Any high school team would be fortunate to have one pitcher with the talent to move on to play in college — especially at the Division 1 level.
Bainbridge Island has four of them, all right-handers — seniors Jasiah George, Kai Francis and Nathan Deschryver, along with junior “J.R.” Ritchie. George will be attending the University of Washington, both Francis and Deschryver Gonzaga, and Ritchie UCLA.
Along with them, in an embarrassment of riches, BI coach Geoffrey Brown also has centerfielder Owen McWilliam, who is going on to play college ball at Pacific. And a fifth pitcher, Angel Maldonado, is going to throw for Edmonds Community College.
Jasiah George, who is 6-feet tall and 178 pounds, just started pitching six months ago, even though he’s been playing baseball since he was 8. He’s always played middle infield and planned to play second base at a junior college.
But early last summer in Boise, ID he asked the coach if he could try pitching. He got on the mound and started consistently throwing fastballs around 88 miles per hour, “which was a big spike in velocity from the years past,” he said. His change-up hits 77 mph and curveball 74.
He realized when he started throwing at 92 mph by late summer that pitching could give him an opportunity to play at the Division 1 level. He attended a scout league in the fall and pitched well enough to catch the attention of the UW.
“It has been a dream of mine to be able to play at the next level, whether that be college or professional baseball. Playing in the MLB has always been the end goal,” he said.
Because of COVID-19, George said, “College scouts weren’t coming to our games. I got on the college radar mostly by video” put online by his coaches.
George said getting stronger in the weight room helped his “pitching career to take off.” During COVID he put together a home gym during quarantine and also was able to play baseball games last summer in Boise. Also, “taking care of your arm after a day of throwing is crucial for peak performance on the mound,” he said.
He said his dad played a big role in getting him into the sport and has been a big part of his success. “From a very young age, I was going to the park with my dad and hitting balls for hours,” he said.
Nathan Deschryver said he also wants to play pro ball, but would probably go to Gonzaga even if he were drafted because he wants to get a college education. He’s already got two years in through Running Start, earning his associate’s degree.
He started getting noticed by colleges his freshman year. He played in big tournaments around the nation, and talked with many schools before deciding on Gonzaga.
“I’ve been pitching pretty much my whole life, ever since I started playing baseball,” he said. “My secret to my success has been just always pitching in my front yard ever since I was a little kid. I spend a lot of my time throwing into a net in my driveway.”
He said he’s also been blessed with being somewhat tall and has been working out the past few years to gain weight and strength, “which has helped with my overall stamina and pitching velocity.”
Deschryver admits COVID was a downer. “When COVID happened and wiped away our season I was upset. I used that to motivate me even more in my training and found ways to throw simulated games in my driveway and at the field in order to keep my arm healthy and strong,” he said.
He added he was also able to play baseball on the East Coast all summer and in some national high school events in front of scouts.
“Baseball has always been a passion for me ever since I was in elementary school, and I truly believed that I will be in the MLB one day,” he said, adding he wants a career in baseball either playing or coaching. “I want to be able to give back to my community and help others around me achieve the same goals I set for myself.”
Kai Francis said “if I do not get offered life-changing money out of high school” he’ll play at Gonzaga for three years before declaring for the MLB draft.
“I have been pitching my entire life,” he said, adding he played for the Lamorinda Trojans, which won the national championship in 12 and under baseball with Ritchie as a teammate. Francis said he was a skinny kid so working out in the weight room was key to his success. “Putting some weight on my bones really helped me as a pitcher and definitely added some velocity to my fastball,” he said.
He also works on his mechanics with Kevin Gunderson, who played on Oregon State’s national title team in 2006. Gunderson has a baseball facility in West Linn, OR that all four BI pitchers go to.
During COVID, Francis and his family set up a net in their back yard that he threw into every day to maintain arm strength. And he worked out at JR’s garage weight room almost every day during quarantine.
Watching two older brothers play baseball inspired him to play, but he said he almost quit when he was 8 to play lacrosse with his best friend. “Luckily my best friend convinced me to not quit,” he said.
Francis wants to be a pro, and he has a great mindset for it. “I know that playing the game of baseball is a privilege so I will continue to work hard and not take this beautiful game for granted,” he said.
