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GSA Spotlight: Nick Gonzales

March 7, 2019

New Mexico State sophomore second baseman Nick Gonzales homered in all four games of the Aggies' sweep over Delaware this past weekend. For Gonzales, that performance qualifies as a nice weekend, but it was nothing extraordinary in the context of his season to date.

After all, Gonzales already has 10 home runs in just 13 games this season. Three weeks into the spring, it's an anomaly when he doesn't go deep.

Gonzales' numbers are simply mind-boggling. He leads all of Division I in all three triple crown categories: home runs, batting (.590), and RBIs (37 … in just 28 at-bats). Not surprisingly, he also leads the country in slugging (1.213), runs (28), total bases (74) and hits per game (2.77). Certainly it's worth noting that New Mexico State plays in one of the nation's most extreme hitters' park, and the entire team has feasted (to the tune of a .408 batting average and 29 homers) against overmatched early-season competition - although Texas Southern and Yale were our preseason picks to win their respective leagues, and the Aggies won seven of eight against them, scoring 13 or more runs in all seven wins.

But caveats aside, Gonzales has performed at an unbelievable level. On a team full of dangerous, disciplined, veteran hitters, Gonzales has become the unstoppable centerpiece.

"His numbers are incredible, but he's really within his own zone, he has tremendous bat speed. And right now if the ball is in his zone, he's not missing it," New Mexico State coach Brian Green said. "Yale had an unbelievable dramatic shift, they used four outfielders against him, twice when they did that he just flipped the ball to the right side to lead the inning off. It was pretty cool."

That kind of maturity is uncommon for a young slugger - heck, even 15-year big leaguers struggle to slap balls the other way to beat the shift. But for Gonzales, it helps that he was a natural born hitter first; he didn't grow up as a feast-or-famine slugger. He's just 5-foot-10, 190 pounds, after all - the Aggies certainly never envisioned him becoming this kind of power threat on the recruiting trail, when Gonzales only drew offers from Austin Peay and NMSU out of Arizona's Cienega High School.

"He was not recruited by many schools. For me to tell anybody when they ask, 'Did you guys see this coming on the recruiting process?' Absolutely not - are you out of your mind?" Green said. "We knew he was a great makeup guy, we thought he'd play center field or second base, we thought he was mentally tough and a baseball rat. His family is unbelievably supportive, it's everything you look for. That was the piece about him coming in here was the makeup part, and you're seeing it now, he's getting everything he's earned."

Green has no shortage of stories to illustrate Gonzales' work ethic. He tells of running a hitting camp for high school players in December, and at lunch break, all the other kids were eating their sandwiches - but Gonzales wanted to pick Green's brain about hitting approaches. He tells of Friday nights in the offseason, when the rest of the Aggies were going out to the movies, and Gonzales was bringing his own exterior lighting to the batting cages and working on a tee by himself.

"That's Nick, he's the ultimate guy who's going to be a lifelong learner, and nobody's gonna get in his way," Green said. "He's clearly one of the best players in this part of the country today, but that's not the way he views it. He thinks like, 'I'd better show up and work hard or I'm gonna lose my job."

So how did Gonzales go from an overlooked, undersized high school player who was content to push the ball the other way at the plate, to one of the most dangerous sluggers in college baseball? Green remembers the "Eureka!" moment when he realized there was more to Gonzales than meets the eye.

"I remember a story with Nick, we were in the cage late in the fall [of his freshman year], we were just doing some drill work, doing some high tee stuff, some exaggerated top hand stuff," Green said. "And the ball started coming off his bat different. You have those moments with your hitters where you kind of look at each other, you both see something. I said, 'Nick, I think you have a chance to have real power, are you aware of that?' He said, 'I guess, I dunno, I never really considered that.' I said, 'You have a chance to have real power.' That was something I never saw on the recruiting process. I saw a good player from a good family with character. But I remember that moment when it changed, the ball started jumping off the bat with backspin.

"Then three months later, he's not a starter, he gets his first real shot in Tucson, one of our players made a couple errors. The first pitch he sees in Tucson, he hammers the ball off the wall, you hear it - BOOM! - he slides in, pops up, pumps his fist, he's yelling loud. A kid from Tucson having a moment like that. He didn't come off the field after that, and next thing you know he's a unanimous freshman All-American."

Indeed, Gonzales went on to hit .347/.425/.596 with nine homers, 17 doubles and 35 RBIs in 57 games as a freshman. Very good numbers … and yet he's already exceeded last year's home run and RBI totals in just 13 games as a sophomore. He's even driving the ball out to all fields - Green estimated that five or six of his 10 homers have gone to left field, his pull side, but that another four or five have gone out to center or right-center.

And if that's not enough, Gonzales has improved by leaps and bounds as a defender at second base. Gonzales and shortstop Joey Ortiz (who is hitting .463 himself) have pushed each other hard to see who can become the better player, Green said, and they have become a superb middle infield tandem. That's a big reason New Mexico State leads the nation with 16 double plays.

"When we recruited him, we really thought as a second-year player, he'd be a starter in center field. That's what we projected him at," Green said. "He was a shortstop who could catch, played some center field in high school. But that was our projection, center. Last year at second base he was just OK, but he was so good offensively he wasn't coming out. His double play turn, he only had one, he could only step back at second base. He was really only skilled going to his left, he struggled going backhand side or any ball that was a slow roller. But now if you profile him, I think you're looking at a legitimate offensive big league second baseman. Now he can really turn it, we lead the nation in double plays. His backhand has improved dramatically, last year he struggled with that. He can throw from different arm slots. These are all throws he didn't have. I think he profiles there now, as a legit plus-armed, plus-exchange second baseman, and he's very athletic."

He's even improved his speed. Green said he typically got from home to first in 4.4-plus seconds last year, but now he's getting up the line in 4.3 - and Green said he thinks next year it'll be down to 4.15 or 4.2, as he continues to improve his strength and athleticism. Green sent Gonzales to Cotuit in the Cape Cod League at the end of last summer to work on his basestealing skills with Kettleers coach Mike Roberts, who excels at teaching that particular skill. Gonzales is slated to return to Cotuit to focus on his baserunning even more next summer - although there's a legitimate chance he could start off the summer with Team USA's Collegiate National Team.

And who would have thought two years ago that Gonzales would find himself on Team USA's radar? Who would have thought he'd turn himself into a potential premium prospect by the time he was a sophomore? At the rate he's improving, it's fun to imagine what Gonzales will be in another five years.

But for now, it's fun for Green and the rest of the Aggies just to watch Gonzales terrorize opposing pitching on a nightly basis.

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GSA Spotlight: Patrick McColl

April 18, 2019

More than halfway through the college baseball season, we have seen a number of impressive performances across the nation. But few have been more impressive than senior Patrick McColl, who ranks fifth in the nation in batting (.443) and sixth in OPS (1.353), and has helped Harvard stay near the top of a competitive Ivy League.

McColl has been a key player since arriving in Cambridge his freshman season, playing in at least 38 games each of his last three seasons for the Crimson. In his second season McColl finished second on the team in batting .355, but dropped to .263 last season. With one season left at Harvard, McColl decided to change his approach at the plate during the offseason. 

