PEORIA, Ariz. — As President and CEO of Canes Baseball, and current head coach of the Canes Baseball 2018 team, Jeff Petty has seen more than his fair share of talented baseball players through the years. But for as many players as Petty can remember coaching, there's no one he can recall that starts off a game — or an inning — quite like Xavier Edwards.
"He's probably the best leadoff hitter I've ever coached," Petty said. "He's such a dangerous player. He can really do it all and just the consistency he's had this year has been unbelievable."
A 5-foot-10, switch-hitting shortstop for Petty and the Canes, Edwards did nothing to quiet his coach's claims on Friday afternoon at the opening of the second annual Wilson Premier Classic. Hitting from the leadoff spot in both of the Canes' games at the Seattle Mariners' spring training practice fields in Peoria, Ariz., Edwards ended the doubleheader 6-for-6 with four runs scored, two RBIs, two walks and a pair of extra-base hits.
In fact, the only one of Edwards' nine plate appearances in which he did not reach base, he was credited with a sacrifice bunt — a sacrifice bunt that he nearly beat out despite leaving from the right-handed batter's box. On a day when the Canes scored 26 runs in 12 innings and won a pair of games with final scores of 14-3 and 12-7, Edwards was unequivocally the offensive catalyst.
"I don't know what it was, I just felt really good in the box today," said Edwards, who has been committed to Vanderbilt since the summer of 2016. "And I actually thought my at-bats got better as the day went on, just from seeing the pitches better. I was really trying to track the ball a little deeper and just make sure I put a good swing on it. Luckily, I was kind of in the zone."
Perhaps most impressive about Edwards' nearly flawless offensive performance was the way he hit the ball to all parts of the field. Displaying a short, compact swing with excellent bat speed, Edwards' six hits included two singles and a triple into left field, an infield single in between the second baseman and the first baseman, and a single, as well as a double, into the right-center field gap.
Edwards' impressive bat-to-ball skills are heightened when considering the Wellington, Fla. native also shows excellent pitch recognition, drawing a pair of walks and rarely, if ever, swinging at a pitch out of the strike zone on Friday afternoon. For the year, Edwards leads the Canes in batting average and also has the fewest amount of strikeouts on the team, according to Petty.
"He truly hits a baseball where it's pitched," Petty said. "If guys are pitching him away, he's going to hit the baseball the other way. If guys try to throw him inside, he's going to pull the baseball. He has that advanced approach at the plate and he almost never swings at bad pitch."
While Edwards' offense may have been the headliner on Day 1 of the Wilson Premier Classic, his defensive effort wasn't to go unnoticed. Showing off excellence foot speed and soft hands, Edwards made plays to both his right and left with ease, including a play in which Edwards was forced to turn right, run deep into the hole at shortstop, and make a strong, in-the-air, across-the-body throw to first base to record an out.
Having shown off plus hit and speed tools on the showcase circuit and in front of scouts for several years, Edwards said his biggest point of emphasis now that he entered his final year of high school is showing everyone who is watching that he has the defensive talent and arm strength to stick at shortstop long term.
"I know some people have doubts about my arm strength, but I definitely think I have plenty of arm strength to stay at shortstop so my biggest focus is just keep my arm strength up so I can prove any of the doubters wrong," Edwards said. "I know I can play shortstop and stick at shortstop, so now it's just all about making sure everyone realizes that."
For Petty, there is absolutely no question where Edwards' future lies defensively.
"He could play shortstop in the Major Leagues right now, tonight," Petty said. "Anyone that says he can't stay at shortstop, quite honestly, I don't know what they're looking at. Granted, I've had him for two years now so I have the luxury of seeing him every day, but he can make every play you could possibly need to make and he makes it look pretty easy."
Whether Edwards' journey to the Major Leagues begins next June at the 2018 MLB Draft, or a few years from now after spending time at Vanderbilt remains a mystery, for now. Edwards said he would be content with either outcome, but there's no denying his recent performances, which includes a strong showing at this past summer's East Coast Pro event, has his name being mentioned among the top high school position players in the upcoming draft class.
"My parents are both educators and they have been for a long time, so education was always the most important thing," Edwards said. "Vanderbilt and Duke were my top two choices and my mom was leaning toward Duke while my dad was leaning toward Vandy. But you can't beat Vandy. It's the best baseball in the country and one of the best academic schools in the country right next to the Ivy League schools, so it'd be the best of both worlds and I'd be happy either way.
"But at the end of the day it's just a game and I'm having fun with the eight friends that are inside the lines with me," he continued. "So there's no pressure. No matter who's watching — your mom and dad or hundreds of scouts — it's just a game and I'm trying to enjoy it as much as possible. It doesn't matter whether I'm 0-for-6 or 6-for-6."
But as Friday's performance showed, and Petty can attest, Edwards going 6-for-6 is seemingly the much more likely scenario.