

Lewis, a draft-eligible sophomore, ranks second in the nation with 26 homers and is tied for fourth with 72 RBIs.

He is also fourth in the nation in slugging percentage (.846), and he is tied with ex-Trojan Jorge Soto for the Troy record for single-season homers.

What follows are 26 notes on Lewis – one for each of his homers for the Trojans:

1: When Lewis was about nine years old and living in his native Vicksburg, Mississippi, Lewis slugged two homers while batting righthanded for his Little League team.

Lewis then asked his coach, Tim Shelton, if he could try swinging from the left side. Granted permission, Lewis slugged two homers batting lefty before he called it a day.

“After that,” Lewis’ father, Randy, said, “the coach let him hit any way he wanted.”

2: Fast forward to the summer of 2021. Lewis was preparing for his one season at Chipola JC in Marianna, Florida.

Troy coach Skylar Meade, in his first month on the job, made the trek to Florida to scout a couple of pitchers.

“I’m watching Kenya Huggins,” Meade said of the Chipola righthander who went on to become the Reds’ fourth-round pick in 2022. “All of a sudden, (Lewis) hits a bomb, and he took about two minutes to jog around the bases.”

When Ben Wolgamot – Troy’s hitting coach and recruiting coordinator – went to watch Lewis, the same thing happened.

First impression.

Bombs away.

3: Lewis signed with Troy, and the first new teammate he met was Brady Fuller. They became immediate friends, with Fuller promising to strike out Lewis, and Lewis vowing to take his new buddy to Dinger Town.

This past fall, in Lewis' first at-bat for the Trojans – albeit in an intra-squad scrimmage – he faced Fuller. On a 3-1 fastball, Lewis’ first swing resulted in – yep – a homer.

“Brady is one of my best friends – not just on the team but in life,” Lewis said. “When I hit it out against him, I messed with him for about 15 seconds. I held my hands up, and I flipped my bat. It was about bragging rights.”

4: Truth be told, Lewis swung and missed at the next seven pitches he saw in the fall.

He did just enough to earn a starting job – but he wasn’t exactly the cleanup hitter when the Trojans opened this season on Feb. 17 against visiting Evansville.

Meade placed Lewis eighth in the batting order.

“Right now, it looks like a horrible move,” Wolgamot joked about Lewis batting eighth at the start of the season. “But at that time, Coach Meade hit it right, and Shane has gradually gained the confidence he needed.

“But no matter where he hits, he has been the same guy. He hasn’t tried to be more of a power hitter since he moved up the batting order.”

Lewis is now batting third, but he admits he initially felt “weird” batting eighth.

“I never hit eighth before,” he said, “but now I’m glad I did because I had to earn everything.”

It worked out just fine as Lewis – of course – hit a three-run jack against Evansville in his first official swing at the D1 level.

5: Lewis asked this reporter – politely – to credit his mom and dad, Abi and Randy.

“I wouldn’t be where I am today without everything my parents sacrificed and have done for me,” Lewis said. “I am forever blessed to call them family.”

6: Lewis has always been a terrific athlete, earning the starting job as the quarterback at Vicksburg’s Warren Central High School.

“I was a flamethrower,” Lewis said when asked about his football-throwing skills, “but I wasn’t always accurate.”

7: Lewis’ football career ended after he blew out his right knee on the last play of summer practices, just before the start of his junior year.

It was a non-contact ACL injury as Lewis – running the option – planted his foot and made his move upfield.

Lewis said he has a high pain tolerance, which seems like an understatement because he played five games not knowing it was an ACL tear.

He finally had reconstructive surgery, and that’s when he decided to focus on baseball for fear of losing his scholarship to play for the school he and his family have always rooted for, the Mississippi State Bulldogs.

8: As it turns out, Lewis never got to play for the Bulldogs, redshirting in 2021 as Mississippi State went on to win the College World Series.

Lewis said he had a great experience at Starkville and is grateful to all his coaches and teammates.

“I was recruited as a corner infielder, and they moved me to right field, where I took reps behind Tanner Allen,” Lewissaid of the Marlins prospect. “It was cool learning from one of the best players in college baseball history.”

9: Needing game action, Lewis transferred to Chipola, an elite junior-college program whose small-town feel reminded him of Vicksburg.

It was a good choice.

Lewis hit .312 with 15 homers and 68 RBIs in his one season at Chipola, leading the nation in several offensive stats for roughly half the year.

10: At Troy, Lewis has led the Trojans to a 33-17 record, including 22-7 at home. The Trojans have already eclipsed the win total they had last year (32-24).

11: Lewis, who weighs 192 pounds and is a whisker shy of 6-foot-2, said people often ask him how he is able to hit so many home runs.

“I say, ‘I have no idea,’” Lewis said. “I know I’m not the biggest or the strongest. Maybe it’s fast-twitch muscles or forearm strength. I’ve always had muscular legs and a strong core.

“My biceps aren’t the biggest, but I work on my forearms and grip strength, and that plays a key role.”

12: Lewis said his high school coach, Randy Broome, taught him a pivotal part of his technique years ago.

“I like to hit with the bat in my fingers,” Lewis said. “If you put the bat in your palm, your hands and wrists can’t really whip through the ball.”

13: Meade said the way Lewis flicks his wrists at the baseball is unique.

The coach also described one amazing Lewis homer that he initially thought was a “popup to the catcher” but had a 41.4-degree launch angle.

“I’ve never seen anyone generate that much backspin on the baseball,” Meade said.

14: In 50 games this year, Lewis has drawn 39 walks, and he has struck out 60 times.

“His chase rate remains low,” Meade said.

15: Perhaps Lewis’ longest homer of the season was a 442-foot drive over the right-field fence at Auburn.

“It landed at the back of their batting cage,” Meade said, “and it bounced into the abyss of their dorms.”

16: There are many Lewis virtues. For one, about a week ago, he had exactly the same OPS batting right as well as left.  

“Sometimes you watch switch-hitters, and they do something completely different from each side of the plate,” Wolgamot said. “Not Shane.”

Added Meade: “Shane has the same juice from both sides of the plate, and he can change a game with one swing. Yet, he doesn’t get fearful of the moment. He’s clutch.”

17: Meade said Lewis doesn’t hit any “cheapies” among his homers.

Lewis said a homer he hit at Georgia State this year might have gone farther than his 442-footer at Auburn had the ball not hit a tree behind the center-field fence.

18: Lewis had never hit a walk-off homer until – no joke – April 1, when his solo shot down the right-field line beat Southern Miss, 5-4, in 10 innings.

19: The pitcher who allowed Lewis’ homer is Justin Storm. Lewis and Storm have played with and against each other since they were 6 years old back in their native Mississippi.

“Justin is a heck of a pitcher,” Lewis said. “He’s 6-foot-7, and his arms are longer than a tree trunk.

“He got up on me 0-2, but I didn’t press because I’ve been facing him since we were 9 years old.

20: Lewis has reached base in 25 consecutive games. His on-base percentage is .473.

“He swings at the right pitches,” Meade said.

21: Batting seventh on March 4, Lewis drove in eight runs in a 15-9 win over USC Upstate. It’s the most single-game RBIs by a Troy player since 1999.

Patience at the plate is paying off for Lewis.

“Shane sees more than 4.2 pitches per at-bat,” Meade said. “That’s good for a power hitter.”

22: Troy’s coaches – especially Meade and Wolgamot – helped Lewis re-tool his batting stance this season.

“I’m standing more upright,” Lewis said. “I’m making smaller movements. I’ve quieted everything down.

“My eyes and head don’t move as much as before. With smaller movements, I can better see the ball released by the pitcher, and my brain can quickly process if I need to swing or not.”

Wolgamot has put in a lot of work with Lewis.

“He was a leg-kick guy from both sides of the plate,” Wolgamot said. “He thought that was going to generate power, force and momentum. But when he gets the barrel on the ball, it just has different juice. So, we just tried to simplify things, cutting out the leg kick.

“Once he started to see success in-game, it’s been simple for him. Getting in hitting position quicker has allowed him to be more adjustable. He now makes just a three- or four-inch stride, and that allows him to be on time.”

23: Lewis has improved his defense over the past month. Last Friday against Georgia Southern, Lewis threw out a runner trying to stretch a single into a double. The next day, he crashed into a brick wall while making a catch in foul ground down the left-field line.

“He’s a crazy athlete with a good arm,” Meade said. “He has a burst. In pro ball, I think they will play him in center and let him figure it out.

“Shane is also a very good baserunner. Rounding third, he has a great shoulder lean, and he hits the inside part of the bag. That’s one of my favorite Shane Lewis things to watch, which I know sounds crazy when he’s hit 26 bombs.”

24: Before every game and after every win, Lewis and his teammates gather in the locker-room to sing Toby Keith’s Courtesy of the Red, White and Blue.

“We all stand,” Lewis said, “and we sing it at the top of our lungs.”

25: Meade said Lewis plays with “flair”, which can be seen in the way he celebrates homers with his teammates. But the focus, Meade said, is on Troy instead of showing up any opponent.

“We have a culture that allows guys to be themselves,” Meade said.

26: Lewis has not been back to his beloved Vicksburg since he blew up as a draft prospect this year at Troy.

Once he returns home after the season, he will surely make a stop at his favorite restaurant, El Sombrero, a Mexican spot where he typically orders a burrito with rice and beans.

“I’ve been to El Sombrero more than a thousand times – after football games, after baseball games, on weekends, on week nights,” Lewis said. “Every time I go, I will know at least 10 or 15 people there.”

This time when he returns home, it could be as the NCAA’s homer champ.

Lewis, asked how he thinks he will be greeted back home, showed his sense of humor.

“Hopefully,” Lewis said, “they will remember me.”

They surely will – Lewis’ season is already unforgettable.

D1Baseball.com is your online home for college baseball scores, schedules, standings, statistics, analysis, features, podcasts and prospect coverage.

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Article - Wetherholt

GSA Spotlight: West Virginia's JJ Wetherholt

April 21, 2023
When JJ Wetherholt – a natural righthander – was about 6 years old, he saw his older brother, Brandon, take lefty swings. Wetherholt decided to emulate his big bro, and he’s been a lefty-only hitter ever since. Good thing. Wetherholt, a 20-year-old true sophomore second baseman for the West Virginia

When JJ Wetherholt – a natural righthander – was about 6 years old, he saw his older brother, Brandon, take lefty swings.

Wetherholt decided to emulate his big bro, and he’s been a lefty-only hitter ever since.

Good thing.

Wetherholt, a 20-year-old true sophomore second baseman for the West Virginia Mountaineers, entered this week ranked second in the nation in hits (64), fourth in steals (27 in 31 attempts), fifth in batting average (.451) and ninth in doubles (16).

As it turns out, Wetherholt’s boyhood decision to swing lefty has proven to be pivotal.

“I’m right-eye dominant,” said Wetherholt, a 5-11, 190-pounder. “I’m better suited to the left side.”

Brandon Wetherholt, who is four years older than JJ, is now a lefty-swinging outfielder at Gannon University, a Division II program in Erie, Pennsylvania.

A graduate student at Gannon, Brandon Wetherholt is obviously proud of his younger brother.

“I’m glad he thinks I played a role in his career,” Brandon said. “But he’s just a freak athlete.”

Indeed, JJ Wetherholt played football and basketball into middle school before quitting those sports to focus on baseball.

“In football, he was getting 30 carries a game as a running back, and he was making 15 tackles as a safety,” Brandon said. “In basketball, by the time he was in the third grade, his team had plays drawn up for him in which he would pull up and hit 3-pointers.

“And in baseball, he always had better contact skills than I did, although I had more power because I’m older.

“But by the time I got to college, I saw video of his power. … Now I don’t have anything on the kid.”

Not many college players do have something on JJ Wetherholt, who entered this week leading the Big 12 Conference in batting average, hits and steals. He’s also the Big 12’s toughest player to strike out.

Wetherholt, who is the son of Mike and Holly, isn’t afraid to swim against the proverbial current. He was born in Baltimore, which explains why he is a Ravens fan, even though he was raised in Steelers Country (Mars, Pennsylvania).

In addition, Wetherholt grew up just 20 miles from the University of Pittsburgh campus. Yet, he signed with perhaps Pitt’s biggest rival, West Virginia.

It didn’t hurt that West Virginia is coached by Randy Mazey, who is also from Western Pennsylvania -- Johnstown, Pa., to be specific.

Mazey and his staff started tracking Wetherholt early. As a freshman at Mars High, Wetherholt won the job as starting shortstop and leadoff batter. The Mars Fightin’ Planets had a loaded roster that year with four players besides Wetherholt who went on to play Division I baseball, including Will Bednar (Mississippi State); Jack Anderson (Pitt); Frank Craska (Lafayette/Quinnipiac); and Joey Craska (NJIT).

Andy Bednar, who coached Mars that year, said he knew Wetherholt was special – even as a 5-foot-7, 155-pound freshman on a team that made it all the way to the state quarterfinals that year.

“JJ’s hands and bat speed were unbelievable,” Bednar said. “He belonged.”

Following that season, Wetherholt committed to West Virginia. Among other things, Wetherholt liked the location – out of state but not too far that he couldn’t drive home in two hours.

“I had talked to the coaches at Pitt and Kent State, but they didn’t offer me in time,” Wetherholt said. “I jumped the gun and signed with West Virginia.”

Jason Thompson, who coached Wetherholt for his final two years at Mars High, said the WVU recruitment was low profile.

“He wasn’t trying to chase a name (university),” Thompson said.

Wetherholt doesn’t come off as bitter.

But, if he feels like he has to prove himself to doubters, you couldn’t blame him.

“I wasn’t highly recruited – nobody knew who I was,” Wetherholt said. “Part of that is because I didn’t compete in showcase events. Those events cost a lot of money.”

That, then, is how a player slips below the proverbial radar.

But he didn’t remain undetected for long.

Indeed, Wetherholt made the Big 12’s All-Freshman team last year, starting 53 of his 54 games while splitting his time between third base and second base.

Wetherholf was such an immediate success that he homered on his first career at-bat, going deep in a 13-8 win over Central Michigan last. year.

“I fell behind in the count 0-2 in that at-bat,” Wetherholt said. “I was nervous. My legs were shaking. I was thinking, ‘Good Lord, am I going to strike out in my first at-bat?’

“The next thing I knew, I was running around the bases, screaming.”

Wetherholt went on last year to hit .308 with a team-high 17 doubles, one triple, five homers, 39 RBIs, 51 runs and an .882 OPS. He also stole 15 bases in 23 attempts.

Tevin Tucker, West Virginia’s graduate student/starting shortstop, said he and his teammates starting noticing Wetherholt in the fall of his freshman year.

During a Mountaineers scrimmage, Wetherholt went 5-for-5 with two homers, one triple, one double and one single.

“I said, ‘Wow, this freshman just went for the cycle, and he didn’t even say anything,’” Tucker said. “It opened our eyes.”

Wetherholt has continued to get better. He has eight homers and a 1.264 OPS so far this year. That’s three more homers than he had all of last season, and his OPS is up by 382 points.

He has improved defensively, too. By ditching third base and playing what he says is his natural position at second exclusively this season, Wetherholt has improved his fielding percentage from .920 to .969.

Although he is currently out after stealing second base last week and jamming his left thumb, Wetherholt is expected back soon, perhaps this weekend.