"Every offseason I try to increase strength and get bigger so I can hit the ball farther, and it has worked," McColl said. "But this offseason I focused on getting the ball in the air, and I listened to big league hitters and what they do at the plate. A lot of it is trying to hit line drives and fly balls more than ground balls."

The first baseman's new approach has paid off, as he is hitting .443/.504/.849 with a career-high nine home runs and 33 RBIs this season. Up until the last few days, he was leading Division I in batting at .459. Coach Bill Decker has been able to watch McColl progress in his four years at Harvard, and believes the senior's big season is a testament to his hard work. 

"For me, 30 plus years into this profession it's just watching him day in and day out. The way he handles himself, and stays on this even keel is impressive," Decker said. "He is able to slow the game down, and it has been fun to watch. His teammates have not only embraced what he has done, but they know they can do it too."

McColl says his phone has been blowing up every weekend with messages from friends and family congratulating him on his impressive start to the season. While he has tried to avoid looking at the stats, McColl has been inspired by seeing his name atop a list of the best batters in the nation. 

"It's pretty cool, you try not to let it get to your head too much," McColl said. "It does inspire confidence, and that is definitely what you want when walking up to the plate expecting to get a hit every time, and that's what I'm doing right now." 

Despite the attention on him every game, McColl still wants to give credit to his teammate and their hard work. 

"We're putting Harvard back on the map this season," McColl said. "I've been doing well myself, we have a number of other strong hitters in the lineup. Jake Suddleson hits behind me and he's hitting around .380 and has [nine] home runs, and Chad Minato is on a 16-game hitting streak. So we are stroking the ball well as a team and it's been working so far."

At 8-4, Harvard is just one game behind first-place Columbia in the Ivy, and its 18-8 overall mark is the best of any Ivy League team. Harvard has its sights set on its first Ivy championship since 2006. McColl credits a lot of the team's early success to a trip the Crimson took over winter break. Decker took a group of 24 players to the Dominican Republic to help serve the community and play against a number of local baseball teams. 

"It was a way for our guys to invest in one another, and go to a different culture," Decker said. "We tried to give back with the time we spent in the orphanage, and in the village painting houses. Certainly the time we spent with the Dominican players on the field, and learning the way they play the game was great. It was really valuable for a team bonding event. It was one of the most influential things in my life that I've been through with these guys, and I would recommend it to anybody."

McColl said this senior season has been a great experience from the fall through Week Nine of this season, and he hopes to continue to help Harvard reach its goals for the season. 

"It's been awesome so far, and it's the dream to have a season like this at Harvard, and I hope to continue it," McColl said. "But to be able to do it as a senior is awesome, and it has made the experience surreal."

While his team continues to fight for the top spot in the Ivy league and its first NCAA tournament appearance since 2005, McColl says the Crimson enters every game with a "Little League" mindset. 

"We have been playing this season with that Little League mindset, which is having fun while we are out there on the field," McColl said. "Coach asked us to reflect on what we learned from the Dominican players, and the biggest thing was their love for the game. At the end of the day we are playing a game, and I think that has shown this season. Every game we play I think we are having more fun than the other team, and that shows on the field because we are playing with a loose and aggressive mindset."

Decker has coached a number of good teams in his 34 years and has seen plenty of impressive performances, but watching McColl's season has been a highlight in his coaching career.

"Individually it's one of the best things I've ever seen," Decker said. "Watching Pat has been awesome, but really watching the way Pat approaches not only baseball, but his studies and the way he carries himself. Let's just say this young man was brought up the right way, and he's infectious in our locker room, he's a really great person. It's really special to watch what he's doing, and you don't think you can keep it up, but if he goes about his business you never know what could happen."

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GSA Spotlight: Andrew Vaughn

April 11, 2019

BERKELEY, Calif. - A Twitter user posed an interesting question last week: Is Andrew Vaughn the best college hitter ever? Considering all the great bats that have passed through college baseball over the decades, it's impossible to put that label on any single player, past or present. But the fact that Vaughn is right there in the discussion with any of the all-time greats is telling.

Few college hitters have ever shown the combination of elite power and elite hitting ability that Vaughn has demonstrated during his three-year college career at California. He hit .349/.414/.555 with 12 homers and 50 RBIs to earn freshman All-America honors in 2017. He hit .402/.531/.819 with 23 homers, 14 doubles, 63 RBIs to become just the Division I underclassman this century to win the Golden Spikes Award in 2018. That season, he had more than twice as many extra-base hits and walks (44) as strikeouts (18).

And Vaughn has kept on terrorizing opposing pitchers at a remarkable level as a junior this spring, hitting .344/.519/.708 with 10 homers and 30 RBIs, along with 31 walks and 20 strikeouts. Despite returning to campus as the reigning Golden Spikes Award winner and a slam-dunk top-10 (probably top-five) pick in the upcoming draft, Vaughn hasn't been fazed one iota by any external expectations or pressures.

"It's just a game, man. That's all I've got to play it as," Vaughn said. "I just go out there every day, try to do my best, help my teammates win, and everything else takes care of itself. I mean, it is a great stage to be on, winning that Golden Spikes last year was unbelievable, but just gotta go out there and play the game. Can't think about trying to win it again, or try to go out and do better than I did last year - can't think that way, or you're not gonna do well."

Vaughn is as even-keeled as athletes get. He said he hasn't gotten any extra attention walking around campus as the reigning national player of the year, but he likes it just fine that way. "I just like to stay to myself and be a quiet guy," he said.

He's focused on playing for his teammates, on a mission to get Cal to the postseason for the first time since 2015.

"We talk about it all the time with all of our draft guys - 'Hey, just put the team first, do what you're supposed to do for the team and it'll all work out for the draft,' but it's a lot easier said than done," said second-year Cal coach Mike Neu. "A lot of guys, it's tough, there's distractions, there's a lot of scouts, there's so many things that happen. But he just truly has lived that. He's just, 'Hey, I'm gonna do whatever I can to help the team win.' I think that's why it's working out for him. He has some distractions but it doesn't affect him. He just goes out and plays the same way every day."

And the way he plays every day is nothing short of dazzling. If he comes to the plate with first base occupied, and you know he might actually get something to hit, you can't help but inch forward in your seat in anticipation of seeing something special. In Saturday's win against Washington State, Vaughn walked in his first at-bat - something he's used to doing, like most elite sluggers. In his second at-bat, he drove a screaming double the other way into the right-center gap and went on to score.

In his third at-bat, he hit one of the most jaw-dropping moon shots you'll ever see. Wazzu lefty A.J. Block left an 87 mph fastball over the heart of the plate, and Vaughn deposited it on the roof of the second building beyond the left-field wall for a monstrous two-run homer.

"Either that one or the one I hit at Cal Poly this year - they were very close, some of the farthest balls I've ever hit," Vaughn said.

An ultra-physical 6-foot, 214-pound righthanded hitter, Vaughn seems in complete control of the strike zone at all times, and there's no obvious way to get him out - he can crush the ball to the opposite field, as I saw him do for a solo homer to right in Week One in Arizona and again for that double to right-center on Saturday. Or he can turn on the ball with authority as well as any hitter in the country. Even though pitchers work him very carefully every time he comes to the plate, he seldom chases out of the zone, and his career walk-strikeout mark is now 94-62, which is particularly insane for an elite power hitter.

