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GSA Spotlight: Rare Baseball Mind Makes Cal Poly’s Brooks Lee Special

April 16, 2021
Brooks Lee was sitting in a two-hour freshman sociology class on a Monday morning. He wore a different expression on his face than the big smile he had a day earlier when he stood at second base following the first hit of his collegiate career, a pinch-hit two-run double for

Brooks Lee was sitting in a two-hour freshman sociology class on a Monday morning. He wore a different expression on his face than the big smile he had a day earlier when he stood at second base following the first hit of his collegiate career, a pinch-hit two-run double for Cal Poly against Baylor.

He was bored and antsy, so he texted his father, Cal Poly head coach Larry Lee. Brooks wasn’t looking for advice or asking dad for some extra spending money to be deposited in his account. Brooks was looking for a login and asking his father for the password to Larry’s Synergy Sports account where college baseball coaches can access video of prior games.

Ninety minutes later, Brooks arrived at Baggett Stadium, a place that has brightened his mood since he was in diapers coming to watch his father’s teams play. He stopped by his dad’s office before going to get some individual work. Larry asked about Brooks’ mid-lecture request. Was he watching his lone highlight, basking in the excitement of returning to the field? He couldn’t be blamed if so, after four and a half months of rehab following knee reconstruction surgery.

But Brooks wasn’t looking back. He was actually looking forward to the upcoming weekend’s four-game series against Oklahoma, when he was slated to move into the starting lineup for the first time.

“After class he comes in and he broke down all four starters for Oklahoma,” Larry said. “I just started laughing and he was spot on. That’s just what he does.”

Brooks’ personal scouting report on Sooners’ aces Cade Cavalli and Dane Acker is quickly rattled off when the story is separately brought up to him. He comments about the velocity he was expecting to face from Cavalli in his first college start and mentions Acker had thrown a no-hitter just a couple weeks prior. “Or was it a perfect game?” he questions himself as he’s quick to tag the game was played in Minute Maid Park. (Acker no-hit LSU, allowing a walk and two hit batsmen.)

Brooks has a baseball brain. Combined with his physical attributes, including the 20-25 pounds of muscle he’s added since arriving on campus and the razor whip wrist action he creates with each swing, it’s why he was named to the Golden Spikes midseason watch list on Wednesday.

His brain is wired to assess velocity, movement and spin rather than the study of social issues; launch angle and trajectory over social theories. (Though, Brooks points out he also did well in the class and that Larry has always been on him about grades, including a 12:30 a.m. text telling him to stay on top of his school work when Cal Poly arrived back on campus Sunday after splitting a four-game series at Long Beach State.) While a freshman 101 lecture is a bore, watching hours of opposing pitchers’ video or breaking down still images of swings has always been fun for Brooks. The walls of his childhood bedroom at the Lee household are remain smothered with photos of Derek Jeter, Albert Pujols, Lance Berkman, Carlos Beltran and other major league hitters.

“Even when he was really young like 8 or 9 years old, he could break down video,” Larry said with a chuckle. “And there were some things that were said that just, I knew he was on the right track and had the ability to do that.”

Larry doesn’t take offense and the coaching staff doesn’t stop Brooks when he jumps in the pregame meeting with the Cal Poly hitters to give his thoughts and insights from what he’s seen on film from the opposing starting pitcher and relievers they may face. He’s only a (second-year) freshman, but his Mustangs’ teammates respect his opinion and value his perspective.

“He always joins in like he’s one of the coaches,” Larry said. “He says this is what he sees, this is probably how we should approach this pitcher. He really thinks the game and he wants to be prepared. He wants to have a very precise approach, but he also has the ability once the game starts to adjust that approach.”

Brooks was forced to make some big adjustments his first year on campus. A freak injury in the fall put his season in jeopardy. During the second week of practice, he slipped coming out of the box running to first base on a groundout. As he tried to get his feet underneath him, he hyperextended his knee. The lateral collateral ligament in his knee and his biceps femoris hamstring muscle both snapped. He also broke off a small piece of the fibular head where the fibula attaches to the knee. Doctors told Brooks there had only been 20 reported cases of a similar injury in the last 50 years. He had surgery on Halloween and was determined to work even harder to get back as soon as possible. 

“As bad as it sounds, I feel like I actually got better because of it,” Brooks said. “I completely changed my body and I’m thankful for it now for sure.”

He was able to use the first month of the season as a preview for when he was cleared. He felt ready for the speed of the game, the repertoire of the pitchers and everything else that was going to be thrown at him despite returning more than two months earlier than the doctors anticipated. He got a pair of pinch-hit opportunities against Baylor and was preparing for his first start at shortstop against the Sooners. 

The day the series was supposed to begin Brooks, like the rest of the college baseball world, was forced to adjust on the fly once more. The season was canceled due to the Covid-19 coronavirus pandemic. It was disappointing for the entire sport, but the timing was devastating for Brooks after all the work he had put in to return in 2020. He called it a “heartbreaker,” but ever the optimist, he also saw it as an opportunity to have more time to get himself ready for the 2021 season.

Lee was able to go play summer ball in Minnesota for the Willmar Stingers, where he answered any questions about his talent and the big high school numbers he had produced in a weak league (.437/.487/.630 with 78 R, 78 RBI and only 22 K in 328 plate appearances over three seasons). He was one of the top hitters in the Northwoods League, batting .345 with seven doubles, four homers and 35 RBIs in 36 games. He had a 19-game hitting streak and finished top 10 in several offensive categories.

His confidence grew even more, especially after the switch-hitter batted around .400 from the right side — where he had grown so frustrated during the early stages of quarantine he told his dad he didn’t want to swing righthanded any more.

“My dad just told me to stay with it and that’s what I did,” Brooks said. “It’s not fun when you’re not doing good on one side, but in the end, I think it’s more important to stick with it because it allows you to have more success. 

“It’s way harder to hit right on right or left on left and I never want to do it ever. I just try and stick with it, and when someone wants me to stop hitting righthanded or lefthanded, I’m going to tell them no because my dad told me not to.”

One of the hardest parts of being a switch-hitter has been getting opportunities to swing righthanded. Lefthanded pitchers were rare in high school. That’s been the case with the starting pitchers Cal Poly has faced this season too. The Mustangs have faced only four southpaw starters in 26 games this season, including Long Beach State lefty Alfredo Ruiz on Saturday. Ruiz kept Lee in check, getting him to fly out three times, but Dirtbags head coach Eric Valenzuela never felt comfortable when Lee was sauntering to the plate.

“His numbers say he’s a better lefthand hitter than righthanded, but man, he was as dangerous righthanded as well. Tough AB. He really is,” said Valenzuela, who added they were able to get him to pull off the ball with an approach early in the series, but Lee soon made an adjustment. “Other than that, he hit everything.”

Lee went 6 for 15, reaching base two other times on a walk and a hit by pitch. He had a double in each game, pushing his doubles streak to six games while moving into double digits with his hit streak. He finished the weekend with a .400/.471/.667 slash line and drove in three runs.

For Valenzuela, the damage could have been worse: “There were a couple misses that he had that were like to the fence that we threw good pitches. He’s pretty damn special.”

The scarier part for opposing coaches and pitchers? Lee doesn’t even feel like he’s in the zone right now. The first four weeks of the season, he hit .440 with four home runs, including two off Pac-12 pitching as he notched multi-hit performances in five of six matchups with USC and UCLA.

“For whatever reason, I was just in a flow state from the start of the season till about the fourth week. The ball looks big. You can see spin and you feel like you’re never off balance. Sometimes you just feel like you know the pitch before it’s coming. I swear. It’s the weirdest feeling,” Lee said. “That’s kind of when I knew that I could do some more things in the game than what I’ve been able to do earlier in my career.”

Lee has flashed power in batting practice and in showcase events in high school, but that’s not something he ever focused on in games. Instead, he just sprayed rockets all over the yard from foul line to foul line from either side of the plate. He tried to hit low line drives and said occasionally he would get under one or out in front a little bit leading to a ball sailing over the fence. 

But Lee now has more strength after spending his time in the weight room when he was unable to play his freshman year. A slender 6-foot-3, 180 pounds when he first really opened eyes and turned heads at the Area Code Games by collecting knock after knock — including lining the only base hit against Jack Leiter, who proceeded to strike out the next five batters he faced — Lee is now a thick 205 pounds. More than the strength element, Lee feels he’s tapped into additional power because his swing has become even more fluid. He is standing taller in the box and wielding the bat with even better command.

“I just feel like it’s a pure swing now, lefthanded especially,” Lee said. “Everything flows very fluidly. That’s kind of what led me to hitting offspeed pitches for power and then going to the opposite field.”

He’s hitting fewer singles than ever while still producing a high batting average. He’s got more extra-base hits than single-base hits. He is second in the Big West with six home runs. He is second in the nation with 15 doubles and he’s chipped in a pair of triples as well. Lee leads the Big West in RBIs, slugging percentage and total bases. He’s tied for the lead in sacrifice flies and he’s third in the conference in runs scored.

And yet what stands out most to those around him is what he does for everyone else.

“I can’t speak more highly of this kid,” Cal Poly pitching coach Jake Silverman said. “He’s really good. Everyone knows that, but he works so hard, and he’s so smart, and he makes everyone around him now much better.”

Silverman has been around first rounders Christian Colon, Gary Brown and Jeff Gelalich along with major leaguers Khris Davis, Pat Valaika and Kevin Kramer among others while coaching at Cal State Fullerton and UCLA. Still, he says Lee is top three, if not the best player he’s been around. 

“Brooks just his presence and his communication and leadership ability, whether you’re a pitcher or a hitter, you’re better with him around you,” Silverman said. 

“I just want to try and get everybody as best as they can and if something needs to be said, I’ll say it,” Lee said. “I just try and put all the knowledge I can that I’ve learned mostly from [Larry] to our players. It’s a different feeling when you have like a peer say something to you rather than a coach because a coach just says the same thing over and over. I try and put it into better words, as a captain, but it’s a real cool feeling just to give my knowledge to some of the other players.”

Not only is Lee studying film of opposing pitchers and relaying the information he takes away to the Cal Poly batters. He also will pass along information about the Mustangs’ pitchers to Silverman between innings during a game. Lee will let him know what he sees from his shortstop position, like when a pitcher’s slider may not be as sharp or a fastball has more late life than usual. He’s not dissecting mechanics in the middle of his defensive approach step as a pitch is being delivered, but his feedback gives Silverman more data points to then craft subtle in-game adjustments or go in a different direction with his pitch calling.

What makes Lee’s observations so reliable?  The amount of college baseball he’s already witnessed at the age of 20 and all the countless hours of video he’s pored over dating back to when he was eight or nine years old. He’s been watching and facing college pitchers for years now. He started taking live batting practice and filling in defensively at his father’s practices when he was in seventh grade.

“I’ve just seen so much baseball from this level like as a young kid and over and over,” he said. “I just had a real long time to look at pitchers and then we used to use Dartfish, which is like an extremely old [motion-capture] computer program for pitching and stuff like that. We would go over that when we were in the old clubhouse when I was a kid. 

“Video has basically been the thing for me all along because I feel like if I look at video long enough, it just gets cemented into my brain and people with the same repeatable delivery as another pitcher that I’ve already seen, you can think of what the aspects of their pitching repertoire is going to be like.”

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

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

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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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Contreras Article

GSA Spotlight: Sam Houston's Carlos Contreras

May 6, 2022
Sam Houston junior outfielder Carlos Contreras doesn’t spend all hours of a day worrying about hitting analytics or his launch angle. You know what he does do? He lives in the batting cage. Division I Baseball has been littered with surprises both from a team and individual standpoint. And Contreras,

Sam Houston junior outfielder Carlos Contreras doesn’t spend all hours of a day worrying about hitting analytics or his launch angle. You know what he does do? He lives in the batting cage.

Division I Baseball has been littered with surprises both from a team and individual standpoint. And Contreras, who arrived in Huntsville from Cisco (TX) College, would qualify as a surprise — at least his production being as ridiculously impressive as it is right now.

And the best thing about Contreras? Just call him Mr. Old School.

“Here’s the thing about Carlos — he’s a neat story — he’s not into the new stuff in terms of hitting,” Sam Houston head coach Jay Sirianni said. “He’ll spend hours upon hours in the batting cage hitting off a tee, taking balls off a machine and things like that. He’s just one of those old schools guys doesn’t worry about the new stuff — he just hits based on feel.

“If he goes out there and something feels right, he just keeps doing it,” he added. “And if it doesn’t feel right, he’ll tweak something. It’s not necessarily a mechanical thing with him — it’s more so a feel thing.”

Whatever Contreras’ approach is right now needs to be continued. The hard-hitting outfielder first caught my attention earlier this season when I was covering Sam Houston against Nebraska. In that game alone, Contreras had three hits and knocked in four runs. He had a smooth and mature offensive approach, and as I wrote at the time, he always seemed to find holes.

A few weeks later in a series against rival SFA, Contreras, a 5-foot-10, 195-pounder, set a school record for RBIs in a game with nine.

He has since continued his successful ways and is one of the nation’s premier hitters. Contreras ranks third nationally in batting average behind Auburn’s Sonny DiChiara and Canisius’s Max Grant with a .430 average. His other numbers are equally impressive.

