Showcase : : Story
Saturday, June 17, 2017

Bartnicki brings it at National

Jeff Dahn        
Photo: Perfect Game

FORT MYERS, Fla. – Elite Georgia 2018 left-handed pitcher Luke Bartnicki didn’t mess around when it came to choosing the stage on which he’d make his Perfect Game showcase debut. Of course, in this instance, it was the stage that chose Bartnicki.

A veteran of more than 30 PG WWBA and PG BCS tournaments, the 6-foot-2, 200-pound hard-throwing Bartnicki ran out to the mound at jetBlue Park at 8 o’clock Saturday morning to kick-start the day’s action at the PG National Showcase.

The PG National, an invitation-only event, isn’t typically a place where a top national prospect like Bartnicki works his first PG showcase, but if the big lefty had any qualms about the intensity of the environment, it wasn’t evident. He faced the six-batter minimum in his two innings of work, whipped of fastballs that sat 92-94 mph and a spot-on slider that topped out at 84 mph; he struck-out four of the would-be hitters he faced with the other two grounding out to shortstop and third base.

“I had a really good feel for my slider in that outing, and was on the inside corner/outside corner with my fastball; just overall hitting my spots,” Bartnicki said after his stellar outing. “Hitting your spots is always the key. Speed is a plus but if pitchers can hit spots, they’re normally really good, really effective pitchers.”

What was interesting is that Bartnicki, who calls baseball hot-bed Marietta, Ga., his home, took an approach out to the mound Saturday morning that would normally be expected from a showcase veteran. He knew exactly what he needed to do, as if he had been in the position 100 times before.

“For games, I tend to plan it out to where I’m going to coast for seven innings because I don’t want to get my arm tired; I just want to sit 90-91 (mph),” he said. “In showcases, throwing an inning or two innings, I feel like I can rail it up there a little bit, show my stuff and see what I can do.”

The 17-year-old Bartnicki, a Georgia Tech commit, has already shown scouts and college recruiters a lot of what he can do, both while pitching for Marietta Walton High School and at all those PG tournaments, at most of which he was wearing an East Cobb Colt 45’s uniform.

With his mid-90s fastball and excellent slider, Bartnicki came into the PG National as the No. 12-ranked overall national prospect (No. 1 left-hander) in the class of 2018.

“The key is to always stay composed and always stay relaxed, because if you don’t you’re going to tense up and you’re going to lose your stuff,” he said when asked what makes him such an effective pitcher. “I just always try to keep my focus and keep my cool, and whenever I do that I tend to throw really good.”

Bartnicki couldn’t be any prouder of being part of the Walton HS baseball program with 15-year head coach Shane Amos at the controls then he is already. Amos led the Raiders to the 2007 Georgia High School Association (GHSA) Class AAAAA (5A) state championship and then guided the program to the 2016 GHSA Class AAAAAA (6A) title when Bartnicki was a sophomore. This year’s team won the GHSA Region 4 championship and finished 27-8 after a loss in the second round of the GHSA Class 7A state playoffs.

“Coach Amos … treats us amazingly,” Bartnicki said. “He knows how to coach – all of our coaches are really good – and the field and the facilities (at Walton) are fantastic. And seeing all the players that have cone through there, that’ the proof that it’s a great program; I’m really excited that I’m able to play with them.”

He got his first taste of varsity action when he was a freshman when he was called up to pitch in the playoffs and then made the varsity roster as a sophomore. His dad, David Bartnicki, thinks that may have been a turning point in his son’s early high school career.

“(Luke) was an underclassman and they had about 12 or 13 seniors on that team – and they ended up winning the state championship,” David said Saturday after watching his son pitch at jetBlue Park. “He grew so much as a person and as a player, wanting to contribute and really turning it around to where he wanted to do this for his team.”

When asked to name the person who has had the biggest impact on him baseball-wise, Bartnicki didn’t hesitate before dropping the name of his former Walton HS teammate Zac Kristofak, now a rising sophomore at the University of Georgia. Kristofak is a 5-foot-9, 176-pound right-handed pitcher who got in a lot of work mostly out of the bullpen for the Bulldogs this spring as a true freshman.

“I looked up to him because he was our ace and he led us to the state championship my sophomore year,” Bartnicki said. “But what I really love about him is that he had some really tough situations in his life and instead of breaking down and giving up on life, he worked through them.”