"Just being a hitter first, that's the biggest thing," Vaughn said. "Knowing my strike zone, the strike zone may change game to game, but it's still the same box. Just get my pitches in that zone and hit 'em. I think I've grown into it a little more. Throughout high school I had a good eye, but then coming in here and learning it even better, better umpires so the zone gets better. I just came into my own and learned it good."

And that's what makes Vaughn so special: not only does he have prodigious power, but he also might be the best pure hitter in college baseball.

"The combination of him just, he's a hitter, he can get a hit, he can use the whole field, he can take a walk, and then he can launch a ball as far as anybody in the country," Neu said. "It's just such a rare combination. You just really don't see that this level, almost ever. So it's pretty fun to watch. I'm glad I'm getting to see him for these two years, it's just impressive."

Vaughn is also an ideal teammate. When freshman Grant Holman decided to dye his hair pink to support his mother's fight against cancer, Vaughn was right there with him.

"Beginning of the year he was like, 'Hey man, I'm gonna dye my hair pink.' He was telling a couple guys, 'Hey, come over to my house, let's do it.' We cut up some mohawks and put pink dye in it," Vaughn said with a chuckle. "It said it was gonna come out in 30 washes, but it's been two months, so I think it's in there for a while."

"It's just him being a great teammate again," Neu said. "Just one of those things like, 'Yep, hey. You've got a battle, I'm in it with you.' Pretty cool.

"Not only is he an unbelievable hitter and an unbelievable player, but he puts the team first all the time. And he just wants to win. It's just fun to see him take batting practice every day, and to see how far he hit that ball today, that was impressive. I think this is my sixth year at Cal, and I don't think I've seen one hit that far in a game before. That was unbelievable. I just enjoy watching him play every day."

Anyone who's gotten the chance to watch Vaughn do his thing over the last three years surely feels the same way - watching him play feels like one of those rare privileges that should never be taken for granted.

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USA Baseball Unveils Golden Spikes Award Midseason Watch List

The 42nd Golden Spikes Award will be presented on June 14
April 10, 2019

DURHAM, N.C. - USA Baseball unveiled the Golden Spikes Award midseason watch list on Wednesday, moving closer to naming the top amateur baseball player in the country. Presented in partnership with the Rod Dedeaux Foundation, the winner of the 42nd Golden Spikes Award will be announced on June 14.

The midseason watch list features 40 of the nation's top amateur players from the high school and college ranks, and includes 21 athletes whom have played their way onto the watch list since the preseason list was announced on February 5. 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 15.

"We are happy to honor forty amateur athletes on the Golden Spikes Award midseason watch list who have performed at an elite level through the midway part of their season," said Paul Seiler, USA Baseball's Executive Director and CEO. "Each one of these athletes are deserving of this recognition and we look forward to joining the rest of the amateur baseball world in watching the rest of their seasons unfold before announcing the Golden Spikes Award semifinalists in May." 

The watch list is headlined by Adley Rutschman (Oregon State), Spencer Torkelson (Arizona State) and Andrew Vaughn (California), who are being recognized on the midseason watch list for the second straight year. Torkelson and Vaughn were also named semifinalists for the award in 2018 before Vaughn was ultimately named the Golden Spikes Award winner after a stellar sophomore campaign in Berkeley. 

Arizona State University leads all schools with three athletes on the 2019 midseason watch list while Mississippi State, NC State, Oregon State, Texas A&M, Vanderbilt and Washington each placed two athletes on the list.

In total, 13 different NCAA conferences have at least one athlete on the list. The Southeastern Conference leads all conferences represented on the midseason watch list with 10 athletes, while eight players represent the Pac-12 Conference and five hail from the Atlantic Coast Conference.

One National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics (NAIA) and two high school athletes are on the midseason watch list in 2019 and will look to join Alex Fernandez (1990) and Bryce Harper (2010) as a Golden Spikes Award winner who claimed their respective trophies as a non-NCAA Division I athlete. Austin Sojka (Oklahoma Wesleyan) represents the NAIA on the list while Brett Baty (Lake Travis High School) and Bobby Witt Jr. (Colleyville High School) are the only high school baseball players recognized by the advisory board on the watch list. 

Last year, Cal's Vaughn took home the prestigious award, joining a group of recent winners that include Brendan McKay (2017), Kyle Lewis (2016), Andrew 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).

On Wednesday, May 15, USA Baseball will announce the semifinalists for the 2019 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 40 of the previous winners of the award, representing a group of more than 200 voters. As part of this selection process, all voters will be asked to choose three players from the list of semifinalists. On May 29, 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 2019. 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 42nd Golden Spikes Award will be named on Friday, June 14.

USA Baseball has partnered with the Rod Dedeaux Foundation to host the Golden Spikes Award since 2013. The Foundation was formed to honor legendary University of Southern California and USA Baseball Olympic team coach, Rod Dedeaux, and supports youth baseball and softball programs in underserved communities throughout Southern California.

The 2019 Golden Spikes Award timeline:

  • May 15: USA Baseball Golden Spikes Award semifinalists announced, voting begins
  • May 26: USA Baseball Golden Spikes Award semifinalists voting ends
  • May 29: USA Baseball Golden Spikes Award finalists announced, voting begins
  • June 10: USA Baseball Golden Spikes Award finalists voting ends
  • June 14: USA Baseball Golden Spikes Award trophy presentation


A complete list of the 40-player Golden Spikes Award midseason watch list is as follows:

Name, Class, Position, School, Conference
Jake Agnos, Jr., ECU, American Athletic Conference 
Logan Allen, So., FIU, Conference USA
Patrick Bailey, So., NC State, Atlantic Coast Conference
Brett Baty, Sr., Lake Travis High School
Hunter Bishop, Jr., Arizona State, Pac-12 Conference
J.J. Bleday, Jr., Vanderbilt, Southeastern Conference 
Josh Burgmann, RS So., Washington, Pac-12 Conference 
Tanner Burns, So., Auburn, Southeastern Conference
Isaiah Campbell, RS Jr., Arkansas, Southeastern Conference
Matt Canterino, Jr., Rice, Conference USA
Logan Davidson, Jr., Clemson, Atlantic Coast Conference
Reid Detmers, So., Louisville, Atlantic Coast Conference
Brandon Eisert, Jr., Oregon State, Pac-12 Conference
Nick Gonzales, So., New Mexico State, Western Athletic Conference
Emerson Hancock, So., Georgia, Southeastern Conference
Tommy Henry, Jr., Michigan, Big Ten Conference
Connor Hinchliffe, Sr., La Salle, Atlantic 10 Conference
Kody Hoese, Jr., Tulane, American Athletic Conference
Nick Kahle, Jr., Washington, Pac-12 Conference
George Kirby, Jr., Elon, Colonial Athletic Association 
Asa Lacy, So., Texas A&M, Southeastern Conference 
Brandon Lewis, Jr., UC Irvine, Big West Conference
Nick Lodolo, Jr., TCU, Big 12 Conference
Jake Mangum, Sr., Mississippi State, Southeastern Conference
Alek Manoah, Jr., West Virginia, Big 12 Conference
Alec Marsh, Jr., Arizona State, Pac-12 Conference
Austin Martin, So., Vanderbilt, Southeastern Conference
Kyle McCann, Jr., Georgia Tech, Atlantic Coast Conference 
Max Meyer, So., Minnesota, Big 10 Conference
Adley Rutschman, Jr., Oregon State, Pac-12 Conference 
Jake Sanford, Jr., Western Kentucky, Conference USA
Braden Shewmake, Jr., Texas A&M, Southeastern Conference
Ethan Small, RS Jr., Mississippi State, Southeastern Conference 
Austin Sojka, Sr., Oklahoma Wesleyan (NAIA), Kansas Collegiate Athletic Conference
Noah Song, Sr., Navy, Patriot League
Bryson Stott, Jr., UNLV, Mountain West Conference
Zack Thompson, Jr., Kentucky, Southeastern Conference
Spencer Torkelson, So., Arizona State, Pac-12 Conference
Andrew Vaughn, Jr., California, Pac-12 Conference
Will Wilson, Jr., NC State, Atlantic Coast Conference
Bobby Witt Jr., Sr., Colleyville Heritage High School, District 8-5A