Contreras has a .473 OBP to go with a 1.227 OPS. The hard-hitting lefthanded hitter also has smacked 12 doubles, six triples, 12 homers and a whopping 76 RBIs, which ranks first nationally. Georgia Tech’s Kevin Parada is two shy at 76, while Texas’ Ivan Melendez is sitting at 68. Both of those guys are Golden Spikes Award finalist types, too.

Contreras continues to show that he belongs in that elite category.

“I think when we recruited Carlos, we saw a guy who could be a hit collector for us,” Sirianni said. “He was going to come here and be able to use the entire field from the word go. The power side, if I’m being honest, has been the most fun and surprising part of his game, though.

“He’s the type of hitter who wants to shrink the zone as much as possible,” he added. “He wants to back stuff up and hit the ball to left with some power. We always felt like he would really, really hit for us. But the power aspect of his game? I think I’d be lying to you if I said we expected him to show up her and hit close to .500 with double digit home runs.

“He just does a really good job with his approach. He’ll be greedy with the first pitch and the first strike at times, but as the bat goes along, he understands what his job is — to drive in the runner. We’ve got a great nucleus of guys, such as Carlos, who only care about the winning side. They just love to compete and win.”

Contreras has traveled an interesting path to where he is today. The slugger began his collegiate career at New Mexico JC. As a freshman, he hit .261 with two homers 10 RBIs. A year later, he transferred to Cisco, where he hit .405 with 13 home runs and 61 RBIs. A strong season, no doubt, but when compared to what he has accomplished at the Division I level this spring? Just decent.

It’s hard to find a comp for Contreras. He’s not loaded with prospect tools, and he doesn’t have a gladiator frame. But boy, is he a pure hitter. I asked Sirianni about his most favorable comp, and he referenced former Nebraska standout slugger Ken Harvey. Harvey, who was 6-foot-2, 225 pounds during his playing days at Nebraska, hit .478 with 23 homers and 86 RBIs in his final season with the Huskers. Contreras will have a tough time besting that home run mark. But that RBI mark? It’s expected.

“He’s pretty similar to Kenny Harvey, but he’s a lefthanded hitter. He’s just one of those guys who is strong enough to get disconnected with his approach and still stay flat long enough to handle the ball,” he said. “It’s not always the prettiest thing in the world, but he can control the bat and he hits it where they aren’t. He just has very good hand and eye coordination.”

Moving forward, Contreras will be a key component to Sam’s postseason hopes. The RPI won’t get into at-large range for the Bearkats, but there is still the WAC tournament, and Sirianni’s club will need Contreras to be as productive as ever.

The other thing that will be interesting to watch about the outfielder is his draft status. Contreras, we mentioned earlier, isn’t oozing tools. But you know what he is? An excellent hitter with great makeup who works his tail off.

There’s something to be said for that.

“There have been some scouts checking in on him for sure. It’s hard to gauge how many after seeing the throng of guys who would come in and see Colton Cowser last year, but there definitely have been some scouts here,” he said. “Here’s what I’ll say about Carlos — hitters will hit.

“Sometimes as an organization, you shouldn’t overthink things. He’s hit with consistency everywhere he has been in his collegiate career. As for our season, it has been a challenge like it has been for everyone else. But we wouldn’t be even close to where we are right now with him. We love having him.”

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Sonny Article

GSA Spotlight: Auburn's Sonny DiChiara

May 3, 2022
It did not take long for Sonny DiChiara to win the hearts of Auburn baseball fans. A larger than life presence with a burly 6-foot-1, 263-pound physique, DiChiara got off to a torrid start with the bat in nonconference play, and by the time Auburn opened SEC play against Ole

It did not take long for Sonny DiChiara to win the hearts of Auburn baseball fans. A larger than life presence with a burly 6-foot-1, 263-pound physique, DiChiara got off to a torrid start with the bat in nonconference play, and by the time Auburn opened SEC play against Ole Miss, DiChiara was already a local folk hero.

Every DiChiara at-bat feels like an event — because of his fearsome righthanded bat, but also because he has college baseball’s most infectious walk-off song. Every time he walks up to the plate to Louis Prima’s “C’é La Luna Mezz’o Mare,” the Auburn fans start clapping along to the beat, waiting to see what fireworks he will provide in the impending at-bat.

“I just told the other guys, I’m like, ‘Sonny just comes in here first year and he beats you with the walk-up song. He already owns the joint,’” Auburn coach Butch Thompson said during that Ole Miss series. “Credit to him. He’s just got a big human personality, and it’s just great. … He has a persona that touches everybody in the park. It’s just natural, it’s infectious, and [his personality has] already come out immediately in [his] first year. Credit to the style that you play, and then just being lovable. He’s got the walk-up song that has already taken over our park. This is the first SEC weekend, but that’s how big his personality is.”

Of course, DiChiara is used to the impact his musical choice has upon a ballpark. It might be a new experience at Plainsman Park this year, but it’s not new to DiChiara.

“I had it in high school, my first game of varsity, that was what I had,” he said. “There’s not really a rhyme or reason to it, but I just liked it and the crowd started clapping to it the first game I had it, so i just stuck with it. The fans have definitely played a huge part in our success. Walking around campus, I’ll get a couple people saying ‘hey’ to me or whatnot. But it’s awesome getting to play in front of 4,500 people or whatever every game.”

DiChiara was already an established power hitter well before his first season at Auburn this spring. He spent his first three seasons at Samford, smashing 21 homers as a freshman and 18 more last year, while hitting .293 in 2019, .328 in the pandemic-shortened 2020 season, and .273 last year. But the SoCon is an offensive league, and there is unquestionably a big step up to the caliber of pitching DiChiara has faced in the SEC — but the big first baseman has not only made that adjustment smoothly, he’s become better than ever.

DiChiara leads all of Division I with a 1.457 OPS, slashing an absurd .448/.601/.856 with 12 homers, 15 doubles and 38 RBIs. He always drew his share of walks, but this year he is controlling the strike zone at a rare level (especially for a power hitter), with 45 walks against just 24 strikeouts. 

“The SoCon was a great baseball conference, but I think one of the major differences is the consistency in velocity,” DiChiara said. “In the SoCon, they’ve got four or five guys that can run it up there, but after that it falls off. So having the consistency in velocity, not having to change from 95 to a guy throwing 80, has helped me. When you see better velocity with a hard slider, it’s easier to react to it.”

Thompson said he had high hopes for DiChiara when the Tigers signed him to replace departed first baseman Tyler Miller, who hit 16 homers last year. But he admitted that DiChiara’s incredible consistency has even exceeded his expectations.

“We brought him in and thought he would be good and needed him to be good, because we brought him in to replace a good player at first base. We got every bit of that and more, which is a pleasant surprise,” Thompson said. “I just think he’s in the middle of the field and he don’t come off of it. That’s a credit to him, and of course probably a credit to [hitting coach] Gabe Gross, but that has absolutely grown from the at-bats we’ve seen in the past competing against him. He doesn’t come off pitches, he has such a plan. He can hit a home run the other way, he can pull a ball to left, but it just seems like he stays in the middle of the field and that’s improved his batting average.”

That up-the-middle approach is central to DiChiara’s identity as a hitter.

“Ever since I can remember playing, and really in high school is when I started taking that left-center to right-center approach, not being the hook guy or the flare guy,” DiChiara said. “Whenever I feel like I’m struggling or not hitting the ball like i usually am, I’m yanking the ball to left or hitting flares to right. So I’m just focusing on staying through the middle.

“When I got here, I just kind of talked with Gabe about my approach, he really seemed to like everything. He said that was the type of player he was too. Over here we just emphasize two-strike hitting and not giving away an at-bat, that’s been a huge emphasis.”

Another big key has been DiChiara’s growth as a defender at first base, allowing Auburn to keep the DH spot free for other players and maximize the lineup’s offensive potential.

“It’s made our team better having him play first base every day,” Thompson said. “Nobody wants to put a liability on the field, especially the infield. His defense has grown a ton, and his ability to keep staying in the middle of the field for as many at-bats. But I’m equally as tickled to death with how he’s better around the bag, catching the routine balls he’s supposed to. Tyler definitely had more range, and most first basemen have more range, but for the range that Sonny does have he’s taken care of the game. He’s a good target, and he’s been able to help our infielders.”

Off the field, DiChiara has a mild-mannered, friendly personality, and it seems clear he would rather talk about his team and the Auburn fans than himself. So while DiChiara’s numbers and his presence might feel Paul Bunyan-sized, his head is certainly not.

“I just think it’s fun loving, it’s easy. There is a level of confidence there,” Thompson said of DiChiara’s clubhouse persona. “I think he’s a lovable type teammate, and he’s got a good rhythm with everybody. There’s no friction with him. At this point there’s been no, like, ‘Hey I got this, I’m the best player, this is my team.’ I think that makes the players love him even more, I think he considers himself just a piece and a player on this team. Not one time has he made it about himself. He likes being on the team, he likes being on the field. He hasn’t tried to make himself the biggest piece, even if he is.

“Over the years there’s always a crowd favorite, you don’t know who it’s going to be. But Sonny absolutely, from day one, it was instant, magical, and his personality, he didn’t force it. It’s not only held up, it seems like it’s continuing to grow. I think even opponents as we go around the league, they like Sonny. They’re over at first base smiling with Sonny. He’s an amazing young man. He’s hard to root against.”

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Article_DeVos

GSA Spotlight: Davidson's Nolan DeVos

April 22, 2022
Years before he was the dominant staff ace for the best team in the Atlantic 10 Conference, Nolan DeVos was a standout performer at Hickory Ridge High School outside Charlotte, racking up strikeouts despite modest stuff. Now listed at 6-foot, 185 pounds, DeVos’ body never screamed “projection,” but Davidson’s coaching

Years before he was the dominant staff ace for the best team in the Atlantic 10 Conference, Nolan DeVos was a standout performer at Hickory Ridge High School outside Charlotte, racking up strikeouts despite modest stuff. Now listed at 6-foot, 185 pounds, DeVos’ body never screamed “projection,” but Davidson’s coaching staff loved his pitchability and competitiveness, and they took a shot on the local product despite his below-average velocity.

“He was a guy in high school that was an 84-86 mph guy who could really pitch and locate. You’d watch him pitch and say, ‘Man, I know the ball’s doing something, not sure what it is exactly,” Davidson head coach Rucker Taylor said. “I think we were the only Division I offer; he’s a guy that kind of took a jump his senior year of high school. When he committed, he called and said, ‘Coach, can I drive up?’ This was early in the spring of his senior year, he wanted to drive up with his mother and brother and commit in person: ’Thank you for the opportunity, I want to commit.’ So that’s a little insight into, there’s something a little different here to the character, the family component, the makeup.”

DeVos went on to post strikeout numbers as a high school senior that Taylor aptly described as “astronomical,” leading all North Carolina 4A pitchers with 112 Ks, including a school-record 19 in one outing. He finished his prep career with 183 strikeouts in 115.1 innings along with a 2.37 ERA — and those numbers turned out to be a harbinger of things to come.

DeVos spent his first two years thriving in the Davidson bullpen, posting a 2.61 ERA and two saves in the pandemic-shortened 2020 campaign and a 1.48 ERA with eight saves and 39 strikeouts in 30.1 innings in 2021. His velocity had already spiked into the low-90s by the start of last season, and as the spring progressed he started flashing some 94s, then some 95s and even 96s. Taylor got reports that he even bumped 97 in the Coastal Plain League last summer.

“He got bigger and stronger when he got here,” Taylor said. “Parker Bangs, our pitching coach, has cleaned up some things mechanically to be a little more efficient, help the breaking ball play. It was fine for high school, but when he got here, especially his freshman fall, it didn’t do a whole lot. He was an 86-87 mph fastball guy who had a little bit of success, but he was kind of a one-pitch guy, and that trick’s not gonna last very long. So the breaking ball has gotten better from him working at it, and the velo has just kept trending up, trending up, trending up. And he’s still got that feel for pitching, that’s maybe a little different than that high school guy who is 91-93 as a 16-year-old who just threw it by guys. He had to pitch a little bit. Once the velo came, that’s allowed him to do some things that are pretty cool.”

It’s fair to say that what DeVos is doing in his third year at Davidson is pretty cool indeed. He has made a seamless transition from the back of the bullpen into the Friday starter role, going 5-1, 2.22 with a whopping 75 strikeouts against just 13 walks in 52.2 innings, earning him a spot on the Golden Spikes Award Midseason Watch List.

“For the most part he’s working quick, he’s in the zone a lot, he’s not walking guys, it’s just kind of attack mentality,” Taylor said. “That’s something, we didn’t know how he would transition from the pen but he’s done it this year and he’s been able to go deeper in games than maybe we anticipated originally because he’s been efficient. The slider, when it’s good, it’s above-average, it works for college. Some of the area guys around here have thrown out that it’s a borderline plus pitch for them at times when it’s good. Now that he’s starting, the fastball velo will sit 90-91, he’s touched some 3s and 4s this year, but it’s not quite the same fastball as it was out of the pen. But he’s been able to hold it for six, seven innings and he’s had really good results with it, so we’ll take it.”

DeVos’ fastball also plays above its velocity because “it has rise, ride, whatever term you want to use — it has high spin and efficient spin,” Taylor said. He can pitch at the top of the zone with his heater, but he can also spot up to both sides of the plate, a skill surely developed in high school when he couldn’t just overpower hitters with velo. Taylor said DeVos has also developed a pretty good changeup that he’ll use four or five times per game, mostly with good results.

