GOLDEN SPIKES AWARD NEWS

GSA

USA Baseball unveils 2017 Golden Spikes Award semifinalists

May 31, 2017

DURHAM, N.C. - USA Baseball unveiled the 25 semifinalists for the 40th USA Baseball Golden Spikes Award on Wednesday. The Golden Spikes Award is given to the top amateur baseball player in the United States and is presented in partnership with the Rod Dedeaux Foundation.

The Atlantic Coast Conference leads 10 different NCAA conferences represented on the list with six semifinalists, followed closely by the Pac-12 Conference with five and the Southeastern Conference with four. The Big 10 and Big 12 conferences both host a pair of semifinalists while the Big West, Conference USA, Missouri Valley, Southern and Sun Belt conferences each have one athlete on the list.

Also represented in the list of semifinalists is the College of Central Florida in the National Junior College Athletic Association with right-handed pitcher Nate Pearson.

Louisville, Oregon State and Virginia are the only schools with multiple Golden Spikes Award semifinalists in 2017 with two apiece, including Cardinals pitcher and infielder, and three-time semifinalist, Brendan McKay. Missouri State infielder Jake Burger is also a semifinalist for the second year in a row.

The list includes several NCAA Division I statistical leaders including UC Irvine outfielder Keston Hiura, who leads the nation in on-base percentage. Mississippi State's Brent Rooker leads the nation in slugging percentage and is tied with Arizona infielder J.J. Matijevic for the most doubles this season. Luke Heimlich of Oregon State leads the country with a 0.81 ERA and The Citadel's JP Sears leads the nation in strikeouts (142), followed closely by David Peterson (140) from Oregon.

USA Baseball officials will announce the finalists for the 2017 Golden Spikes Award on Wednesday, June 14. To select the finalists, the list of semifinalists is sent to a voting body consisting of past Golden Spikes Award winners, past USA Baseball National Team coaches and press officers, members of the media that closely follow the amateur game, select professional baseball personnel, and select current USA Baseball staff, representing a group of more than 200 voters in total. As part of the selection process, all voters will be asked to choose three players from the list of semifinalists. Voting will be open until Friday, June 9.

Fan voting will once again be part of the Golden Spikes Award in 2017. This announcement officially marks the opening of voting for amateur baseball fans from across the country on GoldenSpikesAward.com - the online home of the award, powered by MLB Advanced Media (MLBAM).

The live presentation of the 2017 Golden Spikes Award will be announced exclusively on ESPN's flagship program, SportsCenter, on Thursday, June 29. The announcement will take place in ESPN's Los Angeles Production Center at L.A. Live.

The finalists and their families will be also honored at the Rod Dedeaux Foundation Awards Dinner that evening at the Jonathan Club Los Angeles.

USA Baseball recently announced a ten-year partnership extension with the Rod Dedeaux Foundation that provides the marketing and sponsorship rights surrounding the Golden Spikes Award to fund its mission to support youth baseball and softball programs in underprivileged areas.

Mercer University outfielder Kyle Lewis took home the prestigious award in 2016, joining a group of recent winners that includes Andrew Benintendi (2015), A.J. Reed (2014), Kris Bryant (2013), Mike Zunino (2012), Trevor Bauer (2011), Bryce Harper (2010), Stephen Strasburg (2009) and Buster Posey (2008).

The remaining timeline for the 2017 Golden Spikes Award announcement is as follows:
Friday, June 9: 2017 USA Baseball Golden Spikes Award semifinalist voting ends
Wednesday, June 14: 2017 USA Baseball Golden Spikes Award finalists announced, voting begins
Friday, June 23: 2017 USA Baseball Golden Spikes Award finalists voting ends
Thursday, June 29: 2017 USA Baseball Golden Spikes Award trophy presentation

The complete 2017 Golden Spikes Award semifinalist list is as follows:

Name, Position, Class, School
Jake Adams, Jr., IF, Iowa
J.B. Bukauskas, Jr., RHP, North Carolina
Jake Burger, Jr., IF, Missouri State
Griffin Canning, Jr., RHP, UCLA
Morgan Cooper, Jr., RHP, Texas
Greg Deichmann, Jr., OF, LSU
Drew Ellis, Jr., IF, Louisville
Alex Faedo, Jr., RHP, Florida
Stuart Fairchild, Jr., OF, Wake Forest
Steven Gingery, So., LHP, Texas Tech
Nate Harris, Sr., RHP, Louisiana Tech
Adam Haseley, Jr., LHP/OF, Virginia
Luke Heimlich, Jr., LHP, Oregon State
Keston Hiura, Jr., IF/OF, UC Irvine
Gunner Leger, Jr., LHP, Louisiana Lafayette
Nick Madrigal, So., IF, Oregon State
J.J. Matijevic, Jr., IF, Arizona
Brendan McKay, Jr., LHP/IF, Louisville
Nate Pearson, So., RHP, College of Central Florida
David Peterson, Jr., LHP, Oregon
Brent Rooker, Jr., OF, Mississippi State
JP Sears, Jr., LHP, The Citadel
Brian Shaffer, Jr., RHP, Maryland
Pavin Smith, Jr., IF/OF, Virginia
Evan White, Jr., IF, Kentucky

 

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USA Baseball Announces 2018 Golden Spikes Award Semifinalists

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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GSA Spotlight: Joey Murray

May 10, 2018

Kent State has been the most consistent program in the North since the 1980s. The Golden Flashes recently reached the 30-win plateau for the 30th consecutive season - a streak that includes eight 40-plus win seasons, 12 trips to regionals and a run to the 2012 College World Series. The program has kept winning through coaching changes, from Bob Todd to Danny Hall to Rick Rembielak to Scott Stricklin to Jeff Duncan - there hasn't been a dip.

There are some common threads running through all those years of success. For one thing, Kent State always seems to have a big-time ace atop the rotation, especially in the last 22 years under pitching coach Mike Birkbeck. KSU has produced a couple of first-round picks this decade (Andrew Chafin and Eric Lauer, whose 0.69 ERA in 2016 was college baseball's lowest in 30-plus years). The Flashes have produced six big league pitchers, from Matt Guerrer to John Van Benschoten, Dirk Hayhurst to Andy Sonnanstine to Chris Carpenter and Chafin.

