Thursday, May 19, 2016

Best Hitter in Big Ten Nearly Fell Through the Cracks

  Amazingly enough the college baseball regular season will wrap up this weekend with conference tournaments getting started next week. As of now Baseball America projects both Michigan and Michigan State to make the field of 64 for the NCAA Baseball tournament. That said the Big Ten is very competitive at the top with 6 teams fighting for what will likely be 4 bids so the Spartans and Wolverines have to finish strong to get in the dance.

One of Michigan State’s best players Jordan Zimmerman leads the conference in hitting at .394 and is third in both on base and slugging percentage and has walked more than he has struck out. Zimmerman’s journey to MSU was indirect to say the least.

On the surface it would appear Zimmerman was a highly coveted recruit but that is not the case. Young ball players can learn quite a bit from the path Zimmerman traveled to East Lansing.

Zimmerman grew up in Mesa, Arizona a hot bed for professional and Division 1 baseball prospects. It just so happened that Zimmerman played shortstop the same position as 4 other top players in the area. Three of the prospects were drafted in MLB in rounds 2,3 and 5 out of high school and the fourth ended up at Arizona State. Zimmerman was overshadowed by these other players and wasn’t heavily recruited and ended up at Mesa Community College. The knock on Zimmerman at 5’11 and 170 pounds was that he was only a “singles” hitter (he hit .400 all 4 years on the high school varsity).

It was at Mesa CC that he was “discovered” by an MSU assistant coach who happened to be scouting another player but ended up offering Zimmerman a scholarship on the spot. Zimmerman credited off-field performance training for helping him improve his athleticism and strength (filling out his now 6’1 frame at 190 pounds) but all along he continued to do what he’d always done… Hit!

Zimmerman was simply overlooked through no fault of his own. Often the recruiting process is out of an athlete’s control. I wrote in the past how elite MLB athletes Paul Goldschmidt and Kevin Kiermaier were overlooked for years before they were finally “discovered.” The simple truth is recruiters and talent evaluators are human beings. They can only watch so many baseball games in person and sometimes they flat out miss guys!

Zimmerman never let up! He continued to hit the ball hard and it only took one pair of eyes to see the potential. You have to mentally prepare as if each playing opportunity is your time to be “discovered.” Because you never know who is watching and more importantly you don’t know what type of player they may be looking for.

It’s very possible scouts missed Zimmerman because he didn’t fit their mold of what a good hitter should be. Everyone covets power and he didn’t show that.  There are 298 Division 1 baseball programs and they all missed this guy. He had to settle for playing at a CC but he never allowed that to deter him from developing his skills. There is always a spot for someone that can flat out hit the ball with authority even if it doesn’t travel over the fence.  It may not have fit Zimmerman’s timeline but he kept working until someone had to take notice.

I am a great believer in luck, and I find the harder I work, the more I have of it.

Thomas Jefferson

I will wrap up with a tip I once received from famed baseball mental skills coach Harvey Dorfman.

I don’t care where you come from and it matters very little what you’ve done in the past. What matters to me is the person you bring here.

Tough and uncertain times don’t last and statistics are just numbers on paper what endures forever is the strength of your character. Allow that to be your driving force and you will ultimately become successful wherever you end up.