And DeVos’ contributions go well beyond the numbers.

“I was in school at Vanderbilt with David Price, and when he wasn’t pitching, he was the loudest guy out there. Nolan is like that too — when it’s not his turn to pitch, he is the loudest guy in the dugout,” Taylor said. “He really cares about the other guys. When it’s not game day, he’s a very personable kid, a very likable person. He just kind of bubbles and bounces around, brings some good energy to the pitching staff and the whole team. We’ve had a couple midweeks where we’ve been gone on a weekend, we’ll sometimes leave our weekend guys at home to let them rest, and you can definitely notice when he’s not in the dugout. He provides an extra spark, definitely an energy giver.”

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Hjerpe Article

GSA Spotlight: Cooper Hjerpe

April 15, 2022
Cooper Hjerpe pulled up his right knee and coiled it into his chest as he rocked back. He flung his hip forward swinging his leg and stepping halfway down the mound. The Oregon State third-year sophomore pushed off from the first base side of the rubber and began to open

Cooper Hjerpe pulled up his right knee and coiled it into his chest as he rocked back. He flung his hip forward swinging his leg and stepping halfway down the mound. The Oregon State third-year sophomore pushed off from the first base side of the rubber and began to open up his shoulders. The baseball, hidden to the batter until that point, came streaking out of his left hand from a three-eighths slot in a cross-fire action. It appeared to be starting behind the back of Stanford lefthanded leadoff hitter Brock Jones before crossing over the plane and rising through the zone.

The pitch was designed to be down and in to Jones. Instead, Jones swung through a high fastball that rode in on his hands. Hjerpe had failed to execute the pitch to perfection and still had struck out a preseason All-American. That gave him confidence in his stuff and when he knew it was going to be a good day.

“My heater was moving a lot more that day,” Hjerpe said. “I was getting swings and misses on heaters that were not in the zone. When you don’t execute and still get strikes, it gives you a lot of confidence.”

Pitching with confidence, a moving fastball and two off-speed offerings he refined over the offseason, Hjerpe produced perhaps college baseball’s finest start this season. He tied a school record with 17 strikeouts in eight scoreless innings, striking out the side in each of his final three frames. He allowed only two hits and one walk.

“Every time he’s on the mound, you expect a dominant performance and that’s kind of what we’ve seen all year from him,” said Oregon State outfielder Jacob Melton, who like Hjerpe was on the Golden Spikes Award midseason watch list. “It’s exciting for everybody in the ballpark to see him go out and compete. I mean the guy is probably the best collegiate arm that I’ve ever seen in person. He’s just dominant.”

Hjerpe didn’t dominate in the same fashion a week later, but his tone-setting performance in a 9-1 win Friday at USC was just as impressive. As he handed the ball over and exited in the seventh inning, the outfielders, including Melton, convened in center field and agreed Hjerpe hadn’t had his “A stuff.” The lefthander didn’t have all three of his pitches locked in the same as a week prior. But Melton glanced over to the scoreboard and noted the Trojans had six zeros beside their name and had managed only four hits.

Hjerpe struck out nine and allowed four singles on a night he didn’t have his best stuff. He pitched out of jams in the first and sixth inning and retired 13 straight in between. He exited with a 4-0 lead that ballooned into a 9-1 Oregon State victory, earning Hjerpe his seventh win of the season, tied for most in the nation. 

It was a victory Hjerpe likely wouldn’t have picked up a season prior. Five times during the 2021 season he pitched at least six innings with one run or fewer allowed. All five times he failed to go five innings in his following start, giving up 23 combined runs in 16.1 innings.

“Last year if I didn’t have my ace stuff, you didn’t know what you were going to get out of me. I was pretty streaky,” Hjerpe said. “That’s something I worked on in the offseason. I needed to be more consistent because you have to be able to play with your B game. You’re not always going to have your best stuff.” 

Hjerpe has been mostly dominant this season, compiling a 1.70 ERA in eight starts, but even when one pitch isn’t lights out for an appearance, he’s still able to give the Beavers a solid start.

Against USC, Oregon State’s offense provided some early run support, scoring a run in the first inning and three runs in the second. That was more than enough with Hjerpe on the mound. He threw one ball in the first inning and went to a two-ball count on only six of the 24 batters he faced. Five of those at-bats resulted in strikeouts, including the only two times he went to a three-ball count. Hjerpe threw 71 percent of his 91 pitches for strikes.

“When we faced him last year, he didn’t have the same command,” USC head coach Jason Gill said. “It’s tough enough to sit on his fastball coming around the corner in the low 90s from that low arm slot. I thought he kept us off balance. He was throwing the breaking ball in backwards counts at times. I thought he pitched really well.”

"When he had to get out of whatever [jam] he was in, he got out of it. That's a sign of a really good pitcher and that's what he is. That's why there were 30 teams here to see him tonight," Gill said referencing the bevy of MLB scouting personnel in attendance.

What makes Hjerpe tough to hit?

“Everything,” said Melton (.369, 9, 44), having routinely faced off in a marquee left-on-left matchup in intrasquad scrimmages and live batting practice. “Low-slot guy. Spins it pretty well. I mean his slider feels like it’s starting a foot behind you as a lefty and he backs that up with a really good changeup that he can throw to lefts and rights.”

Hjerpe attacks hitters from an unfamiliar angle while hiding the ball well. He gets more than seven feet of extension, which plays up his fastball that has reportedly been as firm as 96 or 97 mph. It sat 89-92, topping out at 93 mph in his start at USC, but his extension makes 92 or 93 feel more like 95 or 96 to the batter. Hitters struggle to pick the ball up and by the time they do, Hjerpe’s high-revolution pitches are already getting on them. 

“Getting on time with the fastball is half the battle, but as soon as he sees you do it once, then he’s going to land offspeed that is plus offspeed,” Melton said. “Live ABs in the fall and the winter off of him are not comfortable. I can tell you that all of us count it as a win if you put the ball in play off him. He’s just a dominant arm, man.”

Hjerpe has 77 strikeouts in 47.2 innings, three shy of the national leaders. He is also top 25 nationally in ERA, WHIP (0.86) and strikeout-to-walk ratio (7.7) after his six scoreless innings Friday night. Opponents are hitting .180 against the 6-foot-3 lefty from Woodland High in Capay, Calif.

“He’s a student of the game and really his work ethic is second to none,” Oregon State head coach Mitch Canham said. “He’ll sit out there during batting practice and spin breaking balls over and over and over just getting the feel for it, playing catch with his changeup. He’s always playing catch and working on his stuff, so it’s just comfortable when he’s out there. 

“He makes quick adjustments just recognizing what came out of his hand. He’s really good about learning what just happened, building a plan, controlling his body and then committing to it when it comes out of his hand, so it’s just really fun to watch.”

Hjerpe has taken a huge step forward this season after showing flashes of his potential his first two seasons. He struck out 98 in 77 innings over 17 appearances (16 starts) last year but faded in the second half of the season. Hjerpe had a 2.05 ERA and hadn’t allowed more than three earned runs in any of his first nine starts. He pitched at least 4.2 innings in eight of those nine starts. He lasted more than 4.1 innings only twice in his final eight appearances and gave up 31 runs in 28.2 innings.

That fueled an offseason for “a guy that hates to fail at anything,” per Melton. 

Hjerpe went to Driveline Baseball in Washington to work on refining his secondary pitches. He developed a crisp 77-79 slider that he is comfortable throwing to lefties and righties over the loopier, sweeping curveball he had last season that was reserved more for left-handed hitters. He can start the slider behind a left-handed batter and snap it over the inside corner, use it back door against righties for called strikes. Hjerpe can also start it in the middle of the plate and break it down and in to righties or to get lefties flailing on the gloveside offering. 

He also worked to improve his best pitch, watching his 80-82 mph changeup in slow motion to learn how to get more consistency from the pitch. The improved and more consistent secondary offerings have enabled Hjerpe to put hitters away quicker, whether that be via strikeout or a ball put in play.

“Last year, he was unable to get deep into the game because he didn’t have his secondary stuff,” Canham said. “Guys were fouling stuff off and he was working deep into every count. Now we’re seeing him with a lot more three, four pitch at-bats as opposed to five, six, seven. When a guy does that on Friday, eliminating a lot of free bases, it sets the tone for the rest of the guys.”

Hjerpe’s effort against USC set the tone for a weekend where the Oregon State pitching staff did not allow a walk, becoming the first team this season to go three straight games without a walk. The Beavers held off late rally attempts for 3-2 and 7-3 wins in the final two games, earning the Beavers their first-ever sweep of USC in Los Angeles. They improved to 24-7 and are right back in the Pac-12 race at 10-5 after losing the Stanford series the week prior.

"Cooper's mentality, the guys feed off of it. They watch how he prepares," Canham said. "He's not an extremely vocal guy, but his actions and his attitude speak way louder than you can ever do with your voice. I think the guys really feed off of him."

Hjerpe’s ability to go deep in games and set the tone for the weekend has been especially important for the Beavers with expected weekend rotation arms Jake Pfennigs and Will Frisch both injured and Frisch out for the season. Hjerpe has shortened the weekend for Canham, pitching at least five innings in every start. He lasted five innings in only half his 2021 starts and just twice had back-to-back starts of five or more innings.

“That sets us up nicely for the next couple of games," Canham said. "Being able to get that deep into the game multiple weeks in a row, it allows the guys to be fresh and go put out their best stuff Friday, Saturday, Sunday whenever their names are called."

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GSASpotlight_JTWeber_16x9

Golden Spikes Spotlight: SIU’s JT Weber

April 8, 2022
Playing 20 games, much less winning that many contests, has been no easy feat for any team located in the turbulent Midwest through the first month-and-a-half of the 2022 season. Yet, despite the frigid temps and the seemingly regular appearances of rain, snow and ice the past three or four

Playing 20 games, much less winning that many contests, has been no easy feat for any team located in the turbulent Midwest through the first month-and-a-half of the 2022 season. Yet, despite the frigid temps and the seemingly regular appearances of rain, snow and ice the past three or four weekends, Southern Illinois has managed to compile a 20-8 record.

Calling Carbondale home, a city over 100 miles southeast of St. Louis on the southern tip of Illinois, has allowed the Salukis to play 20 of those 28 games within the comforts of Itchy Jones Stadium.

While scanning the Southern Illinois roster in search of a hero that has carried this team to that many wins you’ll find a player from an interesting hometown: Metropolis, Ill. While Metropolis – located an hour south of Carbondale – may not be the bustling, urban epicenter that Clark Kent calls home in the DC comic books, you will find a statue of Kent’s alter-ego, Superman, greeting you as you enter town.

One of its former residents, JT Weber, certainly resembles a super hero, at least more so than a mild-mannered newspaper journalist given his 6-foot-2, 210-pound build. And as far as I know, no one has ever seen Weber and Superman in the same room.

“I take a lot of pride in it,” Weber said about staying close to home to play college baseball. “I loved growing up where I did. I never had anything handed to me as far as baseball [opportunities] and facilities go. I was blessed to have two parents that really worked hard for me. My dad played college baseball and my mom played college basketball so from early on they knew what it took to really get to the next level. I spent a lot of time working with them and playing with my friends that were trying to do the same thing.”

Weber is playing his fifth season with Southern Illinois, starting his collegiate career during the 2017-18 school year. It’s been the last two seasons, however, that he has truly stood out, enjoying a breakout 2021 campaign as part of a record-setting Salukis team that started 14-0 and won 40 games for the first time since 1990, and yet still missed the NCAA Tournament.

The SIU offense was particularly impressive, hitting .297 as a team and slugging 84 home runs. Weber had 15 of those homers while slashing .322/.375/.589, leading the team in RBIs (63) and total bases (139).

He was in good company, as he was one of four players that started all 60 of SIU’s games. One more batter, shortstop Nick Neville, appeared in 59 of the Salukis games, and that quintet, along with several other significant contributors, were a big part of Southern Illinois’ success a year ago.

“Last year you’ve probably wondered, ‘was he benefiting from having all those other guys in the lineup who were doing a lot of damage?’,” SIU third-year Head Coach Lance Rhodes said. “He had a lot of protection, you had to throw to JT. But then he comes back, one of the few guys returning that had those big power numbers, and he’s doing it again. It’s not a fluke what he did last year. Credit to him, he’s anchored our lineup this year, he does [still] have protection behind him, but he’s stepped up whether it be verbal leadership, leadership by example or obviously production.”

Despite the departure of players such as Neville, Tristan Peters, Philip Archer and Ian Walters the Southern Illinois offense at worst has held steady. Through games played this past weekend they’re batting .306 as a team, good for 19th best in the nation. They’re tied for 19th in runs scored and their 45 home runs are tied for 16th best.

Not surprising given his 2021 numbers Weber is leading the team is almost every notable category, although he does have considerable help from a new cast of characters. Weber’s .416 batting average is 28th-best in the nation and his 13 home runs are tied for second, one behind the nation’s leader, Virginia third baseman Jake Gelof, who has 14.

Now at roughly the halfway point of the 2022 season his 30 career home runs put him seven away from being the program’s all-time leader.

“It’s been a steady progress over the year,” Weber said. “As I’ve developed as a player [the success] comes with being more comfortable in the box. I’ve had a ton of college at-bats, including summer ball at-bats, and I think it all plays into being comfortable. Last year we had four or five other guys that were right there behind me kind of doing the same thing, which really did make it easy to go out there to play and perform every day. It helped me transition to this year, having the confidence to go out there and repeat the same thing.”