When he does return, Wetherholt – who is a finance major – figures to continue to use his impressive brain power on the field just like he does in the classroom.

Thompson calls Wetherholt an “intellectual” – even on the field.

“In high school, after he got a hit, you could see him reviewing his swing, trying to learn,” Thompson said. “He sees the game differently, and that’s what happened against Arizona.”

Thompson was referring to West Virginia’s 6-5 win over Arizona earlier this year on Feb. 24 in which Wetherholt snapped a tie score by a straight steal of home in the top of the 11th inning.

That play happened after Wetherholt noticed Arizona righthander Trevor Long putting his head down before delivering to the plate.

Wetherholt led off the 11th with a double and then stole third. With two outs and an 0-2 count on the batter, Wetherholt saw Long’s head down and took off. Long threw home, but his toss was high and went off the glove of catcher Tommy Splaine.

“That play was emotional,” Wetherholt said. “I talked to (third-base coach Steve Sabins about stealing home), but not a lot of words were said. (Mazey and Sabins) saw what I saw, and, with two strikes, I thought: ‘Might as well go crazy.’

“It was really emotional. I think it was my first steal of home since I was 12.”

Wetherholt finished that game 3-for-6 with a homer, a double, a single, two steals, two runs and two RBIs, and that’s the kind of across-the-board impact he is capable of having on games.

Tucker said Wetherholt’s bat-to-ball skills are “one of a kind”, and he added that he rarely sees the Mountaineers second baseman take an off-balance swing.

Mazey, meanwhile, marvels at Wetherholt’s consistency.

“JJ has tremendous vision and hand-eye coordination,” Mazey said. “Those are difference-maker (traits).

“He sees all pitches, and he hits to all fields.”

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ARTICLE_060423_INGAME_vsLSU_08

GSA Spotlight: South Carolina's Ethan Petry

April 14, 2023
COLUMBIA, S.C. — Not even superstars are immune from occasional big-game butterflies. So South Carolina freshman sensation Ethan Petry didn’t try to play it cool in his postgame remarks after the Gamecocks’ series opener against LSU last Thursday night. “I felt pretty nervous going into this game,” Petry said. “It

COLUMBIA, S.C. — Not even superstars are immune from occasional big-game butterflies. So South Carolina freshman sensation Ethan Petry didn’t try to play it cool in his postgame remarks after the Gamecocks’ series opener against LSU last Thursday night.

“I felt pretty nervous going into this game,” Petry said. “It was a big game. Number 1 team in the nation.”

If Petry felt nervous, he sure didn’t show it on the field. In South Carolina’s marquee game of the season to date, Petry shined brightest, even brighter than LSU ace Paul Skenes, the nation’s best pitcher and a man drawing frequent comparisons to San Diego State legend Stephen Strasburg for his dominance. And in Petry’s first at-bat, after spitting on a few pitches just off the plate to run the count to 3-1, Petry did something nobody else has done all year: he took Skenes deep, pummeling a 99 mph fastball out to left-center for a two-run homer.

How did that moment feel for the freshman?

“I expected that question coming into this, but you know, it felt good. I respect the elite, and he’s the elite of the elite,” Petry said. “So I just took my jog around the bases, no trash talking. He got me the second time, so we’re even.”

As that answer illustrates, Petry strikes that perfect balance of confidence, charisma and humility — and it all seems natural and genuine. He is quick to smile, thoughtful and articulate, friendly and easygoing, all traits that reminded me last week of former San Diego superstar Kris Bryant, another Golden Spikes Award winner. And though he’s just halfway through his freshman year, Petry is well on his way to joining Bryant, Skenes and Strasburg in that “elite of the elite” category that Petry himself showed such reverence for. Heading into Week Nine, Petry is hitting an outrageous .449/.507/.898. His 1.405 OPS ranks sixth in the nation, and he’s tied for third with 16 homers, and stands alone in third place with 52 RBIs. His makeup has as much to do with his immense success as his talent.

“You don’t predict this for anybody. Anybody. Just special, just special. That’s all you can say,” South Carolina coach Mark Kingston said. “He’s an elite player, and I wish everybody could understand that he’s such a great teammate. Those guys love him. If he wasn’t hitting like he was, they would still love him, but he’s this good, and he’s such a great player and a great teammate, so it makes for a really, really good experience.”

Petry’s presence reminded me of Bryant first, but later it occurred to me that his game also bears a striking similarity to Bryant’s. At 6-foot-4, 230 pounds, Petry’s big, strong frame is similar to Bryant’s, and like Bryant he is more athletic than you might think, having stolen 32 bases in his senior year of high school in Orlando. Some scouts turned in Petry as a pitcher out of high school thanks to a right arm that can produce mid-90s heat, and his arm plays well at his natural third base or in right field (where he plays now); Bryant has bounced between third base and outfield in his career as needed. Like Bryant, Petry’s huge raw power from the right side is his calling card, but like Bryant he’s also a gifted natural hitter who has shown aptitude for making adjustments to improve his approach. In fact, Petry has made enormous strides just since the season started, when he was still battling for an everyday job.

“I think probably the thing that I’ve been the most proud of him is, with his ups and downs in the fall, and then he was really down in the preseason, he really struggled, but he just didn’t let it get to him. He just kept working through it,” South Carolina hitting coach Monte Lee said. “I don’t think any of us saw it coming this soon, but the light switch kind of went off. He made some adjustments. And I will tell you that Ethan is a guy that is very, very mature when it comes to the adjustments that he makes. He doesn’t really seek out a ton of advice, he’ll kind of run things by me from time to time, but he kind of figures things out on his own. He’s a self-made hitter, which I really like, because when he’s going good, he just kind of does what he does. And every now and then we’ll have a conversation about approach or swing or something.

“But he made an adjustment right before the season started where, he really just tried to stay taller, and he had to feel like he was swinging slightly down on the baseball, which really kind of got him on plane to more pitches, and just kind of use his height and his hands. We felt like he was underneath the barrel a lot in the preseason, just uphill and under the ball, so just staying on top of the baseball and letting the barrel work started helping him run into balls. And he has incredible barrel feel. Like if you look at his hard-hit contact strike zone, he’s hit pitches hard all over the strike zone. There’s just not, he doesn’t have any holes, there’s no holes. There’s no real way to pitch him. If you pitch him down and away, or up and away, or up and in or down and in, he’s got extra-base damage on pretty much all parts of the strike zone.”

That ability to handle a variety of pitches in a variety of locations was on display in that game against LSU last Thursday. After turning on 99 for a home run off Skenes, Petry came up again in a pressure situation in the fifth inning, with the Gamecocks clinging to a 3-1 lead and the bases loaded. This time, Petry went down to the bottom of the zone and crushed a Micah Bucknam breaking ball over the left-field fence for a grand slam. Once again, the freshman (who finished the game with eight RBIs) proved able to master his nerves in a big moment.

“Kingston told me to look at him and said, ‘Just breathe.’ That’s our motto this year, just breathe. Breathe and don’t panic,” Petry said. “And that’s what I kind of did. I got a pitch to hit and I hit it. … It was surreal. I heard the fans behind my back the whole game, I was loving it. I was feeding off the energy. It was so much fun.”

It’s obvious just how much fun Petry is having, how much he seems to relish putting on a nightly show for the rejuvenated South Carolina fan base, and how much he enjoys the simple pleasures of being part of a winning ballclub with his tight-knit teammates. There are many reasons South Carolina is enjoying a renaissance this year, but even as a freshman Petry feels like he’s already at the heart of this team’s success, on and off the field.

“He’s just the guy that’s always in a good mood, you’ll never see him being in a bad mood and taking it out on other people. He’s always trying to uplift everybody, he’s got a smile on his face regardless of what’s going on in a day for him,” said South Carolina righthander James Hicks. “He’s somebody that it’s impossible not to root for. So all this success he’s having is well earned.”

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230318_SRS_WAKEBSB_VsNotreDame-29

GSA Spotlight: Wake Forest's Rhett Lowder

April 7, 2023
CLEMSON, S.C. — It’s almost surprising that pro scouts keep packing the stands behind home plate for Rhett Lowder starts. Why bother? By now, you know exactly what you’re going to see. The Wake Forest ace is going to carve up the strike zone at 92-94 mph, or when he’s

CLEMSON, S.C. — It’s almost surprising that pro scouts keep packing the stands behind home plate for Rhett Lowder starts. Why bother? By now, you know exactly what you’re going to see.

The Wake Forest ace is going to carve up the strike zone at 92-94 mph, or when he’s at his best like he was against Notre Dame, he’ll attack at 93-96. He’s going to showcase one of college baseball’s best changeups, an 85-87 mph offering with elite arm speed, deception and fade. Most days, he’s also going to show advanced feel for a late-biting slider at 82-83. He’s going to throw any of his three pitches in any count, to righties or lefties. And he’s going to deal for six-plus innings, then earn a victory.

That’s just what Lowder does. He’s remarkably consistent, every time out. And Lowder was just typical Lowder on Thursday night at Clemson, turning in seven strong innings of two-run ball (one earned), striking out six while scattering seven hits and a walk. It wasn’t his best outing, certainly — but it was rock-solid, had he felt like he was in complete command throughout, leading the second-ranked Demon Deacons to an 8-3 win in the series opener.

“To have him is a luxury that we don’t take for granted,” Wake Forest coach Tom Walter said. “And he’s just so tough. He just makes pitches with men on base. All three pitches are in play at all times to both left and righthanded hitters, so it just makes it really hard to go up there and game plan against him.”

Lowder already established himself as one of college baseball’s elite pitchers last year, when he went 11-3, 3.08 with 105 strikeouts against 26 walks in 99.1 innings to earn ACC Pitcher of the Year honors. Yet somehow, he’s been even better as a junior. Thursday was the fifth time in seven starts that Lowder has gone seven innings while allowing one or fewer earned run — the man is just automatic. He’s now 6-0, 1.40 on the season, with 54 strikeouts against just eight walks in 45 innings.

Lowder is his own harshest critic, of course, and he said he thought he came out “a little flat” on Thursday, despite striking out the first batter of the game and working around a two-out single in a scoreless first. But he said he felt better as the game went on, and he “got a little bit more juiced up” when center fielder Tommy Hawke made a leaping catch to steal a home run from Jacob Jarrell in the third.

We’ve seen Lowder more dominant; in previous seven-inning starts this year, he’s limited opponents to three hits on two occasions, and just one hit another time. He did not have a clean 1-2-3 inning until the seventh on Thursday — but Clemson also did not advance a runner into scoring position in any of the first five frames, as Lowder characteristically buckled down with a man on first. Then in the sixth, he gave up a bloop double to shallow right-center to Will Taylor, then got cleanup man Cade Grice to hit a little nubber that Lowder fielded himself — then slipped on the wet turf and threw the ball down the right-field line, allowing Taylor to score. Lowder tweaked his hip a little on the play but stayed in the game and retired the next three batters in order.

“Rhett Lowder was the story today, just awesome,” Walter said. “That seventh inning he threw, kind of tweaked his hip on that slow roller from Grice, and he wanted the ball in the seventh, and I give him a lot of credit for that. His pitch count was relatively low, but he certainly could have asked out of that game in that situation, but he wanted to go out there, and got three big outs.”

Walter said Lowder has the best pitchability of anyone he’s ever coached — though emerging sophomore lefty Josh Harlte isn’t too far behind him, in Walter’s estimation. Lowder’s starts are always a clinic in craftsmanship for so many reasons, but I’m always struck by his ability to locate his changeup right-on-right to both sides of the plate — something you very rarely see. His feel for that pitch is just innate and special.

“It’s just something so natural for me, I’m lucky to say that’s the only pitch I’ve thrown the exact same way my entire life,” Lowder said. “Ever since I started throwing a changeup, I’ve thrown it with the same grip, thrown it the same way. So the more reps you get, the more comfortable you get with it. It’s one of those things, if it’s not feeling right, it’s a quick fix, and most of the time it’s feeling pretty normal — it’s like muscle memory.”

Watching Lowder feels like an exercise in eye muscle memory — we’ve seen this show before, over and over. When excellence becomes routine, that’s certainly a sign of greatness, and I’m making it a point to appreciate Lowder’s consistent excellence for what it is. Every Lowder performance is special, so let’s not take them for granted. Even if he’s going to do the exact same thing again next week, and the week after that, and the week after that.

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GSA - Midseason Watchlist - 16x9

USA Baseball Announces 2023 Golden Spikes Award Midseason Watch List

Midseason list features 45 of country’s top amateur baseball players
April 5, 2023
CARY, N.C. – USA Baseball today announced the 2023 Golden Spikes Award Midseason Watch List, continuing the process of identifying the top amateur baseball player in the country. The list features 45 of the nation’s best athletes from both college and high school baseball. Twenty-four athletes have played their way

CARY, N.C. – USA Baseball today announced the 2023 Golden Spikes Award Midseason Watch List, continuing the process of identifying the top amateur baseball player in the country. The list features 45 of the nation’s best athletes from both college and high school baseball.

Twenty-four athletes have played their way onto the list since the announcement of the Preseason Watch List on February 10. The Golden Spikes Award Advisory Board will continue maintaining a rolling list of athletes throughout the season, allowing players to play themselves into consideration for the award before the announcement of the semifinalists on May 22.

“The amateur baseball season has been nothing short of spectacular so far,” said Paul Seiler, USA Baseball’s Executive Director and CEO. “The talent on display has been very impressive across the country, and we are excited to recognize the nation’s best performers to this point in the season. We look forward to watching the rest of the season unfold before we name the newest Golden Spikes Award winner in June.”

The 2023 list features seven players from last season’s Midseason Watch List, including Dylan Crews (LSU), who is appearing on his fifth Golden Spikes Award watch list overall. Additionally, Enrique Bradfield Jr. (Vanderbilt), Chase Burns (Tennessee), Chase Dollander (Tennessee), Jake Gelof (Virginia), Nolan Schanuel (Florida Atlantic), and Jacob Wilson (Grand Canyon) return to the list after earning spots on last year’s Midseason Watch List.

Tanner Hall (Southern Miss) and Tommy White (LSU) join Burns, Crews, Gelof, and Wilson as 2022 semifinalists who made their way to the 2023 midseason list. Paul Skenes (LSU), a semifinalist in 2021, also earned a spot on this year’s midseason list.

For the second consecutive year, a school has placed three starting pitchers on the midseason list. After Tennessee had a trio of starters last year, Wake Forest’s Josh Hartle, Rhett Lowder, and Sean Sullivan appear on this year’s list after posting a combined 16-2 record and all owning sub-2.00 ERAs in the first half of the season.

Five non-Division I athletes appear on this year’s Midseason Watch List, including three high school standouts in Max Clark (Franklin HS), Walker Jenkins (South Brunswick HS), and Noble Meyer (Jesuit HS). Brady Cerkownyk (Connors State) and Mitch Farris (Wingate) join the trio of prep stars in attempting to become only the third non-NCAA Division I player to win the Golden Spikes Award.

Thirty-three schools and 13 conferences are represented on the 2023 midseason list. LSU and Wake Forest, the nation’s consensus top two ranked teams, each boast three players to lead all programs. The list also features eight schools with two players: Florida, Grand Canyon, Oklahoma State, South Carolina, Stanford, Tennessee, Vanderbilt, and Virginia. Additionally, the SEC leads all conferences with 16 representatives, followed by the ACC with seven and the Pac-12 with four.