So it means something to be the Friday night ace at Kent State. And Joey Murray is a worthy bearer of the flame for the Flashes.

Murray, a junior righthander, is well on his way to becoming Kent State's latest All-American. Through 12 starts, he's 8-1, 1.02 with 117 strikeouts and a .146 opponents' batting average in 79.1 innings. His name is all over the national leaderboards - he ranks first in fewest hits allowed per nine innings, fourth in ERA and strikeouts, 10th in WHIP.

"Obviously when you're rolling out a Friday guy like Joey Murray, it's kind of like rolling Lauer out two years ago," said Duncan, Kent State's fifth-year head coach. "At times it seems unhittable."

Not bad for a guy who flew under the radar during his high school days in Dublin, Ohio.

"He was the last recruit we got in that class," Duncan said. "We got him at an unsigned senior showcase at the beginning of the fall of his senior year. Birky and I were sitting behind home plate and saw him strike out 16 of 18 hitters. And that's exactly what he's doing now, basically. Probably at that point in time, the velo was 84-86, but he's a big kid, he's strong, he's got a big lower half. The arm really works, it really works, and I don't know how he slipped through the cracks, we were lucky."

Duncan and Birkbeck saw the feel for pitching and the ability to miss bats at a young age, and they envisioned that Murray would add velocity as he matured. Now he's a 6-foot-2, 185-pound workhorse who pitches in the 88-91 mph range and bumps 92.

Last week against Bowling Green, Murray found another gear from the third inning on, which is pretty typical for him, according to Duncan. He pitched at 90-92 from the third to the sixth, and that's when he really racked up many of his 14 strikeouts over seven shutout innings of work.

Murray has a quality four-pitch mix, and Duncan said all four pitches have gotten just a little bit better since last year, when he went 6-1, 1.80 with 110 strikeouts in 75 innings. He can use all four pitches to keep hitters off balance, but his fastball and downer curve are his out pitches, accounting for most of his punchouts.

"He's very deceptive, really good fastball command," Duncan said. "Now this guy, it's one of those things, every Friday night he starts, we've got 15 to 20 scouts coming in to watch him, and they're not saying he's lighting the gun up, but man, the swings and misses he gets, I think he's third in the country in Ks, he's averaged almost two strikeouts an inning since he's been here. It's been pretty phenomenal, his spin rate out of his hand is unbelievable. It's like his fastball rises, got a rising action to it, guys have a tough time getting on top, will either pop him up or swing right through it. Then he's got a really good breaking ball to go with it, changes eye level. He'll go fastball up in the zone then his breaking ball will start up in the zone, and it's really late 12-6 so it breaks down. He'll pitch in, he'll use all four points of the plate with his fastball. … He throws across his body a little bit, high three-quarters, and it comes out of his hand - it's one of those fastballs that look like it's 97."

Duncan said he expects Murray to be a high-rounds pick based on his arsenal, his command and his superb performance over multiple seasons. But he also stands out for his competitiveness - he sets the tone for Kent State every Friday night. Duncan describes his personality this way: "Give me the ball on Friday. And don't take me out. That's the best way to put it."

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GSA Spotlight: Kody Clemens

May 2, 2018

The word choice was ironic.

Texas Longhorns second baseman Kody Clemens, youngest son of seven-time Cy Young winner "Rocket" Roger Clemens, was asked if he ever tried pitching.

As it turns out, Clemens pitched a bit as a closer at Houston's Memorial High, where he also competed as a shortstop, second baseman and center fielder.

"I didn't have the rocket arm," said Clemens, no pun intended. "I didn't have crazy velocity. I think I was at 88 (mph)."

But even without a rocket arm, Clemens has a boomerang bat, able to turn around pitches and send them back from whence they came like a torpedo.

Clemens, a 6-foot, 185-pound junior who bats left and throws right, is batting .333/.437/.644, ranking third in the Big 12 in OPS (1.081), tied for second in homers (13) and third in RBIs (50) and slugging.

Batting in the 3-hole, Clemens has led 24th-ranked Texas to a 30-17 record overall, 12-6 in the league.

"He was a quiet workhorse for us last year - didn't say much," Texas catcher Michael McCann said. "This year, he has the same work ethic, but he's more vocal.

"His personality and his leadership have taken over. He has the ability to communicate with a lot of different personality types. He takes the time to get to know everyone."

McCann said people gravitate toward Clemens.

"Eyes are drawn to him," McCann said. "He's one of the shining lights on the team. When he steps up in the box, everyone says, 'OK, what is he going to do now? How many runs is he going to drive in?'"

Best Of The Brothers?

Roger Clemens was on the mound when his Longhorns won the 1983 College World Series, and now - 35 years later - Kody is hoping to win his own ring.

Kody, one of four brothers, is also aiming to be the best athlete of the bunch.

Koby signed with Texas but never played for the Longhorns, signing a pro contract as an eighth-round pick. A corner infielder/catcher, he never made it to the majors and is now a coach in the Astros farm system.

Kory is "an amazing chef," according to Kody, and, for a while, owned a restaurant that had a great baseball name, "Catch 22."

Kacy, who turns 24 in July, is in Class A for the Blue Jays as a first baseman. He was their eighth-round pick last year after a solid Longhorns career.

David Pierce, who took over as Texas coach in June of 2016, was asked about Kody's pro potential.

"I know he will be drafted," Pierce said. "I would rather not comment on what range, but I'm 100 percent certain it will be in the top 10 rounds.

"I'm hoping pro organizations recognize that he's one of the top hitters in college baseball."

That Clemens enjoys that status is a testament to his resilient nature.

He had elbow surgery in August of 2016 after suffering a non-baseball injury. The issue stemmed from wrestling with one of his brothers, and the severity of the injury and how it happened threatened his career, especially since it occurred before he had played a game for Pierce.

Clemens said that just two minutes after the incident with Kory - who is a big man at 6-foot and 280 pounds - his elbow was throbbing.

The next day, it was worse - his elbow was swollen, and an MRI revealed that Tommy John surgery was necessary.

"It was a freak accident," said Clemens, whose father - ironically - never had elbow surgery despite pitching 24 years in the majors. "It was terrible that first month after surgery - I had to be so delicate with my elbow.

"But every week I was able to do a little bit more, and when I was finally able to swing a bat off a tee I had a huge smile on my face."

