May 23, 2016
By Jon Cooper | The Good Word
When Georgia Tech opens ACC Baseball Championship play against Boston College on Tuesday afternoon at Durham Bulls Athletic Park (first pitch is set for 3:00 p.m. and can be seen on FOX Sports Southeast and heard on WREK 91.1 FM), Tristin English will be right where he pictured himself all along…sort of.
The 6-2, 200-pound freshman from Williamson, Ga., who chose to attend Georgia Tech despite being drafted by the Cleveland Indians on the 39th round of the 2015 First-Year Player Draft (No. 1174 overall), expected to be at the ACC Tournament.
However he couldn’t have expected to make the impact he has.
The freshman finished with a .309 batting average, 58 hits, three homers, 34 RBIs, 87 total bases, a .463 slugging percentage, and a .353 on-base percentage, with 18 multi-hit games, nine multi-RBI games, four game-winning runs, and two game-winning RBIs.
In ACC play he flirted with .400 before finishing at .368, with 39 hits, three homers, 19 RBIs, a .566 slugging percentage and .415 OBP.
“He’s been really good for us this year and he likes to compete,” said Coach Danny Hall. “He was hitting .400 in the league, which is pretty tough, so he’s done a tremendous job for a freshman stepping in. He kind of battled some adversity with his arm but he’s done a tremendous job of putting that aside and helping us with his bat.”
That adversity with his arm is why English is only sort of where he pictured himself.
He came to Atlanta with his primary position being pitcher, going 4-1, pitching to a 1.08 ERA, with 57 strikeouts vs. 18 hits allowed in 32 innings as a senior at Pike County High School. Then he hurt his elbow — he’ll get it looked at over the summer — which led to his being shutdown as a pitcher and in search of another position to get his bat in the lineup.
First base fit the bill — actually, he made it fit, with an itsy, bitsy exaggeration.
“I think I played three games the summer before at first base. I got here and the coaches said, ‘You ever played first before?’ I was like, ‘YEAH, I’ve played first before,’” he said. “So I went over there and it’s really just been learning the ropes since then. I feel I’m getting a hold of it now, though.”
Heading into play on Tuesday English is fielding .981, having made, only five errors in 38 games since the March 18 series against Virginia Tech, when he took over the position on a regular basis, so as to protect ace Brandon Gold by keeping him from playing there.
He certainly hasn’t looked like a first-timer.
“Defensively, the guy’s just stuck his nose in every play and keeps us in there,” said senior Matt Gonzalez. “It’s very cool to have a first baseman who is a good defensive player.”
English’s defense is bonus. His offense is the big thing. This is a guy who batted .632 with 45 RBIs his senior year at Pike County, earning 2015 GHSA Region 4-AAAA MVP.
“When I went down with the elbow injury I just got out there and started swinging the bat,” he said. “I had to make some adjustments. Early in the season they threw me lots of fastballs and I hadn’t really seen this level of breaking pitches and off-speed and I had to make and adjustment there but I feel like I’m making an adjustment now.”
Turns out English is a quick adjuster. After a 3-for-16 start, he found his groove. He had a 4-for-8 weekend at Florida State, including his first collegiate three-hit game. That series would start a stretch in which he hit in 13 of the next 15 games, batting .444 in that time (24-for-54). He had eight multi-hit games, including a run of four straight (March 30 through April 3), and an absolute torching of Duke, going 8-for-14 (.571), with his first four-hit game, a 4-for-6 on April 2. The binge raised his average to a season-best .348. Even with a late-season dip, he still remained consistent.
“I go up there with the approach, ‘I don’t want to swing and miss,’” he said. “I think that means ‘The pitcher is better than you’ and I don’t like to let the pitcher be better than me. So I go up there try to make contact, don’t try to do too much with it.”
His not trying to do too much has resulted in him doing a lot and influencing those around him, especially slugger Kel Johnson, who bats directly in front of him.
Over the last 20 games, English has protected Johnson 18 times. In those 18 games, Johnson’s batted .370 (27-for-73), with three homers, five doubles, 14 runs and 15 RBIs and eight multi-hit games, vs. two hitless games. For the season, in 25 games with English as protection, Johnson hit .386 (39-for-101), with four homers, seven doubles, a triple, 19 runs scored and 21 driven in with 11 multi-hit games vs. three hitless games. In addition, in that stretch English also protected Gonzalez on May 10, against Savannah State and ‘Gonzo’ went 4-for-6, matching his season-high with four hits, with two runs scored and an RBI.
“I think I’ve played into it pretty well because they like to pitch around Kel. Obviously, he’s a big bat. He’s an All-American from last year,” English said. “Once they get around Kel they think, ‘We can go right after this guy.’ So they come right at me and I’m not afraid of them.”
While English went 1-for-11 in the final series against Boston College, he’s confident he can bounce back.
The numbers back him up, as for his freshman season he only had four back-to-back hitless games and only one back-to-back-to-back stretch. He rebounded from the three-game hitless streak with a season-high eight-game hitting streak, during which he hit .429 (12-for-28).
“I like to keep my swing as simple as possible,” he said. “That way if I’m hitting bad it’s an easy fix to get right back on track.”
His teammates have enjoyed watching English at the plate.
“He’s a heck of a hitter. I love watching him hit,” said Gonzalez. “There’s no real hole in his swing. He can hit the ball to right field, left field, anywhere.”
They’ve even had a little fun at his expense.
“They give me a hard time in the dugout. I’m a big guy, don’t hit a whole lot of home runs,” English explained. “They’re like, ‘Come on, man, Kel’s pulling away from you.’ I’m like, ‘It’s not what I do. I’m up here to get hits.’”
It’s fun and a departure from the usual ribbing he gets — the one about hitting like a pitcher.
“I’ve gotten the ‘You hit like a pitcher’ for a long time so I just kind of go with it now,” he said, with a laugh. “If this is how pitchers hit then I’m going to keep hitting like a pitcher.”
Hall will be happy if he keeps hitting like he has and continues to improve.
“This game can humble you in a hurry but he’s got a great head on his shoulders and a good attitude,” Hall said. “He’s just got to keep working to get better and build on what he’s done.”
So bring on the Eagles and the ACC Baseball Championship.
“I’m real excited,” English said. “Obviously, we need to take care of Boston College. Then once you’re in the tournament anything can happen.”