Don’t call Anthony Hermelyn a utility infielder.
It’s not fair to the right-handed hitting junior, who has been mainstay in the Sooners’ lineup for three seasons, despite the fact that he plays three out of the five defensive positions in Oklahoma’s infield – and could probably play the other two if need be.
His teammate and long-time friend, center fielder Craig Aikin, thinks that he’s far more than that. Hermelyn isn’t just average a bunch of positions. He’s great at each.
Oklahoma coach Pete Hughes doesn’t think Hermelyn is just a utility player, either. He used a far more important three-letter acronym.
“He’s arguably our MVP in my mind, because he’s a plus-defender at first,” Hughes said of his clean-up hitter.
Hughes put Hermelyn at third base Tuesday night against Dallas Baptist. No worries because Hermelyn carries the best fielding percentage of all full-time infielders.
He can also catch, a position he hadn’t played since he was 14 years old before coming to Oklahoma and starting there as a freshman.
Wherever he needs to be is where Hermelyn wants to play for Oklahoma, which opens a three-game series against West Virginia tonight and is tied for first place in the Big 12 Conference.
“It’s just basically trying to find the way to help the team out in any way possible,” said Hermelyn, who is third on the team in hits and RBI and carries a near-.400 slugging percentage. “If I can use my versatility to help the line-up and allow coach to have some flexibility, that’s what I’m going to do.”
It’s as easy as that for Hermelyn, who also leads all regulars in fewest strikeouts.
Hermelyn was always multi-faceted. Aikin recalled him catching, pitching and playing the field in a quick turnaround early on during high-school summer ball.
As he approaches his 550th career at-bat, something Hermelyn will likely hit this weekend, becoming a consistent threat at the plate might be his biggest unique contribution this season.
His batting average and slugging percentage have climbed every year he’s been with Oklahoma – having started 144 games in his career already. He’s on pace to set career-highs in RBI and hits as well as a career-low in strikeouts.
“It’s just kinda slowed down for me,” Hermelyn said. “It’s more experience.”
Hermelyn spent this past summer in the Cape Cod League, playing against some of the best talent in the country. Aikin watched him as a teammate this summer with the Harwich Marners, knowing that Hermelyn has always been a “gamer.”
“It’s one really special quality about him that I’ve seen in the last six or eight years that we’ve been playing together: When the competition gets better, so does he,” Aikin said of Hermelyn, who was selected to the Cape Cod All-Star Game. “He’s steps up.”
Last weekend against Texas, the baseball might as well have been a beach ball in the opener. Hermelyn went 3-for-6 as the Sooners (24-15, 8-4 Big 12) won the opener on the way to a series victory.
Hermelyn could have stuck his heels in the ground and developed exclusively as a right-handed hitting catcher, those tend to have a little more value in the MLB Draft. But he didn’t because that’s not him.
Mentally, he’s always been a great team player – willing to do whatever to help the team win and playing with a super-high baseball IQ according to his coach. His physical skills and his experience are starting to catch up now.
“With experience comes confidence and I think that’s where he’s at when you watch him play, “Hughes said. “He’s been invaluable for us this year.”