Plenty of reasons exist to remember Evan Marzilli’s play for the South Carolina baseball team.
For starters, the outfielder’s three seasons in the program all ended with trips to the College World Series finals, a run that included two national championships.
A clutch performer, Marzilli was named to the CWS all-tournament team in 2010 and 2012 and to the NCAA all-regional team in 2010 and 2011. His breakout moment at the plate was a pinch-hit, two-run single in the 2010 regional that ignited a win over The Citadel.
An All-SEC defender as a junior center fielder, he made a string of highlight-reel catches, including a running, leaping grab at the wall against Appalachian State that he turned it into a game-ending double play.
The 6-foot, 185-pound Marzilli is still turning heads, only these days he’s doing it in the minor league system for Arizona Diamondbacks. Told about a month ago that he would begin camp in Scottsdale, Ariz., with the major league team as a non-roster invitee, he’s ready to go.
“I’m very excited about it. I can’t wait to use it as a learning experience,” he said.
USC coach Chad Holbrook wasn’t surprised by Marzilli’s invite.
“It won’t be long before he’s in the big leagues. It might be sooner rather than later,” Holbrook said.
An eighth-round selection in the 2012 MLB draft, he batted .332 in 51 games with rookie-league Missoula that year. Marzilli, who bats and throws left, made the leap last year to advanced Single-A with Visalia in the California League for his first full season. He batted .250 with 27 doubles, four triples, three homers, 50 RBIs and 14 stolen bases.
And his defense continues to be a calling card, as he was named the best defensive outfielder in the Arizona organization by Baseball America. Holbrook cited Marzilli’s special blend of athleticism and work ethic, as well as the way Marzilli and another brilliant USC center fielder, Jackie Bradley of the Boston Red Sox, used to push each other.
“Evan treated every practice like Game 7 of the World Series. That’s just who he was and who he is today. Everything is important to him, every swing he takes, every fly ball he catches,” Holbrook said.
“He’s a great kid. Evan Marzilli is one to emulate, the way he carries himself on the field, the way he carries himself off the field, the way he practices, the way he hustles, what he does in the weight room.”
Marzilli said he hopes a good spring training showing will vault him to Double-A Mobile (Ala.) in the Southern League.
“You literally don’t know until the last day (of spring training),” he said. “You have a pretty good idea, but hopefully, I’m shooting for Double-A to start off.”
If Marzilli makes it to that level, he hopes to avoid the ups-and-downs of last season, when a sluggish start took time to turn into a torrid finish. He batted .211 in April, May and June before he hit .310 in July and August.
“The first half was really rough. I struggled a lot,” he said. “The second half, I learned a lot about the game and about myself. I picked it up, and if I can continue what I did in the second half for the rest of my career, I’d be very happy with that.”
He would like to raise his .250 average as well as cut down on his 143 strikeouts. After going through his first 140-game season, he figures that he’ll be able to navigate the grind better this time.
“That’s the toughest part -- learning how to cope with failure on an everyday basis,” Marzilli said. “You realize that you’ve got another game tomorrow and you’ve got be ready for it. It’s different than college baseball. But it’s also great because I just love playing every day.”
The Cranston, R.I., native remains pleased about his decision to come to play at USC.
“There are not even words to explain it,” he said. “Just the pressure here of playing in front of all these fans and in the SEC with that competition alone was unbelievable. It was a great experience. There’s no price tag you can put on it.”
His 71 at-bats in Omaha, the fourth-most in CWS history, meant he received a lot of time on ESPN, something not lost on his minor league teammates.
“I catch heck from my teammates all the time,” he said. “It is a cool thing to have in your back pocket, but it’s a clean slate. Everybody’s playing for their own lives.”
Marzilli’s well-aware that he must create new memories as a pro player.
“You have to keep proving yourself. If I don’t earn it, then I’ll understand it why when I don’t get the opportunity. You can’t have a sense of entitlement about anything.”