With the recent commitment of Germantown High School outfielder Joseph Hunter to Mississippi State, the centerfield area of Dudy Noble Field may have just earned a new nickname for the next three or four years; Huntersville!
Joseph, who highly successful Germantown head baseball coach Phil Clark calls, "the best defensive outfielder that we have ever had at Germantown," has consistently been timed at 6.7 seconds in the sixty and can run down just about any ball hit in the centerfield area. In fact, Coach Clark said that, "all that I know is when the ball is hit, if it will stay in the air just a little bit, Joseph will get it. He gets great jumps (on a fly ball hit to) centerfield. I think he is ready to play in the SEC right now" And Coach Clark ought to know because, since his sophomore year, Joseph has been his starting centerfielder. Plus Coach Clark has seen a lot of great players during his illustrious career which includes a high school national championship in 1995 and a world championship in 1999 when he coached the USA Junior National team.
Joseph's reputation is more of a defensive outfielder at the moment, but he also has excellent potential as a hitter. During last year's Tennessee state championship series (3 games), he batted .900 (a state record) and had a slugging percentage of 1.700 (another state record). Included in his nine hits were a home run, two triples, two doubles and to top it off, two drag bunts. According to Coach Clark, "Joseph was the state tournament MVP. He was phenomenal during those three games." His dad, Chip Hunter, also mentioned that, "Joseph went 6-of-16 in the USA tryouts in Joplin, Missouri this past summer." His dad also said, "except for three great catches off of balls that he hit, he would have had nine hits." Not bad hitting off of some of the top pitchers in the nation.
Those stats appear to indicate that Joseph, who is currently the 231st ranked player in the nation according to Prospects Plus, is already an accomplished hitter. However Coach Clark feels his best hitting days are ahead of him.
Joseph has excellent bat speed, however in high school that is not always a good thing. "His biggest problem is sometimes his swing is so short and his hands are so quick that he has a problem staying back on high school pitching," said Coach Clark. "At times, he will go after a high school pitcher's pitch instead of waiting on his pitch." But, even with this minor, but correctable, problem, Coach Clark said, "you aren't going to get a fastball by him."
Coach Clark isn't the only one who sees the potential of Joseph. Pro scouts have already taken notice. According to Coach Clark, "he is what they consider a plus arm and plus outfielder. They think, when he gets bigger and stronger, he will hit for some power."
With pro scouts showing interest in Joseph, the though of the June Major League Baseball Draft comes to mind. Both Coach Clark and Joseph's dad talked about that.
"I have a feeling that the scouts think that he is going to go to State and is not going to be very signable," explained Coach Clark. His dad went into even more detail and said that going to college is very important to them and that playing college baseball will only enhance his draft status. A fact that backs that up are statistics that Coach Polk showed the Hunter's during their official visit to Mississippi State. Of all the players who have been drafted (127) and have gone on to play for Coach Polk, only 4 of them have not enhanced their draft status. That was very impressive to them but will not be the only factor that will help them decide what they need to do if Joseph is drafted. They have also been advised by others who know how the minor league system works that it is in Joseph's best interest to go to college first.
While he has a few decisions that lay ahead, Joseph, with his recently announced commitment to Mississippi State over his final choices of Texas A&M, Baylor and Memphis, has the recruiting aspect of his baseball career over with.
Joseph, his dad, Chip, and his mom, Janet, took an official visit to Mississippi State the weekend of September 14 - 16th. MSU's other baseball commitment, Brad Corley, also took an official visit with his family the same weekend.
According to Chip Hunter, they, "got to Mississippi State around 6 p.m. Friday night. They ushered us up to the skybox and had dinner waiting on us. They had tables with white table clothes and candles on them. After the practice, they left the lights on in the stadium and we had dinner. Coach Polk walked in and that was a thrill seeing him. Here was the man who wrote the first baseball book that I bought after I decided I was going to coach my older son sitting right across from us. He was carrying on conversations with both families (Hunter's and Corley's). He really made us feel welcome. All of the coaches were so gracious."
The next day and night were even more exciting for the Hunters than Friday night was.
"They put us up in the new Holiday Inn," said Chip. "Rather than having Joseph right next door, they put him in a room two or three doors down. They knew that he would probably want to go out with his friends that were already on the team and would be out later than us. That would give him and us more privacy when he came in later that night."
Chip went on to say that Saturday's breakfast, "was catered. They brought in the breakfast and we had it in a private room. They even thought of such small details as having grits for the southern boy (Chip) and potatoes for the Yankees (Chip's humorous description of the Corley's)."
After breakfast, the Hunter's and Corley's got into a Mississippi State bus and were taken to the Bryan Building where they had a meeting with Mississippi State Athletic Director Larry Templeton. "He was so gracious," said Chip. "He, along with Coach Raffo, sat down with the families and made us feel so at home. He even asked each boy what position they played and made comments on that." While they were visiting with Larry, Coach Jackie Sherrill came in and welcomed them to Mississippi State.
From there, the families went to visit MSU academic advisor Linda Buehler. "She took two hours out of her Saturday morning to visit with us," said Chip. "She told us about the mandatory six hours of study hall they have and the accountability they have. If you have ever seen their study hall, you know that it is not a room with a view. Coach Polk also gets a rundown for each boy each day."
The next stop was a tour of the campus and a visit with Dr. Portera, the president of Mississippi State. Because the tour ran a little longer than expected, the appointment with Dr. Portera was missed, so they went back to Polk-DeMent Stadium to eat lunch and watch the baseball scrimmage.
"They had a lunch in the skybox waiting on us," said Chip. "Some of the Diamond Girls were waiting on us. We ate, then who walks in but the president. He came in and talked to both families for about five minutes each. That really impressed us that the president of the university took time out of his busy day to come and speak to us."
Later that night, all the families went to Harvey's in Starkville for dinner. While eating dinner, Larry Templeton and his wife, who had just gotten through eating their dinner, came over and said hello.
The Hunter's, especially Joseph and his mother Janet, were ready to commit to Coach Polk when they had their meeting with him. Chip said, "I had to grab Janet leg under the table to keep her from committing right then." Chip, knowing that Joseph had previously promised Texas A&M that they would visit them the next weekend, didn't think it was fair to commit prior to taking that visit. When Chip told Coach Polk this, Coach Polk looked at Joseph and told him, "you take that visit young man."
In the mail the following Monday was a typed letter from Coach Polk. Unlike so many other coaches who send out computerized letters, Coach Polk types his own letters. Chip said, "in the same mail was a hand written letter from Larry Templeton. The next day we received hand written notes from the assistant coaches."
The Hunter's took the Texas A&M visit the next weekend. Although they had a nice visit, the Hunter's pretty much knew where they would be going. The Monday after his Texas A&M visit, Joseph made his choice: Mississippi State.
According to Joseph, "everything kind of fell into place with the coaches and everything else. The comparison between Mississippi State and Texas A&M was drastic," said Joseph. "The way the people at Mississippi State treated you showed you that they really wanted you. Everything about (the trip) was awesome. I am looking forward to playing at Mississippi State, especially since Coach Polk is back." As Chip said, "Joseph has told me that he is going to get to play for a living legend, Ron Polk," who in Chip's words is, "the Bear Bryant of baseball."
You can't argue with that.
Gene Swindoll is the owner of Gene's Page, the unofficial source for Mississippi State sports on the internet. The URL for Gene's Page is http://mississippistate.theinsiders.com. You can contact him by emailing email@example.com.