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GSA Spotlight: Kyle McCann

April 4, 2019

Most elite sluggers have that signature moment that everybody else remembers - perhaps a ball that was hit so hard that people are still talking about it months later. For Georgia Tech junior catcher Kyle McCann, that moment came on Feb. 22 against UCLA, when he smashed a walk-off home run in the 11th inning.

 

"He hit it high up on our batter's eye in center field, and as soon as he hit it you're like, 'OK, game's over. Home run,'" recalled Georgia Tech coach Danny Hall. "That one for me stood out."

 

Of course, McCann has had quite a few standout moments this spring. He started the season on an incredible power binge, launching 10 home runs in Georgia Tech's first 14 games, including seven homers in the first nine days of March. That stretch was capped by a monstrous go-ahead homer in the 10th inning at Miami on March 9.

 

His long ball production has flattened out a bit since, as pitchers have worked him very carefully, but he's still hitting a robust .346/.507/.779 with 12 homers and 37 RBIs through 104 at-bats. McCann has always shown a patient approach - he drew 70 walks over his first two seasons, though he also struck out 96 times. This year his plate discipline has reached another level, as he has 32 walks and just 32 strikeouts.

 

"He's done a good job with that, and the walks kind of attest to that," Hall said. "He's always had a really good eye, I think the last couple of years he has led our team in walks. And his patience is getting tested now because he's not seeing as many pitches to hit, but he's still been willing to take a walk and let Tristin English or Baron Radcliffe or Colin [Hall] clean up and get some RBIs behind him. He's always had that knack for just seeing the ball really well. It is getting tested because people kind of fear him when he steps in there. You get off to a hot start like that with the home runs, you wouldn't be human if you weren't thinking about trying to hit some more. But he's stayed within himself very well."

 

McCann has come a long way as a hitter in his three years at Georgia Tech. At 6-foot-2, 217 pounds, he's an imposing slugger whose lefthanded power has always been a factor - he mashed nine homers in 121 at-bats as a freshman, even though he hit just .198. McCann took a big step forward as a sophomore, hitting .300/.423/.600 with 15 long balls, but he's on pace to sail past that homer total as a junior, and his OPS is up from 1.023 to 1.286. His raw power has stood out since his high school days, but he continues to get better at putting it to use.

 

"He was probably 16, and just watching him play, that was what stood out more than anything - obviously a big strong kid, lefthanded bat, had power," Hall said. "He had a good arm, probably wasn't the best catcher at that time, but was a guy you could dream on. Probably the biggest hurdle to overcome was, at that time we were sitting there with [future first-round picks] Joey Bart and Tyler Stephenson signed to come here. To Kyle's credit and his dad's credit, they were willing to wait his turn. He wanted to come to Georgia Tech, he felt like that was the best place for him to develop as a player, and he was willing to wait for Joey to get out of here to get his chance to catch."

 

McCann's father Joe played pro ball himself, as a pitcher, and his younger brother Cooper is a freshman pitcher at Mercer, though he's injured this spring. Coming from a baseball family, McCann stands out for his baseball IQ, and he showed impressive aptitude to learn behind the plate.

McCann spent his first two years working hard to improve as a catcher while working with then-Georgia Tech assistant Mike Nickeas, a former big league backstop. Stephenson signed out of high school as the No. 11 overall pick, but Bart went to school and became a star, getting drafted No. 2 overall last June. Meanwhile McCann played first base and waited his turn to catch every day.

 

Now he's getting that chance, and he's improving rapidly as a defender.

 

"He's much more flexible, and that's something I see him spend a lot of time daily on, loosening his hips up and making sure he's moving right," Hall said. "He has arm strength, but I think his accuracy and throwing the ball on line sometimes, I wouldn't say it's been lacking but I know that's one area he's working on improving, throwing the ball on the money, on the bag. His blocking and receiving keep getting better. It's a work in progress, he knows that. But it's something he's spending a lot of time trying to get better at."

 

He certainly has the right presence for the position.

 

"Even when he was kind of the backup to Joey, I think guys enjoyed throwing to him. He's very well liked by his teammates, he's just an easy guy to like," Hall said. "It's kind of funny, James Ramsey just came in here in January and joined the staff, but he has nicknamed McCann 'the low-key genius.' He's got a good baseball IQ, but he's not just gonna throw something on somebody, it'll be more on the low-key, comforting side."

 

McCann will certainly be drafted as a catcher, and his stock is on the rise - he has a real chance to be a Day One pick. And as Hall pointed out, even if a pro club does eventually decide to move him out from behind the plate, his big power bat will play at first base. That's a nice insurance policy.

 

"He reminds me a lot of [Mark] Teixeira, even though Teixeira was a switch-hitter," Hall said, referencing the former Georgia Tech great and long-time big leaguer. "But that loft, the ball goes almost as high as it goes far. So I would kind of align him more with that type of hitter. I'd say the area he's improved on the most, and this has been fun to watch, they'll still shift on him, everybody thinks he's a pull hitter, but he does have some hits to left field, and he's really gotten good at driving balls to left center. Early in his career it was, 'I'm gonna pull it to my pull side, and if i get it in the air it has a chance to be a home run.' Now he's doing a much better job driving balls to the left-center gap.

 

"I think he's right in there with the best power hitters I've coached."

 

And considering the long line of sluggers that have passed through Georgia Tech, that's quite a statement.

 

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GSA Spotlight: Mason Feole

March 28, 2019

HOUSTON - Connecticut is glad to have junior lefthander Mason Feole back on Friday nights.

The Huskies have gradually worked Feole, the prized 6-foot-1, 194-pound, lefty, back into the weekend rotation after he missed the first couple of weeks of the season because of a shoulder strain he suffered back in January.

Feole worked three innings in his first start back against Illinois and allowed two runs in three innings. He tossed 4.1 shutout innings against Texas State, and once again, he wasn't extended last weekend against Michigan State, where he struggled with command and allowed five runs and seven hits in four innings.

With American Conference play beginning this weekend at Houston, the Huskies desperately needed Feole to be back on his game, keep his pitch count low and give them a lengthier start. And he did all the above Friday night with an impressive performance in a 2-1 win over the Cougars.