Comeback For Clemens

In his first season post-surgery, Clemens made 46 starts as Texas' DH and one at second base. He slashed .241/.356/.365 with five homers, six doubles and 23 RBIs.

Then he faced more adversity after he accepted an invitation to play in the prestigious Cape Cod League for the first time in his career. But since he was still two weeks away from being able to play second base, his Cape League coach released him.

Undeterred, Clemens joined his father in Boston and was able to take batting practice at Fenway Park. He then went home to Houston and worked on his speed and agility, and that has paid dividends this year.

"He committed himself to playing defense," Pierce said. "There's no doubt his best position is second base. He has the ability to play the left side - he has enough arm strength.

"But he has gotten better and better at second, figuring out the different angles to throw from and the timing and footwork."

Clemens, who has a 3.0 grade-point average and is majoring in Corporate Communications with a minor in Business, could be a coach one day or perhaps work in sports marketing.

But a major league career is his primary goal, and that powerful bat of his will be his calling card going forward.

"He's a great hitter for average, and his power is showing up because he's more confident now," Pierce said. "He has the ability to foul off borderline pitches and work for the next one … Great two-strike hitter, very disciplined and a good on-base guy."

Pierce said he wants Clemens to continue to focus on the middle of the field when he is hitting and then react to the pitch rather than going in thinking pull.

Clemens, meanwhile, seems eager to try pro ball after this June's draft, and he's been around the game his whole life, so he knows the routine.

"It's the scouts' job to understand where I will go," Clemens said. "Whatever team likes me the most will take me."

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GSA Spotlight: Tyler Frank

April 27, 2018

With the Major League Baseball draft coming up in a few weeks and Florida Atlantic in the mix to host a regional with a high RPI and lofty record, many observers around the country are beginning to ask more about FAU's Tyler Frank. They want to know what he's all about.

FAU coach John McCormack figured him out a couple of months into his collegiate career. As the fall of 2015 concluded, the Owls were in quite the conundrum behind the plate. Projected starting catcher Kevin Abraham was diagnosed with cancer and there were other noteworthy injuries. In essence, the Owls were left without a viable option at one of the most important positions on the field.

McCormack wasn't sure what to do. So, he asked for volunteers. Frank, the 6-foot, 185-pounder, didn't hesitate. He was projected to play in the middle infield his first season with the program, but Frank raised his hand and offered to play catcher. He hadn't played catcher since eighth grade, but a few years later in college? Why not, he thought.

From that point on, McCormack knew he had a warrior and winner in Frank, who has developed into one of the most decorated players in FAU history and an All-American.

"I think the maturity with Tyler showed immediately his freshman year. We had all those issues behind the plate, and raised his hand and said coach I'll do it," McCormack said. "By the time we got to the conference tournament, he was really excelling behind the plate. I remember Loren Hibbs at Charlotte telling me he was going to be an all-conference catcher the next year. I just said funny you say that, because Frank is going to be our shortstop next year."

In 2016, with a new position, and a more grueling one from a fatigue standpoint, Frank put together a respectable campaign, hitting .285 with a .401 OBP, eight doubles and 27 RBIs. His power production certainly lacked, but a mature approach was present. He finished the year with 27 walks as opposed to 21 strikeouts, so there was off the charts potential with his bat.

"I look back at his freshman year, and I think like most freshmen, he spent a lot of his time getting himself out," McCormack said. "Now, when you look at his approach and what not, I don't think he does that anymore."

Just a season later, Frank moved back to shortstop as McCormack promised, and he didn't disappoint. In addition to showing smooth actions in the field, Frank made across the board improvements to his offensive game that got him noticed by USA Baseball. He hit .336 with a .448 OBP, .540 slugging percentage, .988 OPS and he tallied a whopping 15 doubles, 11 homers and 43 RBIs - a 10 home run increase from his freshman season. He also continued to show strong awareness of the zone, tallying 41 walks and striking out just 29 times.

"He's got a very quick bat and I think he's going to hit in pro ball," Rice coach Wayne Graham said. "He's strong, he runs okay and he's a good position player I'm not sure what position he'll play in pro ball, but he's going to be a high draft because he's a really, really good hitter. I've seen him way too many times, and there's not much in the strike zone that he can't hit. When he's on, he's really good."

Frank's evolution as a player jumped to the next level last summer with Team USA. Though the versatile infielder only hit .162 in 37 at bats for the Collegiate National Team, the fact he played for his country after a long spring season gave him a boost. He also showed an ability to play shortstop, third base and even left field, while also displaying a very serviceable arm. He was no longer just a good hitter at Florida Atlantic. He was a nationally recognized player and prospect who was scouted each night with that "USA" across his chest. And he could play multiple positions.

That did wonders for his confidence.

"When he went away for the summer with Team USA, I thought that did a lot for his confidence," McCormack said. "I thought he came back with a new level of confidence. For him, I think just playing for Team USA solidified who he was as a player, and that really helped him. He has raised his game even further since that point and he's a team leader whom the guys around here really respect."

Frank has continued to impress this spring. He entered the season ranked No. 98 in our College Top 100 Prospects list, and was No. 47 at the midseason mark as a projected third-rounder. But while he's hitting .327 with a 1.073 OPS, 16 doubles, eight homers and 19 RBIs, he's had to overcome some struggles at points in the season. For instance, he began the year 1-for-20 at the plate, which is why his average is down to .327. Take out that weekend? He'd be hitting .376. Frank also has reached base 34-straight games this season and tied the FAU all-time hitting streak with a 24-game streak earlier this year.

As if that's not enough, Frank ranks first in Conference USA in doubles, second in walks with 33, third in runs scored with 42 and third in terms of slugging percentage at .621. He's an overall enforcer at the plate, and he's more than capable of getting it done in the field, too. "Well, the No. 1 thing that stands out to me about Frank is his versatility. Out of necessity his freshman year, he caught, and he really did a great job back there," a National League crosschecker said. "He played for Team USA and is having a really good junior year. He has the ability to stay in the middle infield, so he checks a lot of boxes.

"He's a good hitter. I think his approach is really good, too," the crosschecker added. "He doesn't strike out a ton and he puts the ball in play. It's not a huge impact bat at the next level, but it's more than enough of a hit tool to allow himself to get to the next level and advance pretty far. He is going to end up in a pretty solid utility role for some organization out there. I think he should stick up the middle, and I think he'll get an opportunity to do that."