Weber was quick to point out the continued protection he has in the SIU lineup, a program that reloaded quickly largely due to their success mining talent from the junior college level. Batting just behind Weber is shortstop Kaeber Rog, one of five regulars in the lineup this year that were playing at the JUCO level a season ago. Rog is also batting on the sunny side of .400 (.403), leading the team with 14 doubles and tied for first with Weber in RBIs with 31 of his own.

Add in productive holdovers such as Cody Cleveland, Grey Epps and Evan Martin and you once again have a well-oiled offensive machine in Carbondale. Even with that level of overall production in the lineup from top to bottom, it’s Weber’s presence that matters most.

“When you look at what he’s done on the field it’s a direct reflection of who he is as a student athlete and as a person,” Rhodes said of Weber. “When you get a guy like JT that has the work ethic, the demeanor, [etc.], the production usually follows because it doesn’t matter for him if he’s 0-for-5 on a given day or 5-for-5. He shows up the very next day with the same work ethic and routine, you couldn’t tell a difference.”

“He just sets the bar so high for how it’s supposed to be. When you get a guy producing like JT it just doesn’t happen by luck. There’s a lot of guys that would love to have the type of year that he’s having, or the career he’s put together. But there’s only a select few people that are actually willing to put in the work he’s done to be able to make that happen.”

Weber’s career at Southern Illinois began with the 2018 season, arriving onto campus as a promising recruit with intriguing offensive upside. He managed to play 28 games during his freshman year, starting 19 of those contests batting .200 with a pair of home runs. As a sophomore in 2019 he took a considerable step forward, playing in 50 games, 47 of which were starts while batting .261 and finishing the season strong. His third year in school stopped barely before it could get going as he was hitting .261 with six doubles, starting all 18 games SIU played.

His jump leading up to the 2021 season happened to coincide with the abrupt end to the abbreviated 2020 season which gave Weber more opportunities to improve his swing.

“Towards the end of the COVID year I was starting to heat up,” Weber said. “After that spring I used my time to work on my swing. Me and my old shortstop, Nick Neville, really took time to break down our swings and work on it – I made some adjustments and took a leg kick out of my swing. The past two years I’ve had the same consistency in my swing which I think has really helped.

“It was a lot of tee work and a lot of soft toss during the COVID stint. There wasn’t much open or going on so I was feeling out my swing and my stance and where I needed to be. That really helped coming back in the fall making the transition a little easier.”

Rhodes was also quick to recognize the improvements Weber has made, particularly with his swing.

“When I first got here there was a slight mechanical change that he made with his swing,” Rhodes added. “Coming into his third season it was pretty steep, he wasn’t getting a lot of balls in the air. He’s always been a very strong kid, he just wasn’t using his leverage to his advantage. So, we did make a slight tweak, and credit to him, he’s done a lot of the work [to correct it].”

The offensive side of Weber’s game, much like the overall Southern Illinois team, isn’t his only strength. He has also developed into a strong, versatile defender.

He started his collegiate career as a third baseman, moving across the diamond to first base in 2019. Starting in 2020 and carrying over to the 2021 season Weber served as the team’s everyday left fielder, a position he has excelled at. And with so much turnover from 2021 to this year he has made the switch once again, now calling center field home, although he does still play first base from time to time based on team needs.

“Early on in my career as a freshman and sophomore I knew that it would be helpful for me to play multiple positions,” Weber said. “It just adds value to the team and it was able to work out when I moved over to first base and then after that slide in to left field to get more bats into the lineup. I’ve enjoyed playing different positions, I’ve always played multiple positions growing up, I’ve never been a one-position guy. That makes the game more fun and exciting when you can play anywhere on the field.”

Each move has been made as an attempt by Southern Illinois – the last three years with Rhodes at the helm – to put the best team they can offensively on the field. For as good as they have been at the plate they have also stood out defensively.

Last year their fielding percentage was .976, committing 52 errors in 60 games, easy math to figure out that’s less than a 1-to-1 ratio, which is always a good number to strive for. This year it’s much of the same, a .975 fielding percentage, good for 48th-best in the nation, with 25 errors in 28 games.

Weber has yet to commit an error this year, making just two defensive miscues a year ago after having a perfect fielding percentage in 18 games during the 2020 season. Eleven of his 13 career errors came from 2018-19 when he was manning the corner infield positions.

He also has 12 assists the past three years as an outfielder, once again proving there’s not much on a baseball field he can’t do.

“He’s just a really good college baseball player that doesn’t have a lot of holes,” Rhodes said. “He could be a super utility guy and be really good at every single thing that he does. And that’s kind of the person he is. He wants to go play basketball? He’s good at basketball. When he throws a football he’s good at football. Just a naturally gifted athlete … he makes the game look good with everything that he does.”

Not surprisingly, Weber is good in the classroom, too. Studying civil engineering, he has interest in construction and project management. He knows full well that as a 23-year-old fifth-year senior, despite posting gaudy numbers on a baseball field, his options may be limited. With fewer round of the draft and fewer professional opportunities due to the reduction of minor league teams it’s wise to have a sound backup plan.

Whether it be as a baseball player, an engineer, a super hero or just your average, everyday upstanding citizen, Weber is poised to enjoy greatness with whatever comes next.

“I give all of the credit to God. He’s blessed me with the abilities and opportunities to be able to do this,” Weber said. “I’m just thankful I’ve been able to be here five years, to be in this community and play the game that I love.”

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16x9 GSA - Midseason Watchlist - 16x9

USA Baseball Unveils 2022 Golden Spikes Award Midseason Watch List

The 44th Golden Spikes Award will be presented on June 24 on ESPN
April 5, 2022
CARY, N.C. – USA Baseball today unveiled the 2022 Golden Spikes Award midseason watch list, moving closer to naming the top amateur baseball player in the country. The winner of the 44th Golden Spikes Award will be announced on Friday, June 24, on ESPN. The midseason watch list features 45

CARY, N.C. – USA Baseball today unveiled the 2022 Golden Spikes Award midseason watch list, moving closer to naming the top amateur baseball player in the country. The winner of the 44th Golden Spikes Award will be announced on Friday, June 24, on ESPN.

The midseason watch list features 45 of the nation's top amateur players from the high school and college ranks and includes 26 athletes who have played their way onto the watch list since the preseason list was announced on February 15. The Golden Spikes Award Advisory Board will continue to maintain a rolling list of athletes, allowing players to play themselves into consideration for the award before announcing the semifinalists on May 24.

“We are thrilled to recognize these forty-five amateur athletes on the Golden Spikes Award midseason watch list for their incredible performances throughout the first half of the 2022 season,” said Paul Seiler, USA Baseball’s Executive Director and CEO. “Each of these athletes has proven themselves worthy of consideration for this prestigious award through both their talent and character. We look forward to seeing what the rest of this exciting season holds before crowning the latest Golden Spikes Award winner in June.”

The watch list is headlined by Jacob Berry (LSU) and Jace Jung (Texas Tech), who were both named Golden Spikes Award semifinalists in 2021. Additionally, eight athletes are making their second appearance on the midseason watch list in 2022 after also being named to the list last season, including Berry, Justin Campbell (Oklahoma State), Dylan Crews (LSU), Jung, Dominic Keegan (Vanderbilt), Brooks Lee (Cal Poly), Parker Messick (Florida State), and Kevin Parada (Georgia Tech).

Tennessee, Texas, and Vanderbilt lead all 34 schools represented with three athletes each on the 2022 midseason watch list while Cal Poly, Louisville, LSU, Oregon State, and Virginia each boast two representatives.

In total, 12 different NCAA conferences have at least one athlete on the list. The Southeastern Conference tops all represented conferences with 12 athletes, while nine play in the Atlantic Coast Conference and five hail from the Big 12.

The 2022 Golden Spikes Award midseason watch list features five athletes that will look to become just the third player from a non-NCAA Division I school to win the award (Alex Fernandez, 1990; Bryce Harper, 2010), including Haydn McGeary (Colorado Mesa) who is representing NCAA Division II this year.

The 2022 midseason watch list also features the highest number of high school baseball players ever. Elijah Green (IMG Academy), Termarr Johnson (Mays High School), Druw Jones (Wesleyan High School), and Dylan Lesko (Buford High School) were all named to the 2022 midseason list after also appearing on the preseason list to start 2022 and are the first athletes from their respective schools to earn the honor.

Arkansas’ Kevin Kopps took home the prestigious award most recently in 2021, joining a group of recent winners that includes 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).

On Tuesday, May 24, USA Baseball will announce the semifinalists for the 2022 Golden Spikes Award. The list of semifinalists will then be sent to a voting body consisting of baseball media members, select professional baseball personnel, current 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:

May 24: USA Baseball Golden Spikes Award semifinalists announced, fan voting begins

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 45-player 2022 USA Baseball Golden Spikes Award midseason watch list is as follows:

Name, Position, School, Conference

  • Hunter Barco; LHP; Florida; Southeastern Conference
  • Drew Beam; RHP; Tennessee; Southeastern Conference
  • Jacob Berry; INF; LSU; Southeastern Conference
  • John Michael Bertrand; LHP; Notre Dame; Atlantic Coast Conference
  • Enrique Bradfield, Jr.; OF; Vanderbilt; Southeastern Conference
  • Jake Brooks; RHP; UCLA; Pac-12 Conference
  • Chase Burns; RHP; Tennessee; Southeastern Conference
  • Justin Campbell; RHP; Oklahoma State; Big 12 Conference
  • Jonathan Cannon; RHP; Georgia; Southeastern Conference
  • Carlos Contreras; OF; Sam Houston; Western Athletic Conference
  • Dylan Crews; OF; LSU; Southeastern Conference
  • Chase DeLauter; OF; James Madison; Colonial Athletic Conference
  • Nolan DeVos; RHP; Davidson; Atlantic 10 Conference
  • Sonny DiChiara; INF; Auburn; Southeastern Conference
  • Chase Dollander; RHP; Tennessee Southeastern Conference
  • Jake Gelof; INF; Virginia; Atlantic Coast Conference
  • Elijah Green; OF; IMG Academy
  • Pete Hansen; LHP; Texas; Big 12 Conference
  • Thomas Harrington; RHP; Campbell; Big South Conference
  • Cooper Hjerpe; LHP; Oregon State; Pac-12 Conference
  • Gabriel Hughes; RHP; Gonzaga; West Coast Conference
  • Jack Hurley; OF; Virginia Tech; Atlantic Coast Conference
  • Termarr Johnson; INF; Mays High School
  • Druw Jones; OF; Wesleyan High School
  • Jace Jung; INF; Texas Tech; Big 12 Conference
  • Dominic Keegan; UTIL; Vanderbilt; Southeastern Conference
  • Christian Knapczyk; INF; Louisville; Atlantic Coast Conference
  • Brooks Lee; SS; Cal Poly; Big West Conference
  • Dylan Lesko; RHP; Buford High School
  • Karson Ligon; RHP; Miami; Atlantic Coast Conference
  • Chris McElvain; RHP; Vanderbilt; Southeastern Conference
  • Haydn McGeary; C; Colorado Mesa; Rocky Mountain Athletic Conference
  • Ivan Melendez; INF; Texas; Big 12 Conference
  • Jacob Melton; OF/INF; Oregon State; Pac-12 Conference
  • Parker Messick; LHP; Florida State; Atlantic Coast Conference
  • Ben Metzinger; C/INF; Louisville; Atlantic Coast Conference
  • Connor Noland; RHP; Arkansas; Southeastern Conference
  • Kevin Parada; C; Georgia Tech; Atlantic Coast Conference
  • Nate Savino; LHP; Virginia; Atlantic Coast Conference
  • Nolan Schanuel; INF/OF; Florida Atlantic; Conference USA
  • Jordan Sprinkle; INF; UC Santa Barbara; Big West Conference
  • Murphy Stehly; INF; Texas; Big 12 Conference
  • Daniel Susac; C; Arizona; Pac-12 Conference
  • Drew Thorpe; RHP; Cal Poly; Big West Conference
  • Jacob Wilson; INF; Grand Canyon; Western Athletic Conference
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GSASpotlight_JacobMelton_Article

GSA Spotlight: Oregon State’s Jacob Melton

Jacob Melton used a quiet summer of reflection to get his 2022 season off to a red-hot start
April 1, 2022
Jacob Melton didn’t spend last summer on the Cape or in the Northwoods. The dynamic Oregon State outfielder may have ventured to a cape and spent much of the summer in the woods alright, but that would be the cape of a river in the Willamette Valley on the opposite

Jacob Melton didn’t spend last summer on the Cape or in the Northwoods. The dynamic Oregon State outfielder may have ventured to a cape and spent much of the summer in the woods alright, but that would be the cape of a river in the Willamette Valley on the opposite coast of the prestigious Cape Cod League.

Instead of chasing down flies in a summer league outfield, the sweet-swinging 6-foot-3 lefty was using flies to net his next catch, spending five or six days a week fly fishing in Oregon. He was relegated to partaking in one of his favorite hobbies after shoulder surgery to repair his labrum in May ended his 2021 season and sidelined him for the next seven months.

“As soon as I got out of the sling, I was all for [fishing],” Melton said with a grin. “I didn’t have much else to do other than [physical therapy] and rehab, so I had a lot of time to kill over the summer.”

