Lehighton's Nalesnik is quite a 'catch'
For most high school baseball players, hitting .400 is a remarkable feat.
Lehighton's Jacen Nalesnik, however, is not like most high school baseball players.
The junior catcher compiled impressive numbers yet again this season in helping lead his team to a 16-8 record and a berth in the District 11 Class AAA championship game.
But to talk to the talented backstop, his .403 average wasn't that special. In fact, the figure was somewhat disappointing.
"I didn't have quite as good an average as I did my fresman [.478] and sophomore [.492] year," Nalesnik said. "Overall, I felt it was a productive year, and obviously our team made it to the district finals. I just tried to do whatever I could to help the team.
"I'm not sure why my average was down this year. I really never got into a groove this year like I did when I was a freshman or sophomore but all-in-all it wasn't terrible."
It wasn't even close to being terrible.
Nalesnik led his team in nine offensive categories including average (.403), runs scored (35), hits (31), RBI (25), triples (3), home runs (5), stolen bases (16), on-base percentage (.521) and slugging percentage (.727). Those figures, coupled with his stellar play behind the plate, earned the Indian athlete this year's TIMES NEWS Baseball Player of the Year.
And if his numbers were down a bit in 2012, there were obvious reasons for the slight decline.
"They are pitching around him more, especially in the league," said Lehighton head coach Brian Polaha. "If you're looking at raw stats he's the one guy you'd have to circle and say we can't let this guy beat us. We have to make some of the other guys beat us. Also, don't forget the different bats that were used this year.
"He is competitive and I know he wanted to build on his freshman season. But after that year (45 RBI) I told him his RBI numbers would never be that high again because they were going to pitch around him a lot more. I told him his walks would go up more which would mean his stolen bases would also go up. He knows that. Other coaches know what they're doing and they're not going to let him beat them if they can help it."
With Nalesnik, swinging the bat is just one of the ways he can beat you.
The 6-2 three-sport athlete (he also plays football and basketball) can do damage on the basepaths and from behind the plate.
"We don't need to use a courtesy runner because he is one of our fastest guys and one of our best baserunners," said Polaha. "He's a good player all the way around. He really doesn't have any weaknesses. He's very athletic.
"I don't think people understand what kind of impact he has as a catcher. The only more impactful position other than a stud pitcher is having a stud catcher because they're back there every game, controlling the game. Your average fan doesn't realize what he means to a team and how he just neutralizes the whole running game. Our pitchers don't have to have the quickest moves or throw over a lot because the other teams know he's back there."
Nalesnik, ranked No. 1 in his class academically, threw out 10 of the 20 baserunners that tried to steal against him.
While he enjoys hitting, playing defense is just as important to him.
"I love it back there," said Nalesnik, who is playing summer ball for the Lehigh Valley Baseball Academy and also for the Northern Yankees in the Tri-County League. "I love being involved in every play. I like blocking balls. I just take pride in doing my best back there, doing whatever I can do to help the pitcher out, framing balls or whatever. As for runners trying to steal, I do whatever I can there. I just give it a good chuck and if I get 'em I get 'em."
Coach Polaha gets to have Nalesnik on his team for one more season something he's obviously looking forward to.
"It's great to have him on the team because he is so competitive, he works hard, and he wants to be the best he can be," said Polaha, who moved Nalesnik into the No. 2 spot in the lineup to get him more at-bats. "He has a lot of natural ability. Every time he gets in the box his hands are nice and high. There's no wasted movement. He's not one of those bat-wagging types. He's real still, has a short step, his foot's down and everything is kind of the same. He's just comfortable hitting the ball.
"He's also a great kid. He's quiet and doesn't like to talk about himself. But he's very competitive. If you play him in ping-pong and you get a point on him he'll get frustrated. He's like that with everything. He expects a lot out of himself."
Because of those expectations it's no surprise that Nalesnik will work to get even better for his senior season.
"Obviously I can improve in every area of the game," said Nalesnik. "Nobody's perfect and I know I'm far from it. I definitely feel I could get better hitting. My average was down and I'd like to bring that up. Defensively I just want to keep working harder behind the plate."