Some organization will be lucky to have him for other reasons, too. Frank wowed McCormack and the FAU coaching staff by his selfless behavior his freshman season. But that wasn't just a one-time occurrence. It's been a theme for Frank, and it's one of many reasons why he's developed into a universally liked and successful player.

"The thing people don't realize about Tyler is that he's often that last person out of the dugout after games. He's out there picking up bats and everything else," McCormack said. "And he's good enough and one of those guys whom, if he just went to the bus without doing it, no one would say a word. But that's not Tyler."

It's one of many reasons why Frank is one of the best position players in college baseball.

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GSA Spotlight: Jonathan India

April 18, 2018

Over the course of Kevin O'Sullivan's tenure as Florida's head coach, the Gators have been college baseball's most consistent big winners, making six College World Series appearances in the last 10 years. The Gators are loaded with superstars every year, and they've produced All-Americans and premium draft picks by the bushel.

But a strong case can be made that no other Gators in the last decade matched the all-around greatness of Jonathan India in 2018. Florida's junior third baseman enters week 10 hitting .438/.562/.860, ranking him first in the nation in OBP and second in OPS - and he's doing it against the best competition college baseball has to offer, in the rugged Southeastern Conference. India leads the SEC in those triple-slash categories, and he's one off the conference lead in home runs (12). He has eight stolen bases in nine attempts. And he's quite possibly college baseball's best defensive third baseman. He's the total package, and he's performing at an incredibly high level for the nation's best team.

"We've had some other guys in the past - Preston Tucker, Mike Zunino - we've had a few guys that have gone on a run like this, but this has been different," O'Sullivan said. "It's kind of like comparing him to a Zunino type: he plays a premium position, and he's just defending at such a high level, it's not just one part of his game. All phases he's performing at an extremely high level. He's not putting any pressure on himself, I don't think the draft has been an issue at all. I think he's kind of handled himself in a way that a true veteran would."

It may seem to the casual observer that India's sensational season came out of nowhere, considering he's nearly doubled his OPS from a year ago (.774). But to O'Sullivan and to scouts, India's emergence as the nation's best college third baseman feels more like fait accompli.

India has a premium pedigree and tools to match. He showed up in Gainesville as a blue-chip recruit, and scouts tagged him early on as one of the top position-player prospects for the 2018 draft after he hit .303 with 16 doubles during a solid freshman year in 2016. But he failed to take the anticipated jump to superstardom as a sophomore, hitting a modest .274 with a .429 slugging percentage, down from .440 the year before. As he entered his junior year, many observers had begun to wonder when the production would match the tools, and the hype.

"I said to him at our end of fall meetings - he had a good fall, and the thing we were stressing with him was to match up the production with the skill set, because the skill set has always been there," O'Sullivan said. "He was a big prospect coming out of high school, just the numbers hadn't matched up with his abilities. But he had a good freshman year, a really good freshman year, and last year he just wasn't quite as sharp, but he still went to the cape and hit like .300."

Scouts liked India's bat speed and overall game in the Cape, where he finished .273/.390/.394, though he hit just one home run. It seemed like just a matter of time until the power came, and boy has it come this year. Through 117 at-bats, India already has more homers (12) than he hit in 442 at-bats over his first two seasons (10).

The power surge really began during his current 24-game hitting streak, which began March 9 against Rhode Island. That streak began with seven straight two-hit games, and has grown to include 16 multi-hit games, along with seven doubles, three triples, eight homers and 21 RBIs. India is hitting an absurd .513/.623/.975 during that 24-game hitting streak.

"I mean, I guess I have a little bit more juice this year," India said a couple of weeks ago after hitting a homer to left field against Vanderbilt in the series opener. "I'm not trying to hit homers by any means, but I just put a good swing on the ball and it carried."

Later in that weekend, India showed off his opposite-field pop, driving another long ball out to right-center. His ability to drive the ball with authority to all parts of the ballpark is a result of hard work on his approach, and innate strength in his compact 6-foot, 200-pound frame.

"He's strong in all the right places. He's strong in his core, he's got strong hands, strong forearms. he's an extremely hard worker," O'Sullivan said. "He had power out of high school, but it was only to the pull side. If you went and watched him take BP, he would launch to the pull side, but he was susceptible to balls on the outer half of the plate. It's taken him a couple years to figure that out.

"(This year) he's used the whole field. He's not really gotten into any stretches where he's just been one side of the field. He's been pretty consistent that way as far as staying through the middle of the field. I was talking to (hitting coach) Craig (Bell) the other day about his BP; in the first round, execution - he never launches the ball to the pull side unless it's the last round. Everything he hits is squared up from that right center to left center gap, and he doesn't come off it until the final round. He's trained himself to stay in the middle of the field. He hit two balls out to dead-center field at our place the other day in one round, with no wind. Which doesn't happen very often."

He's also become a more patient hitter, who doesn't get himself out nearly as often. After posting a 45-85 walk-strikeout mark over his first two seasons, India has 30 walks and 26 strikeouts as a junior.

"I've matured more as a player. I feel like I've been in the league for two years now, and I'm realizing more things, and I've learned from my past years," India said. "Not swinging at pitchers' pitches, having a good approach at the plate. And just being more mature, not getting down on myself after bad at-bats. It's working out so far, I'm happy."

In addition to showing an elite hit tool and power tool, India has proven he can beat opponents with his speed. Against Vanderbilt, India dropped down a bunt and then blazed up the line in 3.85 seconds - a premium time for a righthanded hitter on a drag bunt. He has always been an instinctive and aggressive baserunner, and he plays the game the same way no matter the circumstances. O'Sullivan tells a great anecdote that reinforces that point.

"His freshman year, our last game of the year against Texas Tech in the College World Series, he hits a ball down the line, nobody on, and he gets banged out at second base - that's the last out of the season. The season's over," O'Sullivan said. "I told him, 'I want you to understand something, Jonathan: if that play happens 10 times in a row, you absolutely made the right decision to stretch that thing into a double. He had to make a perfect throw to get you, but absolutely without the shadow of a doubt, you made the right decision.' Most guys would have rounded first hard and not taken that chance, and he did.