Texas’ Ivan Melendez is the most recent winner of the Golden Spikes Award, earning the prestigious honor after a standout campaign in 2022. He joins a group of recent winners, including Kevin Kopps (2021), Adley Rutschman (2019), Andrew Vaughn (2018), Brendan McKay (2017), Kyle Lewis (2016), Andrew Benintendi (2015), A.J. Reed (2014), Kris Bryant (2013), Mike Zunino (2012), Bryce Harper (2010), Stephen Strasburg (2009), Buster Posey (2008) and David Price (2007).

The 2023 Golden Spikes Award timeline is as follows:

  • May 22: Golden Spikes Award semifinalists announced and fan voting begins
  • June 5: Golden Spikes Award semifinalists' fan voting ends
  • June 7: Golden Spikes Award finalists announced and fan voting begins
  • June 21: Golden Spikes Award finalists’ fan voting ends
  • June 25: Golden Spikes Award winner announced

Fan voting will again play a part in the Golden Spikes Award in 2023. Amateur baseball fans can vote for their favorite players on GoldenSpikesAward.com, beginning on May 22 with the naming of the semifinalists. USA Baseball will announce the finalists for the award on June 7, and fan voting will once again open at GoldenSpikesAward.com before closing on June 21.

To stay up to date on the 2023 Golden Spikes Award, visit GoldenSpikesAward.com and follow @USAGoldenSpikes on Instagram and Twitter.

A complete list of the 45-player 2023 USA Baseball Golden Spikes Award Midseason Watch List is as follows:

  • Name; Position; School; Conference
  • Kris Armstrong; INF; Jacksonville; ASUN
  • Enrique Bradfield Jr.; OF; Vanderbilt; SEC
  • Brody Brecht; RHP; Iowa; Big Ten
  • Chase Burns; RHP; Tennessee; SEC
  • Homer Bush Jr.; OF; Grand Canyon; WAC
  • Jac Caglianone; LHP/1B; Florida; SEC
  • Ryan Campos; C; Arizona State; Pac-12
  • Gavin Casas; 1B; South Carolina; SEC
  • Brady Cerkownyk; C; Connors State; Region 2
  • Max Clark; INF; Franklin High School
  • Charlie Condon; 1B/OF; Georgia; SEC
  • Jacob Cozart; C; NC State; ACC
  • Dylan Crews; OF; LSU; SEC
  • Chase Davis; OF; Arizona; Pac-12
  • Chase Dollander; RHP; Tennessee; SEC
  • Mitch Farris; LHP; Wingate; South Atlantic
  • Cam Fisher; OF; Charlotte; C-USA
  • Jake Gelof; INF/OF; Virginia; ACC
  • Jacob Gonzalez; INF; Ole Miss; SEC
  • Mike Gutierrez; LHP; UC-Santa Barbara; Big West
  • Hunter Haas; INF; Texas A&M; SEC
  • Tanner Hall; RHP; Southern Miss; Sun Belt
  • Josh Hartle; LHP; Wake Forest; ACC
  • Hunter Hollan; LHP; Arkansas; SEC
  • Carter Holton; LHP; Vanderbilt; SEC
  • Walker Jenkins; OF; South Brunswick High School
  • Rhett Lowder; RHP; Wake Forest; ACC
  • Nolan McLean; RHP/OF/INF; Oklahoma State; Big 12
  • Noble Meyer; RHP; Jesuit High School
  • Braden Montgomery; RHP/OF; Stanford; Pac-12
  • Yohandy Morales; INF; Miami; ACC
  • Ethan Petry; OF; South Carolina; SEC
  • Josh Rivera; INF; Florida; SEC
  • Nolan Schanuel; INF/OF; FAU; C-USA
  • Nolan Schubart; OF/1B; Oklahoma State; Big 12
  • Paul Skenes; RHP; LSU; SEC
  • Sean Sullivan; LHP; Wake Forest; ACC
  • Kyle Teel; C/INF; Virginia; ACC
  • Tommy Troy; INF/OF; Stanford; Pac-12
  • Brock Vradenburg; INF; Michigan State; Big Ten
  • Bryson Ware; INF/OF; Auburn; SEC
  • JJ Wetherholt; INF; West Virginia; Big 12
  • Tommy White; 3B; LSU; SEC
  • Jacob Wilson; INF; Grand Canyon; WAC
  • Trey Yesavage; RHP; East Carolina; AAC
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Jac Article

GSA Spotlight: Florida’s Jac Caglianone Catching Nation By Storm

March 31, 2023
OXFORD, Miss – “The damn baseball looks like a grapefruit out there to this guy.” Those words from the grandstand were lobbed from a fan wearing a blue Gators cap. The platitude landed on Florida star Jac Caglianone as the player walked from the visiting Florida dugout to exit the

OXFORD, Miss – “The damn baseball looks like a grapefruit out there to this guy.”

Those words from the grandstand were lobbed from a fan wearing a blue Gators cap. The platitude landed on Florida star Jac Caglianone as the player walked from the visiting Florida dugout to exit the Swayze Field playing surface.

Caglianone, listed at 6-foot-5 and 245 pounds, just greeted the complement with a hint of a smile. With number 14 on his back, Caglianone resembled an NFL tight end with broad shoulders and a narrow waist. The twenty-year-old presented an imposing figure.

Then he approached wearing a disarming, easy smile. The hulking figure was exceedingly polite. Earlier that day, he had murdered several baseballs.

“He’s the biggest, strongest kid on the field,” Florida head coach Kevin O’Sullivan said.

O’Sullivan had just watched that biggest, strongest kid smack three home runs in a Saturday doubleheader. Caglianone would hit another one the following day, giving him four home runs for the series and a national-best 17 for the season. And oh yeah, Caglianone also started that Sunday game as the pitcher, something he has done each weekend all season.   

Recruited as a premium pitcher to Florida, Caglianone didn’t pitch last season as he recovered from Tommy John surgery. That injury hurt his draft stock out of high school and certainly contributed to his arrival as a collegian.

Caglianone was expected to sit out last season completely, and he did so as a pitcher. However, the Tampa native impressed enough with his bat to get a start at designated hitter in a series against the eventual SEC champion Tennessee. In the second at-bat of his first start, he homered. He became a lineup mainstay the rest of the way, finishing with a .288/.339/.528 slash line and seven home runs. He homered twice against Oklahoma at the Gainesville Regional and found his way onto the All-Regional team.

This season, healthy enough to pitch, he earned a job in the weekend rotation. In 29 innings, he has allowed only 15 hits and 11 runs. The sophomore southpaw has struck out 35 and walked 18. He’s 3-0 with a 3.41 ERA in his six starts.

That would be impressive enough as a pitcher. But there has been as much buzz from striking baseballs as striking out batters. Caglianone is batting .400/.462/.971 with 17 homers, seven doubles, and a triple while splitting time between first base and moving to designated hitter on days he pitches. He routinely has exit velocities over 110 mph. The ball just sounds different off his bat.

“My approach has always been to hit a ball hard,” Caglianone said. “So, yeah, my exit velo has been pretty high for a while. I’ve got 120 (mph) once this year and some 118s.”

“He’s just different,” O’Sullivan said. “We’ve had some really good hitters over the years. He’s right there with them. I’m so glad he’s only a sophomore so we still have him for another year.”

“This is the first time I’ve seen him,” Ole Miss head coach Mike Bianco said after Saturday’s game. “He’s special. We watched him for 10 at-bats and still don’t know what to throw him. He hits everything. He hits fastballs, breaking balls. We only threw changeups because we’ve seen him hit enough home runs on changeups. And what a first base he plays (defensively).”

While his prowess as a two-way threat is fascinating from the outside, managing his workload is a big part of the story.

“It is definitely a lot tougher in college than I thought it would be,” Caglianone said of managing both pitching and hitting. “The coaches do a great job maintaining my arm.”

“We really take it easy on his throwing, especially with in and out,” O’Sullivan said. “On strike threes, we only throw to third (base) so he doesn’t touch the ball very much. He’s been doing it his whole life, so this is not something he’s never done.”

One person who can relate in some ways to what Caglianone is doing is former Ole Miss two-way standout Stephen Head. A star at Ole Miss from 2003-2005 and a professional player from 2005-2011, Head pitched and played first base for the Rebels well enough to be SEC Player of the Year in 2004.

“It’s hard not to notice what he’s doing,” said Head, who now works as a crosschecker for the Los Angeles Dodgers. “I mean, to be that talented on both sides of the ball.”

Head detailed some of the ways he protected his arm during his playing days, limiting throwing as an infielder in practice and in games, similar to how Florida does with Caglianone.

Head did feel there are some advantages two-way players have. One example is there are twice as many opportunities to experience pressure. If you handle it properly, that can be a benefit.

“If you are batting with two outs in the bottom of the ninth,” Head explained. “That’s no different than pitching in that situation. I think it’s a benefit because you are ready for any situation.”

When asked if he had any advice for a player following his path nearly twenty years later, he offered this retort.

“He doesn’t look like he needs much of my advice,” Head said with a laugh. “I’d say, just continue to do what he’s doing and be smart about it. You have to know how to take care of your body to be able to perform like that every time. It’s a pretty tough balance. There were days when I started a game on Sunday where I was gassed. You have to figure out that balance to do your job, be a college kid, and be a teammate. It’s a harder thing to balance than if you are just playing one side of the ball.”

And that’s the uncertainty as his career progresses after he completes his term as a Gator.

The 2024 draft is out there, and while the prevailing thought on Caglianone entering the season was a mound future thanks to his high-90s velocity, his power production is hard to ignore.

“Growing up I was always like a hitter who pitched,” Caglianone said. “Coming to college, I’ve become more like a pitcher who can hit. I guess that’s what I’d say right now.”

The velocity on the mound is eye-catching. And while there have been bouts with command—he walked eight Sunday—he also had a nine-strikeout, one-walk game. When he’s locating, this is a tantalizing pitching prospect. And remember, he is working his way back after surgery kept him out last season. There’s plenty of development left to happen.

Then you watch him hit. Or, in my case, you hear him hit. That thunderous impact when his bat smashed the ball stuck with me, and the mountainous exit velocities backed that up.

So where is his future? On the mound or at the plate?

“That’s the million-dollar question,” said a grinning O’Sullivan. “It will be nice to see how it all unfolds.”

But maybe he won’t have to choose. While no one should have to live up to Shohei Ohtani’s exalted status, at least now there’s a precedent that playing both is possible.

Even if he wanted to, Caglianone can’t escape the Ohtani comparisons.

“It’s hard not to (pattern his game over Ohtani),” he said. “In Gainesville, they’ve got the ‘Jactani’ thing going on. It’s surreal. I’m not rushing anything. Especially on the pitching aspect of things, coming off Tommy John.”

Caglianone paused and looked around the emptying ballpark. His focus quickly returned, and he smiled and blurted out the answer he had originally planned…

“I plan to do both as long as I can.”

And based on what we’ve seen thus far, that may just be a long time from now.

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Riggio vs. Cal Baptist

GSA Spotlight: Oklahoma State's Roc Riggio

March 24, 2023
LUBBOCK, Texas – Like a young Mick Jagger, Roc Riggio strutted and preened halfway between second base and third, raising his hands and hopping along on his tiptoes as if he were running through hot coals, or trying to maintain his balance on a high wire. Like Jagger, Riggio is

LUBBOCK, Texas – Like a young Mick Jagger, Roc Riggio strutted and preened halfway between second base and third, raising his hands and hopping along on his tiptoes as if he were running through hot coals, or trying to maintain his balance on a high wire. Like Jagger, Riggio is a natural showman who looks born for the big stage — and that home run trot against Arkansas last year came on the biggest stage of Riggio’s baseball career to date, his first taste of Division I postseason action in the wild Stillwater Regional.

Riggio did his talking with his bat as well as his swagger. When it mattered most, in the postseason, Riggio was a force of nature that entire week, finishing the regional 15-for-27 with five doubles, four home runs and 15 RBIs in five games. For Oklahoma State’s 5-foot-9, 180-pound dynamo, that performance was truly a coming-out party on the national stage.

“He has an internal will to convince himself he can do something that physically, you look at him and say you shouldn’t be able to do, but he decides he’s going to do it. And sometimes he has to recruit emotion and energy and feed off of things to do it,” Oklahoma State coach Josh Holliday said. “I saw it firsthand in our regional last year in Stillwater for four or five days. I saw a kid that drew energy from everything, from the other team’s fan base to the opponent, to the moment and all areas in between. And I think he’s just learning how to try to be a consistent performer without being so reliant upon that. But he’s a unique player and I’m just really glad he’s ours.”

A day after the official SportsCenter Twitter account posted the clip of Riggio’s home run prance with the caption, “Roc Riggio was feeling himself on his lap around the bases,” Riggio homered again — and this time he sprinted all the way around the bases and straight into the dugout at full speed. It was brilliant showmanship, even if it continued to infuriate the Arkansas fans on Twitter who decided Riggio was too flamboyant for their taste.

“It doesn’t bother me at all. I know that fans are fanatics. They’re not the ones playing the game, they have no idea what it’s like to be a ballplayer,” Riggio told D1Baseball of the interplay with fans who don’t like his style. “So we like it. We enjoy it. It fuels me, because I love this game, I love when the eyes are on me, I love when people hate me. On the field, I like being hated, that’s fine. Off the field, I respect everyone, I love everyone around me.”

Because Riggio is such a lightning rod, many casual college baseball fans might not know much more about him than that. His personality is so outsized that it can overshadow just how darn good he is at playing baseball.

A blue-chip recruit out of high school in Thousand Oaks, Calif., Riggio drew plenty of pro interest as a dynamic undersized hit machine in the mold of Nick Madrigal, Robert Moore or Dustin Pedroia. But he was determined to honor his commitment to Oklahoma State, where he was slowed a bit during his first fall by a left shoulder injury. Coming off that injury, it took him a little time to really find his stride as a freshman last year, but his torrid postseason performance gave him a very strong final line of .295/.413/.519 with 11 homers, 14 doubles and 47 RBIs, earning him first-team Freshman All-America honors. Riggio has more raw power than Madrigal and Moore, with an extremely strong lower half that he utilizes very well. But his hands are truly special as well, and they play a major role in his eye-opening power (which he showed off Saturday in Lubbock with a big three-run homer to center field to help lead OSU to its lone victory in a series at Texas Tech).

“His bat speed readings are elite, some of the highest ones you’ll see,” Holliday said. “So that’s a bat speed-driven swing, tremendous timing, and a very natural bat path that creates good loft.”

Riggio has continued to elevate his game as a sophomore, hitting .311/.480/.635 with five homers, seven doubles and 16 RBIs through 21 games. He has significantly improved his plate discipline, drawing 20 walks against 21 strikeouts so far after posting a 34-58 K-BB mark last year.

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Oklahoma State’s Roc Riggio dons the Cowboy hat after homering in 2022

“It’s more controlled. I came in here as a free swinger,” Riggio said. “I didn’t have a solidified approach, and now having guys like [assistant coaches] Matt Holliday, Robin Ventura, Jordy Mercer, Rob Walton, our whole coaching staff, they’ve all haven’t changed my swing, they’ve just implemented a different approach in my mindset and I’m more of a controlled aggressive approach, and so when I’m not hitting the ball that good, I know what I’m doing wrong. And then when I get back into that mindset of where I have a good approach, I feel very confident to play.”

