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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: 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: 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."

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

2019 Golden Spikes Award Preseason Watch List Announced

The 2019 Golden Spikes Award will be presented on Friday, June 14
February 7, 2019

DURHAM, N.C. - USA Baseball announced its 55-player preseason Golden Spikes Award watch list on Thursday, beginning the process of identifying the top amateur baseball player in the country for the 2019 season. The 42nd Golden Spikes Award will be presented in partnership with the Rod Dedeaux Foundation on June 14.

The 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 2019 watch list is the reigning Golden Spikes Award winner, Andrew Vaughn (California). Vaughn joins Jim Abbott, Mark Kotsay and Kip Bouknight as the only Golden Spikes Award recipients who returned to school after winning the award.

In addition to Vaughn, four 2018 Golden Spikes Award semifinalists are also featured on the preseason watch list in Kyle Brnovich (Elon), Josh Jung (Texas Tech), Kevin Strohschein (Tennessee Tech) and Spencer Torkelson (Arizona State), and five additional athletes have been named to the preseason watch list previously. Jake Mangum (Mississippi State) has been named to the preseason watch list for the third consecutive year and is joined by Zack Hess (LSU), Shea Langeliers (Baylor), Drew Mendoza (Florida State) and Matt Wallner (Southern Miss), who have been recognized for the second straight year.

"We are pleased to announce the fifty-five athletes who have been selected to the Preseason Watch List for the forty-second annual Golden Spikes Award," said Paul Seiler, Executive Director/CEO of USA Baseball. "The athletes who make up this year's initial watch list span multiple schools and divisions of amateur baseball and, for the first time since 2001, includes the reigning Golden Spikes Award winner. The 2019 season looks to be highly competitive and we are anxious for the first pitches of the year to get underway."

Five athletes 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. Cameron Coursey (Georgia Gwinnett) and Dan Valerio (Southeastern) represent the National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics (NAIA) on the preseason list, while Kolton Ingram (Columbus State) and Russell Lamovec (Mercyhurst) represent NCAA Division II. Bobby Witt Jr. (Colleyville High School) is the only amateur high school baseball player recognized by the advisory board on the watch list.

Eighteen different collegiate athletic conferences are represented on the preseason watch list in 2019. The Southeastern Conference leads the way with 13 representatives, while the Pac-12 Conference boasts 10 selections, the Atlantic Coast Conference claims nine and the Big 12 Conference has five. The American Athletic Conference, Colonial Athletic Association and Conference USA are the only other conferences with multiple athletes on the list. 

The University of Arkansas leads all schools on the preseason watch list with three selections, while Auburn, Baylor, Elon, Florida, Florida State, NC State, Oregon State, Stanford and UCLA each boast a pair of athletes represented as well. In total, 44 different schools are represented on the 2019 preseason 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).

Amateur baseball fans will be able to vote for their favorite players at GoldenSpikesAward.com again in 2019, starting on May 15 with the naming of the Golden Spikes Award semifinalists. The list of semifinalists will also be sent to a voting body consisting of baseball media members, select professional baseball personnel, current USA Baseball staff and 40 previous winners of the award, representing a group of more than 200 voters.

USA Baseball will announce the finalists on May 29 and fan voting will open at GoldenSpikesAward.com concurrently and will remain open through June 10.

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 USC 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:

  • April 10: USA Baseball Golden Spikes Award midseason watch list announced
  • 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 55-player USA Baseball Golden Spikes Award watch list is as follows:
 