"He never gives you a poor effort down the line. He never takes an infield off in pregame. The other neat thing is, it's hard. You can kind of get wrapped up in your own little world. These guys are 21 years old, there's a lot expected of them, especially him, he's probably elevated where he's going to go in the draft now. But he's so engaged with the team. … He's always at the right end of the dugout. He's always down there by me. When he's not hitting, he's not in the middle of the dugout BSing or screwing around, or in his own little world. He's right there with me, in every pitch. He's watching the other guys hit, encouraging them, giving them advice."

And then there's the defense piece. India isn't putting up these crazy numbers while playing first base or left field; he's manning a challenging defensive position, and he's made just three errors on the season. He filled in ably at shortstop earlier this year when Deacon Liput was suspended, before returning to the hot corner, where his footwork, body control, strong and accurate arm and instincts are all assets.

"It's the hand eye, same as the hitting ability. He's got some really, really good flexibiliy in his lower half," O'Sullivan said. "He gets below the ball, he's pretty much textbook defensively. He never gets flashy or stylish, we call it the olé, he never gets beside the ball. It's always in front of him, he doesn't shy away from balls hit hard. He can really come get a slow roller. It's just really good. You never worry about him, ever, defensively."

That entire package makes India a slam dunk first-round pick this June, and gives him a real chance to be the first position player drafted. It also makes him the best all-around player in college baseball in 2018, and a driving force behind top-ranked Florida's bid to repeat as national champion.

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GSA Spotlight: Davis Martin

April 12, 2018

Texas Tech coach Tim Tadlock saw this type of career coming from righthander Davis Martin.

Sure, it's hard for anyone to predict that a freshman would be an All-American and they'd have a career ERA well under three going through their draft year. But Tadlock had a hunch. He knew Martin, a 6-foot-2, 200-pounder, had all the tools and ingredients to be a premier arm and a game-changer for the Red Raiders. Martin has been exactly as advertised in his three years on the South Plains, and his role in this program has never been more important than it is now after junior lefthander Steve Gingery went down with a season-ending injury earlier this season.

With Gingery going down, more pressure and potential workload was placed on Martin's shoulders. Some pitchers might succumb to the pressures of trying to keep a top-five team's head above water. But not Martin. He's thriving more than ever, putting up career numbers as the Red Raiders try to get back to the College World Series after falling just short last season.

Rising to the occasion is just part of Martin's DNA, and it's precisely why he's one of the best and most feared arms in the game.

"Well, what's the saying, pressure is a choice. He wants the ball every time we play and he'd take it from you if you gave it to him," Tadlock said. "He's an absolute guy and he's got what you need to win. He's been that way ever since he stepped on campus.

"There's a reason we were in line to get him out of high school," he continued. "We were very fortunate that he and his family trusted us enough to get him. It's been a lot of fun to watch, that's for sure." While Martin is having a season to remember as a junior and is ranked the No. 36 college prospect, up from 51 in the preseason, he established his consistency and brand on the national stage a long time ago. He made his presence felt two seasons ago, tallying a 10-1 record and a 2.52 ERA in 89.1 innings, along with 61 strikeouts and 27 walks. Incredibly, that was as a freshman, as the San Angelo, Texas, native helped the Red Raiders reach the CWS for the second time in three seasons, this after the program had never made a trip to Omaha before 2014.

His sophomore campaign was good, but it had some serious road blocks. Martin was diagnosed with tendinitis and discomfort in his arm, and was sidelined from the middle of March until the Big 12 tournament in late May. Even with the setback, Martin still managed to tally a solid 3.07 ERA and a 4-2 record, while also throwing 44 innings, striking out 37 and walking just 10 and holding teams to a .259 average, which was an improvement over the .271 OBA his outstanding freshman season.

In his first start back from the injury last season, a date with Oklahoma State in the conference tournament, he sat 90-91 in the first inning and settled in at 87-89 - a slight change from the velocity he showed in the Shriners College Classic and against Mississippi State earlier that season - 93-94 early and 89-92 for six innings. Still, getting him back on the mound was good news for the Red Raiders, and helped set the tone for what has been a fruitful 2018 campaign thus far.

"I think he's gotten better each week for us. He's been really, really steady. He's been as advertised," Tadlock said. "His breaking ball and changeup have been fine, and his fastball has been above average. But he still has that great makeup.

"His makeup is just off the charts. His mound presence - it's off the charts," he continued. "He's one of those that guys who as a hitter when you step into the batter's box, you know you better jump in there ready to hit. He's just got it, and that's the biggest thing about Davis. And he's going to continue getting better."

He's put together strong results for the Red Raiders so far this season, and quite frankly, he's had to. We talked about the loss of Gingery for the season, but Tech is also without Erikson Lanning for the rest of the season, while Jake McDonald, who was supposed to be a premium arm who would log some significant innings, also is out the rest of the spring with a shoulder impingement. In essence, Tech's bullpen depth has been depleted a great deal, and that means guys like Martin need to put together consistent starts. That hasn't been a problem despite dealing with chilly conditions in Kentucky earlier this season and at Kansas this last weekend.

After dealing with tendinitis and discomfort last season, Martin sticks to a rather simple workout regiment - he makes sure he has a ball in his hand each day. He obviously doesn't throw bullpens every day, but Tadlock said if there's a ball around, even the day after he pitches, he's out there playing catch with someone. Tadlock said that simple change has helped his prized righty alleviate soreness - at least so far this season.

"He's throwing every day right now, and I think that has really helped him. It's certainly an old school way of doing things, especially when you have some guys who take the entire next day or two off after they pitch," he said. "He's very diligent about making sure he has a ball in his hand the next day." For the season, Martin continues to tally All-American type of numbers. He has a 5-2 record with a 2.63 ERA in 41 innings, along with 49 strikeouts and 16 walks. Most striking is the difference in opponent batting average from his first two seasons to now. Teams hit .271 against him as a freshman, .259 last year, but this year? Teams are hitting the West Texas native at a low .182 clip.

Why, you ask? Martin's stuff has gotten better. He has better feel for his entire arsenal, and his fastball command and velocity have improved. While he's dipped down to 89-92 at times this season, particularly when it's cold, Tadlock said his velocity has been more 91-93 and up to 94 at times, while also showing the ability to reach back and touch 95 and even 96 at times.