Josh Holliday said Riggio is “a rhythm player” who has really found his rhythm over the last 10 games or so. His improved patience at the plate has made him a great fit as the catalyst atop the order after usual leadoff man Zach Ehrhard went down with injury. Riggio’s energy is boundless and contagious; even on a routine ground ball to the first baseman, Riccio always runs his hardest down the line.

“He’s just a blood and guts, competitive, all-in, passionate kid. And he plays with a confidence and a little bit of a freedom that makes him who he is, and you never want to take that away from your players if they have it. But he’s also learning how to manage it and he’s doing a good job, and he’s playing great second base,” Holliday said. “And he’s stinging the ball, and he’s a fire-starter. With Ehrhard being out, who was the other component of the top of the order, those two guys did such a great job by the end of last year. Roc’s kind of had to carry the load as far as triggering the offense at the start for the other guys to finish it.”

Riggio has also become a very exciting defender at second base, a position he is still learning. He said he was a catcher his whole life growing up, and he played some corner outfield as well as catcher in high school, only seeing action on the infield dirt for half of his senior season.

“Last year was my first full year playing infield, and I’ve improved a lot,” Riggio said. “I’ve had a lot of guys helping me out. I have a lot of guys who have got my back, and I believe I’m one of the best infielders in college baseball. And despite a few hiccups here and there, a few bad hops, I think that our middle infield, our third baseman Aidan Meola, [shortstop] Marcus Brown, [utilityman] Brennan Holt — even the guys who aren’t playing are really good defenders. And so as long as we keep playing good defense we will be in a really good spot.”

This past weekend at Texas Tech, Riggio made multiple standout plays, showing excellent range on a diving play in the 43 hole then popping up and making a quick transfer and good throw to first for the out. He also showing great instincts at a key moment Saturday; with runners at first and second with no outs, Brown made a brilliant diving stop on a hot shot up the middle and flipped to Riggio for the force at second. Riggio faked a throw to first, then whirled around and fired a strike to third to throw out the lead runner, who had made too big a turn around third.

“I think he’s an incredibly under appreciated second baseman, his totals last year were remarkable. He played a high, high percentage second base,” Holliday said. “He’s had a couple of tough chances this year. There’s a couple of errors in there that were tough chances on balls that did awkward things, but he’s a ballplayer. That’s all there is to it, he turns the double play well, he leaves his feet awfully well. He’s alert and talkative and very much engaged on every pitch. He’s my kind of player.”

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GSA Spotlight: Georgia Tech's Jackson Finley

March 17, 2023
LAWRENCEVILLE, Ga. — Georgia Tech went into a series finale against rival Georgia in desperate need of some quality innings from its starting pitchers after getting just 5.2 innings combined with 11 runs allowed from Dawson Brown and Josiah Siegel in losses in the first two games of the series.

LAWRENCEVILLE, Ga. — Georgia Tech went into a series finale against rival Georgia in desperate need of some quality innings from its starting pitchers after getting just 5.2 innings combined with 11 runs allowed from Dawson Brown and Josiah Siegel in losses in the first two games of the series.

Fourth-year sophomore righthander Jackson Finley gave the Jackets exactly that in a 4-1 win over the Bulldogs.

He threw four innings, giving up two hits and one run with two walks and four strikeouts, throwing 39 of his 62 pitches for strikes. He also worked out of a real jam in the fourth inning, when Georgia scored one and threatened for more with two men on and one out. Strikeouts of Parks Harber and Cole Wagner got him out of it.

“I thought it was huge,” Georgia Tech head coach Danny Hall said of Finley’s outing. “He pitched out of a jam in his last inning and that’s just good for him. I think it’s a good confidence booster for him. We’re asking him to do a lot, so just happy that he got out of that inning and then we can just kind of keep building from there.”

On its face, that outing doesn’t necessarily stand out, but it was precisely what Georgia Tech needed to set up the rest of the game, as relievers Ben King and Terry Busse took it home from there.

There’s a lot to like about Finley, starting with his performance through four starts. In 17.2 innings, he’s given up 13 hits and three earned runs with four walks and 11 strikeouts. His ERA sits at 1.53.

But beyond that, Finley just looks the part of a Friday starter. He’s got a solid frame at 6-foot-4 and 222 pounds and a four-pitch mix headlined by a low-90s fastball that will touch the mid 90s. And it only helps that he’s now two years removed from the Tommy John surgery that cut short his 2021 season and limited him in 2022.

The thing about it is that he can’t really be Georgia Tech’s Friday starter, though. He doubles as one of the Yellow Jackets’ best hitters — he ranks second on the team in average at .426 and leads the team with seven homers and 22 RBIs — and the coaching staff wants to give him a day off after he pitches. So Tech tried using him as the Sunday starter originally, then moved him up to Saturday last week against Notre Dame, which kept him out of the lineup Sunday.

Now that he’s gone through a few weeks of pulling double duty, Finley is learning more and more each time out about how he has to manage his body and all the other considerations that come along with being a two-way player.

“It has definitely been a little bit of a challenge, just keeping the body in shape,” Finley said. “It’s a lot more taxing, I’d say, but now that I’m starting to get more of a routine, I’m getting used to it and it’s getting a little easier.”

Finley hasn’t gone more than five innings or 82 pitches in any of his four starts, but that should change as time goes on. The coaching staff is being intentional about building him up so that he can be a workhorse once conference play is in full swing.

“That’s what we’re trying to get to, kind of taking it week to week, (and) 60-something (pitches) this week, so hopefully we can get him 70-plus, 75 and then just kind of start building him as we go,” Hall said.

Finley feels like that’s the way he’s headed as well.

“The pitch counts have been pretty steady now in the 60s and 70s, so as long as the arm keeps feeling good, I’ll be able to stretch it each outing,” he said.

A true Friday guy (even if he doesn’t pitch on Fridays) is what the team needs him to be, frankly, because circumstances have been such that Georgia Tech is really looking for answers on the mound.

This was always going to be an area of concern for the Yellow Jackets after they lost every pitcher who started more than four games last season and every pitcher who threw more than 39 innings.

Since this season started, the injury bug has also bitten. Logan McGuire, a high-ceiling righthander who might have actually turned out to be Tech’s Friday starter at some point this season, went down after throwing just 1.1 innings in a start two weekends ago against Tennessee Tech. Additionally, lefthander Camron Hill has been out since the second game of the season, and while his initial role was going to be as a reliever, it further hindered the team’s depth.

Neither of those injuries are expected to be season-ending at this point, but it does mean it’s on everyone else to help keep things afloat until the unit is back at full strength.

Finley is certainly doing his part.

Photo credit: GT Athletics/Danny Karnik

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GSA Spotlight: Wichita State's Payton Tolle

March 10, 2023
Payton Tolle turned in a performance for the ages on Saturday. Pulling double duty as the starting pitcher and designated hitter against Oakland, he struck out a career high 10 batters, allowing just one earned run on two hits and a walk in the Shockers’ 17-5 win over the Grizzlies.

Payton Tolle turned in a performance for the ages on Saturday. Pulling double duty as the starting pitcher and designated hitter against Oakland, he struck out a career high 10 batters, allowing just one earned run on two hits and a walk in the Shockers’ 17-5 win over the Grizzlies. But that’s only half the story. He also helped his own cause by going a perfect 5-for-5 at the plate with a double, a home run and six RBIs – another career high. 

“I don't think I've ever had a game quite like that,” Tolle told D1Baseball. “I mean there've been games in high school where I'm pitching well, but I can't quite find the hitting or hitting well and can't quite find the pitching, but everything was just ticking on Saturday. I don't really know what happened or what I did to be able to get that going. In the moment, I was just taking one pitch at a time, one at-bat at a time and good things just kept happening.”

Tolle made an immediate impact as a freshman last spring, going 4-6, 4.48 in the weekend rotation, while also slashing .317/.357/.471 with three home runs in limited action at the plate. He broke out at last year’s Frisco Classic, taking home MVP honors while navigating the Shockers through an undefeated weekend with standout performances on the mound and at the plate. Limited to just over 100 at-bats last season, Tolle didn’t hit on the days when he pitched and he platooned at designated hitter. 

Interim skipper Loren Hibbs explained that he and his staff had a plan to increase Tolle’s two-way responsibilities this season and credited Tolle with his commitment to bringing the plan to fruition. 

“We’re a lot better coaches when he's in the lineup as a pitcher/DH versus just being the pitcher,” said Hibbs. “We all saw that this weekend. With his work ethic, what he's done and the way he competes is top end. We just want nothing but good things for him moving forward. We're going to stay with the routine that's worked well for him to this point and keep running him out there and keep putting him in the lineup as a DH.”

Both Tolle and Hibbs appreciate that being a two-way player at this level requires a special level of commitment on behalf of the student athlete. Hibbs believes Tolle is up for the challenge. 

“You've seen him in person, he’s huge” said Hibbs. “He’s a big kid; a strong kid. He's really committed to building his body up in the year and a half now that he's been here. It's a credit to him, his work in the weight room. It’s hard to do both. It's hard to be a two-way player at this level.”

Tolle attributes that willingness on behalf of the program to continue to allow him to develop on both sides of the ball as one driving factor in him choosing the school.

“Recruiting for me was different I feel like because there were some schools that were saying, ‘Yeah, we'll let you two-way,’ but it didn't seem like they really wanted it," Tolle said. "And then there are also schools that said, ‘Hey, you're going to be a hitter,’ and some schools said, ‘Hey, you're going to be a pitcher.’ Then whenever I started talking to Wichita State, they seem like they were super on-board with me being a two-way. I thought this was the best chance I’ve got. I believe that they want me to do this, I think they believe in me.” 

Tolle went on to refer to Wichita State as one of his dream schools. He has family ties to the university as his mother is an alumnus, and it was close to home for the Yukon, Oklahoma native. For all those reasons, Tolle described the decision as a no-brainer, knowing it was exactly where he needed to be.

When asked if he prefers hitting or pitching, Tolle chooses all of the above

“I love doing both on the same day,” said Tolle. “I have always said ever since I was in high school, middle school, whatever — I'm going to ride this two-way train until they tell me to stop. I'm not going be the one to pick what I do. Somebody's going to have to tell me; I won't be able to make that decision for myself.”

After last weekend’s standout performance, Tolle is – perhaps unfairly – drawing comparisons to former Wichita State two-way star and College Baseball Hall of Famer Darren Dreifort, who starred for the Shockers from 1991-1993 before embarking on a nine-year MLB career. 

A veteran with more than 30 years of collegiate coaching experience, Hibbs recruited and coached Dreifort at Wichita State. While he stopped short of comparing the two players, he recognizes just how special the day was for the sophomore.  

“I think [Payton] will tell you he's not to that level yet,” said Hibbs. “But if he keeps working and he's still doing what he's done at this point; he’s got a chance to do some special things like Darren did here.”

“There's one-of-one with Darren Dreifort, that's it,” Hibbs continued. “But what Payton did this past weekend is definitely Darren Dreifort-like. I’m just really proud of him; he’s a tremendous, tremendous young guy. He’s just worked his tail off and he loves to compete.”

At 6-foot-6 and 250 pounds, Tolle is an imposing figure on the mound as well. He employs a three-pitch mix that includes an 88-91 mph fastball, an improving breaking ball and he shows remarkable comfort in turning over his changeup. While he doesn’t blow hitters away with premium velocity, his length helps him get great extension toward the plate, allowing the fastball quality to play up and get on hitters in a hurry. 

Tolle has been working with former Shockers great and MLB veteran Mike Pelfrey to refine his arsenal. The humble Midwestern young man that Tolle is, he was quick to credit his pitching coach and his catcher for his recent success. 

“Talking to Coach Pelfrey this past week about my starts the first two weekends, we really just wanted to focus on conviction, believing in every pitch and throwing every pitch with confidence,” Tolle said. “That's something that I went into the game knowing that I wanted to do. Every pitch was going be the best pitch that I throw. I trust Mauricio [Millan] my catcher and he calls a great game. We’re starting to think a lot alike now. Whenever he throws down a sign, I believe it and he believes it. Whenever we're going together it's a great feeling when things are rolling.”

Offensively, the loudest tool in the shed for Tolle is his massive raw power from the left side. There’s bat speed to complement the sheer strength, resulting in the ball jumping off his bat. Moreover, he’s able to drive the ball to all fields. An aggressive hitter, Tolle is looking to do damage when he steps to the plate. 

“Something that me and Coach [Mike] Sirianni have talked about is that I really just try to be in attack mode,” Tolle said. “Just seeing a pitch that I can hit and driving it right back up the middle. I feel like I can hit to all sides of the field, so that makes it to where I'm not just looking for inside [pitches]. I'm looking for heaters, I'm looking for hard stuff, I'm looking for stuff that I can hit and I’m always in attack mode.”

Even with the success he had as a freshman and the hot start in the encore, Tolle may just be scratching the surface of his considerable potential. Hibbs was complimentary of Tolle’s maturity, his budding leadership and his team-first mentality.

So how long will Tolle ride the two-way train? Hibbs has no plans to pump the breaks. 

“I think he's realized that he's physically gifted enough, if he can get in the right spot mentally which he's really improved with that, that he can dominate the game at any time against anybody,” Hibbs said. “It doesn't matter who we're playing. I think he's realized that, and I think the more times that he gets out there and gets a chance to have success, the more confidence he's going to get. We're just trying to provide them the opportunity to be a baseball player because he loves playing. It’s really not too hard to write his name in the four-hole, trust me. T-O-L-L-E. That's pretty simple, I can do that.”

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GSA Spotlight: Ball State's Ryan Brown

March 3, 2023
Ball State Head Coach Rich Maloney has been involved in the game for a long time. A four-time MAC and two-time Big Ten Coach of the Year, Maloney has had the opportunity to play a direct role in the development of several talented young men that have gone on to

Ball State Head Coach Rich Maloney has been involved in the game for a long time. A four-time MAC and two-time Big Ten Coach of the Year, Maloney has had the opportunity to play a direct role in the development of several talented young men that have gone on to enjoy success at the next level.

In his 28 years as a head coach at the collegiate level, however, Maloney has never seen anything like he witnessed last weekend.

Redshirt sophomore righthander Ryan Brown made a pair of relief appearances for the Cardinals at the Swig & Swine College Classic in Charleston, South Carolina. He struck out 17 of the 20 batters he faced spanning 6 1/3 innings over two appearances, picking up the win in both contests. The only blemish on his pitching line was a lone walk allowed.

“That performance was the best I’ve ever seen, ever,” Maloney said. “I had tears in my eyes in the huddle. I got choked up because I said, ‘guys, this dude put our team right on his back.’ This is pretty special and he’s earned it.”

In Ball State’s second game of the tournament, a 5-4 win over Rutgers, Brown entered the game in the top of the eighth with the score tied 4-4 and retired the side in order, all three on swinging strikeouts. After Ball State took a 5-4 lead in the bottom of the inning, Brown returned to the mound in the ninth and induced a foul out, issued a walk and struck out the final two batters of the game, both swinging, while picking up his second win of the season.

Brown’s second appearance of the weekend came one day later on Sunday, going 4 1/3 against Canisius in a 6-1 win. He took the mound in the top of the fifth with two outs and a runner on second. He promptly recorded the third out of the inning and ended up striking out 11 batters in a row. The 12th batter he faced hit a weak ground ball out, but the 13th and final batter he faced struck out swinging, giving him 12 punchouts on the day in another win for both Ball State and Brown.

