ONE OF THE things that captured my attention this past weekend as I was taking in some Midlands baseball was the number of young players who seem to be taking bigger roles on their respective teams.
I talked with my friends in high school baseball about this trend and got some interesting feedback.
“I think the seventh-, eighth- and ninth-grade player is the next big thing in high school baseball,” said Ashley Burnette, coach of the Gilbert Indians. “I’ve seen it the past couple of seasons, and some of the youthful players that are out there on the diamond this season are very good.”
While Burnette doesn’t have any young players dominating his experienced squad, he does have a ninth grader with promise. Freshman Caleb Watkins, who plays on the junior varsity team for Burnette, is developing into a fine pitcher with some offensive power. He’s throwing 83-85 mph consistently and gives the Indians something to look forward to the next few years.
The Lexington Wildcats earned a big Opening Day win over Irmo this past Monday, and eighth grader Chase Williamson spent time on the mound. The left-hander will have the opportunity to close for the Wildcats this year. Like Watkins, Williamson is throwing in the mid-80’s.
This trend is developing for several reasons.
The senior class in South Carolina, despite having some good players, is not a strong class, and the same holds true for the junior class. If you add in that today’s athletes are starting earlier into strength and conditioning and sports performance training, you’ve got the makings of an opportunity for the youth to infiltrate the varsity level.
“These kids are bigger, strong, and faster,” says Burnette, “than they were even 10 years ago. Heck, if I was coming up right now with the same size I was in high school, I probably wouldn’t even make the team.”
Several other young Midlands players that stood out were White Knoll freshmen Calev Grubbs and Brandon Tillmon. Both impressed during their play in the Red Bank Invitational.
The Byrnes Rebels played in the Comporium Preseason Tournament at Gilbert and also showcased an eighth grader. Mason Streeter played shortstop for the Rebels, and while he didn’t put up a tournament MVP performance, he was better than an average middle infielder.
“I like Streeter,” said Austin Alexander of Diamond Prospects. “I saw him this past weekend and thought he looked very good and has the potential to be a special kind of player.”
I don’t think we need to project any of these kids as the next big prospects for the draft in four years. I hear all the time about how they are projecting and how many “tools” they have — to the point that the word “tool” is over used. I understand it; I get it.
But sometimes, there are kids who may not have all of the “tools” these gurus are talking about, but they get it done on the field. Those are the kids I like to watch. I don’t call them “three tool” or “five tool” or anything like that. I call them ball players and that is exactly what this young crowd showed me this past weekend.