All-Americans excel in Omaha

Photo: Cadyn Grenier (Scobel Wiggins)

Patrick Ebert
Published: Tuesday, July 3, 2018

Final College Top 25

OMAHA, Neb. – For years now we have chronicled the success Perfect Game event participants have enjoyed as their careers progressed, with an increased amount of attention given to the elite athletes that have played in the PG All-American Classic. Since 2003, baseball’s brightest young stars assemble annually in a nationally televised ballgame to give fans a glimpse of the next wave of future talent.

By now you likely are familiar with the names: Harper, Posey, McCutchen, Cole, Bumgarner, Lindor, Bryant, Correa and countless others.

This year the same could be said for the 2018 College World Series, an event that isn’t exactly tailored for scouting but definitely gives young ballplayers an opportunity to shine at the biggest stage in front of a large audience, both in person and on TV. The ratings reflect the interest, as this year’s CWS, held annually in Omaha, saw Oregon State finally get the best of Arkansas to win it all, the third baseball championship in program history.

In total, 13 PG All-Americans from past years were on the rosters of teams that participated in the 2018 College World Series. Those 13 players were part of past Classics from 2013 to 2016, and six of them in particular made their presence felt not only in Omaha, but throughout the 2018 college baseball season.

Two of those players opposed one another in the College World Series Finals, where Oregon State beat Arkansas two games to one in a thrilling best-of-three series that at one point looked as if the Razorbacks would emerge as champion.

Cadyn Grenier, Oregon State’s star shortstop and a first round pick of the Baltimore Orioles (37th overall) who played in the Classic during the summer of 2014, found himself in the middle of the action in a decisive Game 2 that allowed the Beavers to escape near defeat and play to win another day.

With Arkansas up 3-2 heading into the top of the ninth, Oregon State was able to get a runner to third base with two outs and Grenier coming to the plate; as part of his at-bat, Grenier popped up down the right field line in foul territory. Three Arkansas players converged on what appeared to be an easy catch, yet none of the three recorded the out.

A catch would have ended the game and the series, with Arkansas emerging as champions. However, fate had other plans in mind and Grenier was able to make the most of his newfound opportunity, hitting a single through the left side of the infield that brought home the game-tying run.

The next batter, Trevor Larnach, put the Beavers on topped with a two-run home run as Grenier scored the go-ahead run. Oregon State would then go on to win Game 3 to secure the championship.

“Pretty much as soon as you see the ball drop, you have another life.,” Grenier said of his team’s unlikely comeback in Game 2 of the CWS Finals. “And really all I thought was, ‘I just need to refocus and make the most of that extra life that we got when that ball did drop.’ And that's all you can do. You take it as this was – that's a gift. And it's a new life. And do what you can with it.”

Grenier finished his time in Omaha batting 9-for-31 (.290), scoring eight runs and driving in three. He came up big when his team needed him most, going 3-for-5 in Game 2 of the CWS Finals against Arkansas, 2-for-3 with three runs scored and a home run in their 11-6 elimination win over North Carolina and scoring a pair of runs in the team’s national championship-clinching 5-0 win.

He slashed .319/.408/.462 with 25 extra-base hits, 47 driven in and nine stolen bases this season. Perhaps most impressive was the fact he committed only eight errors (two of which were made in Omaha) good for a .969 fielding percentage.

“Baseball is a game where hitting becomes contagious, once you get the leadoff man on with no outs, it's definitely a confidence booster,” Grenier said after Oregon State’s victory over North Carolina. “I was thinking about my at-bat when I was on defense. There's something about it. I told myself ‘I'm getting on base.’ I made a conscious decision I was going to do it, and there was no doubt that I was going to get out. Sometimes it just takes one hit to kind of break it open, and that's the way baseball works.”

Prior to his time at Oregon State, Grenier played at national, perennial powerhouse Bishop Gorman High School outside of Las Vegas, finishing his high school career with a state championship in 2015. The program also developed another PG All-American who is now turning himself into a star in the big leagues, Texas Rangers slugger Joey Gallo.