For context, Maloney has coached numerous high-profile arms at Ball State. Look no further than Bryan Bullington, the No. 1 overall pick of the Pittsburgh Pirates from the 2022 MLB Draft.

In more recent years some of the more notable pitchers, and draft picks, have been Zach Plesac, Drey Jameson, Kyle Nicolas, Chayce McDermott and Tyler Schweitzer, the Chicago White Sox fifth-round pick last July. Bullington played five years in the big leagues with Pittsburgh, Cleveland, Toronto and Kansas City. Plesac has been a starting pitcher for Cleveland the past four years, Jameson made his big league debut with Arizona last September and both Nicolas and McDermott finished the 2022 season at the Double A level.

Brown appears to be next in line, ready to follow his fellow Ball State hurlers at the professional level, and what truly makes him so unique is his signature pitch, a Vulcan changeup.

ryanbrown2-1000x500-1

Photo credit: Ball State Athletics

Many of the greatest closers in the history of Major League Baseball have possessed a pitch that defined their greatness. Growing up I distinctly remember Bruce Sutter’s splitter. More recently Trevor Hoffman’s changeup and Mariano Rivera’s cutter were readily synonymous between the pitch and the person that threw them, pitches that every single person knew were coming but were still so good hitters never had a chance more often than not.

“I learned it my freshman year, just basically messing around outside of our dorms with my roommate, Ty Johnson,” Brown said of the pitch’s origin. “I didn’t have a changeup coming into college because I was a catcher my whole life. My freshman year was my first year really pitching, so I had to learn a changeup. I started playing around with some [grips] and was very comfortable throwing that split-change, the Vulcan change. I started throwing it in games and I started getting a lot of swing-and-miss on it, so it kind of just evolved from there.

“So, basically the only thing I’m really thinking about it is I’m throwing it like a fastball – I don’t think it’s the movement that makes it good, I think it’s more of the deception of how it looks out of my hand. It’s definitely been my bread and butter for a couple of years now.”

The Vulcan changeup differs from a split-fingered change in that the ball is placed in between the middle and ring fingers as opposed to the index and middle fingers (imagine Stark Trek’s Spock addressing you with his standard Live Long And Prosper greeting, only with a baseball stuck in the middle of his Vulcan fingers). It differs from a split-fingered fastball in that it is thrown like a changeup, allowing the grip, as opposed to any pronation, to work its magic as the pitch disappears downward as it crosses the dish.

“That’s kind of my rule of thumb, I don’t like to manipulate pitches too much,” Brown added. “I like to use the way I naturally throw and try to make the most out of that. According to my grip the pitch moves how it’s going to move, so I don’t really think about releasing the ball a certain way.”

In addition to this outlier offering Brown also throws hard, usually sitting in the 92-94 range with his fastball, touching 95 frequently with a 96 appearing from time to time. Those velos are expected to climb as the weather warms up and as Brown continues to add strength to his 6-foot-2, 205-pound frame. He’s also working on a slider, a pitch he’s able to dump in to a steal a strike, but at this point in time he hasn’t needed it much given the success of his Vulcan change.

The swing-and-miss metrics are ridiculous, something scouts have taken note of in previous viewings with their interest intensifying through two weekends of play.

Brown’s first appearance of the season came in Ball State’s very first game on the road against Charlotte. Similar to his more recent appearances Brown entered the game in the fourth inning and went the rest of the way. While he did strike out 10 batters he also walked nine, allowing just one hit without giving up a run and picking up his first win of the season.

“Honestly last weekend was equally impressive in a different way,” Maloney said of Brown’s first appearance. “Last weekend when we opened the season we faced a good Charlotte team and I brought him into the game and the margin was basically zero to make a mistake. His line was nine walks and 10 strikeouts, and he got the win. Who does that? A lot of people would say, ‘ugh, he walked nine guys.’ I would say, ‘that showed some moxie.’ That dude had to make big pitch after big pitch to get himself out of his jams, and he did it. A lot of guys would have broke.”

Brown admits he’s not overly mechanical when it comes to pitching. That doesn’t mean he just wildly fires from the mound, but he takes more of a naturalist approach, letting his body and its motion throw the ball he feels most comfortable with. He redshirted his entire first year on campus, arriving to Ball State as a catcher in high school as a native of Harrison Township, Mich., that would take the mound late in games to close things out. At the time he was just hurling fastballs, but his size and arm strength started to draw the attention of college recruiters.

A year ago as a redshirt freshman Brown was named the MAC Freshman of the Year after going 4-1 with a 1.71 ERA in 13 relief appearances. In 31 2/3 innings he struck out 50 batters and only allowed 17 hits, but he did issue 25 walks. The walks are largely contributed to his fastball command. Brown has a remarkable ability to command his Vulcan change but his ability to place his fastball has been inconsistent to this point of his pitching career, which essentially is a two-year work in progress.

“There’s a mechanical tweak I did make,” Brown said of the difference between the first weekend of play and the second. “I don’t really focus on mechanics too much most of the time, it’s more mental, but I made a switch the past week of just keeping my head still and trying not to get out of my mechanics. I’m throwing everything with intent, controlled intent. That mixed with not being afraid to pound the zone, to let my stuff play up, a mix of those two things were what helped.

“Confidence is a big thing for me. Every time I pitch – regardless if it’s the last outing at Charlotte where I had nine walks – I don’t think about that the next outing. I pitch with the same confidence and I use the mental skills I’ve learned to just flush it, move on to the next outing and keep going. I’m not focused on any of the failures of old outings.”

An Exercise Science major at Ball State, Brown has learned a great deal about his body during his studies. Upon graduation he would like to pursue physical therapy, a potential career that could be put on pause considering how much interest he’s going to draw between now and this year’s draft in mid-July.

For now Maloney intends to keep Brown in the bullpen, using him as an effective, somewhat old-school stopper reminiscent of closers of old. Ball State is supposed to get their closer from last year back at some point in time this spring, as Sam Klein has been unavailable to pitch to open the 2023 season after recording 11 saves a year ago. Should Brown get the call to start he has proven in extended relief appearances that he can certainly handle the added innings, and as his slider continues to develop he also has the requisite three pitches to start.

It’s also believed amongst scouts that Brown could be recording outs in the big leagues right now in the exact same role he’s currently being used given the swing-and-miss metrics his Vulcan change elicits.

Those possibilities aren’t in Brown’s mind at this point in time. He is focused on what he can control and that includes helping to guide Ball State to the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 2006 despite winning the MAC regular season championship a year ago.

“Our goal is to win the MAC again and get to a regional,” Brown said. “We’ve been in quite a drought, we haven’t been in a regional since ’06, so everyone’s hungry to get to a regional. I think we could really do some damage because we have a lot of returners that came back, upperclassmen in the mix with a lot of JUCO guys and freshmen that are going to make a big impact.

“Last year I know the guys we had on the team, the veterans – the quality of pitching and hitting that we had – we all knew that it was unfortunate that we couldn’t close out the [MAC] Tournament because I think that team would have been really special if we had made a regional. It just makes us hungrier this year.”

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GSA Spotlight: LSU's Paul Skenes

February 24, 2023
BATON ROUGE, La. – Paul Skenes stood on the mound, staring at his catcher, freshman Brady Neal. Maybe there were people in the crowd, 10,683 to be exact. Perhaps there was a batter. He faced 22 of them, according to the final box score. The junior righthander was locked in

BATON ROUGE, La. – Paul Skenes stood on the mound, staring at his catcher, freshman Brady Neal. Maybe there were people in the crowd, 10,683 to be exact. Perhaps there was a batter. He faced 22 of them, according to the final box score. The junior righthander was locked in on his catcher like no one else was present.

Skenes grimaced and hurled the pitch with all he had. Fastball, 98 mph. It was as if he didn’t care there was a man with a bat was standing there. Then he did it again. Fastball, 97 mph. And he did it again and again. He would occasionally mix in a slider, a mid-80s sweeper, showcasing a new arrow in his quiver.

Paul Skenes was ready. Another fastball. Another strikeout. He was made for this moment.

That moment, well, it was opening day in Alex Box Stadium, a day Skenes later said he’d never forget as his first game as an LSU Tiger. Wearing purple and gold, he threw 98 pitches. Most of them were fastballs, and he exited the game after six innings with a dozen strikeouts and a zero in the run column. He won SEC Pitcher of the Week from the SEC office (and also from D1baseball.com’s SEC Extra). By anyone’s standards, it was a good day.

“Paul was outstanding tonight, and he showed why he’s the best pitcher in college baseball,” LSU head coach Jay Johnson said. “He is very detailed in his approach, and he executed his plan precisely.”

“He is a very focused and driven young man,” LSU pitching coach Wes Johnson said. “He is very routine oriented and has a plan every day he comes in, which is something you need to be successful. Paul is always looking to learn something that might be able to help him get better.”

Skenes possesses the ability to focus on the moment, blocking out distractions. Those traits would have made him a great F-15 fighter pilot had he remained at the Air Force Academy. Skenes transferred to LSU over the summer.

“He carries himself with poise and presence,” said Air Force coach Mike Kazlausky, who coached Skenes for two seasons. “His mentality is like none I have ever seen at our institution in regard to visual acuity and visualization that he had on every single pitch. It was incredible. None of the other kids think like that.”

Think about that statement for a minute. Coach Kaz isn’t comparing Skenes to the cast of the D1Baseball.com Christmas party. He’s comparing Skenes to Academy cadets. These are the best of the best.

“They just received a true warrior,” Kazlausky said of LSU. “From academics, athletics, and character perspectives, you are not going to meet another man that whole.

“I have no idea what the LSU culture is like, but I guarantee you it just got better.”

Coach Kaz relayed a story where two cadets didn’t meet the standard. Skenes immediately raced up the hill and confronted them.

“The type of kid that he is, he’s not looking to his right and looking to his left and say, ‘See, those kids weren’t doing it right,'” Kazlausky said. “He took it upon himself. That’s leadership."

Bayou Detour

As his coaches pointed out, Skenes understands plans. Sometimes, plans must change, and that’s why the bayou, instead of the Rockies, now surrounds him.

Two years earlier, the 6-foot-6 Skenes was a catcher, a relief pitcher, and a member of Air Force cadet squadron 9. Now, he’s one of the top pitching prospects in college baseball and the ace of the No. 1 team in the country.

At the top of the sport now, that wasn’t the case a few months earlier. At the Air Force Academy, Skenes was part of a huge underdog story. Unlike LSU, Air Force wasn’t a baseball powerhouse. Still, Skenes, Coach Kaz, and the Falcons made a run to the Mountain West Conference Tournament title last season, earning them an automatic bid as the No. 4 seed in the Austin Regional.

The Falcons exceeded expectations in Austin, going 2-2 en route to the Austin Regional final. The Falcons beat Dallas Baptist and Louisiana Tech but lost to host and eventual CWS squad Texas twice, in the opener and the final. Skenes took the mound in the opening game against the heavily favored Longhorns and took the loss.

The game didn’t go as he wanted, as he left the mound after four innings. But the experience prepared him for what would come next, even if he didn’t know it at the time.

“My last start at Air Force was against Texas in front of 8,000 fans or something like that,” Skenes said after LSU’s 10-0 win over Western Michigan last Friday. “It was a big game. I would say the comfort level of doing that was a lot higher today (at LSU). Obviously, there are a lot of a lot of people there, but you know the whole thing about you’d rather have them on your side rather than have them rooting against you. I think I was a lot more prepared for it today than then.”

He had an entire Baton Rouge crowd behind him, along with a star-studded roster that includes returning stars like Dylan Crews and Tre’ Morgan.

Skenes transferred to LSU as part of the heralded transfer class that included Tommy White, Christian Little, and Ben Nippolt. His story was a little different because if he didn’t transfer after his sophomore season, his professional aspirations were unclear.

IMG_3012-scaled

Paul Skenes the Cadet/D1Baseball.com

Had Skenes stayed at Air Force through his junior season, he would have been locked into graduating from the Air Force before beginning any sort of professional baseball career. There was a precedent to follow as Minnesota Twins pitcher Griffin Jax was drafted in the third round as a junior in 2016 and did not play baseball as a senior. Jax deferred to the Air Force reserve after graduation and was able to play minor league baseball, eventually reaching the major league Twins in 2021.

The rules had changed in the time between Jax and Skenes, and Coach Kaz detailed it below.

Skenes’ situation would have been different than Jax’s. Skenes could have been drafted after his junior year and, like Jax, he would have to return for his senior year to graduate. Skenes, upon graduation, would have had to defer his commissioning of becoming a 2nd Lieutenant in the USAF. Meaning he would not have been an officer in the Air Force. He would have been able to play pro sports until he called it quits or the Department of Defense decided the media value was not being obtained.

Jax, drafted after his junior year, went to school his senior year, was commissioned as a 2nd Lieutenant, and participated in the World Class Athlete Program – designed to train in the minor league organization with hopes of becoming a member of the USA Olympic baseball team. Jax served two years in active duty and applied for an exception to the policy under “Palace Chase.”  The exception was granted, allowing him to play baseball for the Twins, and he traded his final three years of Active Duty service for six years of Reserve Duty.

Skenes was on that path after two incredible seasons in Colorado Springs. As a freshman catcher, he hit .410/.486/.697 with 11 home runs, 43 RBIs, and 49 runs, which led the team in all three. He also served as the Falcons’ closer, totaling 11 saves.

“We knew what we had right away,” Kazlausky said. “He was our best catcher on the team. He was our best hitter on the team. And he was our closer. He would catch twice a weekend. If we didn’t close him in game one or two, he would be long relief in game three. We beat LSU that year. He caught eight innings and then came in and closed, throwing 97 mph. We also beat Arizona. He caught eight innings and closed them out. They had him at 100 mph.”

Then last season as a sophomore, Skenes batted .314/.391/.552 with 13 home runs and 53 RBIs. He would start on the mound on Friday, DH on Saturday, and often catch on Sunday. He finished the season on the mound as the AFA ace with a 10-3 record, a 2.76 ERA, and 96 strikeouts in 85.2 innings. The Falcons were 12-3 in games Skenes started and 20-26 in the other games. That kind of season won him the John Olerud Award as the best two-way player in the country.

“He is one of the greatest athletes to ever attend our school,” Coach Kaz said. “I wish there was something from the Department of Defense and United State Air Force to make eligible for him to remain at our school and play pro baseball as well. It just wasn’t able to work out."

IMG_3342

Skenes holding an American flag/D1Baseball.com

Then the summer came, he stamped his passport in the transfer portal and wound up at LSU.

And who can blame him? At Alex Box Stadium, he plays in front of raucous crowds that understand the game against some of the best competition in the country. Every day he practices with some of the best players in the country with a chance to win championships. He would have a chance to pitch in a regional with the large crowd cheering for him instead of against him as he faced last season. He could play for a head coach with an Omaha pedigree focused on building something great. And he could play for a major league pitching coach who understands what a player needs to do to reach the next level.

Fine-Tuning The Arsenal

Skenes arrived at LSU as a hard thrower. He, obviously, can still throw hard. His first pitch on opening day was 99 mph. His final pitch was 98 mph. Velocity isn’t an issue. He quickly admits his stuff has improved since coming to LSU and working with pitching coach Wes Johnson, who joined LSU this summer after a stint as the Minnesota Twins’ pitching coach.