Name, Position, Class, School, Conference
Kevin Abel, RHP, So., Oregon State, Pac-12 Conference
Patrick Bailey, C, So., NC State, Atlantic Coast Conference
J.J. Bleday, OF, Jr., Vanderbilt, Southeastern Conference
Cody Bradford, LHP, Jr., Baylor, Big 12 Conference
Kyle Brnovich, RHP, Jr., Elon, Colonial Athletic Association
Tanner Burns, RHP, So., Auburn, Southeastern Conference
Michael Busch, IF, Jr., North Carolina, Atlantic Coast Conference
Matt Canterino, RHP, Jr., Rice, Conference USA
Cameron Coursey, IF, So., Georgia Gwinnett, Association of Independent Institutions
Matt Cronin, LHP, Jr., Arkansas, Southeastern Conference
Wil Dalton, OF, Jr., Florida, Southeastern Conference
Logan Davidson, IF, Jr., Clemson, Atlantic Coast Conference
John Doxakis, LHP, Jr., Texas A&M, Southeastern Conference
Tyler Dyson, RHP, Jr., Florida, Southeastern Conference
Tristin English, RHP/IF, Jr., Georgia Tech, Atlantic Coast Conference
Mason Feole, LHP, Jr., Connecticut, American Athletic Conference
Zack Hess, RHP, Jr., LSU, Southeastern Conference
Will Holland, IF, Jr., Auburn, Southeastern Conference
Kolton Ingram, LHP, Sr., Columbus State, Peach Belt Conference
Josh Jung, IF, Jr., Texas Tech, Big 12 Conference
George Kirby, RHP, Jr., Elon, Colonial Athletic Association
Heston Kjerstad, OF, So., Arkansas, Southeastern Conference
Russell Lamovec, RHP, Sr., Mercyhurst, Pennsylvania State Athletic Conference
Shea Langeliers, C, Jr., Baylor, Big 12 Conference
Jack Little, RHP, Jr., Stanford, Pac-12 Conference
Nick Lodolo, LHP, Jr., TCU, Big 12 Conference
Jake Mangum, OF, Sr., Mississippi State, Southeastern Conference
Alek Manoah, RHP, Jr., West Virginia, Big 12 Conference
Casey Martin, IF, So., Arkansas, Southeastern Conference
Drew Mendoza, IF, Jr., Florida State, Atlantic Coast Conference
Max Meyer, RHP, So., Minnesota, Big 10 Conference
Kameron Misner, OF, Jr., Missouri, Southeastern Conference
Sean Mooney, RHP, Jr., St. John's, Big East Conference
Bryant Packard, OF, Jr., East Carolina, American Athletic Conference
Andre Pallante, RHP, Jr., UC Irvine, Big West Conference
Drew Parrish, LHP, Jr., Florida State, Atlantic Coast Conference
Nick Quintana, IF, Jr., Arizona, Pac-12 Conference
Adley Rutschman, C, Jr., Oregon State, Pac-12 Conference
Mitchell Senger, LHP, Jr., Stetson, ASUN Conference
Noah Song, RHP, Sr., Navy, Patriot League
Graeme Stinson, LHP, Jr., Duke, Atlantic Coast Conference
Bryson Stott, IF, Jr., UNLV, Mountain West Conference
Kyle Stowers, OF, Jr., Stanford, Pac-12 Conference
Kevin Strohschein, OF, Sr., Tennessee Tech, Ohio Valley Conference
Chase Strumpf, IF, Jr., UCLA, Pac-12 Conference
Zack Thompson, LHP, Jr., Kentucky, Southeastern Conference
Michael Toglia, IF, Jr., UCLA, Pac-12 Conference
Spencer Torkelson, IF, So., Arizona State, Pac-12 Conference
Dan Valerio, UT, Sr., Southeastern, The Sun Conference
Andrew Vaughn, IF, Jr., California, Pac-12 Conference
Matt Wallner, OF, Jr., Southern Miss, Conference USA
Will Wilson, IF, Jr., NC State, Atlantic Coast Conference
Bobby Witt Jr., SS/RHP, Sr., Colleyville High School, District 8-5A
Logan Wyatt, IF, Jr., Louisville, Atlantic Coast Conference
Kenyon Yovan, RHP, Jr., Oregon, Pac-12 Conference

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Andrew Vaughn Named 2018 USA Baseball Golden Spikes Award Winner

Vaughn is the eighth member of the Pac-12 conference to win the Golden Spikes Award
June 28, 2018

LOS ANGELES - California slugger Andrew Vaughn was named the 2018 Golden Spikes Award winner in a presentation on ESPN's flagship program, SportsCenter, on Thursday. Presented in partnership with the Rod Dedeaux Foundation, 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.

Vaughn is the first Golden Bear athlete and eighth Pac-12 player to win the prestigious award following Bob Horner (1978), Terry Francona (1980), Oddibe McDowell (1984), Mike Kelly (1991), Mark Prior (2001), Tim Lincecum (2006) and Trevor Bauer (2011).

"Andrew Vaughn pieced together an unforgettable season at Cal this year and we are thrilled to honor his tremendous successes by naming him the forty-first USA Baseball Golden Spikes Award winner," said Paul Seiler, Executive Director and CEO of USA Baseball. "Andrew and his fellow Golden Spikes Award finalists are exceptional ambassadors for the game of amateur baseball and we are delighted to celebrate their accomplishments with the Rod Dedeaux Foundation at its annual awards dinner."

