PHOENIX—The EvoShield Canes National 2018 roster for the inaugural Wilson Premier Championship West tournament is packed with touted pitchers, all with major Division I commitments. But one of the stars that shines brightest on the Canes pitching staff is Austin Becker, already considered one of the top pitching prospects of the 2018 class.
The Sunbury, Ohio, native sure looks the part of a future ace, with a 6-foot-6, 180-pound body that screams projection. The lanky righthander commands all three of his pitches. While his fastball sat at 89-91 mph during his game in Arizona, in which he threw four shutout innings, this tournament comes early in the showcase season and he should get back to his normal velocity, touching into the mid-90s.
Starting his second season in the EvoShield Canes program, the righthander appreciates most the time he gets to spend with his teammates and what he learns from them. But that's not all.
"The thing he gets from us is that he gets to pitch against quality competition every times he runs out there," Canes pitching coach Gregg Conner said. "He pounds the strike zone with three pitches. Obviously, he has good command of all three pitches and he knows how to compete."
The big question with all young pitchers is how well they are taking care of their arms in order to avoid injury.
"We have an innings limit in school ball," Becker said, "but during the winter I'll shut down for four months after Jupiter (site of the annual WWBA Tournament each October). I'll start back up in February . . . we start long-tossing and I do a velo program with weighted balls."
The EvoShield Canes enforce a strict regimen for all of the pitchers in their program.
"With all of our guys we're very conscientious of innings pitched," Conner said. "We have an arm care program that we do before and after they pitch. We monitor their innings. We're very careful . . . we care a great deal about our arms."
Becker is one of three players on the Canes National 2018 roster with a verbal commitment to Vanderbilt. While he acknowledges that Tim Corbin's coaching staff at Vandy is the primary reason for his interest, Becker also appreciates the quality of the education he'd receive there.
But his enrollment at Vanderbilt or his entry into pro baseball will be on the back burner while he finishes his high school career at Big Walnut High. Becker knows that he's still got room for improvement.
"When runners get on in the later innings, I need to work on throwing strikes and getting down the mound," Becker said. "Trying to stay within myself and focus on throwing strikes."
Conner summarized Becker's needed improvement more succinctly.
"Keep pitching against good competition," Conner said. "That's the key for him."