“The consistency has improved,” Skenes said. “The stuff in general, it’s a different slider this year than I was doing last year. I started throwing the two-seam as well but didn’t throw it a ton today. The changeup I threw once today, and I just missed with it with a changeup I’ve been throwing forever. But literally just knowing what makes each pitch good and where to start it. And then the velo has increased and the consistency of the velo has increased, which makes it a lot easier to pitch. So that’s in a nutshell that’s pretty much what we’ve done in the past six months.”

Wes Johnson met Skenes on his official visit shortly after coming to LSU from the Twins.

“The first thing I noticed was we need to get him to move a little better from a sequencing standpoint,” Wes Johnson said. “He obviously had a strong arm and was a big-bodied kid. He needed to clean up the way he moved. If you are going to be a starter in the big leagues, you’ve got to be an efficient mover. You’ve got to be able to recover because you get the ball every five days. He started moving better, and he did stuff over the winter break. Everyone likes to think there’s a magic bullet or whatever, but there’s not. It takes time.

“He’s really good,” the pitching coach continued. “He has to continue to develop his command and consistency. His changeup is really good, and we only threw it twice Friday night. He needs to continue to throw all three pitches in the strike zone. Being able to go to that changeup a little more would be nice, which is something you’ll see from us moving forward with him. The sky’s the limit. He gets it because he is so mature from a mental standpoint. That’s what you see from the guys that make it to the big leagues.”

The big righthander dominated at times, resulting in a dozen strikeouts. Skenes pledged $10 for every strikeout to Folds of Honor, a nonprofit organization that provides educational scholarships to the spouses and children of military and first responders who have died or been disabled. The charity is $120 richer after last Friday. One would expect that total to grow mightily as the season progresses.

As Skenes alluded to, he also changed his slider, which got him a little excited as he described it.

“The slider was really good,” Skenes said. “To be honest, I wished I had thrown it a little bit more. I think all except for maybe one or two were executed. One of them to the guy to the guy that had the double down the line. To be honest, I put it right where I wanted to put that ball. Maybe he was cheating to it or just caught it on barrel, whatever it was, but in my opinion, he was beat on that pitch and just got lucky a little bit. So that pitch was executed. And I think all the other sliders were too. I only threw one changeup. The slider was how I wanted it to be today. Especially with it being cold, making it tough to spin the ball.”

That comment reinforced something Coach Kaz mentioned about Skenes and also something my wife, an addiction counselor, constantly reinforces to anyone within earshot. “Be where your hands are,” meaning focus on the moment and control the controllable. Everything else, whether it be future issues or what others may do, is not where your focus should be.

Most of us focus on the result. The batter got a double off him. However, Skenes was focused on his performance. Did he execute to his standard? It’s a high standard. If met, that’s the result he’s chasing. He thinks, Did I throw my slider at optimum performance? As opposed to thinking, Did I get the batter out? Both are important, but Skenes can only control one part of the situation. That maturity is rare for a 20-year-old. Heck, it’s rare for a 50-year-old.

That slider version is a completely different one than he used at Air Force, moving from a vertical break to a horizontal one.

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Photo credit: Beau Brune

“It’s a sweeper as opposed to the gyro slider that I threw last year,” Skenes said. “I didn’t really know how to pitch with it last year. Didn’t really know what a gyro slider was, to be honest, but they are completely different pitches. I don’t know what it was breaking today, but it felt like it was sweeping for sure. I’m throwing it a lot more to lefties. I hardly threw it all to lefties last year, honestly. It was like the sixth start or so last year before I threw a slider to a lefty last year. I threw a number of them today. It’s a being able to throw to both sides in the know where to start it. It’s obviously a work in progress. But I think we’re in a good spot with that.”

“I use a lot of technology as everybody does now,” Wes Johnson explained. “I didn’t like the way he was gripping (the slider). We had a few guys with the Twins where he put the split-grip slider in. So, we split his grip. With his slot, the way his hand works, it made sense to do it. The grip doesn’t work for everybody. He was able to pick it up. He has such a really good two-seam. It runs horizontal. You can create a pretty good spread with a good sweeping slider. That’s what we put it in.”

As Skenes fielded question after question in the postgame interview scrum, I thought to myself, he pauses and composes his thoughts before each answer. This is a deliberate, cerebral guy.

“I don’t know what my velo was today,” Skenes said. “All I know is what my eyes saw and the misses were smaller today than they had been in the last couple weeks. Obviously, the adrenaline was flowing. Now especially, it’s really easy to just go after guys and make them hit it. That was the approach today, but probably to a lesser extent throughout the season, but that’s certainly gonna be the approach."

“He knows he’s better than you and he just dominates,” LSU freshman DH Jared Jones said. “It’s scary. And I’m glad he’s on our team.”

Last season, Skenes was a catcher and cadet. This season, he’s a Tiger with Omaha aspirations and, if the improvement continues, a big league future. And then, after that, Coach Kaz said not to be surprised if he serves his country again.

Coach Kaz spoke about his former player with reverence often reserved for someone’s passing. However, in this case, Skenes just moved 1135 miles southeast.

“He is a better person than he is a baseball player,” Kazlausky said. “And that’s what you need to write because that truly hits home with me."

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GSA - Preseason Watchlist - 16x9

USA Baseball Reveals 2023 Golden Spikes Award Preseason Watch List

Preseason list names 55 of the top amateur baseball players in the nation
February 10, 2023
CARY, N.C. – USA Baseball today revealed the Golden Spikes Award Preseason Watch List, kicking off the process of identifying the nation’s top amateur baseball player for the 2023 season. The 2023 preseason list includes 55 athletes from the ranks of high school and college baseball. Moving forward, the Golden

CARY, N.C. – USA Baseball today revealed the Golden Spikes Award Preseason Watch List, kicking off the process of identifying the nation’s top amateur baseball player for the 2023 season.

The 2023 preseason list includes 55 athletes from the ranks of high school and college baseball. Moving forward, the Golden Spikes Award Advisory Board will maintain the award’s watchlist on a rolling basis, allowing athletes to play themselves into consideration for the award based on their performances throughout the season.

“We are thrilled to begin the amateur baseball season with the announcement of the fifty-five-player Golden Spikes Award Preseason Watch List,” said USA Baseball Executive Director/CEO Paul Seiler. “The student-athletes on this list are some of the nation’s best and brightest, both on and off the field. We look forward to watching them compete in what will surely be an exciting baseball season.”

Ten members of the 2023 Preseason Watch List have been named Golden Spikes Award semifinalists before, including Dylan Crews (LSU), who also appeared on the 2022 preseason and midseason lists. In addition, fellow 2022 semifinalist Tommy White (LSU) and 2021 semifinalist Paul Skenes (LSU) are also on the preseason list to begin the season, touting LSU as the only school with three former Golden Spikes Award semifinalists on its roster.

Carlos Contreras (Sam Houston), Kendal Ewell (Kentucky), Jake Gelof (Virginia), Ryan Lasko (Rutgers), and Jacob Wilson (Grand Canyon) join Crews and White as position players from the group of last year’s semifinalists to earn Preseason Watch List honors in 2023. Meanwhile, pitchers Chase Burns (Tennessee) and Tanner Hall (Southern Miss) also locked in spots on the preseason list after being named semifinalists in 2022.

Burns is one of three Volunteers pitchers on the list, joining Drew Beam (Tennessee) and Chase Dollander (Tennessee). The trio also appeared together on the 2022 midseason list.

In addition to Beam, Burns, and Dollander, seven other players from the 2022 Midseason Watch List are on this year’s initial list. Enrique Bradfield Jr. (Vanderbilt), Contreras, Crews, Gelof, Jack Hurley (Virginia Tech), Nolan Schanuel (FAU), and Wilson were all on last season’s midseason list, while Bradfield, Crews, Jacob Gonzalez (Ole Miss), Tre’ Morgan (LSU), Skenes, and Brayden Taylor (TCU) all earned spots on the preseason list for the second straight year.

Five athletes on this year’s Preseason Watch List will seek to become the third non-NCAA Division I player to win the Golden Spikes Award. Jeremy Adorno (Southern Arkansas), John Michael Faile II (North Greenville), and Bobby Sparling (Saint Leo) each represent NCAA Division II collegiate athletes on the list, joined by high schoolers Max Clark (Franklin High School) and Walker Jenkins (South Brunswick High School). Currently, Alex Fernandez (1990) and Bryce Harper (2010) are the only players from a non-NCAA Division I school to win the award.

In total, 40 schools and 16 conferences are represented on this year’s Preseason Watch List. LSU and Tennessee lead all schools with four student-athletes appearing on the list, followed closely by Stanford with three. Seven other schools placed a pair of selections to begin their seasons: Florida, Maryland, Oklahoma State, Ole Miss, Vanderbilt, Virginia, and Wake Forest.

The Southeastern Conference (SEC) boasts 17 athletes on the 55-player list, followed by the Atlantic Coast Conference (ACC) with 10, five from the Pac-12 Conference, and four from the Big Ten Conference.

Texas’ Ivan Melendez is the most recent winner of the Golden Spikes Award, earning the prestigious honor after a standout campaign in 2022. He joins a group of recent winners, including Kevin Kopps (2021), Adley Rutschman (2019), Andrew Vaughn (2018), Brendan McKay (2017), Kyle Lewis (2016), Andrew Benintendi (2015), A.J. Reed (2014), Kris Bryant (2013), Mike Zunino (2012), Bryce Harper (2010), Stephen Strasburg (2009), Buster Posey (2008) and David Price (2007).

The 2023 Golden Spikes Award timeline is as follows:

  • April 5: Golden Spikes Award Midseason Watch List announced
  • May 22: Golden Spikes Award semifinalists announced and fan voting begins
  • June 5: Golden Spikes Award semifinalists fan voting ends
  • June 7: Golden Spikes Award finalists announced and fan voting begins
  • June 21: Golden Spikes Award finalists fan voting ends
  • June 25: Golden Spikes Award winner announced

Fan voting will again play a part in the Golden Spikes Award in 2023. Amateur baseball fans can vote for their favorite players on GoldenSpikesAward.com, beginning on May 22 with the naming of the semifinalists. USA Baseball will announce the finalists for the award on June 7, and fan voting will once again open at GoldenSpikesAward.com before closing on June 21.

To stay up to date on the 2023 Golden Spikes Award, visit GoldenSpikesAward.com and follow @USAGoldenSpikes on Instagram and Twitter.

A complete list of the 55-player 2023 USA Baseball Golden Spikes Award Preseason Watch List is as follows:

  • Name; Position; School; Conference
  • Jeremy Adorno; RHP; Southern Arkansas; Great American
  • Maui Ahuna; SS; Tennessee; SEC
  • Drew Beam; RHP; Tennessee; SEC
  • Enrique Bradfield Jr.; OF; Vanderbilt; SEC
  • Chase Burns; RHP; Tennessee; SEC
  • Michael Carico; C; Davidson; A-10
  • Max Clark; INF; Franklin High School
  • Carlos Contreras; OF; Sam Houston; Western Athletic
  • Dylan Crews; OF; LSU; SEC
  • Wyatt Crowell; LHP; Florida State; ACC
  • Chase Davis; OF; Arizona; Pac-12
  • Chase Dollander; RHP; Tennessee; SEC
  • Hunter Elliott; LHP; Ole Miss; SEC
  • Kendal Ewell; OF; Kentucky; SEC
  • Jake Gelof; INF; Virginia; ACC
  • Evan Giordano; 3B; Stony Brook; CAA
  • Jacob Gonzalez; INF; Ole Miss; SEC
  • Joseph Gonzalez; RHP; Auburn; SEC
  • LuJames Groover III; INF; NC State; ACC
  • Tanner Hall; RHP; Southern Miss; Sun Belt
  • Carter Holton; LHP; Vanderbilt; SEC
  • Vance Honeycutt; OF; UNC; ACC
  • Jack Hurley; OF; Virginia Tech; ACC
  • Mitch Jebb; INF; Michigan State; Big Ten
  • Walker Jenkins; OF; South Brunswick High School
  • Kennedy Jones; INF/OF; UNCG; SoCon
  • Caden Kendle; OF; UC Irvine; Big West
  • Sam Kulasingam; INF; Air Force; Mountain West
  • Nick Kurtz; INF/OF; Wake Forest; ACC
  • Wyatt Langford; OF; Florida; SEC
  • Ryan Lasko; OF; Rutgers; Big Ten
  • Rhett Lowder; RHP; Wake Forest; ACC
  • Quinn Mathews; LHP; Stanford; Pac-12
  • Nolan McLean; OF/INF/RHP; Oklahoma State; Big 12
  • John Michael Faile II; C; North Greenville; Carolinas
  • Braden Montgomery; OF/RHP; Stanford; Pac-12
  • Yohandy Morales; INF; Miami; ACC
  • Tre' Morgan; 1B; LSU; SEC
  • Jack Payton; C; Louisville; ACC
  • Carson Roccaforte; 1B/OF; Louisiana; Sun Belt
  • Will Sanders; RHP; South Carolina; SEC
  • Jason Savacool; RHP; Maryland; Big Ten
  • Nolan Schanuel; INF/OF; FAU; C-USA
  • Cody Schrier; INF; UCLA; Pac-12
  • Matt Shaw; INF; Maryland; Big Ten
  • Paul Skenes; UTIL/RHP; LSU; SEC
  • Bobby Sparling; OF; Saint Leo; SSC
  • Brayden Taylor; INF; TCU; Big 12
  • Kyle Teel; C/INF; Virginia; ACC
  • Tommy Troy; INF/OF; Stanford; Pac-12
  • Hurston Waldrep; RHP; Florida; SEC
  • Juaron Watts-Brown; RHP; Oklahoma State; Big 12
  • Levi Wells; RHP; Texas State; Sun Belt
  • Tommy White; 3B; LSU; SEC
  • Jacob Wilson; INF; Grand Canyon; Western Athletic
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22GSA-FinalistStats-WINNER-16x9

Ivan Melendez Named Forty-Fourth Golden Spikes Award Winner

Melendez is the first Longhorn to win the Golden Spikes Award
June 24, 2022
OMAHA, Neb. – Texas’ Ivan Melendez was named the 44th winner of the Golden Spikes Award tonight in a live presentation during the College World Series Special on ESPN. Created in 1978, the Golden Spikes Award honors the top amateur baseball player in the United States based on their athletic

OMAHA, Neb. – Texas’ Ivan Melendez was named the 44th winner of the Golden Spikes Award tonight in a live presentation during the College World Series Special on ESPN. Created in 1978, the Golden Spikes Award honors the top amateur baseball player in the United States based on their athletic ability, sportsmanship, character, and overall contribution to the sport.

Melendez is the first Longhorn to win the award in the program’s heralded history. Texas boasts the second-most Golden Spikes Award finalists all-time with 11 and is one of three schools to have a finalist in 11 different seasons. He is just the fourth player from the Big 12 Conference to win the coveted award and the first since Alex Gordon (Nebraska) took home the trophy in 2005. Jason Jennings (Baylor) also won the award in 1999, as well as Robin Ventura (Oklahoma State) in 1988.