"I thought he looked like himself," UConn coach Jim Penders said. "Even in the first, when he had a rocky inning, I thought he was present in every pitch, and that was a step forward. There have been times the past few weeks where he was just kind of out there wrestling with his command, but not tonight.

"We've been really cautious and smart about bringing him back [from the shoulder strain]," Penders continued. "And in between these starts, until now, we weren't doing what he normally does. I mean, when he pitches during the week, he's out there blasting away. He lets it rip between outings. He's gotten over the hump the last week and a half and he's now letting it rip, you're seeing the result of that."

It's not hard to see why Feole relies on a specific approach when it comes to preparation. When he's on the mound, he's always locked in and works with a fast and deliberate tempo. Hitters constantly are out of sync against him, and part of that buildup is going all out in the week leading up to his next start. So, when he was working back from that injury and not going all out in his training, Penders summed up his situation pretty well with a car reference.

"It's hard to command the fastball on Friday night if you're not letting the Ferrari out of the garage during the week," Penders said about Feole. "He's a putting the gas pedal all the way down kind of guy, and if he's going 50 percent on Wednesday, it's not going to work out for him on Friday in most instances."

 Mason Feole showed why he's a premier prospect. (Kendall Rogers)

Feole didn't have perfect command against the Cougars -- he finished the night with five walks. But he sprinkled three of those walks throughout six innings of work with the first frame being his most challenging.

In the first, Feole walked UH leadoff hitter Grayson Padgett before buckling two-hole hitter Derrick Cherry on a filthy 76 mph curveball. Feole got UH stud slugger Jared Triolo to fly out before intentionally walking hard-hitting Joe Davis. The lefty then coaxed a fly out to end the first with a pair of runners on base.

He hit the cruise control button the rest of the way. Feole proceeded to retire 14 of the next 15 Houston hitters he faced. The lefty struck out the side in the second inning on a trio of 91 mph fastballs, while he showed his ability to throw the secondary stuff for strikes in the third by punching out two of four hitters he faced that frame with a nasty 76 mph curveball. Two innings later, Feole went right back to the fastball to tally strikeouts on a pair of 92 mph fastballs.

"Having him back on Fridays certainly helps on a day like today. He hadn't gotten that win yet and tonight he got the win," Penders said. "It's always a good feeling when we get off the base and know he has the ball that night.

"I thought for the most part he had command of his fastball and secondary stuff," he continued. "He will have a batter here and there where it's four-straight balls for no rhyme or reason, but then he'll just come back and strikeout three guys in a row. That's just kind of how he operates sometimes."

Feole, who struck out eight, walked five and allowed one run (unearned) on three hits in seven innings, showed the makings of two strong pitches and another, the changeup, that continues to make strides.

Feole didn't deviate from the norm throughout his outing from a fastball velocity standpoint. He consistently sat 89-91 mph with the offering early, while actually touching 92 on several instances in the middle innings. His fastball command wasn't impeccable, but he threw it for strikes for the most part at the top and bottom parts of the zone.

"I thought the curveball was really good and he didn't really need the changeup much tonight," Penders said. "I thought the fastball command was really there for him, too. It's not where it can be and it's not where it's been in the past, so it's somewhere in the middle. It's a heck of a lot better than it has been, though. But overall, I thought his breaking ball was really good."

His 73-76 mph curveball was a consistent weapon against the Cougars. In addition to striking out the side with the pitch early in the game, Feole's curveball had good depth and some late action on it. His ability to command the offering tonight was what set him apart from the start I saw against Southeastern Louisiana last season. He also showed a changeup at 79-81 mph. He threw the changeup twice early in the game but didn't throw it much the rest of the way. It's a pitch he admits continues to improve and could be used more often as the season progresses.

 Mason Feole had to be great with UH's Lael Lockhart matching him. (Kendall Rogers)

"It just felt really good to be back out there and back on Friday night and getting a win," Feole said. "That was a really fun game and there was a lot of energy out there. I felt like I was attacking the zone and making hitters as uncomfortable as possible. I was executing pitches and hitting my spots and just really competing -- that was pretty much my main focus."

"I think I'm starting to command my changeup a lot more now," he continued. "I have better command of all three of my pitches, and a lot of that just has to do with working with Coach MacDonald and my coaches and our catchers. That's been the story of my year so far -- get those pitches working and just go out there and compete."

With Feole back and throwing well, Connecticut will be a dangerous team to watch the rest of the regular season and potentially heading into the NCAA postseason. It has weapons at the back-end of the game with righty Jacob Wallace and CJ Dandeneau leading the way, while the rotation is in good shape as well.

As for Feole, he continues to be one of the more unique pitchers in college baseball. He works incredibly fast and has interesting arm action. And there are times when his command can be a little erratic. But on times like Friday night, where he's, for the most part, hitting on all cylinders, he's one of the best in the business.

He's UConn's Ferrari, and he's finally out of the garage for good.

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GSA Spotlight: Hunter Bishop

March 21, 2019

No player in college baseball has made a bigger leap forward from last year to this year than Arizona State junior outfielder Hunter Bishop. Through 19 games, he ranks third in the nation in OPS (1.535), which is more than double the OPS he finished with last year (.759). He's hitting .438/.549/.986 with 10 home runs in 73 at-bats, matching his career long ball total in 293 at-bats over his first two seasons. He's 8-for-8 in stolen bases, matching his career total entering the season in that category too.

In short, Bishop is a bona fide star for a 19-0 Arizona State club, the nation's last remaining unbeaten team. And while his rise to stardom has been dramatic, it certainly hasn't come out of nowhere. He's tantalized with his enormous raw tools since he set foot on campus; it's just taken him a little longer to harness those tools because of his multi-sport background and limited baseball experience in high school.

Bishop said he didn't start playing baseball "seriously" until his sophomore year of high school. His first love was football, and he originally committed to play wide receiver for Washington, where his older brother Braden played baseball from 2013-15. Braden, a third-round pick by the Mariners in 2015 who just earned a trip to Japan for the big league team's season-opener, was supportive of Hunter's football ambitions, but he also encouraged Hunter to give baseball a chance too.

"Braden was instrumental in all parts of my career … He's my hero, he's my role model, and I try to model every part of my game after him. Because he plays the game super hard and works harder than anybody I've ever met," Hunter Bishop said. "I loved baseball in high school, but I didn't really see what everybody else saw in terms of how I played the game, and what I brought to the game, because I still had no idea, honestly. So he was really important in telling me, 'Hunt, you've just got to stick with it, baseball's super hard, keep working at it, keep working hard, and everything else will take care of itself.' I put a lot of trust into him, and it's paying off."

Arizona State coach Tracy Smith has always targeted big, strong-bodied athletes on the recruiting trail, dating back to his days at Indiana, where he famously coached future big leaguers Kyle Schwarber and Sam Travis. The 6-foot-4 Bishop was exactly the kind of projectable talent Smith covets, so it should be no surprise that Bishop's raw tools caught his eye at the Area Code Games, even though he didn't play a lot there. At that time, Bishop was already committed to play football at Washington, but Smith had a relationship with Bishop's father Randy, so he placed a call just in case.