Grenier was the 41st-ranked player in the high school class of 2015 leading up to the 2015 MLB Draft, when he was selected by the St. Louis Cardinals in the 21st round before opting to honor his college commitment. He went hitless in two at-bats at the 2014 Classic but was part of a West team that beat the East 7-0. The game included several other eventual college stars including CWS participants Jonathan India, Kody Clemens and Joe DeMers.

Here’s a look at the more notable accomplishments of the PG All-Americans that participated in the 2018 College World Series during the season:

Dominic Fletcher, OF, Arkansas

Fletcher hit in the middle of a powerful Arkansas lineup for the entire 2018 season, and while he started off slow he definitely finished strong, ending the year with a .292 average, 10 home runs and 49 RBI. Two of those homers were hit in Omaha, with Fletcher coming up big in Arkansas’ three games leading up to the CWS Finals.

“It’s kind of just sticking to what you know, but we’re a team that hits a lot of home runs,” Fletcher told Perfect Game from Omaha. “[We] probably won’t hit as many this week so probably more of a line drive approach and trying to hit balls in gaps. If you drive balls and barrel balls up they’re going to do what they do.“

While Fletcher’s bat cooled against Oregon State in the best-of-three Finals, recording just one base hit, he went 8-for-14 with eight RBI and a pair of runs scored in wins over Texas, Texas Tech and Florida. Only a sophomore, Fletcher will be back for the 2019 season as the Razorbacks will look to return to Omaha to finish what they started.

Injuries prevented 2013 PG All-American righthanded pitcher Keaton McKinney from making regular contributions during his time at Arkansas, making just one two-inning appearance during the opening weekend of the 2018 season. He did enjoy a very successful season as a freshman in 2015 – the last time Arkansas advanced to the College World Series – going 6-2 with a 3.21 ERA in 87 innings of work.

Another player on Arkansas’ roster, freshman outfielder Cole Turney, went hitless in seven at-bats to begin his collegiate career after playing in the 2016 Classic and should be a big part of Arkansas’ success moving forward.

Jonathan India, 3B, Florida

India arrived on campus in Gainesville as a known commodity, one of the prized Florida recruits from a loaded haul that included fellow first round picks Brady Singer and Jackson Kowar. India turned out to be the highest drafted of the three, going fifth overall to the Reds, after a huge season that saw him slash .350/.497/.717 with 21 homers and 52 RBI.

While it’s hard to label that as a “breakout” season, considering he was a First Team Freshman All-American in 2016, it was a huge step forward given his previous production, particularly in the power department.

“I just worked on stuff in the fall and in the summer. It was more mental than anything for me,” India told Perfect Game in Omaha. “You know, I just stuck with a solid approach the whole year at the plate and trusted my ability to go the other way, basically. I just let my ability play out rather than press it.”

India carried his approach to the College World Series, playing a key role in Florida’s two elimination wins over Texas and Texas Tech, which included a four RBI game against the Longhorns that was punctuated by a booming three-run home run.

And he did it all while serving as a team leader, both on offense and while anchoring the infield at the hot corner, helping to guide the next wave of Gators talent just as his teammates had done for him during his previous two trips to Omaha.

“I’m going to keep it simple again like I did all three years I’ve been here,” India said in regards to playing in the College World Series for the third time in his three-year collegiate career. “Just go out there and have fun and play the game I know how to play. I’m going to tell the young guys to slow everything down even though it’s a big stage, just have fun with the game and relax. Play like you would play at home and just have fun out there.“

Freshmen Hunter Ruth and Brady McConnell may not have factored into the Gators’ success during the 2018 season (Ruth was injured and didn’t make a pitching appearance, while McConnell opened the year as the team’s starting shortstop but hit .136 in 22 at-bats), but both should receive considerable more looks next year after playing together in the 2016 Classic.

Kody Clemens, 2B, Texas

Clemens was a finalist for USA Baseball’s Golden Spikes Award (won by the PG/Rawlings College Player of the Year Andrew Vaughn of Cal), and nearly single-handedly carried the Texas Longhorns to Omaha.

Leading up to the 2018 College World Series, Clemens was pretty much unpitchable. Anything thrown in, or anywhere around, the strike zone became a souvenir. He hit 11 of his 24 home runs on the year between early May and early June, which included three multi-homer games.

