NEW PALESTINE — Every year, the scouting reports tend to get a bit more detailed, but New Palestine senior slugger Keegan Watson isn’t concerned.
As a freshman, Watson crushed opposing pitching with a .491 batting average, 10 strikeouts and 19 RBI en route to a regional championship.
The following year, he posted a .449 average and drove in 30 runs with only 11 strikeouts in 107 at-bats as the team won its second straight sectional title.
More cautious against the Nebraska recruit last spring, the competition changed their approach, but Watson continued to put up numbers.
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Facing a barrage of off-speed away and pitches in the dirt, Watson still hit .402 and finished with a Class 3A best nine home runs.
More importantly, he walked 25 times — a career high — and had a .536 on-base percentage in 112 plate appearances, though his strikeouts surged to 19.
After the end of last season, New Palestine head coach Shawn Lyons called Watson’s performance “impressive” as his bopper rarely saw a pitch he could square up without making a split-second adjustment.
“The best part of Keegan Watson is he knows this isn’t Keegan Watson High School. It’s New Palestine High School,” Lyons said. “He knows he needs his teammates, just like they need him.”
Putting his team first, Watson went to work this offseason to prepare for whatever the opposition might throw at him in his final campaign, beginning with the Dragons’ season opener April 3 at home against Martinsville.
Watson, a two-time Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association First-Team All-State selection, played travel baseball with the Lids Indiana Bulls to sharpen his swing and strengthen his pitching mechanics.
He was named a 2017 Rawlings-Perfect Game honorable mention All-American and a Central All-Region second-team selection this offseason, and he touched 87 mph with his fastball last summer and this past winter.
He singed the radar guns during both the 2017 Perfect Game West MLK Championship in Arizona on Jan. 13 and in the 2016 WWBA 17U National Championship in Georgia last July.
As a junior, Watson had 64 strikeouts through 39 innings pitched with three wins and a 3.23 ERA, which he hopes to build on for the defending Hoosier Heritage Conference champions.
Recently, Watson spoke with the Daily Reporter about his senior year, goals for this season and being named preseason all-state for the state-ranked Dragons.
As a senior group, what’s the primary goal this season?
Make it as far as we can. Go out with a bang. Leave nothing on the field and go 100 percent every game. We want to leave our legacy so to speak.
How much has last year’s 9-5 sectional semifinal loss to Brebeuf Jesuit carried over to this season?
It was awful, but this year it’s been kind of a motivator. When you think about it, you get a sick feeling in your stomach, and it makes you want to do better, do more and want to get after stuff a lot more. I would say more than anything, it has us focused as a team on what we want to accomplish this year.
You said pitching was going to be a focal point for you in the offseason. How much work did you put in to get stronger on the mound?
I focused quite a bit on it this year. I went and pitched in Arizona (at Camelback Ranch) this offseason in January (during a Perfect Game event), so that was a good experience to get down there early and see what I could do. I was up around 87 (mph), and in January, that’s pretty good.
Do you feel you’re ready to eat more innings for the team this season?
I’m going to try to help my team out as much as I can on the mound. Obviously, that will require me to go deeper into games. I want to go out there, pitch with confidence and pound the zone. We’re on a pitch count this year with 95 pitches, so that will be a pretty big factor.
With a new pitch count rule approved by the IHSAA this year, does that change the mindset of a pitcher?
It can, for me at least. It kind of makes you think more about throwing strikes and going after hitters. You can’t really pitch around someone as much as before, so it changes things quite a bit while keeping at 95 pitches.
Being named Prep Baseball Report Indiana Preseason All-State, how big of an honor is that for you?
It’s a big deal honestly. Whenever people think highly of you and vote for you to receive this type of honor or anything really, you can’t take that for granted. Along with that, everyone is looking up to you, your teammates and players from other teams. They’re watching out for you. They watching what you’re doing and seeing if they can pick up on habits you might have. It’s put more responsibility on you to do things the right way. Just to be recognized for that is an honor.
After hitting nine home runs last year, what do you do to top yourself, or is that even something you’re focusing on?
Get on base. That’s what I want to do. The home runs don’t matter. People say that home runs are rally killers, even though I don’t necessarily think so, but getting on base as much as possible is what will help the team. After hitting nine home runs last year, I expect people to throw me a little bit more off speed and walk me more, so I’m going to focus more on base running and getting on base. Obviously, if they let me hit, I’m going to hit, but if teams try to pitch around me, then it’s about getting on, and letting my teammates hit me in. I have a great bunch of guys hitting behind me and in front of me.
Is there anything you are shooting for specifically in your final season?
Just go play. Whatever happens happens. You can’t really focus on that type of stuff. I’m just focusing on playing and enjoying it — and winning.