CARTERSVILLE, Ga. – The weather cleared up just enough to let a different kind of storm wreak havoc on Stillwell Stadium in Kennesaw, Ga. on Wednesday night. Max Pentecost, the prize of the Kennesaw State Owls, caused all sorts of problems for the visiting Georgia Southern Eagles with his bat and his arm. The highly sought-after backstop displayed a collection of tools that left scouts fixated on the belief that he is the ‘best true catcher’ in this year’s draft, as one unnamed club executive said in a recent MLB.com article.
The 6-foot-2 catcher went 4-for-5 in a 9-3 win over Georgia Southern Wednesday night, collecting his hits in the most impressive fashion. Pentecost showed off his well-above-average speed when he collected infield singles in the fourth and sixth innings, before displaying his power tool in his final at-bat. With two outs in the bottom of the eighth and the Owls up 7-2, Pentecost hit an opposite field fly ball to right field that carried just enough to elude the leaping right fielder and clear the fence. It was the perfect finish to an already impressive night for Pentecost, who extended his hitting streak to 27 games, college baseball’s longest active hit streak. He also threw out a runner attempting to steal second in the third inning. The strong throw from Pentecost left the receiver waiting at the bag for the runner to slide into the tag.
Another impressive streak, one more important to Pentecost, is the 12 game winning streak the Owls are on.
“I look at the season more as a team and we started off strong, hit a streak where we were struggling, and we’ve been able to come back and go on a 12 game winning streak and play to the best of our ability,” said Pentecost.
The catcher emerged onto the draft scene after an incredible summer with the Bourne Braves in the Cape Cod League in which he led the league with a .962 OPS (on-base plus slugging percentage) and was named MVP of the league and the Perfect Game College Summer Player of the Year. He has brought his jaw-dropping offensive display from the Cape to Kennesaw this spring, hitting above .400 on the season.
“The Cape is just unreal. I went up there and realized that if I want to play at that level I needed to change a few things,” Pentecost said. “I think, more than anything, it was a mental approach I needed to change. I just play my heart out, have fun, and just bring that out here and try to be a leader.”
Since his outstanding summer in arguably the most reputable summer collegiate baseball league, scouts and club executives have Pentecost high on draft boards. In fact, there is serious talk that he could challenge Toronto Blue Jays pitcher Chad Jenkins as the highest pick in Kennesaw State baseball history. Jenkins was taken 20th overall in the 2009 draft.
Taken 18th overall in Perfect Game’s latest MLB Mock Draft, Jheremy Brown had this to say about the athletic catcher:
“Pentecost firmly planted himself as a first-round selection last summer in the Cape Cod League, showing advanced tools in all aspects of his game. He has above average speed with athleticism, and that athleticism plays well behind the plate. Of course his bat is what he’s best known for, and he has showed no signs of slowing up this spring, leading the Owls in every offensive category.”
Pentecost made a few changes while at the Cape which proved to be very beneficial to his offensive production.
“I think, most of all, I really shortened my swing and got aggressive with the fastball,” Pentecost said. “Mentally, I just tried to relax. If you get down in the count, so what? That’s why you get three.”
Pentecost’s loose approach to the game is a big reason why he’s able to perform so well in high-pressure environments, where scouts are jotting down notes on every mechanical movement of his swing or his tools as a catcher.
“As long as I put them in the back of my mind and just play the game like I know how it’s not a problem,” said Pentecost.
If he wanted to perform at such a high level in the Cape, he had no choice but to get comfortable playing in front of a plethora of professional scouts.
“That was unreal, especially in those big games where you’re facing a starting pitcher who’s really howling the radar. There were a lot of scouts there,” said Pentecost. “When you go up there you’re trying to get better and prove yourself and show that you can compete at the next level. The scouts were pretty much at every game and sometimes it was tough to overlook, mainly because every team had really high prospects. You might know they’ve come to watch someone else, but you also want to get yourself noticed.”
He did just that, earning several honors for his summer league performance, including Most Valuable Player and starter in the Cape Cod League All-Star Game.
“That was probably the most fun,” Pentecost said about the all-star game. “Thankfully I showed enough to my coaches and the other coaches up there that they were able to choose me for it and I got to go out there and represent the Bourne team that gave me an opportunity.”
Pentecost may have emerged as a probable first-round draft pick last summer, but he was far from unknown in the baseball world. He was ranked as high as No. 203 nationally by Perfect Game during his amateur days. The alumnus of seven Perfect Game events was a participant in the 2010 National Showcase at Tropicana Field in St. Petersburg, Fla.
“That experience was unreal, playing with high-quality athletes where you get to compare yourself to everyone else and show your abilities,” Pentecost said. “That was really the first time I struggled with my elbow. I broke it out there and had to come home and it broke again the next year so then I had surgery.”
Since the surgery, though, Pentecost has been injury-free for the most part and the elbow is better than ever. After passing up his pick with the Texas Rangers out of high school, who selected him in the seventh round of the 2011 draft, it seems the cards will play out in favor of the talented catcher.
“I’m a big believer in ‘everything happens for a reason’,” said Pentecost. “I had elbow problems all through high school so I decided I was gonna come out here and get my degree. I didn’t know how my surgery was gonna heal so I decided, if anything, I can show them (the scouts) I can play three or four years without an elbow problem. So far, thankfully, I’ve been pretty healthy the whole time and I’m just enjoying it.”
The Kennesaw State backstop has drawn comparisons to current Seattle Mariners catcher Mike Zunino, a former first-round pick out of the University of Florida and a Perfect Game All-American Classic alumnus. Although, Pentecost’s favorite big-league backstop is San Francisco Giants’ Buster Posey.
“He’s a really good athlete. I think he even played shortstop up in the Cape. He can play another position, he’s a good hitter; he’s just an all-around athlete,” said Pentecost.
Him and Posey have similar athletic qualities as well. With Pentecost’s plus-speed at a position not known to have many base stealers, scouts look at that as a huge plus combined with his power. In fact, it isn’t rare to see Pentecost attempt a drag bunt, which is the act of bunting for a base hit while starting your sprint to first base.
“If I get the opportunity, anytime we can use the extra base runner or move a runner up, I’m not opposed to it. I’m confident that I can get it down,” said Pentecost. “I’ve used it probably close to 15 times already this season. Usually teams don’t expect it, so when they leave the opportunity open I might as well take it.”
Pentecost plays a team game with one-hundred-percent effort every time he steps onto the field. He is willing to give up a home run swing just to move a base runner over. While qualities like ‘team player’ and ‘leader’ don’t show up in the box score, they are important qualities teams look for in a catcher, often expected to be the leader of the team. Surely scouts have noted these qualities Pentecost possesses along with his other tools.
“Instead of trying to impress them (the scouts), I try to do something that’s gonna help the team, stay humble about it, and if they like what they see then that’s great, but I’m just gonna come out here and have fun and play my hardest,” Pentecost said.
Maybe that’s what the club executive meant when he labeled Pentecost as the ‘best true catcher’ in the upcoming draft.
Whoever lands Pentecost on June 5th, the first day of the MLB First-Year Player Draft, will be getting a good one. Until then, Pentecost’s focus will remain on making his team better every day.