Southern Miss junior Nick Sandlin’s pitching numbers look like something out of Marvel comic books. Staggering is what they are. Opposing batters can read them and weep.
His record is perfect, 6-0. His earned run average – the number of runs he gives up per nine innings – is a miserly 1.0. He has allowed only 32 hits in 63 innings. The opposition is hitting only .148 against him.
And then there’s this: In those 63 innings, he has walked only eight batters. He has struck out a whopping 97. That 97/8 strikeout/walk ratio is off-the-charts excellent.
These eyes have been watching college baseball for more than 50 years and have never seen anything quite like it. Retired Southern Miss coach Corky Palmer has lived baseball for all his 64 years and he’s never seen anything like it either.
“Sandlin’s the best we’ve had here, as good as I’ve seen anywhere,” Palmer said recently. “He’s got so much movement on his pitches. Sometimes, it looks like he’s throwing a Wiffle ball up there.”
Mississippi State baseball legend Ron Polk, now a volunteer assistant at UAB, has coached seven pitchers who were first round draft choices and not one had a strikeout/walk ratio like Sandlin’s. Polk, by the way, coached Sandlin last summer in the elite Cape Cod League.
“Nick’s not only a great pitcher and athlete, he’s a great kid,” Polk said of Sandlin. “He probably won’t go that high in the draft because of his size, but somebody is going to get a really great one. He’d be winning at Class AA right now. He’s a pitcher.”
Sandlin, who pitches like Superman, looks more like Clark Kent. He’s 5 feet, 11 inches short and weighs 170 pounds. That’s about five inches shorter and 40 or 50 pounds lighter than Major League scouts desire.
And those numbers – the ones he can’t control – probably dictate Polk is right and Sandlin will not be an early choice in the upcoming MLB draft. Sandlin, a smart guy who is an honor student in construction engineering technology, knows this.
“I don’t worry about what I can’t control,” he said.
The obvious concern is that Sandlin’s relatively slight body cannot stand up to the physically demanding torque it takes to throw a 94 mph fastball.
Sandlin, a Georgia native, missed two starts earlier this season with stiffness in his throwing shoulder. MRIs showed no structural damage and Sandlin has given up a run and has struck out 22 batters in 14 innings since.
Perhaps scouts should be reminded that Greg Maddux won 355 Major League games at 6-feet, 170. What Sandlin can control is a baseball. He can throw it 94 mph from different angles and make it dance. He can go way down low, below sidearm. He can throw from over the top. He throws three pitches – a fast ball, a slider and a change-up – from those angles. He can change speeds on all three of those pitches. The breaking pitch, the absolutely filthy slider, breaks batters’ hearts.
State’s Jake Mangum, another under-sized player, was a teammate of Sandlin’s last year in the Cape Cod League.
After USM and Sandlin defeated State 11-0 in the season opener in February, Mangum was asked about Sandlin. “Mentally, Nick’s so strong,” Mangum said. “He doesn’t back down from any situation. I mean, he’s really tough, throws three pitches for strikes from a lot of different arm slots and he was hitting 93 on the gun. He’s outstanding.”
USM coach Scott Berry says deception is a big part of Sandlin’s game.
“The arm speed looks the same, no matter what he throws or from what angle,” Berry says. “Doesn’t matter if it’s the fastball, the slider or the change. It looks the same. The batter doesn’t know what he’s getting.”
Berry used Sandlin strictly out of the bullpen his first two seasons, primarily as a closer. Sandlin was a freshman All American and then made several All America teams as a sophomore.
But USM lost starters Kirk McCarty and Taylor Braley in last year’s MLB draft and then lost Colt Smith, the third weekend starter last year, to an injury. That’s why Berry and new pitching coach Christian Ostrander decided to move Sandlin into the Friday night starting role.
The result has been other-worldly, so good that some teams save their Friday night ace so as not to waste him against Sandlin. With Sandlin leading the way, the first-place Golden Eagles take a 32-12 and a No. 11 national ranking into a weekend series at UAB this weekend.
“We’re playing good baseball, peaking at the right time” Sandlin said.
It helps when your Friday night guy is automatic.