DURHAM, N.C.—For Matt Roventini, head coach at Brooklyn’s Poly Prep Country Day, it's impossible to forget the first time he saw Nicholas Storz hit a home run.
"At our first practice, he was at the plate, and he was supposed to hit fly balls to the outfielders for defensive drills," Roventini said. "First pitch, he hit it off the scoreboard in left field. It was the first home run to left field, at least 375 feet."
Storz was 13.
Tonight, the 6-foot-6, 248-pound, 18-year-old will face off with Chandler, Ariz., first baseman Nick Brueser in the finals of the Junior Home Run Derby at Petco Park in San Diego, getting a chance to display his raw power on a national stage.
"It's something I didn't even imagine happening," Storz said. "It's like a dream come true."
Storz has a thunderous swing, generating a lot of his power in his lower half and using quick hands to blast balls over the fence. His batting practice rounds at the Perfect Game National Showcase in Fort Myers, Fla. and the USA Baseball Tournament of Stars in Cary, N.C., had all onlookers buzzing about his power.
But for Roventini, home runs going more than 400 feet—his longest Sunday morning was measured at 432 feet by StatCast—are old hat. It's his propensity for hitting ones in the big moments that stands out to his coach.
"He's hit the ball a country mile so many times," Roventini said. "But the big games stick out the most."
Big games such as the 2014 New York State Association of Independent Schools championship, when Storz hit a home run to center and was the winning pitching in Poly Prep's 8-3 win over Rye (N.Y.) High. Storz was a freshman, leading Roventini to rhetorically ask, "How often do you see a freshman on the mound in the championship, and he gets the win and hits a homer?"
Storz is committed to LSU, and has been seen as more of a pitcher than a hitter. He didn't bat at all at PG National, and only got four at-bats at the Tournament of Stars.
But Storz continues to display his power in the big showcases, winning the Tournament of Stars' Home Run Derby to earn a trip to San Diego. With eight home runs in the first two rounds, Storz showed no stage fright in his first time hitting in a major league park.
"Other than winning state championships with my high school, nothing tops this," Storz said.
After coaching him for four years, Roventini believes he knows why Storz is able to succeed at the plate.
"I think he's having fun at the plate," Roventini said. "Everyone knows he has a high ceiling on the mount. But at the plate, there's not the same pressure. It can make it simpler."
Simple and fun. For Nicholas Storz, it's a combination that leads to success—and a lot of dingers.