Vaughn was named the 2018 Pac-12 Player of the Year and earned a spot on the Pac-12 All-Defensive Team after a stellar sophomore season in Berkeley. He started all 54 games at first base and led the conference with a .402 batting average, good for third-best in Cal baseball history. In total, he tallied 80 hits on the season, 37 of which were for extra-bases with 14 doubles and a school-record-tying 23 home runs. Vaughn finished the regular season ranked fourth in the nation with a .531 on-base percentage and set the school record with an .819 slugging percentage, tallying more home runs than strikeouts.

Just a sophomore, he was a consensus All-American in 2018 and earned First Team honors by Baseball America, D1Baseball.com, the American Baseball Coaches Association (ABCA) and the National Collegiate Baseball Writers Association (NCBWA).

All four finalists and their families will be celebrated at the Jonathan Club in downtown Los Angeles as part of the 2018 Rod Dedeaux Foundation Awards Dinner. Hosted by the Rod Dedeaux Foundation, the dinner will honor the Golden Spikes Award finalists, the Rod Dedeaux Foundation Lifetime Achievement Award winner, Don Buford, and the 2017 Rod Dedeaux USA Baseball Manager of the Year award winner, Jim Leyland.

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 2018 and contributed to the remaining 5% of the total vote.

Vaughn joins a group of past 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).

Historically, Golden Spikes Award winners have later gone on to have tremendous success at the professional level. Of the 40 previous winners, five have earned Rookie of the Year honors, two have won the Cy Young, three were named MVP and eight winners have won 13 World Series championships as either a player or manager. In addition, 18 previous winners have made one or more All-Star Game appearances as a player or manager, combining for 53 total selections.

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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USA Baseball Announces 2018 Golden Spikes Award Finalists

The Golden Spikes Award will be announced on Thursday, June 28 in Los Angeles
June 6, 2018

DURHAM, N.C. - USA Baseball named Kody Clemens (Texas), Casey Mize (Auburn), Brady Singer (Florida) and Andrew Vaughn (California) as the finalists for the 2018 Golden Spikes Award on Wednesday. The Golden Spikes Award is presented in partnership with the Rod Dedeaux Foundation and will be announced on Thursday, June 28.

The four finalists and their families will be invited to Los Angeles for the Golden Spikes Award presentation and the annual Rod Dedeaux Foundation Awards Dinner at the Jonathan Club downtown.

"USA Baseball is honored to announce the four finalists for the 2018 Golden Spikes Award," said USA Baseball Executive Director and CEO Paul Seiler. "These tremendous athletes have each put together a remarkable season of baseball filled with impressive performances and accolades. All four of these young men are truly worthy honorees of this recognition."

Kody Clemens was named the Big 12 Player of the Year in 2018 after he led the conference with 19 home runs in the regular season for the Longhorns, including two grand slams and a walk-off. Additionally, he tallied 61 RBI and a 1.140 OPS. Defensively he was a stalwart at second base, helping turn 63 double plays, which ranked second in the nation. Clemens was named a First Team All-American by Baseball America and Collegiate Baseball and was drafted 79th overall by the Detroit Tigers in the third round of the 2018 MLB Draft.

Drafted first overall by the Detroit Tigers in the 2018 MLB Draft, Casey Mize was also named First-Team All-SEC following his 2018 season with Auburn, where he posted a 9-4 record with a 2.94 ERA and the program's first no-hitter since 2002 against Northeastern. He led the SEC in innings pitched (95) and total strikeouts (133), and tied for the lead in complete games and shutouts. Mize was named a First Team All-American by Baseball America and earned Second Team All-American honors from Collegiate Baseball.

Brady Singer was named the SEC Conference Pitcher of the Year this season after leading the league with 10 wins and a 2.25 ERA for the Gators. He limited opposing hitters to a .186 batting average and has pitched at least seven innings in 10 of 13 starts. Singer was drafted 18th overall in the 2018 MLB Draft by the Kansas City Royals and was named First Team All- American by Baseball America and Collegiate Baseball.

Pac-12 Player of the Year Andrew Vaughn ended his season with a .402 batting average, 23 home runs, 63 RBI and a .531 on-base percentage. Additionally, his .819 slugging percentage is the best ever by a Bears hitter in a single season. Just a sophomore, Vaughn led the Pac-12 in batting average and nearly earned the triple crown as he ranked second in home runs and RBI. He was also honored as a First Team All-American selection by Baseball America and a Second Team All-American by Collegiate Baseball.