There were a lot of hours alone with just the soundtrack of the babbling brook and wind gently rustling leaves as it danced through the trees. Melton spent those quiet times occasionally analyzing his breakout campaign where he hit .404, 6, 25 in 99 at-bats and helped push Oregon State to a 26-11 start only to watch his injury effectively derail the Beavers’ season.

They lost five of their final six regular-season series and fell in the regional championship at Dallas Baptist, going 11-13 after Melton was shut down. He spent time wondering what could have been, but more often, Melton used his solitude in nature to self reflect and try to better himself as a person.

“This past summer it was definitely tough with the injury, but I appreciate it. Just kind of realized where my feet are at and to enjoy all of it,” Melton said. “It was good in different aspects. Obviously, I would have loved to been able to play over the summer and finish out last season, but I think the way it worked out definitely allowed me to grow as a person and be ready to go this year.”

He came into this season playing not only for himself, but now as one of the older guys on the roster, he felt he owed it to the team’s younger players to be a leader, to play with confidence and to give an emulatable example each time he steps into the box. But first Melton had to get back in the batter’s box. He wasn’t able to do much in the fall, particularly with the bat. He basically had the time from when the team returned to campus after the winter break until opening day to try to rebuild his swing step by step.

“I had a six-week buildup to be able to swing at 100 percent,” he said. “It was really just a struggle to not build any bad habits in that time. I was really just working on the small pieces and ensuring that I was making the small moves right and doing everything right during the buildup to being full go.”

Since getting the full-go clearance, there’s been no stopping Melton.

Opponents have tried just about everything, only to see good pitches lined for base hits and mistakes banged off or over the wall. Melton picked up right where his 2021 season concluded and added more extra-base power with fewer strikeouts. He began the season with a ridiculous streak. Melton opened his fourth-year junior campaign with at least one hit and one run knocked home in each of the first 17 games. He also scored at least one run in 15 of the 17 games.

Melton has already surpassed last season’s numbers, hitting .385, 9, 41 in essentially the same number of at-bats while cutting his strikeout rate more than 10 percent. He drove in three more runs on Wednesday in a 9-8 win at Nevada, including bringing home the go-ahead run on a deep sacrifice fly in the top of the ninth inning to push the No. 3 Beavers to 19-5 on the season.

“He’s continued to make adjustments and get better and better,” Oregon State third-year head coach Mitch Canham said. “He’s got a ton of power and extremely mobile and athletic and he’s fighting with two strikes and shooting baseballs the other way on a line or leaving the house.

“He can leave the house to any part of the field, can drive singles to any part of the field and then something we haven’t seen him do a whole lot this year is he can put the ball on the ground via bunt and end up on first, but then next thing you know, he’s getting a double out of it because he’s swiping second. He’s got every tool there is and his heart is one of the biggest ones.”

Melton is fourth in the nation in RBIs. He leads the Pac-12 in that category as well as slugging percentage and total bases. He’s second in the conference in hits, home runs and runs while his eight stolen bases are fourth in the league. His offensive impact has been immense, but he’s made an even bigger impact in the locker room helping Canham build the culture that was so important to the championship Oregon State teams of the past two decades.

“He’s a big pillar in this group,” Canham said. “His work ethic, his attitude, his determination, his energy, his confidence. I mean, everything that he does spreads to the rest of the group. He loves his family and this family loves him. There’s not a person in the world that doesn’t get excited watching him walk up to the plate and go to work.”

Opposing pitchers and coaches may disagree with that final statement, but there is definitely a rise in anticipation for the Beavers seeing Melton stroll to the plate to take his left-handed hacks. They have seen him do his “lonely work,” as Canham calls it. The on-your-own, away-from-practice, before and after extra swings in the cage, ground balls taken, towel drills or tee work. Except what might have once been lonely or perhaps partner work between Melton and Wade Meckler often has an audience nowadays.

“Last year, Wade and I pretty much had free rein to the cages. This year, it’s kind of been a struggle to make it in there and get a cage sometimes,” Melton said. “It’s pretty much five or six nights a week we’re up there and there is somebody up there with us every time. It’s really cool to see. It’s a good culture. It’s something we want to build upon and leave here for sure. It’s just the willingness to put in extra work and do whatever you need to better yourself and put yourself in a spot to be ready to perform.

“I think that’s where a lot of our success comes from is just everybody on the roster has put in a lot of hours from our pitching staff, all of our hitters have put in so much extra work to really be in a position to perform on the field.”

Melton has always been a hard worker and the results have followed. He was a two-time first-team All-State in high school hitting .453, 9, 27 as a junior and .513, 8, 28 his senior year, stealing a combined 55 bases his final two years at South Medford (Ore.). He made the All-Northwest Conference first team in his lone season at Linn-Benton CC, hitting .365, 3, 39 with 16 stolen bases. But for the kid that dreamed of wearing the orange and black and says he would be at Oregon State even if he didn’t play baseball (in large part because of his fisheries and wildlife sciences major), his first season was more of a nightmare.

He struck out in his only at-bat on opening day. He went 0 for 4 with two strikeouts in his first career start. He got his first and only hit of the season after entering as a defensive replacement in a blowout. Melton then struck out three more times in his final five at-bats over the next 10 days before the 2020 season became the 2020 season. The campaign was shuttered due to the Covid-19 pandemic with the Beavers sitting on a five-game losing streak and a 5-9 record. Melton finished 1 for 11 with six strikeouts. It became the driving force for the player he has become.

“I didn’t prove anything in 2020 and obviously there needed to be some changes to what I do at the plate,” Melton said. “There wasn’t a lot of confidence, hard to get confidence from 1 for 11 with six strikeouts, but I just used that as fuel to get better and that was motivation to go hit every night, so I’m honestly kind of thankful that season worked out the way it did. Otherwise, I don’t know if I’d have the same motivation to work and do all the same stuff that I do now.”

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

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Article - Christian Knapczyk

GSA Spotlight: Louisville's Christian Knapczyk Emerges As Elite Leadoff Man

March 25, 2022
Just about one year ago, things were going much differently for Christian Knapczyk than they are right now. It was still early in his Louisville career, but was having a hard time adjusting both offensively and defensively at shortstop. After he made errors in the first two games of a

Just about one year ago, things were going much differently for Christian Knapczyk than they are right now. It was still early in his Louisville career, but was having a hard time adjusting both offensively and defensively at shortstop. After he made errors in the first two games of a series against Boston College in mid-March, head coach Dan McDonnell pulled him aside.

“He had just won the shortstop job, maybe a week before. And he was really struggling this weekend, and he wasn’t playing great defense, and it was like his introduction to ACC baseball. Literally I put my arm around him and said, ‘Hey man, i can take you out of the game. I don’t want to make you play, you don’t look real comfortable right now,’” McDonnell recalled. “He was very respectful and very polite, but he was like, ‘No no, Coach, don’t take me out, I’m fine. I promise you, I’m fine.’ It wasn’t going good, and I’ll be darned, he hits a triple and we’re losing, I think it was the Sunday game, and we ended up coming from behind and winning. I remember thinking, that’s not easy to do for a lot of players when they’re struggling, much less a freshman. This kid’s a freshman in an ACC weekend, and he came up with maybe the biggest hit of the weekend. The game was on the line late, and I almost took him out. Because I had older infielders, and I just thought, this is not looking good. That’s when it said a lot, and he stuck and he’s played just about every game at short.”

Knapczyk had his ups and downs that freshman year, but he settled in and had a solid offensive campaign, hitting .297/.374/.385 with seven steals. McDonnell rarely sends even his highest profile hitters to play in the Cape Cod League after their freshman years because he doesn’t want them hitting below .200 and destroying their confidence — but Knapczyk’s confidence is one of his greatest assets, so the Cards sent him to play for the Bourne Braves last summer. “And that joker, he held his own up there,” McDonnell said.

More than holding his own, Knapczyk hit .321 with nearly as many walks (14) as strikeouts (17) in 109 regular-season at-bats, then hit .476 in 21 postseason at-bats. He returned to campus in the fall looking like an emerging superstar.

And in the fall, McDonnell wasn’t shy about predicting big things for Knapczyk and veteran third baseman Ben Metzinger, whom he called his “Rowdey Jordan/Tanner Allen” combination at the top of the order, referencing two of the top hitters for the 2021 national champion Mississippi State Bulldogs. So far, that prediction looks spot-on, as Knapczyk and Metzinger have gotten off to huge starts in the two two spots of the order, serving as the catalysts that make Louisville’s explosive offense go. Knapyczyk is hitting .405/.548/.646 with 16 walks against nine strikeouts, showing off his elite bat-to-ball skills and also his plate discipline, all of which makes him an ideal leadoff man. His good speed and superb baserunning acumen makes him an even more disruptive force atop the order, helping him swipe 11 bases in 12 tries.

“He’s a good basestealer, he gets good jumps, and he wants to run. There is no fear,” McDonnell said. 

“He has that quality that the great basestealers have. You get thrown out and there’s no gun shy, he is very aggressive, very confident.”

Metziner behind him also has a knack for grinding out quality at-bats, with 23 walks against 17 strikeouts. He’s hitting .329 with a team-best nine homers — and home runs are not easy to come by at Jim Patterson Stadium, especially in the cold early weeks of the season.

But Knapczyk, despite his 5-foot-9, 165-pound stature, is also driving the ball with more authority this year. After hitting nine doubles, two triples and no homers in 148 at-bats as a freshman, he already has exceeded last year’s extra-base hit total in just 79 at-bats as a sophomore (seven doubles, three triples and two homers).

“I think you get rewarded the better swings you take and the ability to put the bat on the baseball, those guys get rewarded. He’s gotten stronger,” McDonnell said. “I’ve had a lot of questions about him as a leadoff, and I kind of laugh, because I’ve coached a lot of great leadoffs in my day, and that’s what I did as a player. He is way more offensive, I grew up in The Citadel generation there, a blue collar dirtbag hard-nosed type of kid that might not have been a great hitter, but he could get on base, he could steal. I made a living through walking and finding any way to get on. 

“But I don’t tell Knapczyk anything, I don’t make him take. I’ve kind of told our people, ‘Look, I’m just letting him do his thing, and if something isn’t working out I’ll address it.’ But I’ve put no restrictions on him for literally the entire year. For a leadoff, you’re always like, ‘Make sure he’s throwing strikes and make sure you establish the strike zone.’ But with him, I’ve always respected the ability to hit, the hand-eye coordination, and the numbers back it up. And with him less coaching is more.”

Knapczyk’s defense at shortstop remains an area of emphasis, however. He is fielding just .904, with seven errors, and one thing that is helping him is practicing more on taking ground balls from unusual spots so that he’s more comfortable when Louisville shifts. He’s plenty athletic and has good actions, but his arm is better suited for second base than shortstop at the next level. Still, McDonnell feels good about him improving defensively at short as the season progresses — in part because he works so hard at it.

“It’s a high energy kid. It’s just a tough Chicago kid that I’m extremely pleased with. But he’s coachable and he knows there’s areas we’re still working on improvement,” McDonnell said. “He’s a fun kid to coach and a fun kid to watch, I just think he has to be a fan favorite. He has those similar qualities like a Devin Hairston had —when pro guys were here hitting early, Devin was always standing out there at shortstop. Knapczyk is really, when they say a ‘baseball rat’, i worried more because of the body his freshman year, but this year he lived at the facility. He’s always out there with the pro guys, always standing on the field, always in the cages. He doesn’t know the meaning of ‘off day’. He is always at the facility. And that’s not something you can teach, he just loves it.”

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GSA Spotlight: Gonzaga's Gabriel Hughes

March 18, 2022
Gabriel Hughes – a 6-foot-4, 230-pound right-hander whose fastball has touched 97 mph — used to be an angry pitcher. “You could almost see flames coming out of my ears,” said Hughes, Gonzaga University’s Friday night starter. “I’m an intense and focused person. On the mound, that was compounded. I

Gabriel Hughes – a 6-foot-4, 230-pound right-hander whose fastball has touched 97 mph — used to be an angry pitcher.

“You could almost see flames coming out of my ears,” said Hughes, Gonzaga University’s Friday night starter. “I’m an intense and focused person. On the mound, that was compounded. I would sit at the end of the dugout, and I wouldn’t talk to anyone. I wouldn’t even look at anyone.”

Hughes used that approach to launch a successful career, sporting a 0.77 ERA in 11 2/3 innings as a true freshman in the COVID-shortened 2020 season.

Last year, however, Hughes noted his inconsistency, alternating strong starts with poor performances. His overall numbers were good – 4-3, 3.23 in 10 starts – but Hughes started to listen to Will Kempner, Gonzaga’s Saturday starter.

“Will would ask me: ‘Why are you so mad? Loosen up’,” said Hughes, 20. “This year, I’ve started smiling, which had been unheard of or insane for me. 

“I still have the same intensity, but now I have better balance.”

Hughes’ attitude adjustment is working.

In four starts, Hughes is 3-0, 2.16 with 36 strikeouts in 25 innings. Batters are hitting just .159 against Hughes, who has allowed eight walks.

Three of his starts have gone six innings: He had a 10-strikeout, one-walk performance against New Mexico; struck out nine to beat Cal State Fullerton; and he allowed just one unearned run in a victory over Long Beach State.