“Ivan Melendez put together a season to remember for baseball fans,” said USA Baseball Executive Director/CEO Paul Seiler. “He became one of the most feared hitters in college baseball this year thanks to consistent and staggering power numbers, and he made every at-bat a must-see event. We are honored to celebrate Ivan and his record-breaking accomplishments by naming him our forty-fourth Golden Spikes Award winner.”

Melendez finished his redshirt-junior season leading the nation in home runs (32), RBIs (94), slugging percentage (.863), and total bases (214), as well as landing in the top 10 in three other offensive categories: hits (96), on-base percentage (.508), and runs scored (75). He broke Texas’ regular-season home run record in the championship game of the Big 12 Tournament after launching his 29th homer of the year. Melendez followed that up by breaking the BBCOR-era home run record set by fellow Golden Spikes Award winner Kris Bryant in 2013 with his 32nd during the Greenville Super Regional.

A consensus All-America selection, Melendez helped lead the Longhorns to Austin Regional and Greenville Super Regional titles, as well as their second-consecutive College World Series appearance and the third in the last four complete seasons.

Melendez was named the Big 12 Player of the Year after leading the Big 12 in six offensive categories: batting average (.421), home runs (28), RBIs (85), on-base percentage (.531), slugging percentage (.941), and OPS (1.472). Additionally, he earned conference Player of the Week a record five times throughout the regular season.

Melendez joins a group of past winners that include Kevin Kopps (2021), Adley Rutschman (2019), Andrew Vaughn (2018), Brendan McKay (2017), Kyle Lewis (2016), Andrew Benintendi (2015), A.J. Reed (2014), Bryant (2013), Mike Zunino (2012), Bryce Harper (2010), Stephen Strasburg (2009), Buster Posey (2008), and David Price (2007).

Golden Spikes Award winners have had tremendous success in the Major Leagues. Of the 43 previous winners, six earned Rookie of the Year honors, including Lewis in 2020. Additionally, three have won the Cy Young award, three were named MVP, and 11 have won a World Series championship as a player or manager, combining for 18 championships. Nineteen previous winners have also been named to at least one All-Star Game roster as a player or manager, combining for 59 total selections.

The award winner was selected through the distribution of ballots to a voting body consisting of national baseball media, select professional baseball personnel and USA Baseball staff, and the previous winners of the award, totaling a group of more than 150 voters. Fan voting continued to be a part of the Golden Spikes Award in 2022 and contributed to the voting total.

Golden Spikes Award Winners:

  • 2022: Ivan Melendez - Texas
  • 2021: Kevin Kopps - Arkansas
  • 2019: Adley Rutschman - Oregon State
  • 2018: Andrew Vaughn - California
  • 2017: Brendan McKay - Louisville
  • 2016: Kyle Lewis - Mercer
  • 2015: Andrew Benintendi - Arkansas
  • 2014: A.J. Reed - Kentucky
  • 2013: Kris Bryant - San Diego
  • 2012: Mike Zunino - Florida
  • 2011: Trevor Bauer - UCLA
  • 2010: Bryce Harper - Southern Nevada
  • 2009: Stephen Strasburg - San Diego State
  • 2008: Buster Posey - Florida State
  • 2007: David Price - Vanderbilt
  • 2006: Tim Lincecum - Washington
  • 2005: Alex Gordon - Nebraska
  • 2004: Jered Weaver - Long Beach State
  • 2003: Rickie Weeks - Southern
  • 2002: Khalil Greene - Clemson
  • 2001: Mark Prior - Southern California
  • 2000: Kip Bouknight - South Carolina
  • 1999: Jason Jennings - Baylor
  • 1998: Pat Burrell - Miami
  • 1997: J.D. Drew - Florida State
  • 1996: Travis Lee - San Diego State
  • 1995: Mark Kotsay - Cal State Fullerton
  • 1994: Jason Varitek - Georgia Tech
  • 1993: Darren Dreifort - Wichita State
  • 1992: Phil Nevin - Cal State Fullerton
  • 1991: Mike Kelly - Arizona State
  • 1990: Alex Fernandez - Miami Dade CC
  • 1989: Ben McDonald - LSU
  • 1988: Robin Ventura - Oklahoma State
  • 1987: Jim Abbott - Michigan
  • 1986: Mike Loynd - Florida State
  • 1985: Will Clark - Mississippi State
  • 1984: Oddibe McDowell - Arizona State
  • 1983: Dave Magadan - Alabama
  • 1982: Augie Schmidt - New Orleans
  • 1981: Mike Fuentes - Florida State
  • 1980: Terry Francona - Arizona
  • 1979: Tim Wallach - Cal State Fullerton
  • 1978: Bob Horner - Arizona State
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GSA Finalists - 16x9

2022 Golden Spikes Award Finalists Named

The 44th Golden Spikes Award will be presented on June 24 on ESPN
June 8, 2022
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CARY, N.C. – Oregon State’s Cooper Hjerpe, Texas’ Ivan Melendez, and Georgia Tech’s Kevin Parada were named the three finalists for the 2022 Golden Spikes Award by USA Baseball today. This year will celebrate the 44th Golden Spikes Award winner, honoring the top amateur baseball player in the nation who best exhibits exceptional on-field ability and exemplary sportsmanship.

The winner will be announced on June 24 on ESPN during the “College World Series Special” at 8 p.m. EDT/7 p.m. CDT.

“It is an honor to name the three finalists for this year’s Golden Spikes Award as we move another step closer to recognizing the top amateur baseball player in the country,” said USA Baseball Executive Director and CEO Paul Seiler. “Each of these young men is worthy of this recognition after contributing outstanding campaigns for their respective schools this season. Since 1978, the Golden Spikes Award has honored a spectacular collection of athletes and it’s exciting to know that one of these young athletes will soon join this lauded group of people.”

Oregon State sophomore southpaw Cooper Hjerpe boasts a 10-2 record, a 2.40 ERA, and a .182 batting average against for the Beavers this season, and he currently ranks in the top 15 in three pitching categories entering the Super Regionals. Hjerpe’s 155 strikeouts (in 95.2 innings pitched) lead the nation, while his 0.88 WHIP and 7.50 strikeout-to-walk ratio are good enough for eighth and 15th in the country, respectively. He was named Pac-12 Pitcher of the Week twice this season and earned National Pitcher of the Week honors after striking out 17 against Stanford on April 1. Hjerpe is the third Beaver to be named a Golden Spikes Award finalist, joining Michael Conforto in 2014 and eventual winner Adley Rutschman in 2019.

Big 12 Player of the Year Ivan Melendez led the conference in batting average, home runs, RBIs, on-base percentage, slugging percentage, and OPS to end the regular season for the Texas Longhorns. Following the NCAA Regionals, he is the national leader in four offensive categories: home runs (30), RBIs (90), slugging percentage (.895), and total bases (204). Additionally, Melendez also ranks in the top 10 in batting average (.404) and on-base percentage (.522). Throughout his redshirt-junior season in Austin, Melendez set a Big 12 record with five Player of the Week selections in 2022. He is the 10th Longhorn to be named a Golden Spikes Award finalist in program history and the first since Kody Clemens got the nod in 2018.

Georgia Tech catcher Kevin Parada has had a stellar sophomore season for the Yellow Jackets, ranking in the top 10 in four offensive categories. He finished his season third in the nation in RBIs (88), sixth with a school-record 26 home runs, fourth in total bases (183), and fourth in runs scored (79). Parada started all 60 of Georgia Tech’s games this season, playing an impressive 55 of them behind the dish, where he posted a .992 fielding percentage and threw out 12 would-be base thieves. In ACC play, Parada led the league in home runs, RBIs, runs, and total bases and ranked second in hits and third in slugging. He has racked up numerous accolades this year, being named National Player of the Week three times and ACC Player of the Week once. Parada is the first Georgia Tech player to be named a finalist since Mark Teixeira in 2000 and the sixth Yellow Jacket overall, including 1994 winner Jason Varitek.

The 2022 winner will look to join a group of recent winners that include Kevin Kopps (2021), Adley Rutschman (2019), Andrew Vaughn (2018), Brendan McKay (2017), Kyle Lewis (2016), Andrew Benintendi (2015), A.J. Reed (2014), Kris Bryant (2013), Mike Zunino (2012), Bryce Harper (2010), Stephen Strasburg (2009), Buster Posey (2008), and David Price (2007).

Historically, Golden Spikes Award winners have gone on to have tremendous success in the Major Leagues. Of the 43 previous winners, six earned Rookie of the Year honors, including Lewis in 2020. Additionally, three have won the Cy Young award, three were named MVP, and 11 have won a World Series championship as a player or manager, combining for 18 championships. Nineteen previous winners have also been named to at least one All-Star Game roster as a player or manager, combining for 59 total selections.

A final ballot will be sent to the Golden Spikes Award voting body consisting of national baseball media, select professional baseball personnel and USA Baseball staff, and the previous winners of the award, totaling a group of more than 150 voters. From Wednesday, June 8 to Tuesday, June 14, the voting body will cast their final vote for the Golden Spikes Award winner and fan voting will simultaneously be open on GoldenSpikesAward.com.

The presentation of the 44th Golden Spikes Award will take place on Friday, June 24 during the “College World Series Special” on ESPN. To stay up to date on the 2022 Golden Spikes Award visit GoldenSpikesAward.com and follow @USAGoldenSpikes on Twitter and Instagram.

Golden Spikes Award Winners:

  • 2021: Kevin Kopps - Arkansas
  • 2019: Adley Rutschman - Oregon State
  • 2018: Andrew Vaughn - California
  • 2017: Brendan McKay - Louisville
  • 2016: Kyle Lewis - Mercer
  • 2015: Andrew Benintendi - Arkansas
  • 2014: A.J. Reed - Kentucky
  • 2013: Kris Bryant - San Diego
  • 2012: Mike Zunino - Florida
  • 2011: Trevor Bauer - UCLA
  • 2010: Bryce Harper - Southern Nevada
  • 2009: Stephen Strasburg - San Diego State
  • 2008: Buster Posey - Florida State
  • 2007: David Price - Vanderbilt
  • 2006: Tim Lincecum - Washington
  • 2005: Alex Gordon - Nebraska
  • 2004: Jered Weaver - Long Beach State
  • 2003: Rickie Weeks - Southern
  • 2002: Khalil Greene - Clemson
  • 2001: Mark Prior - Southern California
  • 2000: Kip Bouknight - South Carolina
  • 1999: Jason Jennings - Baylor
  • 1998: Pat Burrell - Miami
  • 1997: J.D. Drew - Florida State
  • 1996: Travis Lee - San Diego State
  • 1995: Mark Kotsay - Cal State Fullerton
  • 1994: Jason Varitek - Georgia Tech
  • 1993: Darren Dreifort - Wichita State
  • 1992: Phil Nevin - Cal State Fullerton
  • 1991: Mike Kelly - Arizona State
  • 1990: Alex Fernandez - Miami Dade CC
  • 1989: Ben McDonald - LSU
  • 1988: Robin Ventura - Oklahoma State
  • 1987: Jim Abbott - Michigan
  • 1986: Mike Loynd - Florida State
  • 1985: Will Clark - Mississippi State
  • 1984: Oddibe McDowell - Arizona State
  • 1983: Dave Magadan - Alabama
  • 1982: Augie Schmidt - New Orleans
  • 1981: Mike Fuentes - Florida State
  • 1980: Terry Francona - Arizona
  • 1979: Tim Wallach - Cal State Fullerton
  • 1978: Bob Horner - Arizona State
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GSA - Semifinalist Announcement Cutout - 16x9

2022 Golden Spikes Award Semifinalists Revealed

The 44th Golden Spikes Award will be presented on June 24 on ESPN
May 24, 2022
VOTE NOW!

VOTE NOW!

CARY, N.C. USA Baseball today announced the semifinalists for its Golden Spikes Award, moving one step closer to naming the top amateur baseball player of the year. The 44th Golden Spikes Award will be presented on June 24 on ESPN.

Twenty-six different universities are represented by the 2022 semifinalists, and the list includes 11 athletes who have played their way into consideration since the midseason list was announced on April 5.

Additionally, the list of semifinalists is headlined by Jacob Berry (LSU) and Jace Jung (Texas Tech) who are both making their second semifinalist list appearances this year after also earning the honor in 2021. Since 2007, 32 athletes have been named a semifinalist more than once in their careers, including past Golden Spikes Award winners Stephen Strasburg (2009), Mike Zunino (2012), Kris Bryant (2013), Brendan McKay (2017), and Andrew Vaughn (2018).

“We are thrilled to honor these accomplished student-athletes as semifinalists for the Golden Spikes Award,” said USA Baseball Executive Director and CEO Paul Seiler. “With the huge wealth of talent in our sport right now, we are excited to recognize the contributions these athletes are making to their teams and schools. Each of these semifinalists showcase the caliber of players within amateur baseball as they each have excelled both on and off the field. We cannot wait to continue watching their journeys this season.”

Joining LSU teammate Berry as a 2022 semifinalist is Dylan Crews (LSU), meanwhile Cal Poly, Oregon State, Tennessee, and Virginia Tech join LSU as the only schools with multiple semifinalists on the list. Those sections include Chase Burns (Tennessee), Gavin Cross (Virginia Tech), Cooper Hjerpe (Oregon State), Brooks Lee (Cal Poly), Trey Lipscomb (Tennessee), Jacob Melton (Oregon State), Tanner Schobel (Virginia Tech), and Drew Thorpe (Cal Poly).

Also earning semifinalist honors in 2022 is Ryan McCarty (Penn State Abington), who put together an unmatched regular season in which he won the NCAA Division III Triple Crown and paced college baseball offensively throughout the year. McCarty finished his historic senior season with the DIII single-season record for total bases (220) and led all of the NCAA in batting average (.529), hits (100), RBIs (91), slugging percentage (1.164), and total bases, while his 29 home runs and 89 runs scored led Division III and tied for the top mark in all of NCAA baseball. He looks to become the first Golden Spikes Award winner from a non-Division I program since Bryce Harper won the award in 2010.

In total, at least one athlete from 12 different NCAA conferences has earned semifinalist honors this year. The Atlanta Coast Conference leads all conferences represented with seven athletes on the list, while six players represent the Southeastern Conference, four hail from the Big 12, and three compete in the Pac-12.

Arkansas’ Kevin Kopps took home the prestigious award most recently in 2021, joining a group of recent winners that includes Adley Rutschman (2019), Vaughn (2018), McKay (2017), Kyle Lewis (2016), Andrew Benintendi (2015), A.J. Reed (2014), Bryant (2013), Mike Zunino (2012), Bryce Harper (2010), Strasburg (2009), Buster Posey (2008) and David Price (2007).

Beginning with the announcement of the semifinalists, a ballot will be sent to a voting body consisting of baseball media members, select professional baseball personnel and USA Baseball staff, and the previous winners of the award, representing a group of more than 150 voters. As part of this selection process, all voters will be asked to choose three players from the list of semifinalists. On June 8, USA Baseball will announce the finalists, and voting for the winner will begin that same day.

Fan voting will once again be a part of the Golden Spikes Award in 2022. Beginning with the semifinalist announcement and continuing through the finalist round voting deadline, fans from across the country will be able to vote for their favorite player on GoldenSpikesAward.com.

The winner of the 44th Golden Spikes Award will be named on Friday, June 24, on ESPN. To stay up-to-date on the 2022 Golden Spikes Award visit GoldenSpikesAward.com and follow @USAGoldenSpikes on Twitter and Instagram.

