Wichita State first baseman Casey Gillaspie wanted to enjoy his final season of college and not worry about the professional scouts who came to scrutinize his movements from batting practice to final out.
So far, so great.
Gillaspie earaned Joe Carter Player of the Year honors from Missouri Valley Conference coaches on Monday, starting what should be a long line of post-season honors. Gillaspie, a junior from Omaha, led the MVC in almost every statistical category and is projected by Baseball America to be a first-round draft pick in June.
“He’s as physically gifted as anyone who’s been in our league, offensively, in a long time,” Illinois State coach Mark Kingston said.
Gillaspie is hitting .406, seventh nationally, entering the MVC Tournament. He also leads the conference in slugging percentage (.721), hits (80), home runs (15) and total bases (142). His on-base percentage of .530 and his 52 walks lead the nation.
He hit .478 in 21 MVC games with 23 RBI, a .940 slugging percentage and a .617 on-base percentage. He homered eight times and walked 26, while also stealing six bases in six tries.
WSU pitcher A.J. Ladwig and infielder Dayne Parker join Gillaspie on the All-MVC team. Ladwig leads the MVC and ranks third nationally with a 1.11 ERA. Parker is hitting .301 with four home runs.
Pitcher Cale Elam, catcher Tyler Baker, third baseman Chase Simpson and outfielder Daniel Kihle are on the second team. Reliever Aaron LaBrie received honorable mention. Baker, Elam and Gillaspie made the All-Defensive Team.
Ladwig’s ERA would rank third on WSU’s season list, behind Aaron LaBrie’s 0.83 in 2013 and Jimi Newlin’s 1.08 in 1989. The top 10 is dominated by relievers, with Shane Dennis’ 1.35 ERA in 1994 in fourth the top mark by a starter. WSU catcher Tyler Baker is glad that a lack of run support and a 3-6 record didn’t cost Ladwig the honor.
“He goes out there every time and pitches his butt off and we don’t back him up,” Baker said. “We want it — before every game we’re like ‘We’ve got to score for A.J.’ We want him to get a win because of what he’s done for us.”
The Shockers scored two or fewer runs in nine of Ladwig’s 14 starts, twice getting shut out.
“He did his part,” WSU coach Todd Butler said. “A.J. has been a model of consistency all season.”
Gillaspie’s skills remind Bradley coach Elvis Dominguez of Yankees first baseman Mark Teixeira, a star at Georgia Tech.
“He’s the best hitter I’ve seen this year,” Dominguez said. “His plate discipline is unbelievable. You try to make a pitcher’s pitch, and he’ll just lay off and come back hit the mistake you’re going to throw. He’s one of those guys, that if he makes an out, he just misses.”
As a switch-hitter himself, Kingston is impressed to see Gillaspie carry on that part of the game.
“There’s not many of those guys left,” Kingston said. “People always talk about how hard it is to be a good player. It’s twice as hard to be a good switch-hitter. I appreciate somebody who puts in enough work to be good from both sides.”
Gillaspie is the first Shocker to win the award, named for former WSU star Joe Carter, since catcher Chris O’Brien in 2011.
Evansville lefty Kyle Freeland, who is 10-1 with a 1.62 ERA, was named Pitcher of the Year. Evansville’s Wes Carroll, who led the Aces to their first MVC title since 2006, is Coach of the Year. Indiana State shortstop Tyler Wampler was named Defensive Player of the Year. Sycamores pitcher Brad Lombard was named Newcomer of the Year and reliever Ryan Keaffaber the Freshman of the Year.