Hughes’ other start was perhaps the best one of his career, beating then-fourth-ranked Oklahoma State, 4-3, in Stillwater. In that game, Hughes struck out 11 batters and walked just one in seven innings. He threw 106 pitches, but there was one that cost him for a two-run double with two outs in the seventh.

“He tried to go back to the cookie jar and threw a fastball up to a lefty hitter,” Gonzaga pitching coach Brandon Harmon said. “But he was in command against a really good lineup.”

Gonzaga’s baseball history goes back all the way to 1890, and the Spokane, Washington school helped send its first player to the major leagues in 1910, when pitcher Dave Skeels made his debut.

But since the MLB Draft started in 1965, only four Gonzaga players have cracked the first round, and Hughes would love to become the fifth.

“That’s been a huge goal of mine for the past year,” Hughes said.

Hughes said ex-Zags lefty Marco Gonzalez – who was a first-rounder in 2013 and is now part of the Seattle Mariners’ rotation – has served as his role model.

The other ex-Gonzaga first-rounders are pitcher Clayton Mortensen (No. 36 in 2007); second baseman Lenn Sakata (No. 10 in 1975 secondary draft); and pitcher/shortstop Mike McNeilly (No. 3 in January 1972 and No. 10 in June 1972).

Hughes has the potential to join that group due to many factors, including size, character, production, and a pitching assortment that relies mostly on his fastball and slider.

That fastball sits 94-96 and is still riding at 92-94 in the late innings. He has taken a bit off his slider – from 89-90 to 81-84 – to give it more depth and sweeping movement. He also has a changeup that he has added this year, and a curve that he uses sparingly.

In addition to his pitching ability, Hughes is also a terrific student. He is majoring in Biology and has a 3.65 grade-point average. Depending on how his pro baseball career goes, Hughes could opt for medical school, following his parents, who are both doctors.

Hughes is so blessed in so many ways that Harmon calls him the golden boy.

“Whenever he gets another award,” Harmon said with a laugh, “his teammates mess with him and say, ‘Good for you, buddy. Another accolade.’

“Gabe takes the kidding in stride. But this is who Gabe is – high school valedictorian. He’s going to graduate from Gonzaga in three years. He’s a good-looking kid, 6-foot-4.

“There’s a lot of buzz from scouts on Gabe. He is pitching himself into the first round or early second for sure. But when he gets into meetings with pro teams, they will see what kind of person he is, his confidence paired with his repertoire.”

Hughes is set to become the second member of his family to play pro baseball. His grandfather, Donald Hughes, was a minor-league first baseman who played three seasons in the Detroit Tigers’ organization. Gabriel can thank his grandfather – who is 6-5 – for his height.

There’s another potential pro in the family: 6-3, 230-pound right-hander Jacob Hughes, who is Gabriel’s brother and a true freshman for the Oregon Ducks. Jacob is 1-0, 1.93 in 9 1/3 innings this season.

Gabriel Hughes is from Eagle, Idaho, a suburb of Boise.

Hughes describes his childhood as “idyllic”. He played baseball, basketball, and football as a kid. However, his football “career” didn’t last past the sixth grade.

“I didn’t like to hit or be hit,” Hughes said.

When Hughes was nine, his parents, Dustan, and Julie, adopted four children – two girls and two boys — who are all siblings. They ranged at that time from age one to six.

Katie is now 18, Jessie is 16, Michael is 15, and Joe is 14.

“They all look up to Gabriel,” Julie Hughes said.

Gabriel Hughes said going from a family of four to one of eight took some adjusting.

“But it taught me patience, compassion and empathy,” Hughes said.

Another of Hughes’ qualities is loyalty.

He got his first college scholarship offer from Gonzaga, and he committed almost immediately. Just before the start of his sophomore season at Rocky Mountain High in Meridian, Idaho, Hughes toured Gonzaga. At the end of the visit, he gave his commitment to Gonzaga coach Mark Machtolf.

“I fell in love with the place as soon as I got on campus,” Hughes said. “I love the smaller campus, the baseball program, the passion of the coaches and the academics.”

Harmon said Gonzaga offered Hughes after seeing him just once, at a regional event in August of 2016.

“It was an immediate yes for us,” Harmon said. “He was just 16, but he had a high level of maturity for his age. He’s a phenomenal young man.”

Hughes was a projectable 6-4 and 180 pounds at the time, and he quickly justified Gonzaga’s early faith in him. Hughes ultimately became Idaho’s Gatorade Player of the Year with a 0.91 prep ERA and a .365 batting average with seven homers.

He arrived at Gonzaga as a two-way player. But the turning point for Hughes came last year on April 27 when he injured his right hand while swinging and missing at a pitch while serving as DH in Gonzaga’s 7-5 win over Washington State. 

“It was a 2-0 count, and I was sitting slider,” Hughes said. “I’m a free swinger. I see the ball, and I’m thinking, ‘Great. I’ve got a hanging slider.’ 

“But it was a fastball inside. I swung anyway. I missed, and the ball hit the knuckle on my right pointer finger. My hand got swollen, but I stayed in the game, and I got a single through the six-hole on my final at-bat.”

With the universal DH now in the majors, that stands as the final at-bat of Hughes’ hitting career. He finished last year with a .616 OPS and three homers in 73 at-bats.

More importantly, Hughes missed the rest of last season due to a hairline fracture. Gonzaga finished 34-19, including a 1-2 record and a shutout win over LSU in the Eugene Regional.

That injury was a turning point for Hughes in three ways.

First, it forced Hughes to give up hitting to focus on pitching, which hasn’t been an easy sacrifice.

“I knew it was coming at some point, and I was trying to delay the inevitable,” Hughes said. “But it was still incredibly tough. You do something your entire life and then must give it up … That’s difficult, no matter what it is.”

Secondly, the time off from pitching helped Hughes’ changeup.

“I couldn’t put a ton of pressure on my pointer finger, so I worked on what was essentially a changeup grip between my middle and ring fingers,” Hughes said.

Harmon said Hughes now gets good arm-side run and depth with his changeup, which has a chance at developing into a swing-and-miss pitch.

Lastly, the time away from pitching last year helped Hughes finally relax.

He started hanging out more with Kempner and other friends at the “324 garage house”. They were also among a group of roommates who started taking three-mile hikes up scenic locations such as Nine Mile Falls and the Rocks of Sharon.

However, Hughes’ newly expanded social life has not included a seat in the gym to watch the nation’s No. 1 men’s basketball team, the mighty Gonzaga Bulldogs.

Gonzaga’s McCarthey Athletic Center fits only 6,000 fans, and apparently there hasn’t been room for Hughes in the “Kennel Club” student section.

“I wish,” Hughes said when asked if he’s seen the Zags in person this season. “It’s a complex ticket-distribution system. Tickets are hard to come by, and the gym is absurdly small for the No. 1 team in the nation.”

Fortunately for Hughes, Gonzaga baseball – off to an 11-4 start that includes a three-game sweep at Oklahoma State – is becoming a tough ticket, too.

With a rotation that includes Hughes, Kempner (0-1, 1.69) and Trystan Vrieling (1-1, 3.24), this could be the year the Zags win their first baseball regional.

“The goal is Omaha,” Hughes said, “and we believe we have the talent to get there.”

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Orndorff Article

GSA Spotlight: Liberty's Derek Orndorff

March 11, 2022
Way back in 2015, then-North Carolina recruiting coordinator Scott Jackson recruited a Pennsylvania kid named Ryan Sloniger. That recruiting process did not bear fruit at the time, as Sloniger wound up at Penn State, where his four-year career lasted from 2016-19. But years later, Jackson’s relationship with Sloniger proved serendipitous.

Way back in 2015, then-North Carolina recruiting coordinator Scott Jackson recruited a Pennsylvania kid named Ryan Sloniger. That recruiting process did not bear fruit at the time, as Sloniger wound up at Penn State, where his four-year career lasted from 2016-19. But years later, Jackson’s relationship with Sloniger proved serendipitous.

During Sloniger’s final two years in State College, he was teammates with a young outfielder named Derek Orndorff, who later transferred to Division II power Seton Hill (Pa.) prior to his 2020 junior year. Orndorff blossomed at Seton Hill, hitting .353 with 15 homers in 2021 to help lead the Griffins to the D-II College World Series. But he still had a year of eligibility left, and he wanted another crack at D-I ball. That’s where Sloniger — now the fourth assistant at Kent State — re-enters the picture.

“I got a text from Ryan this summer, he said, ‘Hey coach, a really good friend of mine really wants to go to Liberty, he’s in the transfer portal, I think he’d be a great fit,’” said Jackson, now in his sixth season as Liberty’s head coach. “I said, ‘OK man,’ and kind of moved on. I think Derek had sent us an email, his father had come here back in the day. Derek was interested a lot in Liberty out of high school, but with the coaching change from Coach [Jim] Toman to me, it didn’t really materialize. So it kind of fell into our laps. Sometimes you get lucky.”

And boy, have the Flames gotten lucky with Orndorff. Through his first 12 games at Liberty, Orndorff is leading Division I with 10 home runs and ranks second with a 1.868 OPS. He’s slashing .432/.625/1.243 and has 20 RBIs, six stolen bases in six tries, and more walks (11) than strikeouts (nine). How’s that for a strong return to D-I competition?

Orndorff hit his first homer on opening day against perennial power Florida, and seven of his 10 homers have come at Liberty’s Williams Stadium, a notoriously difficult place to hit the ball out.

“It’s crazy. If you go on tape and look what he’s doing, he took an 0-0 slider right-on-right off the plate about four or five inches and went out of here opposite field, and that’s not easy to do at Liberty,” Jackson said. “I try not to say too much to him, just shake his hand coming around third and say, ‘Let me know if you need something.’ Because he’s seeing it pretty darn good.

“He’s mature and has a good understanding of his swing. I batted him seventh on opening day, I didn’t see it coming. But with the way he works and the type of kid he is, with the awareness that he has, it doesn’t surprise me that it’s in there. The fact that it’s 10 jacks in the first 11 games is a little surprising. He’s just a strong older player, another one from the transfer portal we’re fortunate to have.”

But it was actually Orndorff’s defense that first caught Jackson’s attention. The Flames needed to replace right fielder Jake Wilson, a standout defender, and defense is always a top priority for Liberty, which led the nation in fielding percentage last year.

“I called his coach at Seton Hill, we had some conversations. He said, ‘Coach it’s incredible defense, it’s speed. the kid will run through a wall.’ Then there were some highlight clips of him on Twitter,” Jackson said. “I said, ‘Let’s go get this kid to go with [center fielder] Jaylen Guy in right, to keep our defense what it was in the outfield.’ We started to talk about hitting, he wanted to know how we did things here. It wasn’t about him, he wanted to be in a program that won. He was excited to get back to the Division I level and wanted to help us win no matter what. It was just refreshing, you’ve got a mature kid who wanted to be here.”

Guy wound up having Tommy John surgery, allowing Orndorff to slide back to center field, where he played last year. And it’s safe to say he’s been an asset in the middle garden, where he’s put his plus speed and superb instincts to use making highlight-reel catches like this one against Florida, the No. 1 play on the SportsCenter Top 10 that night. He pursues fly balls so relentlessly that Jackson had to tell him he’s not allowed to leave his feet or run into walls while patrolling center field in batting practice.

Jackson knew Orndorff could defend before he ever set foot on campus, but it took some time this fall and winter — and a lot of hard work — to unlock his full offensive potential.

“I think he’s just gotten cleaner to the ball,” Jackson said. “He had a higher leg kick and it was a very violent draw of the hands, just a lot that he had to get synced up to be on time. There was some failure that went with that, and he was open to, ‘Hey, what do you see?’ There were some conversations that him and I had in the cage, and a lot of conversations between him and Coach [Tyler] Cannon in the cage, just things he would be open to: ‘I think your leg kick needs to be cut down a little bit and think your hands need to fall under your shoulders to get you a little quicker and cleaner to the ball.’ It didn’t happen overnight, but it was about him being open to change and trusting his coaches.”

Still, Jackson batted Orndorff in the 7-hole to start the season — but by the middle of Week Two against Winthrop, he was entrenched in the cleanup spot, hitting bomb after bomb to center field and the opposite way.

But as exciting as Orndorff has been — with the bat and with the glove — the full measure of his impact goes well beyond the Twitter highlights.

“The best part of Derek Orndorff is the type of teammate he is and the way he shows up every day,” Jackson said. “The things that people outside the program aren’t gonna see are the things I love most — don’t get me wrong, I love seeing a ball go over the fence, but I love coaching the kid and being around him every day, and I know for a fact his teammates would say the same thing. The character matters here, and I think that’s the one thing that a lot of people aren’t seeing is that side of Derek Orndorff yet, the type of kid and type of teammate he is. To come in here one year and want to serve your teammates, he’s a shining example of that.”

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GSA Spotlight: Albany's Brad Malm

March 4, 2022
Albany baseball players happen to have a keen interest in NC State’s results so far this season. That would typically strike most people as rather odd, but it’s not. Following Tuesday’s 12-7 road win over Fairleigh Dickinson, Albany players were checking scores from other games, and taking a very close

Albany baseball players happen to have a keen interest in NC State’s results so far this season.

That would typically strike most people as rather odd, but it’s not.