The PG National Showcase is the 32nd PG event Bartnicki has participated in, a number not uncommon among young prospects from Marietta, Ga. He began playing travel ball for East Cobb Baseball in 2015, suiting up most of the time with the Colt 45’s and head coach Matt Hightower.

He was named to five PG all-tournament teams with the program in 2016 (he has nine all-tournament selections in his career) and has been on East Cobb Colt 45’s 16u teams that won championships at the 2015 PG Elite Underclass Championship, the 2016 16u PG WWBA Memorial Day Classic at LakePoint, the 2016 PG WWBA National Championship Qualifier and the 2016 PG EvoShield Classic.

“The team is amazing,” Bartnicki said. “Most of the team has been together for five years so I’m kind of new, but when I got on the team it felt like we were already brothers. There’s great bonding and that’s why I think we’re really good – it’s the best team chemistry that I’ve ever seen in my life.”

“East Cobb was a natural fit for top talent, and we were able to be introduced to Matt Hightower, who was a former lefty pitcher (and) has really been able to help (Luke) with his game,” David Bartnicki added. “He had the big arm but he needed to become a real pitcher, and Matt is really patient; … He’s really worked hard with all those kids.”

There is a side to Bartnicki that people who have followed only his baseball career might not be aware of. In addition to his dominance on the pitcher’s mound, Bartnicki has been swimming competitively for 11 years. He swims both for his Walton High School swim team – it won a Georgia state championship when Bartnicki was a freshman – and also for a Marietta-area swim club.

“I think that’s a big part of why I have the endurance and the strength to be able to throw a baseball pretty hard,” Bartnicki said before adding that there are technical things he can take from swimming that translate well to his pitching. “I throw from a three-quarter arm slot, and if you watch me swim, a swim from that same exact three-quarters arm slot.

“It’s the same exact motion with swimming and baseball, so it’s a direct correlation for the lats and the back and the shoulder; it keeps them strong and it keeps them healthy.”

Even Bartnicki’s dad is sometimes amazed at the schedule – the routine – his son maintains. Luke still swims three or four times a week, he’s doing his conditioning and his bullpens, he’s a lifeguard and he’s a swim coach, and David said what makes he and his wife, Christy, the proudest is how their son gets up at 5 a.m. most days just to take care of business, doing the things that need to get done.

He will take that work ethic with him in the spring of 2018, whether he heads down to Atlanta to start what is sure to be a three-year career at Georgia Tech, or – if his draft slot is attractive enough – he signs with a major league team and starts a professional career. As far as Tech is concerned, Bartnicki sees nothing but positives.

“It’s really close to home, and I love that, and it has a great baseball program,” he said. “And it’s also the academics; that’s was a really big part of it. If baseball doesn’t work out, then you’ve got a degree from Georgia Tech and that looks really good on all your resumes.”

David and Christy both work in the educational field and hold academics in especially high esteem. David’s comments about Tech echoed those of his son almost word for word:

“It’s a solid program baseball-wise that will get him seen and develop him, but at the same time if baseball doesn’t happen – and we know percentage-wise it’s likely it won’t with most folks – it becomes about what can you fall back on, and a Tech degree is a Tech degree,” he said. “It’s definitely some that will open doors.”

A lot of conversations at both the PG Jr. National Showcase earlier this week and now at the PG National have centered around the first round of the 2017 MLB Draft, which was completed Monday night. Two young prospects – Royce Lewis and Hunter Greene – were the first two players taken off the board, about a year after they performed at the 2016 PG National. That is the stuff that dreams are made of.

“I think it’s really cool how I’m almost following in the same footsteps as some real high draft picks,” Bartnicki said. “It’s just really cool and it’s a really big eye-opener for me.”

Lewis and Green – and the No. 3 overall pick MacKenzie Gore – also played at last year’s PG All-American Classic in San Diego, and Bartnicki said he would be “really honored” to receive an invitation to this year’s Classic, if it’s in the cards. Any way it’s sliced, the summer and fall of 2017 promises to be a busy one for showcase novice Luke Bartnicki – and it all started right here at the PG National.

“This is one of the major events that we had a goal (of reaching) this year,” David Bartnicki said. “We knew we have some special talent, we knew we had some opportunities and we wanted to make the most of it. Perfect Game is going to allow that to happen with certain things and we set out to see if we could do this, and when we got the invite we were just as excited as winning a state championship in high school. It’s a lot of fun.”

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