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 over 200 voters. From Wednesday, June 6, through Friday, June 22, 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% weight of each athlete's total, while fan votes will account for the remaining 5%.

Brendan McKay took home the prestigious award last year, joining a group of recent winners that include 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).

Historically, Golden Spikes Award winners have gone on to have tremendous success in the major league. Of the 40 previous winners, five have earned Rookie of the Year honors, two have won the Cy Young, three were named MVP and eight have won a World Series championship as a player or manager, combining for a total of 13 championships. In addition, 18 previous winners have made one or more All-Star Game appearances as a player or manager, combining for 53 total selections.

Following the nationally televised announcement of the winner on June 28, all four finalists and their families will be celebrated at the Jonathan Club in downtown Los Angeles as part of the 2018 Rod Dedeaux Foundation Awards Dinner. Hosted by the Rod Dedeaux Foundation, the dinner will honor the Golden Spikes Award finalists, the Rod Dedeaux Foundation Lifetime Achievement Award winner, Don Buford, and the 2017 Rod Dedeaux USA Baseball Manager of the Year award winner, Jim Leyland.

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

For more information on the Golden Spikes Award and the four 2018 finalists, follow along on social media @USAGoldenSpikes on Instagram and Twitter.

Golden Spikes Award Winners:
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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USA Baseball Announces 2018 Golden Spikes Award Semifinalists

The 41st Golden Spikes Award will be presented on June 28 in Los Angeles
May 21, 2018

DURHAM, N.C. - USA Baseball announced the 25 semifinalists for its Golden Spikes Award on Monday. Presented in partnership with the Rod Dedeaux Foundation, the 41st Golden Spikes Award will be presented on June 28 in Los Angeles.

The list of semifinalists spans 23 different colleges and universities, 13 conferences and two divisions of the NCAA, and features one athlete who was also a semifinalist in 2017 with Nick Madrigal (IF; Oregon State). Since 2007, 26 athletes have been named a semifinalist more than once in their careers, including past Golden Spikes Award winners Stephen Strasburg (2009), Trevor Bauer (2011), Mike Zunino (2012), Kris Bryant (2013) and Brendan McKay (2017).

"It is a tremendous honor to recognize the semifinalists for this year's Golden Spikes Award," said Paul Seiler, USA Baseball's Executive Director and CEO. "This award is given to an amateur baseball player who exemplifies outstanding athletic ability, sportsmanship, character and overall contribution to the sport, and these twenty-five young athletes are incredibly deserving of this recognition.

"Year-in and year-out the talent level in the amateur landscape continues to grow and 2018 is no different. It is exciting to see Golden Spikes Award semifinalists represented from so many different conferences and, for the first time ever, an NCAA Division II institution."

Since USA Baseball introduced semifinalists to the voting process in 2007, Zack Shannon (IF; Delta State) is the first NCAA Division II student athlete to earn this recognition. Shannon has been named the Gulf South Conference Player of the Week five times this season and was honored for the second straight year as the NCBWA South Region Player of the Year, First-Team All-Gulf South Conference and Gulf South Conference Player of the Year. Alex Fernandez (1990) and Bryce Harper (2010) are the only non-NCAA Division I athletes to win the Golden Spikes Award in its 40-year history.

Madrigal is a Golden Spikes Award semifinalist for the second straight year and is joined by his Oregon State University teammate Trevor Larnach (OF; Oregon State). The defending College World Series champion, University of Florida, is the only other school in the country with two semifinalists in 2018, with the selection of Jonathan India (IF; Florida) and Brady Singer (RHP; Florida).

The Pac-12 and SEC lead all conferences with four semifinalists apiece, while the Big 12 boasts three semifinalists in 2018. The ACC, Atlantic Sun, Big Ten and the Colonial Athletic conferences each have two athletes on the list.

Beginning with the announcement of semifinalists, a 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 over 200 voters. From Monday, May 21 through Sunday, June 3, the voting body will select three semifinalists from the ballot to be named as Golden Spikes Award finalists and fan voting will simultaneously be open on GoldenSpikesAward.com. Selections made by the voting body will carry a 95% weight of each athlete's total, while fan votes will account for the remaining 5%.

