By: Cole Bradley
ORLEANS, Mass- When some hitters come to the plate, there’s a feeling of dread that sets in for an opposing pitcher. The feeling that no matter what is thrown their way, there’s a good chance the ball won’t be coming back.
There aren’t very many of these players in the college ranks, but the Orleans Firebirds may just have one of the few.
One at-bat in particular provides significant evidence toward that case.
On Thursday, fresh off winning CCBL Player of the Week, Chase DeLauter (James Madison) hit a ball at McKeon Park that flew off the bat at 103 mph, disappearing into the foggy abyss with no sign as to whether it even landed. It wasn’t the first time DeLauter showed off what he is capable of at the plate, and it most certainly won’t be the last.
When asked whether the Cape League has seen his full level of power so far this season, DeLauter answered: “Not even close.”
“Once I start getting my pitches to hit, and once I really start getting my timing down, I’ll hit a couple that will show that off,” DeLauter said.
In his last five games, DeLauter has four home runs and is slugging a whopping 1.238 with no strikeouts. For a college hitter against some of the top pitchers in the country, these numbers are hard to fathom.
Collectively, the Firebirds have made hitting look easy for a good chunk of the summer, and DeLauter has been the centerpiece.
The All-CAA First Team selection is no stranger to facing good pitching at JMU, but the top tier arms on the Cape are a different animal.
“Obviously playing at JMU and being a mid-major school, we face good arms but we don’t face 94-96 mph every day,” DeLauter said. “I took a month off from seeing any pitching so as of now I’m just taking the ball where it’s pitched.”
In his first seven games of the summer, he went 3-for-22, which equates to a .136 average. DeLauter’s growing pains showed in the power numbers as well, with only one homer during that span.
But it seemed like an odd slump, considering he only struck out in six of those 22 at-bats, making plenty of loud contact with nothing to show for it. For DeLauter, it had the makings of his start earlier this spring, where he went 0-for-10 to start the season.
“After going 0-for-10 I was hitting in the cages everyday trying to figure out what was wrong,” DeLauter said. “Throughout the next two weekends I was 9-for-16. It was one of those where you feel like you can’t get out or miss the ball.”
Like clockwork, DeLauter has gone 14-for-25 since June 30, replicating his performance from earlier this spring. He is now up to a .362 average with a 1.179 OPS on the season, leading the Cape League with six homers as well.
During his ongoing hot streak, one category stands out above all.
In his last eight games, DeLauter has an average exit velocity of 91.57 mph, almost three ticks higher than the MLB average. To put that into perspective, he currently has a higher EV than perennial MLB All-Stars Nolan Arenado, Joey Votto and Yordan Alvarez did in their first eight games of the season.
While the quality of pitching differs immensely between the MLB and college, that is still impressive nonetheless.
“What I’ve always tried to do is elevate the ball and create backspin,” DeLauter said. “If you can hit the ball hard and do that then the ball is going to fly no matter what. I think that’s the way the game is now, to try and have power numbers.”
Going a layer deeper, five of his six homers have been to the opposite field, as have a good majority of his hits. His power lies more in his pull side, and it’s intimidating knowing that only one of his homers this season has been to right field.
“I know I can hit them out backside so it’s not like I’m trying to pull it,” DeLauter said. “My pitch right now is a fastball away because it’s kind of what I am expecting if I get a fastball right now. Normally, a fastball middle-in or a curveball that crosses over the middle of the plate is my pitch. I haven’t gotten much of those pitches at all.”
To grasp how effortless DeLauter makes hitting for power seem, watching him take batting practice is a good measuring stick. DeLauter puts pitches over the fence with ease in the cage, at one point socking three in a row over the leftfield wall before a game in Y-D.
Even though the effort he exudes in those sessions of BP is just a shade under what he puts forth in-game, the mindset differs completely. DeLauter comes to the plate looking to do damage, regardless of the scenario.
“I swing almost as hard as I can every time I swing the bat, taking it as far as my body can control,” DeLauter said. “Even if I hit a single and I barrel it, it’s usually hard-hit. I don’t believe in slapping the ball, if I’m going to swing, I’m going to swing to put the ball over the fence.”
Thus far, that’s exactly what he’s done, already matching his home run total from this spring at JMU through the first 14 games of the Cape League season. His Player of the Week award only epitomizes just how well he’s played so far.
Regardless, he still doesn’t like to put too much stock into his early summer accomplishments, citing that there’s still plenty of season left.
Whether he sustains it or not, DeLauter is on a roll that doesn’t come around too often. What’s even scarier is the fact that this just might be the beginning of a power surge that has never been seen before.