"At the time, my son was going through the football recruiting process, and he had changed his mind a couple different times through that process," Smith said. "I remember picking up the phone one time, because I liked his dad, I said, 'Hey here's the deal, he's going to play football, that's awesome, my son's football, whatever. But here's the thing, I think your son's going to be a really good baseball player, if he ever chooses that. There's some question on the NFL thing, but I guarantee you he's going to be a professional baseball player. If he ever changes his mind, do not be embarrassed to pick up the phone and call me.'

"Something told me to put that call in just to tell him that, like, 'Hey man, don't be embarrassed.' About two or three weeks passed, and all of a sudden I get this call from his dad saying, 'You know, a few other people have said he might be a baseball player, he'd like to go look at Arizona State.' Because it was so late, we didn't have a letter of intent to him through the draft, so we had to actually physically wait until after the draft, and he turned down a lot of money with no letter of intent in hand, and I'll always be grateful to that family for that."

Doing It '4Mom'

Another factor that played into Bishop's decision to turn down pro baseball was the health of his mother, Suzy, who was diagnosed with early-onset Alzheimer's when Hunter was in high school. Smith thinks Hunter was drawn to the idea of going to college and having a safety net to help support him during that ordeal.

Naturally, Suzy's condition helped shape Hunter as a person and a baseball player.

"It made me grow up really, really fast, because the last four or five years I haven't really had a life with a mom. She's still there but it's not who my mom was growing up," Hunter said. "It's been really hard, but my family is super supportive of me and everything I've done in my baseball career and my personal life. So I'm really thankful for the people I have in my life. But as a baseball player, last year was a super hard year for the team and for me, but it just made me realize how small baseball really is in comparison with the bigger picture, with my family and what my mom's going through. So it really put everything in perspective and allowed me to realize baseball's just a game. I obviously love playing it, I love my teammates, but at the end of the day family's the most important thing to me."

Hunter and Braden decided to try to make something positive out of a difficult situation. They started an organization called 4MOM to raise money for Alzheimer's research; Hunter said Braden was the pioneer, using his platform in pro ball to take the lead on the effort, but Hunter plans to get more involved once his pro career gets underway. They worked together to plan a recent 4MOM event at Top Golf in Glendale, which drew a great turnout from pro players and Hunter's Arizona State teammates.

"Obviously it's a really bad situation, but whatever way we can turn it positive is huge for us," Hunter said.

Hunter said Suzy is struggling with the disease but hanging in there. He went home just before this season started to see her, and he said it was "pretty special to see her still smile through it all."

"So it definitely gave me a really good perspective to be able to go home right before the season and reflect on everything that I've been through," he said, "and just say, 'You know what? Go out and have fun this year, because it can be taken away from you in one second.'"

Learning To Stay The Course

That sense of perspective is rare for a college junior, and it has played an integral part in Bishop's maturation as a player. Another key part of Bishop's emergence has been his commitment to a consistent approach at the plate.

Smith said in his first two years, Bishop would tinker with his stance or his swing just about every two weeks - "probably against our wishes," Smith said.

"We got to a point where we said, 'Hey man, we're going to do this, or we're not going to do it at all,'" Smith said. "I just think it's that wanting to do well - here's a guy who hadn't played a ton of baseball. He's a great kid, so probably listening to too many people or trying to please too many people. I think once he finally put the arms up and said, 'OK man, I'm yours,' with our hitting guy Mike Earley, it's been really good. And he's had success doing it, which helps buy-in too."

Bishop agreed that simplifying his approach and sticking with it has been crucial to his success. He said he had a tendency to get jumpy on his back side and fly open his first two years, and he would chase pitches in the dirt, or foul off pitches he should be hitting.

"So the biggest thing me and Coach Earley tried to work on was how can I get myself into a consistent hitting position over my back side? So I start pretty tall now, and I just kind of sink into the back side, instead of doing some big leg kick or something that's too much, or could get me not in that consistent position," Bishop said. "So for me it's just simplifying everything and staying over that back side with a slow and smooth load. The smoother I am, the slower I am, the more I can see the ball, and when I can see the ball, I feel as if I can hit it more consistently and hit it hard."

Bishop said he saw glimpses of his emerging power last summer in the Cape Cod League, where he hit four home runs but hit just .233, striking out 45 times in 120 at-bats. But he really took off when he returned to campus in the fall, and he's been a force of nature ever since. Smith estimated that Bishop has probably hit 30 to 35 home runs since the fall in scrimmages and games, counting the 10 he has already this spring.

"In the fall I really started to see the jump in the home runs, and it kind of surprised me," Bishop said. "I knew I had the power, but it just kind of surprised me how many and how consistently I was hitting them in the fall. I think now I'd attribute a lot to Spencer (Torkelson), they're worried so much about him hitting a home run that I think they're already tired when they get to me, and they just throw it down the middle. So I attribute a lot of my success to him and guys like Carter (Aldrete), they do a great job protecting me in the lineup."

Bishop's dramatically improved plate discipline has also contributed to the power spike. After posting a 33-94 strikeout-walk mark in his first two seasons combined, Bishop has 15 walks and just 11 strikeouts so far this spring. And he's continued to improve as a defender in center field, where his plus speed helps him cover plenty of ground, and his first step has continued to improve. He said the coaches have emphasized over the years that even if you can't make a play on offense, go out and make a big play on defense - and Bishop has taken that to heart. "And I like to think of myself as a pretty good defender now," he said. "I take a lot of pride in it as well."

Bishop's only tool that doesn't project as at least above-average is his arm, which is fringe-average but very playable. But his loudest tool is his raw power, which draws double-plus grades from some scouts. Smith said he sometimes hears scouts question Bishop's long-term track record, but he finds that baffling.

"I think it's just funny, I've been thinking a lot about this, I hear guys talk about it. As always, you try to pick apart what he doesn't do - 'Oh he doesn't have any history, this and that.' I'm sitting here saying, 'I dunno, I've coached some pretty darn good players in my career. This guy's a freak, physically,'" Smith said. "He hits balls as far as anybody I've ever coached, he runs as fast as anybody I've ever coached. So not having history? To me that's a plus. Look at the jumps that he's made, to me it's the tip of the iceberg. There aren't people I've seen out there in college baseball doing what he's doing, not many of them, quite frankly in the last 10 years. His bat speed, it's ridiculous. He's in the same breath as Schwarber and Travis, but faster. I think he has the ability to play center field in the big leagues with that power. That's rare, I think."

Indeed, Bishop is a rare talent, with rare life experience and makeup. And by the time his special season at ASU comes to a close, he might find himself as a first-round pick and a leading contender for the Golden Spikes Award.

Not that Bishop is filling his head with such notions. He's just enjoying the ride with a tightknit group of Sun Devils.

"Our motto this year is 'for us'. How can we make everything for us, just our team, that's it. No one else, no outsiders, just us," he said. "How can we make this year special for this group? I think it's showing, right? Nineteen wins in a row is tough to do in any conference, any games.

"If you would have told me this before the season, I don't know if I would have believed 19-0, but to be honest before the season I knew the group we had was special compared to the years before. So I just think you could see it in the fall from the roster growing up a little bit and taking a more mature approach to the game, and it's really special to see."

Bishop's maturation has been awfully special to see, too.

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GSA Spotlight: Tanner Burns

March 14, 2019

Auburn sophomore righthander Tanner Burns learned so much from Casey Mize, he decided to wear his number this season.

