Baranik Ready For Fall Finale

Showcase season culminates in Jupiter

Perfect Game's World Wood Bat Association Championship tournament kicks off Oct. 21 in Jupiter, Fla. Thousands of players come from all over the country, as well as Canada and Puerto Rico to play in front of hundreds of scouts and college coaches.

In most cases, this is the last big look at players until their high schools begin playing this spring. One player hoping to make a lasting impression is Louisiana righthander Carson Baranik, who Baseball America intern Mike Lemaire profiled this summer. . .

Getting Better

After admitting nerves and the pressure of pitching in front of dozens of scouts and college coaches affected him in his first outing at Tournament of Stars in June, Louisiana prep righthander Carson Baranik practically guaranteed he would pitch better the next time.

"It wasn't a great day, I didn't have my best stuff and it wasn't until I got out there that I realized I really needed to change speeds and start getting the ball down," Baranik said after allowing six hits, three earned runs, and two walks in just two innings. "It wasn't like the other showcases, this was a real live game and you are actually trying to go out and win. I will pitch better next time, you can bet on that."

In his next outing Baranik threw two more innings, allowing just one walk while striking out four.

It wasn't an arrogant prediction or prophetic. It was just a confident pitcher knowing exactly what he needed to do to correct himself. It's that same self-awareness and confidence that has made Baranik a Division I pitching prospect in the Class of 2011.

"When Carson first joined us, we had some older, established pitchers and I liked that Carson would talk to them about pitches," Texas Sun Devils coach Matt Thompson said. "He is not afraid to find or look for information anywhere he can get it. He knows what he needs to do and where he wants baseball to take him, then you add his talent and his projectability and you see why he has such a bright future."

Diamond Destiny

A rising senior at Parkway High School in Bossier City, Baranik was destined to play baseball from a young age. His father Joey pitched for Centenary College in Shreveport in the late 1970s, and his sister Audra played softball at Northwestern State in nearby Natchitoches.

With his sister a talented softball player in her own right, the Baranik family would often spend entire weekends watching her games. Three-year-old Carson was inevitably dragged along but watching the softball action wasn't his primary interest. If he wasn't busy being the bat boy for his sister's team, he would wander the sidelines seeking an unlucky volunteer to pitch to him.

"He had one of those big bam-bam bats and a plastic ball, and he would spend the whole game looking for anybody who would pitch to him," Joey Baranik said. "With the way he swung, he wouldn't always hit it, but people would have to be careful he didn't hit them. People would see him coming with that big bat and they would try to look busy and hope he would find somebody else."

When he started high school, Baranik played quarterback for the Parkway football team and even received letters from colleges interested in his ability on the gridiron. But after his sophomore year, Baranik made the decision to quit football and focus his attention on baseball.

While he admits he misses playing football, the sacrifice has paid off as Baranik has raised his profile significantly on the mound. At 6-foot-3 and 205 pounds, Baranik's strength and size allows him to occasionally touch 90-92 mph with his fastball, although he primarily works between 87-89.

His 73-74 mph curveball is a bit loopy and his arm slows when he throws. His slider is clocked at 77-78 mph and is really more of a slurve. But that didn't stop from coach Paul Mainieri and LSU from offering him an early scholarship that he accepted after just one trip to Baton Rouge.

"When you live in Louisiana, you grow up liking LSU and I have been watching LSU baseball on TV since I was 11 or 12 years old," Baranik said. "The atmosphere at their games is unbelievable. There aren't too many teams that have 10,000 people yelling at each game."

While his stuff and projectable frame has garnered him interest from colleges and pro scouts alike, he also stands out for his "yes sir" attitude and maturity. Thompson, who last season coached tremendous talents such as righthander Taijuan Walker and infielder Garin Cecchini, said he pays close attention to his players' behavior off the field. He said that when the team stays in hotels for tournaments, the constant close quarters could create problems, except with Baranik.

"Put it this way, I have never heard Carson say a bad word about another player and I have never heard another player say a bad word about Carson," Thompson said. "Sometimes, with all the rankings and the people in these kids' ears, they can develop an ego. But when we go to play mini-golf, he is just Carson Baranik the bad putter, not the kid who throws a 12-6 hammer curve or blows guys away with a 90 mph fastball."

It's sentiments such as Thompson's that make Joey Baranik prouder of his son than any of his accomplishments on the field. As a former pitcher, the elder Baranik could have pushed his son to concentrate on baseball, but instead he said he wishes Carson had more time at home to relax. He even had to turn down Carson's invitation to the Area Code Games for fear of burning him out.

Of course, for his son, burnout is out of the question. Baranik loves to travel saying "that's what they do in the major leagues, so I should probably get used to it." He also realizes that he has a unique opportunity to do something that most players his age only dream about and he is going to work his hardest to achieve it, no matter what.

"I have been running more and working out more, anything I can to help myself get better," Baranik said. "This whole experience has been an eye-opening deal for me and now that it's here in front of me, I have to grab it by the horns."