The 2022 Golden Spikes Award timeline:

  • June 6: USA Baseball Golden Spikes Award semifinalists fan voting ends
  • June 8: USA Baseball Golden Spikes Award finalists announced, fan voting begins
  • June 14: USA Baseball Golden Spikes Award finalists fan voting ends
  • June 24: USA Baseball Golden Spikes Award trophy presentation

A complete list of the 2022 Golden Spikes Award semifinalists is as follows:

Name, Position, School, Conference

  • Chris Alleyne; OF; Maryland; Big Ten Conference
  • Jacob Berry; INF; LSU; Southeastern Conference
  • Chase Burns; RHP; Tennessee; Southeastern Conference
  • Justin Campbell; RHP; Oklahoma State; Big 12 Conference
  • Carlos Contreras; OF; Sam Houston; Western Athletic Conference
  • Dylan Crews; OF; LSU; Southeastern Conference
  • Gavin Cross; OF; Virginia Tech; Atlantic Coast Conference
  • Sonny DiChiara; INF; Auburn; Southeastern Conference
  • Kendal Ewell; OF; Eastern Kentucky; Atlantic Sun Conference
  • Jake Gelof; INF; Virginia; Atlantic Coast Conference
  • Peyton Graham; INF; Oklahoma; Big 12 Conference
  • Tanner Hall; RHP; Southern Miss.; Conference USA
  • Thomas Harrington; RHP; Campbell; Big South Conference
  • Cooper Hjerpe; LHP; Oregon State; Pac-12 Conference
  • Gabriel Hughes; RHP; Gonzaga; West Coast Conference
  • Jace Jung; INF; Texas Tech; Big 12 Conference
  • Dominic Keegan; UTIL; Vanderbilt; Southeastern Conference
  • Ryan Lasko; OF; Rutgers; Big Ten Conference
  • Brooks Lee; SS; Cal Poly; Big West Conference
  • Trey Lipscomb; INF; Tennessee; Southeastern Conference
  • Ryan McCarty; INF; Penn State Abington; United East
  • Ivan Melendez; INF; Texas; Big 12 Conference
  • Jacob Melton; OF/INF; Oregon State; Pac-12 Conference
  • Parker Messick; LHP; Florida State; Atlantic Coast Conference
  • Kevin Parada; C; Georgia Tech; Atlantic Coast Conference
  • Tanner Schobel; INF; Virginia Tech; Atlantic Coast Conference
  • Daniel Susac; C; Arizona; Pac-12 Conference
  • Drew Thorpe; RHP; Cal Poly; Big West Conference
  • Max Wagner; INF; Clemson; Atlantic Coast Conference
  • Tommy White; INF; NC State; Atlantic Coast Conference
  • Jacob Wilson; INF; Grand Canyon; Western Athletic Conference
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Parada_1200x675

GSA Spotlight: Georgia Tech's Kevin Parada

May 20, 2022
It was a comebacker that kept coming. It was a line-drive hit … that carried 450 feet. It was a smash so threatening that Mercer pitcher Ryan Lobus spun around and jumped as if the ball would hit under his spikes. Instead, the blast by Georgia Tech catcher Kevin Parada

It was a comebacker that kept coming.

It was a line-drive hit … that carried 450 feet.

It was a smash so threatening that Mercer pitcher Ryan Lobus spun around and jumped as if the ball would hit under his spikes.

Instead, the blast by Georgia Tech catcher Kevin Parada on March 8 spanked a scoreboard speaker for a home run.

Entering this week, Parada has slugged 23 dingers – many of them to center and right-center, which leaves pitchers frustrated if not fearful and flummoxed.

“I had to face him many times in the preseason, and it’s daunting,” Georgia Tech pitcher Zach Maxwell said. “His plate coverage is so good – there’s nowhere you can go with the ball that he wouldn’t at least foul it off.”

Although Parada’s offense is ahead of his defense, his power bat at a premium position has made him a consensus top-seven-player pick among various 2022 MLB mock drafts.

Parada, who turns 21 on August 3, was briefly ineligible for this year’s draft. When MLB owners and the players union agreed to a new collective bargaining agreement in March, the cutoff for players turning 21 to be eligible for that year’s draft was August 1.

“It’s a funny story because, for about 24 hours, I was feeling really good that we may get this guy back next year,” Georgia Tech coach Danny Hall said of Parada. “But he’s been a great player for us. I will be happy for him when he gets drafted.”

Parada is a Southern California native – Pasadena to be precise – and he grew up rooting for the Angels.

He is the first scholarship athlete in his family. His father, Jason, played club lacrosse at Stanford. His mother, Darlene, played high school softball (and not in college as reported elsewhere).

Parada understands Spanish better than he can speak the language, although he has Hispanic ancestry on his father’s side, specifically from Mexico, Spain and the Philippines.

Former Yellow Jackets catcher Mike Nickeas, who went back to school at Georgia Tech after his four-year major-league career ended in 2015, recommended Parada to Hall.

Parada quickly fell in love with everything Georgia Tech had to offer, essentially removing himself from the 2019 draft. But it wasn’t until he arrived in Atlanta for enrollment that he fully understood his new school’s history.

“Joey Bart was still playing here when I committed, but I didn’t know the depth of how important Georgia Tech was in developing a lot of catchers,” Parada said. “Coach Hall has always talked about how important catchers are to his program, but it wasn’t until I got here that I started to understand the lineage.”

CATCHER U?

Indeed, since Hall arrived at Tech for the 1994 season, the Yellow Jackets have had never gone more than two straight years without having a catcher drafted.

In the past 28 years, they have had 17 catchers drafted, including first-rounders Jason Varitek, Matt Wieters and Bart.

A total of 10 ex-Georgia Tech catchers have been drafted in the top 10 rounds, a list that includes Nickeas.

Here’s the list of Georgia Tech’s drafted catchers since 1994:

1994: Jason Varitek, 1, Mariners

1996: Tucker Barr, 5, Astros

1999: Eric McQueen, 14, Rockies

2001: Bryan Prince, 10, Reds

2001: Jason Basil, 15, A’s

2002: Tyler Parker, 8, Cardinals

2004: Mike Nickeas, 5, Rangers

2005: Andy Hawranick, 48, Cubs

2007: Matt Wieters, 1, Orioles

2008: Jason Haniger, 19, Pirates

2008: Brandon Miller, 33, Red Sox

2010: Cole Leonida, 6, Nationals

2013: Zane Evans, 4, Royals

2015: A.J. Murray, 14, Twins

2016: Arden Pabst, 12, Pirates

2018: Joey Bart, 1 Giants

2019: Kyle McCann, 4, A’s

2022: Kevin Parada, ???

Three other catchers – Tucker Barnhart, Tyler Stevenson and Harry Ford -- could’ve joined this list. However, Georgia Tech signees opted to go pro out of high school. Barnhart signed with the Reds in 2010 after getting drafted in the 10th round. The Reds foiled Georgia Tech again in 2015, signing first-rounder Stevenson; and the Mariners signed first-rounder Ford last year.

Hall believes that Lamar King – a 6-3, 215-pound prep senior from Maryland – is Georgia Tech’s next star catcher.

But that plan may be in jeopardy.

“Lamar is having a tremendous high school season, and there’s a lot of heat rolling in on him,” Hall said. “We are starting to sweat (that he may sign a pro contract out of high school).

“A cross-checker I know told his area scout, ‘If Georgia Tech has a catcher identified, I need to go see him.’”

TRANSFORMING PARADA

As a true freshman last year, Parada made 48 starts, hitting .318 with nine homers, 42 RBIs and a .920 OPS. His 20 doubles led the ACC through the NCAA regionals.

This year, after a winter spent mostly in the weight room with Georgia Tech player-development coach, Parada has turned those two-baggers into leisurely strolls around the bases.

Parada, who is 6-foot-1, now weighs 210 pounds. He estimates he gained 15 pounds due to his weight-training regimen, and the results are obvious.

“I hit a lot of balls off the top of the wall last year,” said Parada, who has a 3.55 grade-point average and is majoring in Business with a focus on Marketing.

“This year, those balls are going over the wall, even though I haven’t changed my swing.”

What has changed is his batting stance, which Parada – asked to define it – calls “interesting.”

As part of that stance, Parada lets his bat hang downward, over his shoulder and away from his body.

After a lot of trial and error, this stance evolved over the winter.

“I tried to put my body in the most athletic position possible,” Parada said. “I know that visually it’s not the appealing (stance) for everyone, but it’s the most comfortable position for my body. I’ve stuck with it, and it’s been working.”

That’s an understatement.

Parada is hitting .363 with nine doubles, 74 RBIs and a 1.193 OPS. He has shown some athleticism, too, going 7-for-8 on steals while also legging out a triple against Florida State.

He ranks third in the nation in homers. He is also close to breaking the school record for homers – he trails only Anthony Maisano (25) and Mark Fisher (24).

A durable player, Parada has played all 49 games for Georgia Tech (28-21).

Parada wears glasses – they have become part of his brand, he said – and he clearly sees the ball well.

It’s his defense that pales in comparison to his prowess at the plate.

After throwing out just 7-for-59 runners attempting to steal last year, Parada went through an offseason throwing program that continues to this day.

Parada’s blocking skills are solid, according to his teammate, Maxwell, who said his catcher’s defense was an issue.

Even so, Parada has made “great gains”, according to Maxwell.

“I can throw him a tough slider in the dirt,” Maxwell said, “and I have full confidence he will corral it.”

To his credit, Parada doesn’t run from questions about his supposed weakness.

“My defense has always been my downfall in the game,” he said. “That’s how people evaluate me.

“I’m always going to have to continue to work twice as hard to get as good as I am at hitting. But I think I’ve really improved the past couple of years, especially at Georgia Tech with guys who throw mid/upper 90s. That’s helped me get better at receiving.”

Another big moment for Parada came this past summer, when he worked with veteran coach Jerry Weinstein of USA Baseball.

Weinstein taught Parada to catch from one knee.

“A lot of people had talked to me about (one-knee catching), but I never understood the ins and outs of it (until this past summer),” Parada said. “Jerry helped break it down and explain why I should do it. I latched on to that, and it’s helped me drastically with receiving.

“It just frees your body up to be able to catch more consistently without having the restrictions you would have with a normal squat, especially when guys are throwing as hard as they are with as much movement. It gives you more freedom with the glove.”

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Messick

GSA Spotlight: Florida State's Parker Messick

May 13, 2022
Lots of pitchers spend their time in the dugout focused only on game-planning for their next half-inning. Not Parker Messick. The Florida State Seminoles lefty is the first guy to run onto the field to chest-bump one of his hitters after a home run. “That’s my run support,” Messick said.

Lots of pitchers spend their time in the dugout focused only on game-planning for their next half-inning.

Not Parker Messick.

The Florida State Seminoles lefty is the first guy to run onto the field to chest-bump one of his hitters after a home run.

“That’s my run support,” Messick said. “Of course I’m going to be pumped up. The more runs we get, the easier it is for me on the mound.”

Messick doesn’t need much help.

In 12 starts this year, FSU’s Friday night starter is 6-2 with a 2.56 ERA and a nation-leading 128 strikeouts in 77.1 innings. He is holding opponents to a .189 batting average.

A 6-foot, 225-pounder from the Tampa area, Messick grew up rooting for the local teams – Rays, Buccaneers and Lightning, all of whom have, in order, made the World Series (2020), won the Super Bowl (2020 season) and won the Stanley Cup (2020 and 2021) in recent years.

“Not a bad time to be a Tampa fan right now,” Messick admits.

Messick’s brief time in Tallahassee hasn’t been quite that good, with his true freshman season of 2020 getting cancelled by COVID, and the Seminoles knocked out of the Oxford regional in two straight games last year.

Personally, Messick has been impressive. He had a 0.77 ERA, 19 strikeouts and just two walks in 11.2 innings in 2020.

Then, in 2021, he went 8-3 with a 3.10 ERA and 126 strikeouts in 90 innings, becoming just the second player in ACC history to win Pitcher and Freshman of the Year in the same season. He followed that with a summer spent competing for USA Baseball’s Collegiate National Team.

This year, the 21st-ranked Seminoles are 30-17 overall and 13-11 in the ACC.

FSU is 7-5 with Messick on mound, including losses at Wake Forest, Notre Dame, at Georgia Tech, at Clemson and at Boston College.

So far, Messick’s best performances of the year have come in:

• A win over seventh-ranked Louisville (6 2/3 scoreless innings, five hits, no walks, career-high-tying 14 strikeouts).

• A win over ninth-ranked Texas Tech (seven scoreless innings, two hits, no walks, career-high-tying 14 strikeouts).

• A no-decision against 16th-ranked Notre Dame (eight scoreless innings, two hits, no walks, 11 strikeouts).

Messick’s only dud was at Georgia Tech, where stud catcher Kevin Parada took him deep for a two-run homer. Messick allowed 10 hits and six runs in 2 2/3 innings against Tech.

On Friday night, Messick will face another tough test when sixth-ranked Miami visits Tallahassee.

Messick has a fastball (90-94 mph), a mid-80s slider, a changeup with good vertical depth (80-83) and a mid-70s slurve.

“His best pitch is his changeup,” FSU pitching coach Jimmy Belanger said. “His fastball velocity has been much more consistent this year.

“But his best asset is his character. He does everything right as a student and the way he treats people, and then, on the field, he will do anything to beat you.”

Seminoles players and coaches rave about Messick as a teammate. FSU first baseman Alex Toral, a former Miami Hurricanes star who arrived in Tallahassee this year via the transfer portal, learned extremely early in his Seminoles tenure about Messick as a teammate.

“My first day transferring to Florida State, he got word that I was on my way up,” Toral said. “He called me and said, ‘When you get here, give me a call. I’m going to help you move into your apartment.’

“I was a little bit nervous coming up here to a rival school. But Parker is a team-first guy. He cares about everybody in this locker-room. He’s one of the best teammates I’ve had in my life.”

Messick is also a ferocious competitor.

Toral said he had some 10-pitch to 12-pitch at-bats against Messick this fall. Toral, a lefty batter, isn’t accustomed to getting changeups from a lefthander, but it just showed that Messick isn’t afraid to use any of his pitches on any count.

“He threw all four of his pitches each at-bat,” Toral said. “I couldn’t go up there and hunt one pitch because he threw a different one each time.

“Parker is a guy you don’t want to play against because of his raw emotion. As an opponent, you might look at it in a bad way. But as his teammate, you love it.

“He’s a very special guy.”

Toral added that Messick’s “herky jerky” delivery makes it tough to pick up the baseball.

“A lot of people describe it that way, but it feels smooth to me at this point,” Messick said with a laugh. “I’ve thrown the same way since I was a freshman in high school.

“A lot of people think I throw from a low three-quarter slot, but I really don’t. I have a normal arm slot with a low approach angle.”

Because his stuff is not overpowering, Messick is seen by some scouts as a second-round or third-round pick rather than a higher selection that would perhaps be more commensurate with his production.

Messick is unfazed by any of that, and he said he leans on his Christianity to guide him through the process of becoming a pro.

“Every kid growing up wants to make it to the big leagues and be a first-rounder,” said Messick, who is majoring in Economics with a minor in Business. “But I’m huge in my faith. I believe God is going to take care of that when the time comes. Right now, my main purpose is to lead this team to Omaha.

“If I do that, everything will fall in line.”

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