There are plenty of hot hitters in every college summer league, from Cape Cod to Alaska and everywhere in between, but over the last few months, no one has been hotter than Howard JC outfielder Tyler Collins.
Collins—who transferred to Howard after one year at Baylor, where he hit .404 in 29 games for the Bears—dominated NJCAA Division I competition this spring. He led the country with 19 home runs and finished second with a .488 average and 82 RBIs en route to the National player of the year award. Collins also stole 16 bases, hit a school record 34 doubles, and was awarded the Rawlings Gold Glove award for his defense in left field.
“I never thought (winning national player of the year award honors) could really happen,” the sophomore said. “But after the season, I looked at the numbers and thought, ‘Wow, I had a pretty good year.’ It’s a real honor and really incredible.”
Now, as a follow-up, he’s helped lead the Coppell Copperheads to a 10-8 start in the Texas Collegiate League, just a half game back of the first place Acadiana Cane Cutters. Through 17 games, Collins is hitting .380/.408/.732 with three doubles, two triples, and a league-best six home runs with 15 RBIs. He’s also tied for the TCL lead in hits with 27.
His torrid pace, he says, is due in large part to what he learned this season.
“I had a great coach over there at Howard in coach Britt Smith and he really helped me with some things this year,” Collins said. “He’s one of the best hitting coaches around, and it all just came together for me.”
In the early going, Coppell first-year head coach Marty Haynie, who doubles as an assistant for Wharton County (Texas) JC during the spring, has been impressed with the tools Collins brings to ballpark everyday.
“He’s a special ballplayer,” Haynie said. “He leads us with 400-plus foot bombs and then, next at bat, he can leg out an infield single and get us pumped up either way. So far we’ve been pretty successful but when things start to slip a little bit, he’s the first guy to show some leadership abilities and as a coach, that’s gold.”
Haynie is certainly not the only one to notice Collins’ wide skill set. In fact, his sweet lefthanded swing and all that comes with it grabbed the attention of not just one, but two potential destinations for him next year. After committing to TCU for his junior season, the Tigers took Collins in the sixth round of this year’s amateur draft.
“I was recruited by (TCU) out of high school and head coach Jim Schlossnagle is a great guy. That program is on the up and I really want to be a part of that, so I haven’t decided on anything yet.
"The Tigers are being really cooperative and so is TCU. I feel like physically and mentally, I’m ready to go play ball for (the Tigers) but TCU is a really great place, so we’ll see.”
It’s a choice Collins has time to make, so for now, he’s just worried about enjoying his summer and playing good baseball.
“It’s been a blast (with Coppell). Our head coach Marty Haynie is a great guy and he just busses us out there and says let’s go play some summer ball. It’s a lot of fun and I’m loving it.”
Collins isn’t the only reason Coppell is off to a solid start. Nick Smelser, the Copperheads shortstop and Texas State commit, has echoed the lefty’s bat well, hitting .284 with four doubles, three home runs, and a league-leading 17 RBIs. On the mound, Justin Lara, a freshman submariner from Alvin CC, and Carlton O’Neal, a righthander out of St. Mary’s, have been good as well.
Coach Haynie has been very impressed with their early season performances.
“Lara was virtually unhittable this year at Alvin, and I had the opportunity to see him a couple of times and I knew he was a guy that I wanted to play (for Coppell),” Haynie said. “He seems to be continuing his success here, and he’ll really help a D-I team down the road when his time comes.
“And O’Neal has been absolutely nuts for us on the bump this year. We don’t want him to ever wake up because he’s been great and to have his leadership at the top of your rotation is irreplaceable.”
Lara is 2-1, 2.30 with 18 strikeouts in 16 innings, while O’Neal has a 1.69 ERA and 18 strikeouts in his first four summer starts. While Collins may be one of the hottest hitters around, the hottest team may very well be the Southern Maryland Nationals of the Cal Ripken Collegiate League who are off to an 11-0 start, leading the nine-team league by one-and-a-half games over the Bethesda Big Train.
The Nats' hot start is rooted in a well-rounded game, led at the plate by Mike Mandrino, Sean Godfrey, and Tommy Winegardner. Mandrino, a senior from Cumberland who didn’t play this past week after capturing the league’s first player of the week honors ending June 13, is 14-for-37 with three doubles and three round-trippers.
Godfrey, a sophomore outfielder from Ball State, is off to a 14-for-40 beginning while Winegardner, another Cumberland senior, is hitting .333 in 11 games. Austin Poretz, a freshman from Liberty, and Bryan Collins, a two-time redshirt senior from UNC Pembroke, sport 1.31 and 1.50 ERAs, respectively. Poretz is 3-0 with 19 strikeouts in 21 innings, while Collins is 2-0 with 12 strikeouts in 18 innings.