Following Tuesday’s 12-7 road win over Fairleigh Dickinson, Albany players were checking scores from other games, and taking a very close look at the box score in NC State’s loss to Campbell. In that Wolfpack loss, they wanted to know if Tommy ‘Tommy Tanks’ White hit a home run. He didn’t. He went 1-for-5 with a pair of strikeouts. He held pat. A sigh of relief permeated throughout the team bus.

So, why would Albany players care so much about what Tommy White, the nation’s home run leader, is doing? Two words: Brad Malm.

While White has been captivating plenty of hearts and minds around the country, Malm, a fifth-year senior for the Great Danes, has almost been keeping the same pace. He didn’t have a home run against Fairleigh Dickinson – he had three hits–, but he sits second nationally in homers with eight, just one why of White. He has also developed into a pure hitter, batting .394 so far this season with a double, eight homers and 17 RBIs, along with a 1.599 OPS. Miraculously, eight of his 13 hits are homers.

He’s got his eye on the top, and he’s one of the best stories in college baseball so far this season.

“He’s a fifth-year senior, and he’s probably the best player I’ve ever had, and I’m a pretty conservative guy,” Albany head coach Jon Mueller said. “He may not be the best athlete I’ve ever had — I’ve had some guys who were a bit more athletic — but in terms of just an overall baseball player? Yeah, he’s the best. He’s out there playing a premium position at a very high level.”

Malm is no stranger to success. The 6-foot-1, 185-pound, Medford, N.Y., native, hit .208 as a freshman, but quickly turned things in a positive direction his next season with a .319 average, two homers and 24 RBIs. He was hitting in the upper 200s during the 2020 season before it ended, while he took yet another step forward last season with a .345 average, four homers and 39 RBIs. Most notably, he ended the season with a whopping 22 doubles.

In addition to his success at the plate, Malm also established himself as a premium second baseman two seasons ago. He proved himself so much as a defender that he moved to another, even more premium position — shortstop — last season. There, he made just four errors while putting together a solid season at the plate.

“The biggest takeaway with Brad is that he’s a walk-on in this program, and he just built himself into a high-end defender at second base. I think he made four errors. He’s just a premium defensive player. He was a first baseman the first couple of years, did second base and now he’s a shortstop.”

Despite his success last season, the veteran Malm didn’t get drafted in the MLB draft. He wanted to know why, and Mueller had an answer.

Malm 6_Jay Bendlin_Hartford

“The last thing that was missing for Brad was just getting drafted,” he said. “I just told Brad that if you want to get drafted, you better throw 95 mph off the mound, you better hit 15 dongs or you better steal 35 bases. That’s how you get drafted.

“He took that to heart, that’s for sure,” he added. “He was pretty salty that he wasn’t one of the Top 50 shortstops in your power rankings, so his goal was to go off this season.”

Malm worked extremely hard during the offseason. He was previously 6-foot, 175 pounds according to Mueller. But when he came back for spring workouts, he was up to 190 pounds because of the additional strength. He also worked diligently to improve his swing. Whereas in the past he had more of a flat swing, Mueller said he came back with a bit more launch angle in his approach. In turn, that has led to more of a long ball presence in his swing.

“He went from 175 to 190 pounds, and when he came back, and he’d take his shirt off to work out, it was kind of disturbing how ripped he was,” Mueller said with a laugh. “Our team will lift at school, and I promise you that guy is going home and lifting even more. He’s probably going home and lifting six days a week. Like a lot of our players, he’s just one of those hard-nosed, tough guys.

“He’s an incessant worker,” he added. “He looked into changing his bat angle, and he’s getting a pretty good launch angle at the plate right now. He knows what he’s trying to as a hitter. And there are times when you watch him in the on-deck circle, and you’re wondering if he should really be swinging like that. Then, he gets to the plate, some pitcher tries to go in on the knuckles, then he cranks it. That’s how you know it works.”

It works against teams of all calibers, too. Some might look at Albany’s schedule and assume most of his homers came against Fairleigh Dickinson or Maryland-Eastern Shore, which was a four-game series. Some did come in that series against UMES. But his breakout party was Opening Weekend on the road against No. 15 Georgia.

In that series, Malm hit a home run off Georgia reliever Jaden Woods in the first game, hit a two-run shot off Liam Sullivan in the second game and put icing on the cake for the weekend with another home run against Georgia flame-throwing starting pitcher Dylan Ross.

He passed tests against one of the best.

“He could’ve had another home run against those guys — but he hit one that was a bomb, but foul,” Mueller said. “I’m not going to say this is going to continue, but there have been a combination of things that have led us to being here and to Brad being the type of hitter that he is right now.

“We’re enjoying this,” he added. “We play in a park at home where it’s 410 to left center, and it’s hard to get balls out. That’s why he had 22 doubles last season. This is just fun to follow. Brad isn’t a real vocal guy, so when he screams rounding third base after hitting a home run, all the guys in the dugout are just going absolute bananas.”

Tommy White, and rightfully so, has captivated college baseball fans with his gruff look, advanced approach and big-time power already this season. It’s now Brad Malm’s turn to captivate those same people.

The best thing about all of this? The home run race is just beginning.

It’s only going to get better.

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Luis Rodriguez Article

GSA Spotlight: Luis Ramirez

February 25, 2022
Long Beach State couldn’t have drawn a more daunting assignment on opening day. The Dirtbags were on the road facing reigning national champion Mississippi State at Dudy Noble FIeld, one of the most intimidating venues for opposing teams in all of college baseball. And the Dirtbags were up against first-team

Long Beach State couldn’t have drawn a more daunting assignment on opening day. The Dirtbags were on the road facing reigning national champion Mississippi State at Dudy Noble FIeld, one of the most intimidating venues for opposing teams in all of college baseball. And the Dirtbags were up against first-team preseason All-American Landon Sims, who ranked No. 1 on our list of college baseball’s top 150 starting pitchers heading into the season.

And Sims was dealing. The Mississippi State righty racked up 13 strikeouts without issuing a walk over seven innings of one-run ball.

“I told [MSU coach] Chris [Lemonis], that was as good as I’ve seen a college pitcher since probably Stephen Strasburg. He’s the real deal,” Long Beach coach Eric Valenzuela. 

But for all of Sims’ greatness, he took the loss Friday night — because Long Beach State righthander Luis Ramirez managed to be even better.

Ramirez went about it differently — he struck out just five over his six innings of work, relying instead upon the incredible movement on his elite low-90s sinker to rack up groundball outs. Ramirez held Mississippi State’s explosive offense hitless over those six shutout frames, and when the Dirtbags finally broke the scoreless tie on Kaden Moeller’s solo homer in the top of the seventh, Ramirez picked the victory.

“That was a lot of fun, that was a great college game,” Valenzuela said. “Two big leaguers going at each other. It was pretty cool.”

Of course, this wasn’t the first time Ramirez had faced Mississippi State. In 2020, as a true freshman, Ramirez took the ball in a Sunday rubber game at Blair Field and delivered seven innings of two-run ball to lead LBSU to a 6-2 win against the Bulldogs. Ramirez wound up making just one more start that season before the pandemic shut everything down; he finished with a line of 2-0, 2.73 with 27 strikeouts against eight walks in 26.1 innings. It was a short sample size, but Ramirez showed his new coaching staff that he was for real during that four-week run, validating the coaches’ already high hopes for him.

“We inherited him as a freshman. When i got the job, communicating with all those incoming guys, I had heard a lot about him. From the get-go he was a guy that we could tell right away was gonna be a real guy for us,” Valenzuela said. “He started as a true freshman with Adam Seminaris and Alfredo Ruiz in the rotation. I think guys like Adam really helped him as that true freshman.”

And then Ramirez’s developmental process took something of a detour, along with the rest of the Dirtbags. Long Beach State was not permitted to gather as a team for fall ball in 2020 due to local COVID restrictions, and LBSU’s spring preseason was also delayed and limited. He put together a solid campaign anyway in 2021, going 4-4, 4.27 in 11 starts, but it was a battle.

“He comes in as a sophomore, and he doesn’t have a fall, and he basically doesn’t have any work in the spring. He has four weeks to prepare for his season last year,” Valenzuela said. “So you talk about the limited development he’s had up until this year, where he’s had a full fall, and that’s where he’s really kind of made that jump, basically having a full fall and spring training before our season. This is where he’s really grown. You can work on your own, but this is why they come here, to be around a throwing program and be structured. So that’s why you’re seeing these guys really grow and get better.”

A strong summer in the Cape Cod League last year was also part of Ramirez’s growth process. He showed the makings of a quality four-pitch mix in the Cape, but his stuff has ticked up this spring. Valenzuela said Ramirez sat 92-94 mph with that darting two-seam fastball throughout his six innings in Starkville, and he’s capable of dialing his four-seamer up to 95-96. The fastball tunnels well with his slider — as Pitching Ninja Rob Friedman demonstrated this weekend — and he also has very good feel for a solid-average changeup that he can throw in any count, as well as a useful downer curveball, though he didn’t use it in Week One.

But that devastating sinker is Ramirez’s calling card, the pitch that really gives him a chance to be special this season and in professional ball.

“It’s hard to teach it, it really is. it’s not like he came to Long Beach and I showed him to pitch that way, that’s just how he is,” Valenzuela said. “Luis’ arm action and what his ball does, we have a couple guys that do that, but also a couple other guys who, their fastball is straight as an arrow. For Luis it’s just natural. He’s had that sink, and as he’s gotten stronger and bigger and more power, higher velocity, that sinker that he had coming in as a freshman has turned into a power sinker. He also throws a four-seam that when you’re sitting on that sinker, he’ll throw that four-seamer 93-94 and it’ll be by you. He’s very intelligent on the mound, he knows what he wants to do. I call pitchers for him but he’ll shake it. He knows what he wants to do with each at-bat and each pitch.”

And Ramirez’s mound presence goes well beyond his understanding of pitch sequencing. He has a stoic, composed demeanor no matter the situation, and unwavering tenacity. Ramirez is a natural fighter.

“He’s just built that way, he really is. He’s a great story. He doesn’t say much, he just works and he’s a tough kid, and the players really respect him. And when he gets on the mound he’s just a competitor,” Valenzuela said. “I think a lot of it obviously is his background, he comes from a tough area. He grew up in East LA. His parents, they go back and forth from Mexico, where they also have family there. He’s had to really grow up really fast. I know his high school coach, he was like a second father figure as well. On the recruiting process, he had to help him with the English part of it and paperwork. He’s had to really grow fast and be an adult since he was in high school.

“He’s not a big rah-rah guy, he’s the opposite of [LBSU closer] Devereaux Harrison. And you need both. Luis is the opposite, under control all the time, doesn’t say much, but you get him in the circle and that’s where he shines.”

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USA Baseball Announces 2022 Golden Spikes Award Preseason Watch List

The list features 55 of the nation’s top amateur baseball players
February 15, 2022
CARY, N.C. -- USA Baseball today announced its 55-player preseason Golden Spikes Award watch list, beginning the process of identifying the top amateur baseball player in the country for the 2022 season. The 2022 preseason watch list features 55 of the nation’s top amateur players from high school and college

CARY, N.C. -- USA Baseball today announced its 55-player preseason Golden Spikes Award watch list, beginning the process of identifying the top amateur baseball player in the country for the 2022 season.

The 2022 preseason watch list features 55 of the nation’s top amateur players from high school and college baseball. The Golden Spikes Award Advisory Board will maintain a rolling list of players, allowing athletes to play themselves into consideration for the award throughout the season.

Headlining the 2022 watch list are six 2021 Golden Spikes Award semifinalists, including 2021 College World Series champion Landon Sims (Mississippi State). Sims is joined by fellow 2021 semifinalists Jacob Berry (LSU), Jace Jung (Texas Tech), Austin Knight (Charlotte), Ethan Long (Arizona State), and Paul Skenes (Air Force). Berry, Jung, Knight, and Sims were also named to the midseason watch list in 2021.

This year’s initial list features nine additional members of the 2021 Golden Spikes Award midseason watch list, as well as four athletes that were named to last year’s preseason watch list. Justin Campbell (Oklahoma State), Dylan Crews (LSU), Jud Fabian (Florida), Peyton Graham (Oklahoma), Caden Grice (Clemson), Brooks Lee (Cal Poly), Parker Messick (Florida State), Kevin Parada (Georgia Tech), and Andrew Taylor (Central Michigan) were all named to the midseason watch list in 2021, while Hunter Barco (Florida), Fabian, Graham, and Robert Moore (Arkansas) started the 2021 season on the preseason list.

“We could not be more excited to kick off the amateur baseball season with the announcement of the fifty-five-player Golden Spikes Award preseason watch list,” said Paul Seiler, Executive Director/CEO of USA Baseball. “The athletes on this year’s initial watch list represent a tremendous amount of talent and character. We are looking forward to watching their journeys unfold during what is sure to be one of the most thrilling and competitive seasons of amateur baseball to date.”

The 2022 Golden Spikes Award preseason watch list features six athletes that will look to become just the third player from a non-NCAA Division I school to win the award, following in the footsteps of Alex Fernandez (1990) and Bryce Harper (2010). Cam Collier (Chipola) and Haydn McGeary (Colorado Mesa) are representing the National Junior College Athletic Association and NCAA Division II, respectively, in 2022.

Additionally, the 2022 preseason watch list features the highest number of high school baseball players ever. Elijah Green (IMG Academy), Termarr Johnson (Mays High School), Druw Jones (Wesleyan High School), and Dylan Lesko (Buford High School) are the first athletes from their respective schools to be named to the Golden Spikes Award preseason watch list. The 2014 and 2018 preseason watch lists each featured three high school athletes.

