Adam Brett Walker, Dan Gulbransen Have Jacksonville In Prime Spot
Tim Montez made his annual recruiting swing through the Midwest four years ago for a string of high school showcases. That's when the Jacksonville associate head coach and recruiting coordinator first saw two players who are now potentially the program's top one-two punch of all time: Adam Brett Walker III and Dan Gulbransen.
Montez watched Walker launch a ball over a left-field light standard more than 400 feet away in a showcase in Kenosha, Wis., and saw him catch, pitch, play third base, first and the outfield and run a 6.75-second 60-yard dash.
"I mean holy moley," said Montez, who boasts 25 years of coaching experience, 21 at the Division I level. "I am sitting here at this little showcase looking around and asking myself how many other guys are watching this. You are talking about a kid who was 6-foot-4, 210 (pounds), 220 at the time. He was a damn good athlete and very impressive by just how easy he made things look."
Montez watched Gulbransen at a showcase in Lincolnshire, Ill., and was impressed by the outfielder's presence. He liked the lefthanded hitter's approach during at-bats, the way he handled himself on the field and in the classroom, where he has continued to make straight A's since grade school.
"Dan was very professional, like he knew exactly what he was doing," Montez said. "He didn't have a lot of highs and lows like a lot of high school kids do who wear their emotions on their sleeves."
Montez did his best to keep his emotions in check, returning to Florida figuring he'd be thrilled to sign either Walker or Gulbransen. Montez also fretted about the 2009 draft, but neither player was selected.
"We ended up getting both of them and it was like, this is the lotto," Montez said.
The duo has paid dividends the past two seasons for the Dolphins, helping lead the team to 64 wins and at-large regional bid last year. They started in all 61 games last season and earned first-team all-Atlantic Sun Conference recognition. Walker was the A-Sun Player of the Year and a second-team All-American after he hit .409 with 12 home runs, 75 RBIs, 165 total bases and a .655 slugging percentage. Gulbransen was effective, too, punctuated by a .370 average with six home runs, 52 RBIs, 63 runs and 12 stolen bases.
Penciled in at No. 3 (Gulbransen) and No. 4 (Walker) in the lineup for a second consecutive season this year, the duo could be Jacksonville's lotto version of Power Ball.
"This is probably the best two guys I've ever had in the lineup at one time, ever," Dolphins head coach Terry Alexander said. "I had (Pete) Clifford and (Daniel) Murphy hitting back-to-back (in 2006), and that was pretty good. The added addition of the power that Walker has, it's pretty interesting. They are go-to guys who want to be up in the big situation when the game is on the line."
Walker, at 6-foot-4, 232 pounds, could easily be confused for a football linebacker, and there's no denying his athletic bloodlines. His father, Adam, played one season at running back for the Minnesota Vikings and his mother, Glynis, was a collegiate national champion high jumper and volleyball player.
Walker played football (quarterback), basketball (power forward) and baseball (catcher) at Milwaukee Lutheran High, but even his dad saw his first love early on.
"Baseball always has been my favorite sport, too," the elder Walker said. "I don't know how he got such a love for it, but it was evident by the time he was barely walking."
Walker, who plays first base and outfield for the Dolphins, wants to be even more dangerous at the plate this season. The righthanded hitter has focused on shortening his swing, improving the use of his legs and taking better advantage of pitches in a hitter's count. He has 137 strikeouts in 434 career at-bats.
"I am not too worried about my numbers—they will take care of themselves—but for me, I want to do more damage with my opportunities," Walker said.
Montez calls Walker the best power hitter he has watched up close since Ryan Howard at Southwest Missouri State. Professional scouts also believe if Walker, considered one of college baseball's top power hitters, continues to improve and shows discipline at the plate, he could be a first-round draft selection in June.
"His potential is scary to me," Alexander said. "The fact he can hit it as far as anybody I've ever seen to left field is another thing. But he can also hit it as far as anybody I've ever seen to right field. He will try to get a base hit up the middle and he will hit a line drive that will go 410 feet straight out of the yard."
Gulbransen, a 5-foot-11, 200-pound corner outfielder, was productive in important ways for the Dolphins. Alexander calls Gulbransen the team's hardest worker in all areas, from the field to the weight room to the classroom, and tells other players "to do what Dan does and you will be fine." Gulbransen finished second in the A-Sun last season with a .491 on-base percentage, thanks in large part to his conference-leading 50 walks, and recorded a career-best 23-game hitting streak. Gulbransen prides himself on his defense (one error in 144 chances last season) and his mental preparation.
Coming out of high school in Appleton, Wis., Gulbransen flattened his swing his freshman season for consistency. But he wants to be more aggressive this season because "I've been settling for base hits when I could take advantage of a 2-0 count or a 3-1 count and maybe do a little more damage," he said.
The Wisconsin duo and JU can inflict early damage and set the season's tone. The Dolphins open at Southern California, followed by a road game at Florida State, before they play 21 of their next 25 games at home.
And you better believe Montez will continue his annual recruiting swing through the Midwest.
"You have to have a little luck," he said, "but you can't be afraid to take chances to go in areas where other people might not go."