Just a year ago, Burns was a freshly minted righthander who had to learn the ropes. First, he had to figure out his role, then he needed to learn what the SEC was all about. He had the perfect role model to follow in Mize, who had a stellar spring and was the top overall pick in the MLB draft last summer, but who also had a gradual rise and had to make adjustments early in his Auburn career.

Burns, a six-foot, 205-pounder, had a 2018 campaign to remember. He was outstanding in Southeastern Conference play and finished the season as a Freshman All-American. But the passing of another season has brought about new challenges. No longer does Burns have Mize leading off the weekend, ultimately taking the pressure off him every weekend.

Now, Burns is the guy everyone looks to each weekend for that perfect start to a series, and that role only has been magnified during the early part of the season with an injury to righthander Davis Daniel. Daniel should be back in the next couple of weeks, but his absence has put more of the load on Burns' back.

But just like last season, the righty hasn't flinched due to a lofty challenge. He's only gotten better.

"Just in the same way that Keegan Thompson took Casey Mize under his wings two seasons ago, Mize did that with Tanner last year, and it worked out great," Auburn coach Butch Thompson said. "He showed Tanner the ropes and was his throwing partner each day. He kind of showed him how it's done.

"And I think Tanner was thankful for that," he continued. "I think Tanner wanted to find the best way to thank Casey, so he changed his number to '32' this season. I think that's pretty cool if you ask me."

It's one thing to learn the ropes from and be Mize's cohort in crime last season on the way to  a solid freshman campaign. It's another for Burns, so far this spring, to essentially dwarf the numbers Mize put up early last season. That includes Mize's no-hit performance against Northeastern. At this stage last year, Mize had a 2.13 ERA in 25 innings along with 38 strikeouts and three walks, along with a .119 OBA. So far this season? Burns has a 0.68 ERA in 26.2 innings, along with 39 strikeouts and four walks and a .124 OBA.

That's all with a year less experience, and his start to the season has even caught Mize's attention as he continues Spring Training with the Detroit Tigers.

"I thought it was really cool that he decided to do that," Mize said about Burns wearing his number this season. "That jersey and number was something I wore with pride for three years, so if he did that to kind of honor me, that's really awesome.

"Tanner is one of the best teammates I've ever had. I don't know if I've ever met a more likable person in my life. Everyone just loves him," Mize continued. "I think he loves to work and prepare almost as much as he loves to compete. His talent and work he puts in shows every time he takes the mound and it was a lot of fun to watch last year. He's even taken a step forward this year, and that's really awesome to see."

Thompson is a wizard with pitchers. The list of premier arms he's developed over the years is lengthy. So, when he says he saw something in Burns from the get-go his freshman year, you just sit back and listen.

Burns, like most freshmen, wasn't a complete product last season. But the potential was all there. The fastball played up a big way, and while the breaking ball wasn't where it needs to be, it had potential. So, Thompson and the talented righty went to work and he managed to piece together an impressive campaign that ended with All-American honors.

"Tanner was one of those freshmen that just looked like he belonged and could compete at this level," Thompson said about last season. "He had a fastball and a half. He had a half breaking ball some days, and others, it was a changeup. But he competed with his fastball.

"He went in there and competed with what he had," Thompson continued. "The fastball, I thought, played up big time, and he really hung in there as the season progressed. He has continued to develop his arsenal from last season, and I think he learned so much last year. We're really grateful, too, that Casey kind of took him under his wing."

In Burns' first start this season, he allowed a run on three hits in five innings, while also striking out seven and walking one. The next week against UCF, he paved the way to an important road series win with another strong performance, striking out seven, walking two and allowing a run on two hits in 5.2 innings. And he's been even more dominant the last two weeks, striking out an insane 15 batters on the way to a complete game shutout against Cincinnati before punching out 10 and walking just one in seven innings in his most recent start against UTSA.

"I think what he did last year kind of took some pressure off him this season," Thompson said. "He got to sit back and watch Casey kind of lead things off every weekend last year. He got to watch a game or two and then pitch to teams. Now he's the one leading us off, and I think he's having success because of what he learned from those experiences.

"I saw those numbers [Burns' numbers now vs. Mize's last year]. Casey's run last year for about the first eight weeks was about as good as anything I've ever seen," he continued. "Talk about someone trying to pick up where the other left off. Wow. It's really hard to replace the first pick of the draft, so what Tanner has done so far this season is pretty special."

Burns has taken his stuff to another level. He's still sitting in that low-to-mid 90s range with his fastball, but the evolution of his secondary offerings is evident. He's still throwing that fastball with conviction but has begun to mimic his fastball grip to throw that slider, and that has led to a sharper offering. Furthermore, he continues to make strides with the changeup.

"We went back to what's our best pitch -- which is the fastball and decided to do a breaking ball grip of the same genre as the fastball," Thompson said. "The grip is really comfortable for him and it's in close relation with that fastball group. He's sharing space with the two pitches and he can flip that breaking ball in there to get ahead in the count. It's just made him feel a lot more comfortable out there.

"His ability to share space with that breaking ball and fastball and be able to throw both pitches with a 0-0 count -- that's been big," he continued. "That's allowed him to go out there and throw and not to be so predictable."

He's also navigated the past two weekends without too much pressure. Just like he was the security blanket for Mize last season, sophomore lefthander Jack Owen has evolved into a security blanket for Burns. He was inserted into the weekend rotation after the UCF series and has been out of this world, striking out 29 and walking just two, while having yet to allow a run in 34.2 innings of work.

Owen's rise and Davis' eventual return, and the big arm of Burns gives Thompson and the Tigers a lot of confidence entering SEC play.

Burns might very well have his ups and downs in SEC play, like most premier pitchers do. But his run through the first four weeks has been remarkable.

Everyone has taken notice, including the guy for whom he wears the jersey number for.

 

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GSA Spotlight: Noah Song

By Walter Villa, D1Baseball.com
February 28, 2019

Noah Song, a 6-foot-4 righthander, is used to ducking his head into dugouts. Pretty soon, though, the blades of a chopper will be over his head, and that's where his story diverges from that of other elite pitchers.

Song, a senior at the Naval Academy and the owner of a mid-90s fastball, has had a brilliant college career and has been especially filthy so far this season -1-0 with a 0.00 ERA and 26 strikeouts in 11 2/3 innings. Batters are hitting just .146 against him, and he is averaging 20.1 strikeouts per nine innings.

The key for Song - besides a golden right arm that has never been operated on or injured - is mental focus.

"Being a Midshipman can be a high-stress environment," Navy coach Paul Kostacopoulos said. "But Noah is cerebral and unflappable."

Following this season, Song is expected to be selected in the MLB draft, and his talent suggests his name will be called within the first five rounds.

But he owes a service commitment of at least two years to the Navy, and he expects to report to flight school on Nov. 1 in Pensacola, Fla., where he will prepare to become a helicopter pilot.

Pro baseball - if it happens for Song - will have to wait until at least 2021, when he would be eligible to petition the Navy to be placed on reserve duty so he can pursue his sport.

Song doesn't see this as a problem and is looking forward to commandeering an MH60 chopper for the Navy.

"I was lucky enough to be selected for pilot school," said Song, 21, who is set to graduate from the Naval Academy on May 24 with a degree in general engineering. "I don't have a moment of regret for choosing (Navy)."

