The wintry temperatures outside might not mirror the current shift, but it’s here nonetheless. On Monday, the last four remaining high school spring sports conducted their first official practices. And among them was baseball.
I know. Baseball? With snow on the ground?
Why yes, Putxsutawney Phil and your eerily dead-on weather prediction, it’s a hotbed month for hardball fans. The World Baseball Classic and MLB spring training are in full swing, and the prep game is only 12 days away from going live with the first contests set to begin March 27.
Which means, it’s never too early to start thinking spring.
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Sure, NCAA tournament darkhorses and the IHSAA boys basketball state finals are grabbing headlines, and rightfully so — I mean, c’mon, I filled out my bracket — but it’s time to spring ahead.
With the 2017 season in mind, here are five players from the Hancock County baseball scene to watch this year.
Drey Jameson, Greenfield-Central
A Ball State University recruit, Jameson is primed for big numbers in his final campaign at Greenfield-Central.The senior ace was named a unanimous All-Hoosier Heritage Conference selection last year, and his fastball is just plain filthy. Jameson’s heater was clocked by Prep Baseball Report at 92 mph while hovering consistently in the upper 80s.
The right-hander throws hard, no doubt, but he can mix speeds as well with an upper-70s curveball along with a low-80s slider and changeup to keep hitters guessing.
As a junior, the 2016 All-Hancock County first teamer racked up a career-best 82 strikeouts in 41.1 innings pitched, which led the county and the HHC. For good measure, he also struck out 15 in one game.
He had a 2-4 record with a 2.65 ERA, which was an improvement from his sophomore season when he had 51 strikeouts in 37.1 innings with a 2.83 ERA.
He’s equally as dangerous at the plate for the Class 4A Cougars, hitting .395 last spring while blasting nine home runs, including a grand slam. He also had 10 stolen bases.
Jameson is ranked seventh in the state’s Class of 2017, according to Prep Baseball Report Indiana.
Keegan Watson, New Palestine
The Nebraska recruit packed a punch at the dish last spring, upping his season home run total from two to nine over the course of one year.Watson tied for the county and the Hoosier Heritage Conference lead in longballs as a junior and finished tied for second in the state — with Drey Jameson — and first in Class 3A.
While his nine homers were impressive, his .536 on-base percentage increased his career rate to .545 overall, and he walked a season-best 25 times. Watson hit .402 in 112 plate appearances, never dipping below .400 in his career the past three years.
Named the Hancock County Player of the Year for a second straight season, Watson earned a unanimous All-HHC selection. He was Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association First-Team All-State for a second consecutive year as well.
The Dragons clinched the HHC title for the ninth time since 2004 behind Watson’s lead last season, and he was responsible for three of the team’s 19 wins with 62.1 innings pitched.
Watson posted 64 strikeouts and held the opposition to a .158 average with a near-90-mph heater and an improving assortment of curveballs and changeups.
With a more prominent role as a pitcher ahead in his final season, Watson is on pace to potentially dwarf his 3.23 ERA from a year ago and dictate the game from both the mound and the plate. He is the state’s eight-ranked Class of 2017 prospect, according to Prep Baseball Report.
Ryan Beck, Mt. Vernon
Beck was a dual threat for the Class 4A Marauders last season.At the plate, he led coach Ryan Carr’s regulars in hitting with a .393 average and swiped 10 bases. On the mound, he made 11 appearances with 45.1 innings pitched to finish 3-2, including three key Hoosier Heritage Conference wins for the league runner-ups.
The infielder was named a unanimous All-HHC selection and is poised to make another run at the first team as a senior. Expected to lead from the front of the rotation, Beck posted a 2.01 ERA last spring and limited opposing hitters to a .194 average. His 19 RBI were third best in the Marauders’ lineup, and his three triples tied for the team lead.
He was the seventh-best hitter in the conference, and Prep Baseball Report Indiana has his fastball dialed in at the low-to-mid 80s. With an array of sliders and off-speed in his arsenal, a breakout isn’t far fetched.
Braydon Augustinovicz, Mt. Vernon
Though he didn’t earn All-Hoosier Heritage Conference first-team honors, Augustinovicz was a workhorse for the Marauders and one of my favorites to watch in 2016.A brick wall behind the dish, the catcher put together five multi-hit games and belted a solid .338 batting average through 26 games for Mt. Vernon as a junior. His 20 RBI were second-best in the lineup and he added four doubles with 26 hits in 77 at bats.
Signed to play at Franklin College along with senior teammate Luke Smoot (.354 batting average), Augustinovicz is in position to build on his offensive numbers in his final season. Not to mention, he will man a stout battery with senior Ryan Beck and up-and-coming junior pitcher Caleb Rush.
Devin Denny, Eastern Hancock
Denny was second in hitting for the Class 2A Royals and in the county last season behind former teammate Garek Ferguson, who graduated.The outfielder had eight multi-hit games and was a season-best 5-for-5 against Anderson Prep to earn All-Mid-Hoosier Conference honors. He led the team in doubles and helped the Royals reach their first sectional final since 1999.
Never hitting above .320 in his career prior, Denny raked to a .420 average as a junior. He recorded a career-best 30 runs and 23 RBI with nine doubles.
One of three returnees this spring with 20 or more RBI, the speedy multi-sport senior athlete reached base at a .505 percentage and slugged at .579.
When called upon to pitch, Denny was 2-1 with a pair of complete games and 13 strikeouts in 17.0 innings.