Best of the Best: Mt. Vernon’s Dobbins named Baseball Player of the Year

0
832

FORTVILLE — Baseball is like breathing for Hunter Dobbins.

Whenever the Mt. Vernon senior grabs hold of a baseball bat — whether composite, aluminum or wood — everything seemingly falls into place.

At least on the surface, that’s how the 6-foot-2, MLB Draft prospect makes it appear.

Effortless.

A .558 batting average this season for the Class 4A regional champion Mt. Vernon Marauders — with a mere 10 strikeouts in 86 at-bats — confirms Dobbins’ natural ability, but it’s his work ethic that has truly perfected the talent.

Those who know the Ball State recruit will attest. Baseball is more than a game to the unanimous 2021 Daily Reporter Baseball Player of the Year as voted upon by the coaches.

“He works at hitting like it’s his job,” Mt. Vernon baseball coach Brad King said. “And, eventually, it’s going to be. All that work and all that focus will payoff. He’s not the type of guy who will get in the cage and just take a couple of swings and get out. Every swing, there is a purpose.”

For the past three seasons and four years, the goal has been to get Mt. Vernon over the hump, which the 2021 IHSBCA District Player of the Year and All-Hoosier Heritage Conference selection achieved.

As one of many highly-productive seniors on the Marauders’ roster this spring, Dobbins powered the team to its first sectional title since 2011, a single-season school record 26 wins, a first outright HHC title, and moreover, to the end of a 50-year regional championship drought.

Dobbins led the Marauders with 39 RBI and 10 home runs, while also piling on 48 hits, 12 doubles 22 runs scored, despite being run for often, and a triple.

However, his proudest statistic was the most memorable.

“One inning. Three Ks,” Dobbins said with a smile. “That was probably the funniest things I’ve done in a while because I hadn’t pitched since I was 12. It felt good to get that one more inning.”

The hitless frame came in an inning of relief on May 24 against Centerville during a 9-0 victory. For Dobbins, it was three batters faced, 16 pitches and three strikeouts.

“I had to beg coach. A.J. Swingle was pitching that game, and I told A.J., ‘Hey, man, this might be the last time I get to pitch in my lifetime, ever.’ And he goes, ‘Alright, fine,’” Dobbins said. “I got in the bullpen, warming up, and then I get in my outing and they put a (radar) gun behind the plate. I didn’t let it eat too much. I was kind of working the curve that day, but I had the dugouts roaring.”

While a day to remember, Dobbins typically had opposing coaches and pitchers scouting to find holes in his swing or any weakness to expose, but he purposely spent the lost 2020 COVID-19 pandemic season minimizing as many as possible.

Coming up through the local east side youth baseball leagues along with several of his high school teammates, Dobbins started fixating on the game more once he joined the Indiana Prospects for summer ball and later Indiana Nitro.

The 2021 IHSBCA South All-Star had the pedigree to succeed from the beginning with his father, Brian, and mother, Shelly Bond, being former athletes.

On his father’s side of the family, however, football was their legacy, particularly through the Wheelwright familial tree, which has made its impact at the collegiate and NFL level, including with former New Orleans Saints running back Ernie Wheelwright.

Dobbins played football until high school, generating hits as a linebacker before committing to being a versatile threat on the baseball field as a catcher, infielder and outfielder.

“I loved football. I played on Team Indiana in the eighth grade, and then I saw how big dudes were, and I was like, ‘You know what? I’m a big guy, but I’m not going to get hurt playing this because I know I’m going to go somewhere playing baseball,’” Dobbins said.

If anything, Dobbins knew how determined he was to do everything possible to get an opportunity.

When he wasn’t playing school baseball, Dobbins was competing in the travel ball circuit or training at Pro X in Westfield while gaining insight from the likes of Zach Huffin, a 2019 13th-round draft pick of the Tampa Bay Rays, and Butler’s Duncan Hewitt, who is also a potential MLB draft prospect.