The youngest son of Roger Clemens, who played with his older brother Kacy for two years at Texas, and had a huge junior campaign, hitting .351 with 24 bombs and 72 RBI. While Texas went 0-2 in Omaha, he certainly did not take the situation for granted.

“You walk out on that field regardless of whatever tournament or showcase or anything that you walk out there for and you know you have the mindset to do what you have to do and you get chills when you [do],” Clemens told PG prior to the beginning of the 2018 College World Series. “The opening ceremony is when it’s really going to hit me; I still really can’t believe we’re here in the College World Series. It’s an unbelievable feeling and I’m excited to see what we’re going to do.”

A third round pick of the Detroit Tigers, Clemens is now poised to begin his professional career.

His double-play partner, shortstop David Hamilton, also enjoyed a strong season making significant improvements from his freshman year in 2017, which followed his PG All-American appearance in 2015. The speedy Hamilton finished second on the Texas team in batting (.291) while hitting 18 extra-base hits and stealing 31 bags as the Longhorns’ leadoff hitter.

Austin Bergner, RHP, North Carolina

Although he took the loss in the game, Austin Bergner provided seven crucial innings for a North Carolina squad that lost its Game 1 starter, Gianluca Dalatri, in the first inning of its first game against Oregon State and ended up clearing out their bullpen as a result. While the seven runs Bergner allowed doesn’t look pretty, only three of those were earned, and he struck-out eight and walked just one along the way, with a full three-pitch mix that includes a fastball that approaches the mid-90s.

While North Carolina ended up losing its next game to Oregon State, which ended the Tar Heels' season, Bergner’s performance was promising for a team that expects him to return for his junior year after being selected by the Diamondbacks in the 32nd round of this year’s draft as a draft-eligible sophomore.

On the year, Bergner went 7-3 with 13 starts and 17 total appearances, recording a 4.25 ERA with a 84-to-34 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 82 2/3 innings of work.

North Carolina and 2015 PG All-American teammate Tyler Baum made two relief appearances in Omaha, tossing 1 2/3 combined innings and overall went 4-1 with a 4.57 in 18 appearances, 12 of which were starts, during the 2018 season.

Joe DeMers, RHP, Washington

Although Washington was the first team to be ushered out of the College World Series, losing its elimination game to the eventual champion Oregon State Beavers, the team enjoyed a tremendous season and needs to be commended for even making it that far considering at no point of the regular season was it ranked. That isn’t to say the Huskies weren’t deserving of inclusion, as they definitely earned their ticket to Omaha, and 2014 PG All-American Joe DeMers played a big role in getting his team there.

During his time at Washington, DeMers slowly but surely turned from a mid-90s hurler into an extreme groundball-inducing sinkerballer who topped out in the upper-80s.

“I just turned from a hard thrower to an actual pitcher,” DeMers said of his development at the College World Series. “I can command all three pitches [and] I can pitch backwards. The biggest thing for me is just being able to locate all three pitches and pitch effectively.”

DeMers showed steady improvement in his three years at Washington, going from 3-5 with a 6.91 ERA as a freshman to 6-3, 3.35 as a sophomore and 7-3, 2.42 this past year as a junior.  In his second start of the season against UC Riverside he tossed a perfect game and earned the PG/Rawlings Pitcher of the Week honor as a result.

In Washington’s Super Regional matchup against Washington, two days after he closed out their first game of the best-of-three series, he carried another perfect game into the seventh innings before allowing Cal State Fullerton to pull ahead in the ninth. Washington still came back to win that game, 6-5, and secured their first appearance in the College World Series as a result.

“I just like getting out there and giving my team a chance to win,” DeMers added. “I try to throw a perfect game every time I’m out there, so whether it’s in the ninth and I need a perfect inning or I’m starting the game and I need a perfect nine innings, it’s the same mentality. I go out there, I attack and I prepare the exact same.“

In Omaha DeMers once again didn’t factor into the decision in a 1-0 loss to Mississippi State on a walk-off hit. DeMers worked the first 7 1/3 innings of that game, holding the Bulldogs scoreless. He was drafted by his hometown Oakland A’s in the 11th round of this year’s draft, although he could still opt to return to Washington for his senior year.

DeMers’ teammate, infielder Ben Baird, was a participant of the 2015 Classic and hit .202 in part-time duty as a sophomore this past year.

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