Martin has also made strides with his secondary stuff. The slider continues to be an effective pitch, though Tadlock doesn't notice much different about it so far this season. Meanwhile, he has shown better feel for the changeup, which has resulted in the Red Raiders calling it more this spring.

"I'd say the biggest difference with him is his fastball command. I would say maybe where in the past he was relying too much on his stuff, he's now commanding both sides of the plate much better," Tadlock said. "He's gotten better and better each week. I would say he's been up to 96, and it's been very good.

"I'm not sure there's much different about the slider, but I do think his secondary stuff has been a little crisper so far, " he continued. "The biggest thing with Davis is there are no worries week to week right now. He's 100 percent and he's ready to go and wants the ball every time out. He's always the kind of pitcher who wants more. He doesn't want to stay where he's at on a given day. He works really hard each day, and that type of attitude makes everyone around him that much better."

Davis Martin has already had a career that will long be remembered by Tadlock and Texas Tech fans alike, but there's plenty of time to add more scenes to this movie.

Given his past, perhaps we should be ready for a Martin trilogy.

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USA Baseball Releases Golden Spikes Award Midseason Watch List

April 10, 2018

DURHAM, N.C. - USA Baseball released the Golden Spikes Award midseason watch list on Tuesday, moving closer to naming the top amateur baseball player in the country. Presented in partnership with the Rod Dedeaux Foundation, the 41st Golden Spikes Award will be presented on June 28 in Los Angeles.

The midseason watch list features 40 of the nation's top amateur players from the college ranks. 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 21.

"We are excited to announce the forty players on the Golden Spikes Award midseason watch list," said Paul Seiler, USA Baseball's Executive Director and CEO. "These athletes have proven themselves worthy of consideration for this prestigious award through the eyes of the advisory board and from the overwhelming fan support through our nomination process."

Joey Bart (Jr., C, Georgia Tech), Blaine Knight (Jr., RHP, Arkansas) and Casey Mize (Jr., RHP, Auburn) have each earned a spot on the midseason watch list for the second straight year, joining two-time midseason watch list selections Luken Baker (Jr., 1B/DH, TCU) and Seth Beer (Jr., IF, Clemson). Baker and Beer were also recognized on the list as freshmen in 2016 with Beer ultimately being named a finalist for the award that year.

In total, 13 different NCAA conferences have at least one athlete on the list, including two NCAA Division II conferences in the Gulf South Conference and the Sunshine State Conference. The Southeastern Conference leads all conferences represented on the midseason watch list with nine athletes, while seven players represent both the Atlantic Coast Conference and the Pac-12 Conference.

The defending College World Series champions, Florida, leads all schools with three athletes on the 2018 midseason watch list. Arizona State, Kentucky, NC State, Oregon State, and Southern Mississippi all placed two athletes on the list.

On Monday, May 21, USA Baseball will announce the semifinalists for the 2018 Golden Spikes Award. The list of semifinalists will then be sent to a voting body consisting of baseball media members, select professional baseball personnel, current USA Baseball staff and the 40 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 June 6, 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 2018. 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 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.

Last year, Louisville's Brendan McKay took home the prestigious award, 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 2018 Golden Spikes Award timeline:

  • Monday, May 21: USA Baseball Golden Spikes Award semifinalists announced, voting begins
  • Sunday, June 3: USA Baseball Golden Spikes Award semifinalists voting ends
  • Wednesday, June 6: USA Baseball Golden Spikes Award finalists announced, voting begins
  • Friday, June 22: USA Baseball Golden Spikes Award finalists voting ends
  • Thursday, June 28: 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
Luken Baker; Jr.; IF/DH; TCU; Big 12
Joey Bart; Jr.; C; Georgia Tech; ACC
Seth Beer; Jr.; IF/OF; Clemson; ACC
Alec Bohm; Jr.; IF; Wichita State; American Athletic
Kyle Brnovich; So.; RHP; Elon; Colonial Athletic
Brian Brown; Sr.; LHP; NC State; ACC
Logan Browning; Sr.; LHP/OF; Florida Southern; Sunshine State
Kris Bubic; Jr.; LHP; Stanford; Pac-12
Michael Busch; So.; IF; North Carolina; ACC
Michael Byrne; Jr.; RHP; Florida; SEC
Gage Canning; Jr.; OF; Arizona State; Pac-12
Kody Clemens; Jr.; IF; Texas; Big 12
Joe DeMers; Jr.; RHP; Washington; Pac-12
Colton Eastman; Jr.; RHP; Cal State Fullerton; Big West
Jeremy Eierman; Jr.; IF; Missouri State; Missouri Valley
Tyler Frank; Jr.; IF; Florida Atlantic; Conference USA
Logan Gilbert; Jr.; RHP; Stetson; Atlantic Sun
Luke Heyer; Sr.; IF/OF; Kentucky; SEC
Chris Holba; Jr.; RHP; ECU; American Athletic
Jonathan India; Jr.; IF; Florida; SEC
Jake Irvin; Jr.; RHP; Oklahoma; Big 12
Mitchell Kilkenny; Jr.; RHP; Texas A&M; SEC
Brett Kinneman; Jr.; OF; NC State; ACC
Blaine Knight; Jr.; RHP; Arkansas; SEC
Trevor Larnach; Jr.; OF; Oregon State; Pac-12
Davis Martin; Jr.; RHP; Texas Tech; Big 12
Shane McClanahan; Jr.; LHP; South Florida; American Athletic
Keegan McGovern; Sr.; OF; Georgia; SEC
Drew Mendoza; So.; IF; Florida State; ACC
Casey Mize; Jr.; RHP; Auburn; SEC
Tristan Pompey; Jr.; OF; Kentucky; SEC
Griffin Roberts; Jr.; RHP; Wake Forest; ACC
Adley Rutschman; So.; C/IF; Oregon State; Pac-12
Nick Sandlin; Jr.; RHP; Southern Mississippi; Conference USA
Zack Shannon; Sr.; RHP/IF; Delta State; Gulf South
Brady Singer; Jr.; RHP; Florida; SEC
Bren Spillane; Jr.; IF/OF; Illinois; Big Ten
Spencer Torkelson; Fr.; IF; Arizona State; Pac-12
Andrew Vaughn; So.; IF; California; Pac-12
Matt Wallner; So.; UT; Southern Mississippi; Conference USA

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GSA Spotlight: Kyle Brnovich

April 4, 2018

For some pitchers, the strikeout is almost a byproduct of making good pitches, rather than the intended outcome. Some guys don't care if they record an out via strikeout or groundout of flyout, as long as they get the out.