California Kid

Song, the third of Bill and Stacy's four children, comes from a family of selfless people.

Bill is a commander for the Los Angeles County Sheriff's department, and Stacy is a special-education instructional assistant. Of their two older children, Faith is a nurse, and Daniel just got hired as a deputy sheriff in Los Angeles County.

In addition, Noah said he's proud to have inspired his younger brother, 19-year-old Elijah, who is on his way toward becoming a pilot for the Marines.

When it came to baseball, however, it was Bill who worked countless hours with Noah, who has been pitching since he was about 6 years old.

"Noah was a natural," Bill said. "I tried to teach him the best pitching mechanics, and he was always very accurate.

"We limited his pitches, and he's never had anything worse than (sporadic) arm soreness."

Even so, Song had just one college scholarship offer out of Claremont High, located about 30 miles east of downtown Los Angeles.

Fortunately for all concerned, Bobby Applegate had just been hired as Navy's pitching coach, and he remembered Song from his days as recruiting coordinator at UC Riverside.

Song took a recruiting trip to Navy - his host was Patriot League Pitcher of the Year Luke Gillingham - and he was immediately impressed with Annapolis.

"I thought, 'This is something that could be really exciting,'" Song said. "Ever since then, I have enjoyed it more and more."

Coming from California, pitching in "sub-30" degree temperatures in Maryland and elsewhere in the Patriot League has been an adjustment for Song. Otherwise, though, college has suited him.

He was a freshman All-American in 2016, winning the Patriot League's Rookie of the Year award (9-3, 2.75, .182 batting average against).

"All along, we thought he was pretty good," Kostacopoulos said. "But late in the fall (during his freshman year), you could see Noah and (Applegate) connecting. Noah was coming downhill with a plane that you could see was going to be tough to hit."

As a sophomore, Song went 6-4, 3.67 and finished second in the league in strikeouts. That summer, he became the first Navy player since Mitch Harris in 2007 to compete in the Cape Cod League.

His confidence boosted, Song went 6-5, 1.92 as a junior, earning first-team All-Patriot League honors for the first time.

Unfinished Business

Song usually throws his fastball 91-94 mph but last week touched 95-97. His hard, late 82-86 slider is often his out pitch, and his 12-to-6 curve buckles knees but serves more as a change-of-pace strike pitch than a putaway offering late in counts.

"I will flash it to keep batters off my fastball and give them something else to think about," Song said.

A changeup is Song's fourth pitch, and there is growth potential there.

College batters find it hard to cope with Song as it is, and that was the case last week when his first 10 outs against Air Force were Ks. He finished that game with 14 strikeouts - two shy of his career high.

About the only thing missing from Song's collegiate career is a big performance at an NCAA regional. Navy has made the field just once during Song's three seasons, which was during his freshman year. In his one regional performance, Song's start lasted just 2 1/3 innings, allowing three hits, two walks and three runs in a win over Saint Mary's.

Kostacopoulos said Song "ran out of gas" toward the end of his freshman year but has become much more physical since then.

"I was super lucky to get to an NCAA regional as a freshman," said Song, listed at 200 pounds. "But sometimes I wish I could have traded that regional and had it during my junior year. As a freshman, that was still my first time facing college hitters, and the regional was an even higher level."

If Navy makes the NCAA field this year, it will be a safe bet that opponents won't want to face Song.

"I don't know how that scenario would work out," Kostacopoulos said. "But I know Noah is a tough matchup for people.

"Noah is really special, and not just because he's at the Naval Academy. He's special because he's a really good pitcher."

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GSA Spotlight: Bryson Stott

February 21, 2019

Stan Stolte remembers when Bryson Stott first popped up on UNLV's recruiting radar, midway through his prep career at Las Vegas' Desert Oasis High School. As a talented, lefthanded-hitting shortstop right in UNLV's backyard, Stott was hard to miss.

"We knew he was a good player. Any lefthanded-hitting shortstop, they're hard to find," Stolte said. "But that'd be crazy to think he'd be a he'd be a possible first-day draft pick. No. We don't get those guys, usually."

Stott hit a solid .294/.359/.379 as a freshman, establishing himself as a valuable everyday regular. But nobody quite anticipated the quantum leap he would make as a sophomore, when he hit .365/.442/.556 and led the nation with 30 doubles. He proved to be one of the most difficult outs in college baseball, drawing 32 walks and striking out just 18 times. Suddenly, Stott was a blue-chip prospect, and the starting shortstop for USA Baseball's Collegiate National team.

"He just takes consistently good at-bats every time, every pitch," Stolte said. "He knows the strike zone, he knows pitches he can turn on, he knows how to go the other way. He's just a professional hitter."

Stott held his own with wood bats for Team USA last summer, hitting .262 with one homer and a team-best seven RBIs. But he also stood out to scouts for a couple of highlight-reel defensive plays, showing range to both sides and excellent body control. Whether or not he has enough range to stick at shortstop in pro ball remains to be seen, but his fluid actions, smooth exchange, sure hands and plus arm give him a chance.

He's certainly one of the best all-around shortstops in college baseball, and he provided invaluable stability for Team USA last summer.

"One of our biggest concerns going into the summer was whether or not we had a defensive shortstop that was good enough," said Team USA coach Paul Mainieri at the end of the summer. "The word we'd received on Stott was that he'd be really good offensively and just OK defensively. Within the first couple of days we were there, we started to work with Bryson on his defense. We saw he had the natural tools you needed to be a good shortstop, but maybe some of his reactions were a little off. His approach to the ball wasn't as good as it could be.

"We drilled that into him the first three days he was here. We felt like he needed to make some slight adjustments if he was going to be our everyday shortstop. He played terrific defense for about three weeks, and he made some unbelievable plays in the process. Midway through the Japan series, he started swinging the bat well, too. He looks like the complete package to me. He's going to be an outstanding draft for someone."

Stott came back from his Team USA and Cape Cod League stints brimming with confidence, and Stolte said he worked hard in the weight room to get even stronger. He still has a line-drive swing more tailored for doubles than long balls, but as he continues to add strength to his 6-foot-3, 200-pound frame, his power numbers figure to continue to climb. He hit four homers as a sophomore, and it wouldn't be a surprise if he pushed for double digits as a junior.

"He's gotten stronger, he has more power, much more than he did as a freshman," Stolte said. "If he gets his pitch, he can hit some long-distance home runs, now. He's got some juice."

Stott hit his first homer of the season during opening weekend - but it was an inside-the-parker, as he scorched a ball to center and used his slightly above-average speed to race all the way around the basepaths after Seattle's center fielder made a futile diving attempt. That was part of an outstanding first weekend for Stott, who went 6-for-11 (.545) with two doubles, a triple and five RBIs along with the inside-the-park homer. He also drew five walks and struck out just once. No wonder Stolte likes hitting Stott atop the order.

"He can start the game off with everything: walk, single, double, triple, home run, whatever. They're all in play when he leads off," Stolte said.

"He's so different, but I've coached big leaguers, and he's got big league possibilities for sure. I thought the same last year with Kyle Isbel. So he's got that 'it' factor, I think he's got a good chance. I've never had an athletic shortstop like that. He's that guy, you'll miss him when he's gone, I'm sure."

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