The trio worked out together through 2020 as Dobbins incorporated technology into his training regimen and averaged nearly four to five hours a day hitting and throwing.

“I have a VR that simulates 90-something and 100 (mph) where I literally put it on and get my footing right, then I go to the cages and hit off a machine that’s throwing 95 mph cutters, so in a game when someone throws a 94, four-seam, it just looks flat and not moving,” Dobbins said. “That’s what helped me a lot.”

The results equated to an exit velocity of 103 mph, according to Prep Baseball Report Indiana, and a catcher velocity of 84. His 60-yard time was recorded at 7.03 seconds this past February.

“If I wouldn’t have done that (at Pro X), I don’t think I would have had near the season that I had and be on the drafts boards like I am,” Dobbins said. “I’m really happy that it worked out.”

A Preseason All-State selection by PBR Indiana, Dobbins was invited to compete in the College Summer League, which is invite-only for highly-touted graduated high school seniors and current collegiate players.

He participated in the IHSBCA North-South All-Star games series in Evansville this offseason and was a 2021 Indiana Mr. Baseball nominee. Dobbins was the fourth South All-Star in Mt. Vernon history, joining Chad Kleine (1991), Troy Montgomery (2013) and Zach Spears (2015).

“This might be the first time where I set a goal and I’ve really accomplished it,” Dobbins said. “I came into the season wanting to bat .500 with eight homers, and I batted around .560 with 10, so we beat the mark. We made the all-star game and I did everything I was supposed to do. Now, hopefully, my last goal is to get drafted. We’ll see if that is going to be true or not.”

Dobbins isn’t worried about the uncontrollable with several options ahead of him.

If he isn’t drafted, as projected this month, then he will have more time to entice MLB scouts while competing in the Mid-American Conference, which has produced several professionals. Most recently, Greenfield-Central’s Drey Jameson who was drafted 34th overall in 2019 out of Ball State by the Arizona Diamondbacks.

“You have to be calm. People ask me if I’m nervous about the draft, and I tell them, ‘No.’ Whatever happens, happens. Everything happens for a reason. I just need to keep hitting, working hard everyday and keep performing and eventually, I’ll get there,” Dobbins said.

Dobbins doesn’t know anything else.

“When you’re working real hard and it’s working, it’s the best feeling in life. Baseball is one of those games where you can work as hard as you want and randomly one day you won’t be good. Or for a week, you just won’t see the ball well,” Dobbins said.

“I love how hard it is. I love how hard you have to work to be good at it. Baseball is one of those games where if you don’t train, it really backfires, and it’s actually really hard to be good unless you put in a lot of work.”


The 2021 Daily Reporter All-County Baseball Team

Hunter Dobbins, Mt. Vernon

Joel Walton, Mt. Vernon

Eli Clotfelter, Mt. Vernon

A.J. Swingle, Mt. Vernon

Eli Bridenthal, Mt. Vernon

Landon Clark, Mt. Vernon

Jake Stank, Mt. Vernon

Grant Shepherd, Greenfield-Central

Conner Sims, Greenfield-Central

Gavin Atwood, Greenfield-Central

Carson Gibson, Greenfield-Central

Brendan Tabor, New Palestine

Maddox Manes, New Palestine

Zayden Stiller, New Palestine

Wyatt Sutton, Eastern Hancock

Player of the Year: Hunter Dobbins, Mt. Vernon

Coach of the Year: Brad King, Mt. Vernon

Honorable Mentions: Greenfield-Central — Parker Stanley, Austin Oden, Kalob Martin, Lance McKee, Joey Roland. Mt. Vernon — Gavin Sullivan, Nate Weaver, Payton Bovard, Bryce Miller. Eastern Hancock — Drew White, Cameron Wise, Caden Hancock, Landon Kintner. New Palestine — Carter Stogsdill, Wes Stiller, Eli Bruns, Blaine Nunnally.