Elon's Kyle Brnovich is not one of those guys. It's no accident the sophomore righthander leads college baseball with 75 strikeouts through just 47 innings.

"The biggest thing is he's a competitor. I've been doing this for 22 years here, and he's probably the biggest competitor I can remember," Elon coach Mike Kennedy said. "He likes to strike guys out, and he tries to do it. You can't argue with the numbers. Sometimes as a coach you're like, 'Let's pitch to contact more and keep that pitch count down,' but he doesn't like contact, he doesn't like guys to hit off him. It's like a personal challenge for him to strike you out."

That mentality made me think of 2011 Golden Spikes Award winner Trevor Bauer, who told me that spring, "I like making hitters look stupid. That's fun." Bauer never gave in, always sought the strikeout, and led the nation in Ks two years in a row. In his famous 2011 campaign, Bauer averaged a national-best 13.37 strikeouts per nine innings.

Brnovich is currently averaging 14.36 strikeouts per nine.

"I coached with Team USA in 2009, and Bauer was on that staff," Kennedy said. "It's a great comparison. It's a very, very similar mentality, no question. Bauer knew he was good, and Brno has a lot of that in him too, that's what makes him special."

Of course, the other main reason Brnovich is a strikeout machine is that, like Bauer, he can really spin a breaking ball. That's his trademark pitch, and it's a serious weapon.

"It's hard to describe because he doesn't throw many of them the same. He adds and subtracts, he can throw it 82, he can throw it 74 - it does a lot of crazy stuff," Kennedy said. "The thing is sometimes you call a breaking ball, you're hoping he throws this breaking ball and he throws that breaking ball. It's slider velocity with a curveball break. It's not a traditional breaking ball, and I think that's why it's so successful. He does a lot of things with it, you can't describe it. It's really that good."

Brnovich's ability to manipulate the shape and speed of his breaking ball is rare, and he also "commands it like crazy," in Kennedy's words. But he's far from a one-trick pony. He also has good feel for a changeup that is effective against lefties, and Kennedy said it can be just as good as his breaking ball when he's really got it going. His 90-92 mph fastball is plenty firm enough to keep hitters from sitting on the offspeed stuff.

When Elon recruited Brnovich at Georgia's Kings Ridge Christian High School, he was a skinny, projectable righty with an 86 mph fastball. He had plenty of success, helping lead his team to back-to-back Georgia 6A state titles in 2014 and '15, then leading the state with 135 strikeouts in 72 innings as a senior in 2016. But Kennedy said Brnovich drew interest from bigger power-five schools that wanted him to walk on; Elon landed him by making a stronger commitment to him.

"We got in there and got a chance to see him back-to-back outings, he threw extremely well. We thought the breaking ball was really special, so we gave him a great scholarship, and I think that's what he was looking for," Kennedy said. "I think he likes our school size, a lot of what's going on here in terms of the mentality. The commitment for him was I think the biggest thing - a commitment comes with an opportunity." When Brnovich returned to campus after the holiday break in January of his freshman year, his fastball velocity started to jump, which took him to another level.

"All of a sudden he was 88-89 and able to locate it," Kennedy said. "And now he's 90-92 just about every time, and I think there's another jump in there. The arm works, he's got a little bit of effort in there and creates a little deception, but watch the arm swing and arm path, it works good. There's still room on his frame to put on some good weight, and he could pitch at 92-94 maybe. I don't think that's a stretch."

But that's a matter for down the road. In the short term, Brnovich's stuff is plenty good enough to dominate Division I hitters. Last week against red-hot College of Charleston, Brnovich racked up 14 strikeouts over 7 1/3 innings, allowing just one run on two hits to lead the Phoenix to a 9-3 win. That improved him to 4-0, 1.53 on the season, with 75 strikeouts, 19 walks, and a .156 opponents' batting average in 47 innings. He was already very good last year, when he went 6-5, 3.10 with 103 strikeouts in 90 innings to earn Colonial Athletic Association rookie of the year honors - but he's taken his game to another level as a sophomore. A day Brnovich shut down CofC, fellow prized sophomore righty George Kirby worked 5 2/3 strong innings to help lead the Phoenix to a 7-5 win, clinching a huge CAA series for the Phoenix. After starting the season 2-6, Elon has gone 15-6 since. The offense has found its stride, and the defense is very strong up the middle, led by rifle-armed shortstop Ryne Ogren (also the team's leading hitter at .378), talented center fielder Zach Evers (.322) and powerful second baseman Cam Devanney (.313 with 4 HR, 19 RBI). The bullpen has a pair of lights-out late-inning options in righty Robbie Welhaf (2.51 in 32.1 IP) and lefty Jared Wetherbee (1.80 in 15 IP), both of whom attack hitters at 90-93 with good breaking balls.

So after a few disappointing seasons marred by a seemingly endless parade of injuries, Elon is finally healthy and dangerous, with its best club since the last of its 14-straight 30-plus-win seasons in 2013. In fact, this may be the best Elon team since it won 40-plus games three times in four years from 2006-09.

And the biggest reason this team could be special is the duo of Brnovich and Kirby (5-1, 2.29), though sinkerballer Ryan Conroy (1-2, 2.80) is no slouch on Sundays either. But very few staffs in college baseball can match the pure talent Elon is running out on the mound every Friday and Saturday, which gives the Phoenix a great chance to win every weekend series, especially when combined with the Welhaf-Wetherbee bullpen pair. If Brnovich is Elon's Bauer, then Kirby is its Gerrit Cole, a flame-thrower with a fastball that regularly sits 95-96, and sat 96-98 against Georgia Southern, according to Kennedy. That's not to say Brnovich and Kirby are going to be two of the top three picks in the draft next year, like Cole and Bauer were - Kirby needs to continue to refine his secondary stuff, though he flashes an above-average changeup and a solid curveball that he's learning to throw with more power, while Brnovich doesn't have Bauer's fastball velocity. But like Bauer and Cole, Brnovich and Kirby really push each other.

