By Matt Schneidman
June 20, 2014
Austin Byler (Nevada) almost slowed to a walk as he approached first after hitting a towering home run over the right-field fence.
The second-year Kettleer put his raw power on display on Thursday and although his two-run moonshot didn’t affect the game – one which Cotuit (4-4) dropped to Wareham (2-6) 8-3 – Byler’s performance in his first game of the summer was reason for optimism.
“I saw it at first and I was like, aw that’s really high that should be gone,” Byler said of his home run. “I saw the outfielder kind of coasting toward the ball, and I was like, ‘Uh oh, that might stay up in the air,’ but luckily it kept going and scooted on out of here.”
In addition to the home run, Byler added a double and a web-gem-worthy leaping grab at first base in his return to Lowell Park.
The Nevada-Reno product hit .326 with team-leading totals of 14 home runs and 47 RBI for the Wolfpack in 2014, but was only picked in the ninth round with the 274th overall pick by the Washington Nationals in the recent MLB Draft.
Even though he only became active on Thursday, Byler batted third in the order in his first game back, but don’t expect to find him there against Orleans on Friday.
Head coach Mike Roberts shot down the prospect of Byler being a mainstay in the middle of the order with a frank response of, “No, because he’s going to lead off tomorrow.”
“I have had 6’4” leadoff hitters several years,” Roberts said, and added that he wants his most consistent contact hitters batting first in the order.
This past season, Byler switched from first to third in the Wolpack’s infield and although he started at first on Thursday, he is one of several Kettleers – along with Drew Jackson (Stanford), Caleb Whalen (Portland) and Logan Taylor (Texas A&M) – that bring versatility in the field to Roberts’ club.
Byler didn’t hit a home run for Cotuit during the 2013 regular season, a stint that was shortened due to his late arrival on July 19th. But he contributed two home runs during the Kettleers’ playoff run, and he already made it halfway to that total after just three at-bats this summer.
He provides a significant power threat for a Cotuit team that has started to get power hitting after not having a home run in its first five games.
“I kept working out when I was at home, kept hitting, tried keeping the stroke the same,” Byler said. “…Just simplifying the approach and then I came out here and was excited, real excited to get back.”
Roberts is big on maturity, and he used that word when describing Byler.
He knows how the powerful lefty plays from his two months coaching him last summer, and said he simply likes having him around.
Byler knows how ball on the Cape works, and he’ll try to impart his wisdom on some of the first-year players as Cotuit looks to get back into the wins column at 5 p.m. on Friday at Lowell Park against Orleans.
“All my life I’ve always tried to lead by example,” Byler said. “Just kind of keep my head up and always have a smile out there, and I think that’s definitely going to reflect on a lot of guys.”