When MaxPreps named South Medford center fielder Jacob Melton the top senior high school baseball player in Oregon in March, the recognition was very deserving for the Panther standout.
But as with any ranking, there can be challenges to that top spot, and Melton doesn’t really have to look far to know he’s in fine company already here in Southern Oregon, much less statewide.
Crater senior Larson Kindreich certainly is worthy of being in that discussion, and each very well could hear their names called in the Major League Baseball first-year player draft next month
The interesting thing with Kindreich is that, while he is a top-tier left-handed pitcher, the 6-foot-3, 200-pounder is also a sensational hitter who can roam center field with the best of them in the state.
“He is a well-rounded baseball player, there’s no doubt,” said Crater head coach Jay Campbell on Monday. “Not only is he a returning first-team all-state pitcher but I’m sure he’s probably leading our team in hitting and plays a great center field. He can really do it all.”
The numbers certainly tell the tale after Kindreich helped lead the Comets to a runner-up finish in the Class 5A state championships last year and is well on his way to creating a similar opportunity for Crater should things go its way to finish out his final campaign.
Batting in the No. 2 spot of the order, Kindreich boasts a .563 batting average with 35 runs scored and 20 RBIs.
“No question about it, he’s a tough out and not only is he physically gifted but he has a great feel for the game,” said Campbell. “He’s a student of the game and just loves the game of baseball. That’s all he really talks about so it’s no surprise we’re seeing this kind of success out of him.”
Kindreich is up to 15 doubles, three triples and two home runs heading into Wednesday’s home game against Marist, which starts a final stretch of six games that the Comets view as “must-win” opportunities in order to hold onto the No. 2 spot in the Midwestern League standings. Crater (15-5, 11-4 MWL) is three games back of Thurston and unlikely to catch the Colts down the stretch, but holding off defending 5A champion Churchill (which is one game back of Crater) would mean not having to face an extra play-in game for the state playoffs.
“I think we have a good team this year so I don’t think it’s too far of a stretch to make it back (to the state championship game) this year,” said the 18-year-old Kindreich. “Last year’s group was pretty special, we had a lot of seniors, but with these guys this year it’s just been fantastic. There’s a lot of young guys that have really stepped up and I’m super proud of them.”
While his play in the field and at the plate is outstanding, Kindreich’s real bread and butter is when he’s toeing the rubber on the mound. He’s averaging a whopping two strikeouts per innings pitched this season (66 strikeouts in 33 innings) with 12 walks, three hit batters and 10 hits allowed. His 4-2 record and 1.27 ERA are the product of pitching in a talented league and one unusually off day in which he allowed five of his eight runs all season (six earned) against Thurston.
Kindreich’s only other loss came after pitching a two-hit shutout against Churchill in a 1-0 game that he had to exit due to the state’s pitch-count limitations. He had 11 strikeouts that day, and boasts two no-hitters and allowed one hit in five innings of work against South Medford before being relieved.
A big key has been in Kindreich’s physical development from his junior to senior year. He has added about 15 to 20 pounds to his frame thanks to work with trainer Charlie LePari, Crater pitching coach Tony Cobb and, as Kindreich playfully adds, “It was all my grandma’s cooking.”
However it took place, Campbell said he’s seen a noticeable increase in velocity from Kindreich, who is around 88 miles per hour with his fastball and still developing.
“He’s overpowered a lot of teams just with the fastball,” said Campbell. “I think his best pitch is probably the changeup, but when he has his curveball going that’s devastating. When he has that going, it’s lights out.”
And while Campbell — and many others who have seen him pitch — feel confident that Kindreich has a “Division I arm,” that’s not the level he will be at when his Crater career is over. Kindreich has already committed to pitch at Biola University, a program in transition from the NAIA to the NCAA Division II level in La Mirada, California.
The Eagles will finish their third and final provisional year in the transition in 2018-19, then gain full membership in 2019-20.
It’s a decision that left many scratching their heads on why Kindreich wouldn’t leave his options more open for his senior season given his talents, but one that the southpaw remains confident in making. His brother Honus is currently on the Biola roster as a relief pitcher.
“I haven’t looked back once since I made the decision to commit to Biola,” said Kindreich, who is homeschooled. “It was a long road with lots of calls and talks with coaches and traveling and it was a tough decision, but when I made it, I knew I couldn’t wait to go play for the school. I just love everything about it, the school, the coaches and the campus … I can’t wait to go down there in the fall.”
Kindreich doesn’t take offense to any questions about his college choice. He knows he’s found the right fit and that’s all that matters at this point.
“I think the first question I get would be why doesn’t he go to a Division I or a bigger school,” said Kindreich. “But I think ultimately what it comes down to is finding the right school to fit your needs. You’re the one who’s going there for four years. I know lots of guys going somewhere because their uncle liked the school or something and they ended up hating the school.”
“Ultimately what made the decision for me,” he added, “is I just loved the climate and in the L.A. area the exposure is so much that you don’t have to be a Division I player to get exposure and get scouts to come watch you. It’s all about finding the right spot for you and, everybody’s different and everybody has a different feel for what they’re looking for coming out of high school, that’s why you have all the different college levels.”
While Kindreich said he will miss being in the batting lineup for his college games since he’s penciled in as a pitcher only, there is no way he could trade off and be a hitter only.
“I just love pitching,” said Kindreich, who was 11-2 with a 1.21 ERA and 121 strikeouts in 75 ⅓ innings last year. “I’ve been a pitcher ever since I was a little kid and I love competing on the mound. It definitely is an art pitching and hitting your spots and adjusting to hitters. You know when you did something right and you really know when you did something wrong. And having that chemistry with your catcher is amazing, and I’ve had some great ones already over the years.”
With about a half-dozen MLB scouts in attendance for his games this season, being drafted may be the only thing that could keep him from shipping off to Biola in the fall.
“The one thing they say is when you watch him throw, it looks pretty effortless,” said Campbell. “They really like his mechanics and obviously they like his size with his velocity up. They’ve seen the growth in velocity and they think that’s going to continue, he’s not a kid that’s capped out already, and being able to throw three pitches for strikes and command the strike zone gives him a big upside.”
Kindreich has noticed an increase in scouts in the stands but has tried to focus on just playing the game he loves and keeping things simple.
“I think it all comes down to doing your best and ultimately God has a plan for everybody,” he said. “If you just do your best and let it happen, it will all work out.”
And so far it definitely has for Kindreich.
“His work ethic is pretty second to none and he’s just a great kid,” said Campbell. “He’s the first one to practice and the last one to leave, so you want good things to happen for kids like that.”
Reach reporter Kris Henry at 541-776-4488, firstname.lastname@example.org, www.facebook.com/krishenryMT or www.twitter.com/Kris_Henry