"You really feel good about what's going to happen on a Friday and a Saturday, I can tell you that," Kennedy said. "Our guys play with confidence when they're out there; you have a chance to do some damage if you have guys on the front end like that. It's nice to be able to run those two dudes out there. And they both came in as freshmen together, so they're growing together, learning together, kind of feed off each other. It's fun to watch. I think there's a good battle between those guys - who's our Friday guy, so to speak? It's a good competition, and they make each other better."

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GSA Spotlight: Bren Spillane

March 28, 2018

Illinois always knew Bren Spillane had the potential to be a big-time player. Before the season began, the Illini coaches were asked to size up the 2018 team. In that, pitching coach Drew Dickinson said that Spillane was a potential breakout player. After all, he showed premium raw power in the fall and had all the tools to take a huge step forward.

Well, that assessment is proving to be accurate, as Spillane, a 6-foot-4, 210-pound, junior is doing his best Tyler Jay impersonation this season. No, Spillane isn't a pitcher. But back in 2015 when the Illini made a run to the super regional round, Jay was the face of the program and had eyeballs everywhere keeping track of the Illini. Spillane has had that same impact so far this season, as the Illini sit ranked No. 25 with an impressive 15-5 overall record, 3-0 mark in the Big Ten, and perhaps most important, a highly respectable RPI of 34 with room to go up.

This hasn't been a one-man show. The Illini have established consistency and have built a well-rounded offensive lineup with enough arms to have a strong campaign. But Spillane is the most important piece to the puzzle, as he ranks fifth nationally in batting average, and also has developed into a force on the base-paths. He's been one of the nation's most well-rounded players, and is one of several reasons why the Illini are where they are at this stage of the season.

"We've had some really good hitters come through here and I've seen some guys go through some streaks, but the thing that impresses me about Bren is that I think he has more power than anyone we've ever had at Illinois," Illinois coach Dan Hartleb said. "He can mishit balls that can go out of the park, and sure, he'll strike out at times. But he's learned not to chase a bunch of bad pitches.

"He'll also go out there and steal a bag for you, and he's a really, really good team player," he continued. "He's playing with a calm about him, and he's been really impressive."

Spillane has made gradual progressions since arriving on campus two years ago. He had Tommy John surgery in high school, and though he arrived in Champaign healthy from that standpoint, he was hit in the head and suffered a concussion in a summer game prior to arriving on campus. He missed the entire fall because of that, and suffered yet another concussion for the same reason in the spring. That time, the concussion symptoms lingered, leaving some of the coaching staff very concerned. The injury issues carried into his sophomore campaign last year, but Spillane made noticeable progress, especially later in the season when he finally began to get healthy. No matter what he had to do, Spillane was going to overcome those roadblocks.

After all, this was the same slugger who had to overcome the tragic passing of his father in high school to develop into one of the nation's premier sluggers, ranking 89th nationally and 7th in the State of Illinois by Prep Baseball Report in the 2015 recruiting class. Last season's leap was part of his process.

As a sophomore, he batted .295 with six doubles, a triple, five homers and 23 RBIs. He also walked 14 times and struck out on 32 occasions. So, progress was made, but he still had plenty of room to grow to become a premier hitter. He hadn't reached his full potential just yet.

"He just had to deal with some injury issues the past two years, just some really nagging things that seemed to affect him," Hartleb said. "He wasn't on the field on a regular basis and didn't see a lot of plate appearances, especially his first year. His body was always in really good shape and the preparation had always been good, but now he's healthy and the prep has been outstanding."

All the time, effort and patience is paying off for Spillane so far this season. In addition to helping the Illini get off to their best start since the super regional campaign a few years ago, the athletic junior is forming into one of the nation's premier overall players and quite an intriguing prospect. At least one head coach of an Illini opponent this season doesn't have to be convinced about Spillane's worth now and moving forward as a prospect.

"Spillane is a kid in the middle of the lineup who can hit out of the park at any time, and he's a freak. He's really tough to pitch to," the coach said. "I think when you look at his approach, when he's in positive counts, he's trying to hit it out to center field. But he doesn't get fooled a lot. You can pitch to him a little bit, but if you try to come in late, he has enough bat speed to hurt you that way. And if you live away, he'll hurt you there, too. He can hit a single, and he can mash with some power, too.

"The biggest thing about him is that he doesn't hit the ball on the ground a lot, he knows how to elevate pitches and hit the ball absolutely anywhere," he continued. "He's one of those guys who if he's healthy in high school, might not even end up on campus. He's just really good. He ran a 4.15 down the line when we played them and he can hurt you on the base-paths. He doesn't have great baseball instincts just yet, but they're good enough and he can run. He's really athletic and just adds another dimension to that team."

How impressive has Spillane's surge been this season? Digging through his numbers uncovers some interesting trends. For instance, last season, he tallied 14 walks. He already has 10 walks this season, though he's tracking ahead in strikeouts as well. Furthermore, Spillane already has eight more RBIs than he had all of last season, four more homers and a whopping 11 more doubles. He's also hitting .461 with a ridiculously good .528 OBP, 1.000 slugging percentage, and to cap it all off, a 1.528 OPS.

That's what we call a loud statement, and his surge has come about primarily for two reasons: 1) He's much mature from a mental standpoint and 2) His plate approach has gotten much better since last season. "From a mental standpoint, he's a year older and more mature, and I mean that from a baseball standpoint. I can't say enough about the strides he's made there," Hartleb said. "He doesn't step up to the plate feeling like he always has to do something special. His approach has been much so much better in the sense that he isn't chasing balls all over the place, and when he gets to two strikes, he doesn't panic.

"He can throw, he can run and he's got the power. He's shown that he can hit for a high average, and he has a really, really high ceiling," he continued. "He's the type of guy who's in a pack on this team. He really cares about everyone around him, and he isn't going out there worrying about what he can do for himself. He's worried about the team."

And that approach has helped Spillane stay grounded and focused on his own craft, while also helping the team have an immense amount of success the first half of the season.

Who knows at this point if Spillane can keep up the current trend for the whole season, but it's been fun to watch from afar.

Some, such as Dickinson and the coaching staff, had seen this coming for a while.

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