Chase DeLauter Is College Baseball's Best Kept Secret
For the past two seasons, Chase DeLauter has been one of college baseball’s best kept secrets.
The pandemic limited him to just 42 games over his first two seasons at James Madison, and while he impressed—hitting .385/.488/.657—it went overlooked for a team that went 21-23 in that time.
The secret is out.
DeLauter broke out during the summer in the Cape Cod League, playing his way into the conversation to be a top five overall draft pick. That meteoric rise has brought a new level of attention.
“I like to be known as just Chase—and not ‘the draft pick’—with my team,” DeLauter said. “The whole thing is new and different. None of my friends have ever been through it. None of my family has been through it, either. I’m kind of learning as I go.
“It can only happen one time, so I’m really just trying to enjoy it.”
All his accolades stem from the Cape, where DeLauter hit .298/.397/.589 with a league-best nine home runs. The outfielder also walked 21 times against 18 strikeouts.
But everything that put him on the professional radar over the past few months isn’t new. DeLauter has been a phenom ever since he set foot on the JMU campus as a freshman as an outfielder/righthander.
“He knew he was a good player in high school, but he was very humble and naive about it,” JMU coach Marlin Ikenberry said. “We put him in a role that was pretty big for a freshman: a Sunday starter and playing the outfield. He comes in his sophomore year and does what he does, like hitting oppo homers, and we moved him into the bullpen.
“He’s an unbelievable worker. He does everything you possibly want a kid to do.”
DeLauter has true two-way ability thanks to a powerful fastball/slider combination, but his smooth lefthanded swing and physical 6-foot-4, 235-pound build attracts the most attention from scouts. He has plenty of power and is a good athlete whose speed plays well on the bases and in the outfield. While he has played a lot of center field in college, he is a better fit in right field in pro ball.
DeLauter didn’t start as hot as he finished on the Cape. After going 2-for-4 with an opposite-field homer in the season-opener, he fell into a 1-for-18 skid over the next six games. This kind of pattern hasn’t been uncharacteristic for DeLauter, and after starting slow his freshman and sophomore seasons, he found another gear and broke out.
Even during his slumps, DeLauter makes the most of his turns at the plate, hitting the ball hard and putting the ball in play.
Ikenberry noticed this tendency a few times since DeLauter came to JMU, and notes that his struggles don’t tend to last very long. The common denominator each time was DeLauter’s willingness to trust himself.
“Chase kind of had some slow starts for us over the last couple years against teams like North Carolina and N.C. State,” Ikenberry said. “And then he had the slow start on the Cape—and then boom. He just sticks with the process and sticks with what he knows he can do.”
Coming into a spring when he will participate in his first full college season, DeLauter will have plenty of eyes on him, especially those of his opponents. He hasn’t let any of it faze him, but he accepts that the pressure to perform is present.
“The biggest thing was learning to be confident that I could play with anyone else in the country,” DeLauter said. “I think that’s going to be huge this spring, since we have some big out-of-conference games. That’s going to be fun.
“I think the Cape helped me develop that kind of confidence.”
DeLauter has flashed big league potential for the last two years, and while a smaller sample and weaker Colonial Athletic Association schedule hasn’t given him an elevated platform, it doesn’t minimize who he is as a player. The reception in light of his recent breakout validates that point, and as unfamiliar as this territory might be, it’s been well earned.
His future. The acclaim. His potential. None of it matters to DeLauter right now. He isn’t focused on the draft or the uncertainties of what lies ahead. His mind is on something much simple than all of it.
“I want to win the Golden Spikes Award,” DeLauter said. “I don’t have any stat goals. I don’t have a certain number of home runs or average I want to hit for. I just want to be the best player in the country.
“I think I have the ability to do that.”