Feb. 21, 2012
By Jon Cooper
In recruiting, timing is everything.
Take the case of sophomore catcher Mitch Earnest and his landing at Georgia Tech.
A three-year letterman at Atlanta’s Lakeside High School, Earnest was not seriously recruited coming out of high school. But Earnest didn’t give up, calling around to several D-I schools.
As the deadline for getting into school rapidly approached Earnest suddenly found himself in a recruiting tug-of-war between Georgia Tech and Georgia.
With a little more than two weeks to go before school began, deadline day arrived.
That day, at around the same time, catcher Alex Lavisky, chose Major League Baseball’s Cleveland Indians over Tech and Earnest’s academic profile was accepted by Georgia Tech.
“I had been talking with him throughout the process,” said Assistant Coach/Recruiting Coordinator Bryan Prince. “He gladly wanted to come to Georgia Tech and when I told him he was accepted, he was pretty excited about it.
“It was kind of a whirlwind deal,” Prince added. “It’s not all the time that that happens but it did this time. We are very fortunate to have him.”
Earnest was determined to justify Tech’s pursuit of him. He had already proved plenty, having earned All-County honors in 2009 and All-County and All-State honors in 2010.
“I looked at it as an opportunity and I was trying to make the most of it,” he said. “Coming in, I was probably a little overwhelmed at first. The speed of the game was definitely a lot faster. But I did my thing, I tried to go out there and play solid defense and try to do my best at my offensive production. That was just my job.”
Once the hard work of getting into school was done it was time to go to work on the diamond For Earnest; that has always been the fun part.
“Mitch comes every day ready for business,” Prince said. “He shows up every day ready to work, ready for practice, ready to do whatever is needed. He works really hard on his game, works really hard with our pitching staff and in the bullpen and he works really hard on his offense. He just basically does everything that he needs to do to get prepared.”
He showed enough to get on the team.
Getting on the field would prove tougher, as he was backing up freshman Zane Evans, who was on his way to earning First-Team Freshman All-America honors. Earnest would get into nine games, making his first start May 10 against Savannah State, and getting his first collegiate hit on March 19 against North Carolina State.
Time spent waiting to have his name to be called was anything but idle time. Earnest avidly went about improving his craft, by hanging out and talking with Evans.
“Having the advantage of being able to watch [Evans] was a blessing,” he said. “Getting to see exactly how he caught, his style, I picked up a thing or two here and there. We’d talk about catching different guys, what stuff’s doing. It’s been a blast being able to catch him and being able to talk to him and just learn more about the game.”
Earnest also learned by working with Prince, who caught at Georgia Tech from 1998 through 2001, was two-time All-ACC and a 10th-round draft choice of the Cincinnati Reds in 2001 (he played in their system from 2001-04).
“Not everywhere do they have a catching coach, especially as good as Coach Prince,” Earnest said. “He is always there for you if you need extra work. He’ll throw to you in the cage or he’ll work with you on defense. We probably work more on defense than most catchers at most schools do. It’s great to have him along.”
The Jackets are feeling the same about Earnest, whose development has given Head Coach Danny Hall the luxury of being able to rest Evans more frequently — he made 57 starts behind the plate last season — as well as taking advantage of Evans’ arm, as he’ll be relied upon as a late-inning pitcher.
So far in two starts in 2012, Earnest has made the decision to rest Evans an easier one. He’s hitting a torrid .571 (4-for-7), including a 3-for-3 performance Saturday afternoon against Winthrop, is tied for the team lead with four RBIs and is tied for second on the team with four hits.
“Mitch Earnest had two great nights,” said Hall following Saturday’s second game. “I thought he did a tremendous job catching. He swung the bat really well and had some big hits for us. He’s played great and it couldn’t happen to a better guy because he works really hard to get in there.”
“It’s exciting for Mitch to watch him have that success, knowing how hard he’s worked and the time that he’s put in,” agreed Prince. “He’s very humble and it’s great to see him smile because he has put in a lot of time. It’s great to see him have the success he’s had early on.”
Earnest also was solid behind the plate, catching both games against the Eagles, including Friday night’s one-hitter, in which Matt Grimes threw seven innings and Evans finished.
“Grimes threw fantastic. Everything he was throwing was in spots, his breaking stuff was sharp. It was great to be able to catch him. It made my job a lot easier,” he said of being on the receiving end of Georgia Tech’s first combined one-hitter since 1994 (Mark Pope threw a complete-game one-hitter at Wake Forest last April 15).
“Zane is a great pitcher,” he added. “He has some of the better stuff that we have on our pitching staff. He knows me and I know him. So we have a pretty good chemistry going. It’s fun.”
No longer having to prove if he belongs on the field but when also has made 2012 a great year thus far. While he knows the ACC and a shot at the College World Series are out there, Earnest can wait. He’s going to enjoy every day of the season and wait to contribute.
“I’m definitely excited,” he said. “I’m here when Coach Hall needs me. If he needs me to catch Zane in the ninth inning, that’s my job. If he needs me to give Zane a day off, that’s my job. I know my role. I’ll just go in there and do my job when he needs me to.”