The finalists will then be announced on Wednesday, June 6. Beginning that same day through Friday, June 22, the voting body and fans will be able to cast their final vote for the Golden Spikes Award winner.

Brendan McKay took home the prestigious award last year, joining a group of recent winners that include 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).

The winner of the 41st Golden Spikes Award will be named on Thursday, June 28, at a presentation in Los Angeles. The finalists and their families will be honored at the Rod Dedeaux Foundation Award Dinner that evening at Jonathan Club in downtown Los Angeles.

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

A complete list of the 25 Golden Spikes Award semifinalists is as follows:

Name, Class, Position, School, Conference
Joey Bart; Jr.; C; Georgia Tech; ACC
Alec Bohm; Jr.; IF; Wichita State; American Athletic
Kyle Brnovich; So.; RHP; Elon; Colonial Athletic
Brian Brown; Sr.; LHP; NC State; ACC
Kody Clemens; Jr.; IF; Texas; Big 12
Frank German; Jr.; RHP; North Florida; Atlantic Sun
Logan Gilbert; Jr.; RHP; Stetson; Atlantic Sun
Devlin Granberg; Sr.; IF/OF; Dallas Baptist; Missouri Valley
Luke Heyer; Sr.; IF/OF; Kentucky; SEC
Jonathan India; Jr.; IF; Florida; SEC
Josh Jung; So.; IF/RHP; Texas Tech; Big 12
Trevor Larnach; Jr.; OF; Oregon State; Pac-12
Nick Madrigal; Jr.; IF; Oregon State; Pac-12
Casey Mize; Jr.; RHP; Auburn; SEC
Joey Murray; Jr.; RHP; Kent State; Mid-American
John Rooney; Jr.; LHP; Hofstra; Colonial Athletic
Nick Sandlin; Jr.; RHP; Southern Miss; Conference USA
Zack Shannon; Sr.; RHP/IF; Delta State; Gulf South
Scott Schreiber; Sr.; OF; Nebraska; Big Ten
Brady Singer; Jr.; RHP; Florida; SEC
Bren Spillane; Jr.; IF/OF; Illinois; Big Ten
Kevin Strohschein; Jr.; OF; Tennessee Tech; Ohio Valley
Spencer Torkelson; Fr.; IF; Arizona State; Pac-12
Andrew Vaughn; So.; IF; California; Pac-12
Steele Walker; Jr.; OF; Oklahoma; Big 12

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GSA Spotlight: Nick Sandlin

May 17, 2018

"Hey, what have you heard about Nick Sandlin?"

Out of the all the questions I've been asked by scouts throughout the 2018 campaign, this simple question might just lead the way. Before this season, the Southern Miss junior righthander was one of the nation's premier relievers. He tallied identical 2.38 earned-run averages over the last two seasons, and he struck out 80 batters in just 56.2 innings last season.

He was already a prospect, but he was also 5-foot-11, 170 pounds. Not exactly a physical specimen that scouts dream about.

But this season has been different. Sandlin is no longer just a reliever who comes in and slams the door on teams from a funky slot and angle, and with velocity. He's now a starting pitcher. Scratch that, he's now one of the nation's premier starting pitchers, and there's a strong case he's second nationally behind only Auburn righthander Casey Mize, who's likely to be the top overall pick in the MLB draft. That's good company to be in … especially when you're 5-foot-11, 170.

"I don't want to say he'd put up the exact same numbers in a league like the SEC, but I'd bet he'd be pretty close," a National League crosschecker said. "The first time I saw him, I remember walking up to the bullpen and noticing how small he was. He's really small. But then, you go out there and watch him pitch, and you look up in the seventh inning, and the line score is filled with zeroes.

"I think he's a tough kid and he's a grinder," the scout continued. "I think he's really confident and he's a big-time strike-thrower. He doesn't seem to back down from anyone, and he's really tough and throws his stuff all over the zone. It's an extremely uncomfortable at bat for any hitter."

Those uncomfortable at bats are something that USM pitching coach Christian Ostrander got to experience the last two seasons during his time at Louisiana Tech. He remembers Sandlin well, especially after the hard-nosed righthander tossed 4.1 shutout innings out of the bullpen in a USM sweep over the Bulldogs last season.

So, when he took the USM pitching coach job after Mike Federico went to Louisiana-Monroe, he was curious to see what Sandlin was all about - this time, as his coach.