Sixteen different collegiate athletic conferences are represented on the 2022 preseason watch list with six of those conferences boasting multiple selections, including the Atlantic Coast, Big 12, Big West, Colonial Athletic Association, Pac-12, and Southeastern Conferences.

LSU leads the list of schools represented with three players on the 2022 list, followed closely by Arizona State, Arkansas, California, Florida, Mississippi State, Ole Miss, Texas, and Vanderbilt, which all boast a pair of athletes.

Arkansas’ Kevin Kopps took home the prestigious award most recently in 2021, joining a group of recent winners that includes 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).

Fan voting will once again play a part in the Golden Spikes Award in 2022. Amateur baseball fans will be able to vote for their favorite players on GoldenSpikesAward.com, starting on May 24 with the naming of the Golden Spikes Award semifinalists. USA Baseball will announce the finalists for the award on June 8 and fan voting will open at GoldenSpikesAward.com concurrently, remaining open through June 12.

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:

  • April 5: USA Baseball Golden Spikes Award midseason watch list announced
  • May 24: USA Baseball Golden Spikes Award semifinalists announced, fan voting begins
  • May 29: USA Baseball Golden Spikes Award semifinalists fan voting ends
  • June 8: USA Baseball Golden Spikes Award finalists announced, fan voting begins
  • June 12: USA Baseball Golden Spikes Award finalists fan voting ends

A complete list of the 55-player 2022 USA Baseball Golden Spikes Award preseason watch list is as follows:

Name; Position; School; Conference

  • Hunter Barco; LHP; Florida; Southeastern Conference
  • Dylan Beavers; OF; California; Pac-12 Conference
  • Jordan Beck; OF; Tennessee; Southeastern Conference
  • Jacob Berry; INF; LSU; Southeastern Conference
  • Enrique Bradfield; OF; Vanderbilt; Southeastern Conference
  • Justin Campbell; RHP/DH; Oklahoma State; Big 12 Conference
  • Cam Collier; INF/RHP; Chipola; Panhandle Conference
  • Dylan Crews; OF; LSU; Southeastern Conference
  • Gavin Cross; OF; Virginia Tech; Atlantic Coast Conference
  • Chase DeLauter; OF/LHP; James Madison; Colonial Athletic Association
  • Hayden Dunhurst; C; Ole Miss; Southeastern Conference
  • Jud Fabian; OF; Florida; Southeastern Conference
  • Jacob Gonzalez; INF; Ole Miss; Southeastern Conference
  • Peyton Graham; INF; Oklahoma; Big 12 Conference
  • Elijah Green; OF; IMG Academy
  • Caden Grice; 1B/LHP; Clemson; Atlantic Coast Conference
  • Pete Hansen; LHP; Texas; Big 12 Conference
  • Devereaux Harrison; RHP; Long Beach State; Big West Conference
  • Sam Highfill; RHP/INF; NC State; Atlantic Coast Conference
  • Ty Hill; UTL; Jackson State; Southwestern Athletic Conference
  • Gabriel Hughes; RHP; Gonzaga; West Coast Conference
  • Termarr Johnson; INF; Mays High School
  • Brock Jones; OF; Stanford; Pac-12 Conference
  • Druw Jones; OF; Wesleyan High School
  • Jace Jung; INF; Texas Tech; Big 12 Conference
  • Austin Knight; INF; Charlotte; Conference USA
  • Brooks Lee; SS; Cal Poly; Big West Conference
  • Dylan Lesko; RHP; Buford High School
  • Tyler Locklear; INF; VCU; Atlantic 10 Conference
  • Ethan Long; INF; Arizona State; Pac-12 Conference
  • Nick Maldonado; RHP; Vanderbilt; Southeastern Conference
  • Haydn McGeary; C; Colorado Mesa; Rocky Mountain Athletic Conference
  • Jared McKenzie; OF; Baylor; Big 12 Conference
  • Sean McLain; INF; Arizona State; Pac-12 Conference
  • Parker Messick; LHP; Florida State; Atlantic Coast Conference
  • Robert Moore; INF; Arkansas; Southeastern Conference
  • Tre' Morgan; 1B; LSU; Southeastern Conference
  • Zach Neto; RHP/INF; Campbell; Big South Conference
  • Carson Palmquist; LHP; Miami; Atlantic Coast Conference
  • Kevin Parada; C; Georgia Tech; Atlantic Coast Conference
  • Max Rajcic; RHP; UCLA; Pac-12 Conference
  • Ryan Ritter; INF; Kentucky; Southeastern Conference
  • Cam Schlittler; RHP; Northeastern; Colonial Athletic Association
  • Landon Sims; RHP; Mississippi State; Southeastern Conference
  • Paul Skenes; C/RHP; Air Force; Mountain West Conference
  • Jordan Sprinkle; INF; UC-Santa Barbara; Big West Conference
  • Daniel Susac; C; Arizona; Pac-12 Conference
  • Logan Tanner; C; Mississippi State; Southeastern Conference
  • Andrew Taylor; RHP; Central Michigan; Mid-American Conference
  • Kyle Teel; C/UTL; Virginia; Atlantic Coast Conference
  • Cayden Wallace; INF/OF; Arkansas; Southeastern Conference
  • Carson Whisenhunt; LHP; East Carolina; American Athletic Conference
  • Josh White; RHP; California; Pac-12 Conference
  • Brock Wilken; INF/C; Wake Forest; Atlantic Coast Conference
  • Tanner Witt; RHP; Texas; Big 12 Conference
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Kevin Kopps Named Forty-Third Golden Spikes Award Winner

Kopps becomes just the second athlete from Arkansas to earn the honor
July 15, 2021
CARY, N.C. – Arkansas’ Kevin Kopps was named the 43rd winner of the Golden Spikes Award today on ESPN’s SportsCenter. He is just the second athlete from the University of Arkansas to win the award, after Andrew Benintendi earned the honor in 2016. The Golden Spikes Award honors the top

CARY, N.C. – Arkansas’ Kevin Kopps was named the 43rd winner of the Golden Spikes Award today on ESPN’s SportsCenter. He is just the second athlete from the University of Arkansas to win the award, after Andrew Benintendi earned the honor in 2016. 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.

Kopps marks the ninth SEC player to be named the Golden Spikes Award winner in its history, following in the footsteps of Dave Magadan (Alabama, 1983), Will Clark (Mississippi State, 1985), Ben McDonald (LSU, 1989), Kip Bouknight (South Carolina, 2000), Mike Zunino (Florida State, 2012), A.J. Reed (Kentucky, 2014), and Benintendi.

“We are proud to name Kevin Kopps the forty-third winner of the Golden Spikes Award following his incredible season on the mound for the University of Arkansas,” said Paul Seiler, USA Baseball Executive Director and CEO. “With his record-setting consistency and dominance out of the bullpen that were unmatched by starters or relievers in 2021, Kevin is truly deserving of this prestigious award and his place within the exceptionally talented group of past winners.”

The right-handed reliever was named the 2021 SEC Pitcher of the Year and the NCBWA Stopper of the Year, which is awarded to the country’s best relief pitcher, after leading the nation with a stellar 0.75 ERA during the regular season. Even in relief, Kopps led Arkansas in innings pitched this year with 60.1 in 26 regular-season appearances and becomes the first relief pitcher ever to win the Golden Spikes Award.

Kopps also collected a perfect 10-0 record and 92 punchouts during the regular season. He allowed opponents to hit just .162 against him, including a stretch of 20.2 innings from April 22 to May 14 in which he allowed just eight hits. Additionally, the righty tossed 7.1 consecutive perfect innings across three appearances in April against South Carolina and LSU, and did not allow a run in 10 appearances from March 5 to April 10. The consensus All-American finished the 2021 campaign with Arkansas’ single-season ERA record and was selected by the San Diego Padres in the 2021 MLB First-Year Player Draft.

Kopps joins a group of past winners that include Adley Rutschman (2019), Andrew Vaughn (2018), Brendan McKay (2017), Kyle Lewis (2016), 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 42 previous winners, six have 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 a total of 18 championships. Twenty 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, previous Golden Spikes Award winners and select USA Baseball staff, totaling a group of over 200 voters and accounting for 95% of the vote.  Fan voting continued to be a part of the Golden Spikes Award in 2021 and contributed to the remaining 5% of the total vote.

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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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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2021 Golden Spikes Award Finalists Revealed

For the second time in Golden Spikes Award history, all three finalists hail from the same conference.
June 24, 2021
CARY, N.C. – USA Baseball today announced the three finalists for 2021 Golden Spikes Award. Kevin Kopps (Arkansas), Jack Leiter (Vanderbilt), and Kumar Rocker (Vanderbilt) are the final three amateur baseball players in contention for the 43rd Golden Spikes Award.  2021 marks just the second year in the history of

CARY, N.C. – USA Baseball today announced the three finalists for 2021 Golden Spikes Award. Kevin Kopps (Arkansas), Jack Leiter (Vanderbilt), and Kumar Rocker (Vanderbilt) are the final three amateur baseball players in contention for the 43rd Golden Spikes 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. All three finalists for the 2011 prize also made their mark on the mound, including eventual-winner Trevor Bauer (UCLA), as well as Danny Hultzen (Virginia), and Taylor Jungmann (Texas).

“USA Baseball is thrilled to name Kevin Kopps, Jack Leiter, and Kumar Rocker the finalists for the 2021 Golden Spikes Award,” said Paul Seiler, USA Baseball Executive Director and CEO. “These three athletes have not only put together incredible seasons for their respective schools on the field, but have also proven to be truly worthy honorees of this recognition off the field as well. We look forward to celebrating this well-deserved accolade with each of them and welcoming them into a tremendous fraternity of Golden Spikes Award winners. 

Arkansas right-handed pitcher Kevin Kopps was named the 2021 SEC Pitcher of the Year after leading the nation with a stellar 0.75 ERA during the regular season. In 60.1 regular season innings of relief, Kopps collected a 10-0 record and 97 punchouts to go with his miniscule ERA, while opponents hit just .162 against him. A consensus All-America honoree, the righty also finished the 2021 campaign with Arkansas’ single-season ERA record. Kopps is just the third Razorback to be named a Golden Spikes Award finalist and the first since Andrew Benintendi took home the award in 2015. Arkansas’ Phil Stidham also earned finalist honors in 1991.

In his first full season of collegiate baseball, Jack Leiter put together a lights-out campaign for Vanderbilt in 2021. In 76.1 innings of work during the regular season, he recorded a 2.12 ERA and an 8-2 record, while walking just 34 batters. Leiter currently leads the SEC and the nation in strikeouts and tallied 127 of his current-171 in the regular season, including striking out 10 or more batters in seven of his 13 starts during the season. The right-hander tossed Vanderbilt’s first regular-season, complete game no-hitter since 1971 in his SEC debut, collecting 16 punchouts in the win. He then followed that effort with two more starts in which he did not allow a hit to record 20.1 consecutive no-hit innings in his first three conference starts. Leiter was named SEC Newcomer of the Year in 2021 after his strong showing in conference play, earned All-SEC First Team honors, and also earned All-America honors this season after helping to lead Vanderbilt to the NCAA Division I College World Series.

Vanderbilt’s Kumar Rocker earned First Team All-SEC and All-America honors for his dominant performance throughout the 2021 season. In 88.0 regular-season innings on the mound, Rocker tallied an 11-2 record and a 2.45 ERA, while walking just 27 batters and striking out 129. The Athens, Georgia, native won the first seven decisions of the season to set the tone for his 2021 campaign, and went on to once again help guide Vanderbilt to the program’s second-consecutive College World Series appearance. The right-hander allowed just 22 extra-base hits during the 2021 regular season. 

Leiter and Rocker are the seventh and eighth Commodores, respectively, to be named Golden Spikes Award finalists and the third Vanderbilt duo to earn the honor in the same year (Pedro Alvarez and David Price, 2007; Carson Fulmer and Dansby Swanson, 2015). 2021 also marks the second consecutive year in which Golden Spikes Award finalists were named that at least one Commodore was among the group, following JJ Bleday in 2019.

The 2021 winner will look to join a group of recent winners that include Adley Rutschman (2019), Andrew Vaughn (2018), Brendan McKay (2017), Kyle Lewis (2016), Benintendi (2015), A.J. Reed (2014), Kris Bryant (2013), Mike Zunino (2012), Trevor Bauer (2011), 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 42 previous winners, six have 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 a total of 18 championships. Nineteen previous winners have also been named to at least one All-Star Game roster as a player or manager, combining for 56 total selections.

A final ballot will be sent to the Golden Spikes Award voting body consisting of national baseball media, select professional baseball personnel, previous Golden Spikes Award winners, and select USA Baseball staff, totaling a group of 200 voters. From Thursday, June 24, through Friday, July 2, the voting body will cast their final vote for the Golden Spikes Award winner and fan voting will simultaneously be open on GoldenSpikesAward.com. Selections made by the voting body will carry a 95 percent weight of each athlete’s total, while fan votes will account for the remaining five percent.

The presentation of the 43rd Golden Spikes Award will be announced at a later time. To stay up-to-date on the 2021 Golden Spikes Award visit GoldenSpikesAward.com and follow @USAGoldenSpikes on Twitter and Instagram.

    •  Golden Spikes Award Winners:

    • 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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