March 10, 2009
Adam Minichino - firstname.lastname@example.org
WEST POINT -- Junk-baller is a term of affection for Brody Blaylock.
For other pitchers with less self-confidence, the term might be a negative moniker.
For Blaylock, though, he likes being referred to as a junk-baller. He even calls himself one and jokes that he might not even throw 80 mph.
But if veteran Philadelphia Phillies left-hander Jamie Moyer can get hitters out without throwing hard enough to break a plane of glass, Blaylock can do it, too.
So far this season, Blaylock has been retiring hitters with deadly efficiency. The Oak Hill Academy senior right-hander allowed one unearned run and three hits, while striking out seven and walking none last week in a 3-1 victory against Winston Academy.
For his accomplishment, Blaylock is The Commercial Dispatch''s Prep Player of the Week.
"I have enough junk to keep everybody off," Blaylock said. "That is definitely what I call myself. I have no speed and I throw 80 percent curveballs or changeups."
Blaylock (2-0) is one of 10 senior leaders this season for the Raiders (4-2). Last season''s team had 12 seniors and relied on a power-hitting attack to reach the state playoffs.
Oak Hill Academy doesn''t have nearly as much pop at the plate this season, which means Blaylock will have to rely on his defense and his side-arming and over the top delivery to keep himself out of trouble.
As the team''s leadoff hitter, Blaylock, who is hitting above .400, will do his best to spark rallies and to stake himself to early leads.
That''s a lot to expect from one player, but Blaylock said the strength of this season''s team is that every player has a role and knows they have to execute it for the team to be successful.
"We''re just straight as a team and we have to play together," Blaylock said. "This year, I feel I have to step up and be a leader. I can''t sit back and watch and let everybody else do the job."
Oak Hill Academy coach Marion Bratton said Blaylock has stepped into a bigger role this season. He said his pitcher/catcher/outfielder is becoming more of a student of the game when he is on the mound. His aggressiveness on the mound and at the plate already helps to set the tone for the Raiders.
"He is not going to dominate you, he is just aggressive and comes right after you," Bratton said. "He is never going to throw the same pitch in the same spot. He learns from his mistakes. If a guy gets a hit off him early in the ballgame, he has a real good memory and he is not going to throw him that same pitch two times in a row.
"He speeds the game up. Everybody is on their toes. There is no time to sit back and enjoy what is in the bleachers."
Blaylock will try to keep his teammates on their toes today when Oak Hill Academy plays host to Jackson Academy at 3:30 p.m. He is expected to start on the mound in an effort to pick up his third victory of the year.
An added sense of calm and the continued development of a third pitch -- a changeup -- has helped Blaylock get off to a fast start.
"It is the best pitch in the game," Blaylock said.
Blaylock said it wasn''t until last year that he developed the confidence to throw a changeup in any count. He said he worked with Oak Hill Academy assistant coach Justin Davis about how to throw and how to use the pitch and the results have been impressive the past two seasons.
Last year, Blaylock was 8-3 with a 2.11 ERA. He threw more than 100 pitches only three times in 11 starts.
"I worked with him and talked with him about (throwing a changeup) and I watched college ball," Blaylock said. "People throw 80-90 mph and anybody can hit a fastball. If you come with the same look with same pitch but slower, you can''t hit. If you do, you''re going to be up on your top foot and there is nothing you can do with it."
Being a contact pitcher, Blaylock realizes he often is at the mercy of his defense. A short temper is a dangerous thing for that kind of pitcher, which is why Blaylock said he is learning to find his zone when he is on the mound.
He also delivers pitches from the side and from over the top and mixes a fastball, curveball, and a changeup from sidearm and from over the top to give hitters different looks. He said he has thrown sidearm and over the top ever since he can remember.
"This year, I have learned on the field that I can''t lose my cool about anything," Blaylock said. "I have to stay calm and I have to keep everybody going and I have to be positive about everything. We have a real good team this year and we have to battle. We''re going to rely on everybody."
Blaylock hopes to continue to set the pace for the Raiders. If he can do that, he hopes to realize a goal to continue to play baseball in college. He doesn''t know where he will play in the fall, but he said he will lay somewhere.
That confidence is similar to the confidence Blaylock has when he is out on the mound and uses his "junk" to send batters back to the dugout shaking their heads.
"They rag me, everybody does, and say I can''t throw," Blaylock said. "Some people say I will never make it anywhere because I don''t throw hard enough, but I think I have enough junk and enough confidence in myself that no matter what people say I have confidence in myself that I will keep striving and one day I will pitch or catch somewhere."
Adam Minichino is the Sports Editor for The Commercial Dispatch.