"Being at Tech the last two years, I gotta feel for him from another spectrum - as a closer. I had an opinion of the guy, and I knew that he he wasn't scared of competition, and that he loved attacking hitters," Ostrander said. "I got here over the summer and we built a relationship rather quickly. He's a very mild-mannered dude and he simply does not get sped up at all.

"He's extremely confident in his ability to go out there and pitch well," he continued. "On top of that, he's a very smart young man. He knows what he needs to do to be successful. He knows when to put juice on the ball, and he has tremendous feel and maturity."

Ostrander watched his veteran pitcher put up good numbers in the fall. Then, he watched him chop up hitters throughout the first part of spring workouts. At that point, the Golden Eagles planned to use Sandlin as a reliever, and potentially a guy who could go three or four innings out of the pen on a given night.

The more Ostrander watched Sandlin pitch, the more he thought the righty was destined to be in the weekend rotation.

So, Ostrander approached USM head coach Scott Berry about the possibility. He wanted Sandlin to move to the weekend rotation. A bold move, of course. While Sandlin had experience dominating hitters out of the bullpen, the move to the rotation isn't always easy. And once a pitcher fails at it, it's often tough to regain confidence after moving back to the bullpen.

But the Golden Eagles decided to roll the dice. They had that much confidence in Sandlin.

"You know, you always have that concern that when you make the big step to move someone to the rotation, that it sometimes doesn't work," Ostrander said. "But we built up his pitch counts leading up to the season and felt pretty good about it.

"I just thought we needed a stabilizer on Friday nights, and Nick is obviously that. There were a lot of things involved in moving him to the rotation," he continued. "We had talked to Nick about it in the fall, but he was a good sport - he was never abrasive about having a need to start. I just thought he was more than someone who could throw 75 pitches on a weekend. I thought he could go much deeper than that." Sandlin's first test of the season was a big one, a date with Mississippi State at home. You know, the same MSU that eliminated the Golden Eagles on their home field last June.

He was marvelous. The righthander struck out nine, didn't walk anyone and allowed just four hits in seven shutout innings.

That was the beginning to what has been an incredible junior season. Sandlin gained a plethora of confidence from that start against the Bulldogs, and was terrific the first couple months of the season. The righty missed a couple of starts in the middle of the season because of arm soreness, but was more dominant than ever in his return starts against Old Dominion and UAB.

In addition to throwing complete game shutouts against both teams, he allowed nine hits, struck out 19 and walked just four batters.

"What he's done this year, sitting close to 80 innings, it's been phenomenal," Ostrander said. "To have the stuff he has - real stuff, it's special. His stuff is always moving somewhere, and to be able to command the zone given that tells you a whole lot. He's not invincible, but it's been fun to watch. It's a lot of fun as a pitching coach to call a pitch and see how he executes it. Typically, he does a tremendous job because he has outstanding feel."

Sandlin, who could go as high as the third or fourth round in the draft, has tallied incredible numbers this season. He has an unblemished 7-0 record with a 1.15 ERA in 78.1 innings, along with 114 strikeouts and just 14 walks. Teams also are hitting Sandlin at a .148 clip.

"There aren't a ton of sidearmers in the big leagues with his stuff," the crosschecker said. "And he consistently does what he does for nine innings. It's impressive. I'm not sure he can start in the big leagues, but I do think a team will put him in the bullpen right away, and I also think he'll move relatively fast through the system."

The stuff has been firmer this spring. For instance, Sandlin sits anywhere from 89-93 and up to 94 and even 95 at times with his fastball. He darts the fastball low and around the zone, not giving hitters a clue where it might be going next. He also shows excellent feel for a slider that ranges 79-86 on the radar gun, while his changeup, sitting at 81-85 mph, has made serious strides.

"The changeup has really evolved for him. It's a real weapon to lefthanded hitters. You see all that stuff, and then you see a guy who's pitching with good control," Ostrander said. "He's proven he can maintain his velocity with the fastball. I mean, he's still up to 92 and such in the ninth inning. He has strength and stamina, and he's maintaining his stuff.

"He has really good depth on his changeup, and it sometimes comes across as a slider, but it's not a slider. It's really been a plus pitch," he said. "He's just found a great routine and he has great feel for things. I think what he's done this season is really going to help his future. He knows what he's capable of doing, and he's going to take that with him the rest of the way."

With the way his season has gone, it's hard to imagine that Sandlin once was somewhat of an unknown to some in the industry.

But now, he's excelling as a starter, and everyone is taking notice.

No more questions need to be asked.

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