(Photo via Shelton State’s Baseball website, seen here)
Column written by CBBSN Scout, Ben Rydecki
When someone thinks about Tuscaloosa, Alabama, usually the first thing that comes to mind is the University of Alabama, and rightfully so. As one of the largest universities in the country, people are drawn to the school and its athletic programs. Over the years, the University of Alabama has developed some of the most dominant teams in college athletics, and baseball is no exception. However, what many people fail recognize is the wealth of talent in Tuscaloosa outside of the University of Alabama, both at the high school and college levels.
Perhaps the most overlooked school in Tuscaloosa is Shelton State, a community college that participates in collegiate athletics as a member of the Alabama Community College Conference (ACCC) of the National Junior College Athletic Association (NJCAA). For the past few years, Shelton State has consistently produced thirty win teams with winning records, and 2017 was no exception as the Buccaneers finished the season with an overall record of 30-26-1. The most interesting aspect of junior college athletics is the fact that all players are either freshman and sophomores. As a result, these players are not only encouraged, but required to step up and be leaders. They cannot wait until they reach upperclassman status or they may be riding pine. For many players at NJCAA schools, community college baseball is only a pit stop on the road to playing for a major college baseball program or for a major league organization. Shelton State’s players certainly fall into this category, and many have stepped up, taken charge, and distinguished themselves from their teammates.
The 2018 version of the Shelton State Bucs will be led by sophomore first baseman and right-handed pitcher, J.D. Kubiszyn. Last season, Kubiszyn, a former Auburn recruit, led the team with ten home runs and 43 RBI. In addition, Kubiszyn did well with regards to reaching base, registering a .413 OBP. Kubiszyn has the type of swing that would lead me to believe he could be a dominant power hitter for years to come. He has tremendous bat speed and effectively uses his lower half to generate power. Like many power hitters, however, Kubiszyn’s biggest weakness is his strikeout rate. In 196 plate appearances this past offseason, Kubiszyn struck out 43 times, a strikeout rate of 22 percent. However, if Kubiszyn is able to reduce the number of strikeouts he records, he has the potential to be even more dominant than he already is and should help lead Shelton State to another 30-plus win season.
Just as important as scoring runs is preventing runs from scoring. Shelton State’s pitching last season was subpar at best as none of their starting pitches registered a winning record. However, this season could be an opportunity for a couple of pitchers to turn their game around, most notably sophomore left-handed pitcher and outfielder, Alex London. London comes in at 6-foot-1, 175 pounds, with a fastball topping out at 84 mph which he mixes well with a curveball and changeup. London finished last season with a 2-4 record in 13 starts (52 IP), an ERA of 4.50, and averaged 8.5 strikeouts per nine innings. Though his stats indicate that London may not be a solid pitcher in the future, he does show the potential to improve his game, primarily his delivery. If London can reach back a little further in his delivery and extend his stride, he should quickly see an improvement in his velocity and his numbers may improve. I believe that London will be more than capable of making these adjustments and will develop into a solid, reliable starter.
In the high school circuit, no team in Tuscaloosa performs quite as well as Hillcrest High School. Hillcrest is not only dominant, but consistent. They’ve posted winning records in the last seven seasons, including trips to the state quarterfinals the last four years, semifinals three of four years, and a state championship in 2016. The Patriots are led by Mark Garner, who is entering his fifth season as the Head Coach. Even though the team loses talent every year, the next batch of players always finds a way to step up. Hillcrest has produced the likes of Brandon Medders, a former major league relief pitcher for the Diamondbacks and Giants, Tim Anderson, the current starting shortstop for the White Sox (former first round pick), and Keith Holcombe, a starter and major contributor for the Alabama Crimson Tide.
Tuscaloosa is an exciting place to be for a baseball fans with the 2018 season underway. With plenty of talent at both the college and high school level, many players should be finding their way to successful baseball careers down the road.