High School Sports

Former Airport standout MLB's next great HR hitter?

Watching Brandon Waring swing a baseball bat is impressive enough, but listening to him swing is what's startling.

The sound he generates as the bat strikes the bat is like a thundercrack on a warm summer evening, which happens to be the time of year when he routinely displays his remarkable power.

The 6-foot-4, 210-pound product of Airport High and Wofford College has spent the past three seasons in the minor leagues posting the kind of power numbers that can turn heads as quickly as one of his long home runs.

Since being picked by the Cincinnati Reds in the seventh round of the 2007 major league draft after his junior season at Wofford, Waring has blasted 67 home runs, the most of any minor league player.

Count Wofford coach Todd Interdonato among those not surprised by Waring's successful transition from aluminum bats to wood bats, a change that has unmasked many college power hitters as impostors. Waring hit 27 home runs as a junior at Wofford, which ranked second in the nation.

"I'm not surprised at all with his power numbers," said Interdonato, who served as Waring's hitting coach for two seasons before taking over as head coach in 2008. "I've seen very few guys who have Brandon's raw power. He's so far above the norm in terms of strength. He's blessed with a special form of bat speed that very few possess."

A lot of other people are noticing the same thing. Baseball America magazine named Waring the top power hitter in the Orioles system and projected him as the designated hitter in the team's 2013 lineup. The Orioles named him their minor league position player of the year in 2009. And the Carolina League tabbed him the circuit's MVP after he batted .273 with 26 home runs and a league-leading 90 RBIs for the Frederick (Md.) Keys..

In a late-season promotion to the Double-A Bowie (Md.) Baysox, Waring added another homer and six RBIs. After being traded from the Reds to the Orioles in December 2008 as part of a deal for major league catcher Ramon Hernandez, Waring was pleased that he put his best power foot forward.

"It was my first year with the Orioles, so I was trying to show everybody what I can do. I wanted to impress them," said Waring, who played third base and first base at Frederick (Md.) last season.

He expects to keep playing at the corners, and possibly in the outfield, as he advances through the Orioles' system. But he realizes his ticket to the major leagues is his power potential.

As he prepares to report to Baltimore's minor league camp for spring training this week, he stays sharp by taking his cuts at the Welcome to the Big Leagues hitting facility in Columbia. He works out with fellow area pro players who share his Palmetto Sports Management agents.

Tim Medlin, the former Newberry College coach and Columbia Blowfish manager who runs the hitting facility, smiles as he watches Waring swing away in a cage. Medlin notes the power generated by the lower half of Waring's body as he loudly rips one ball after another into the netting.

He also chuckles at the thought that anyone might have doubted Waring because he didn't play at a power-conference school.

"It doesn't matter where you come from. People said, 'Oh, he plays at Wofford,' " said Medlin, who managed Waring briefly with the 2006 Blowfish before a hand injury ended Waring's summer season. "I don't care where he played. Hitting a baseball is a skill, and he's got that skill."

Waring has hit at least 20 homers in each of his three seasons, including the half-season in rookie ball in 2007 with the Reds organization. He said it took him a month or so to adjust to wood bats, but he quickly found his comfort level. He also grew comfortable with playing in the Orioles system, even though he admits to being surprised by last winter's trade.

He looks at it as a blessing, however, because he believes his path to the major leagues is clearer. Still, he refuses to look too far past competing at Bowie (Md.) this season.

"I'm just looking to take it one step at a time," he said. "You can't control those (promotion) decisions. You're just trying to do your job and make the best of the situation."

Interdonato likes Waring's chances of making it to the majors. He compares Waring's size and build to Arizona Diamondbacks power-hitting third baseman Mark Reynolds.

"They both have big-time power to go with more speed and athleticism than you'd think," Interdonato said.

Just as important, Medlin points to Waring's work ethic and attitude.

"He's one of the finest young men you'll ever be around. The best thing about him is his makeup and his character," Medlin said. "The guys that make it in this game are grinders. He's the epitome of that. He never took no for an answer."

And he isn't about to start now, especially with the big leagues in his sights.

"Every step you make up the ladder, your chances get greater," Waring said. "There aren't as many players in front of you. It's getting closer - that realization of a lifelong dream of getting there."

Waring, 24, whose parents live in West Columbia and who recently got engaged, understands that a future in Baltimore will be dependent on him continuing to hit balls out of ballparks.

"I definitely feel like I can compete. I'm not big into numbers. I just try to get out there and be successful," he said. "I still think I'm capable of doing more. I haven't reached my potential yet. The best is yet to come."