JR Ritchie had many college offers but chose between Oregon State, UW, Arizona State, Vanderbilt and Louisiana State. He said even if drafted he plans to play for the Bruins. Ritchie has played around the nation for some of the top teams in the Northwest and California. He has had coaches supporting him so that colleges have been watching him since he was 13, after starting pitching at age 7.
He said he developed a hard work ethic at a young age, working out in the weight room, stretching and his throwing routines. During the offseason he throws a football a lot and is constantly working on his mechanics and timing with his many coaches, including his father Ian.
Ritchie said COVID actually might have helped him become a better pitcher because he worked on baseball specific weight lifts with a strength and conditioning coach. He gained 20 pounds, and, “I had a lot of time on my hands to think about pitching more and try to perfect my craft.”
He said playing with Francis has always inspired him. “Growing up I was always the little guy. I was always chasing Kai, because he always threw the hardest, hit the hardest and ran the fastest. He’s always been the best player and a real leader of our group of guys. That inspired me to always work harder and to be as good as Kai.”
They played on two national championship teams together, and Francis hit a walkoff three-run homer to win the 12-and-under title. They also won a perfect game World Series and an international World Series.
Ritchie said his dad also inspired him. “He played college tennis out of high school so he understood the dedication it took to play at the next level,” Ritchie said. He’s “always being there to give me that extra push even when I didn’t want it.”
Geoffrey Brown has watched all four pitchers mature in his three years as coach. Their biggest improvement has been their velocity and being able to control it.
Brown knows pitching. He still holds the record for appearances at the UW in a career with 96. He also played five years in the Dodgers organization, reaching the AA level.
Because of that he can help his four standouts with small adjustments in their delivery or in their grips to make them more consistent. “Tweaks here and there to get more out of their windup or the stretch,” he said. “Pitchers are always trying to tinker to get more comfortable with their stuff.”
Of Jasiah, Brown called him the “silent assassin,” in his first year of pitching and “under the radar” since he was a middle infielder. He called Kai “a big strong physical kid who comes right after you and pounds the strike zone.” Of Nathan, he said he’s a hard worker and tremendous athlete with a “cannon of an arm in rightfield. He has a lot of upside.”
He called JR a “special one. The first one there and the last to leave. He has a lot of heart.”
Instead of moping around because they didn’t get to play because of COVID last spring, the four pitchers used it for extra motivation. They worked out physically, but also on the mental part of the game, “understanding pitch sequence,” for example, their coach said.
With such standout pitchers, Angel doesn’t get on the mound as much, but Brown called him a “workhorse who pounds the strike zone.”
Of Owen, Brown said he has elite speed. “He can really go get it in the outfield,” he said. “He turns a single into a triple real quick.” McWilliam made the All-Metro first team as a sophomore hitting .370 with three homers. He’s hitting around .440 this spring. “He puts the barrel on the ball, and that’s what a lot of college coaches look for,” his coach said.
Brown said BI is a great baseball town, and it all starts at a young level. “Out of Little League they come to high school ready to go,” Brown said.
On the website perfectgame.org three of the pitchers have been scouted.
It says Francis, 6-3, 190, has a “very high leg lift and tuck delivery, long extended arm action…has good direction to the plate, low effort delivery he repeats very well…gets hard late run and sink that creates ground balls. Gets the same type of action on his changeup. Still developing feel for a rare curveball.” Francis’s fastball topped out at 91 mph, with his change at 78 and slider at 74. “Lots more there as he physically matures.”
It says Deschryver, 6-2, 185, has a “high leg lift delivery from a side step start, stays tall on his back side, long hooked arm action in back…has speed and whip in his arm stroke. Fastball topped out at 92 mph, more there in the future, commanded his fastball well with some late running life. Has confidence and feel for his changeup and uses it often. Flashes some tilt on his slider but was not consistent in the release.”
Of Ritchie, 6-2, 185, it says, “Flexible actions in his delivery with a big leg raise, whippy arm action…arm is fast and loose. Fastball topped out at 91 mph with big hard running life at times, fastball explodes on hitter’s at times, chance to be at least a mid-90’s thrower in the future given normal progression. Has confidence in his changeup, gets similar diving life as his fastball but tends to change his arm slot and tip the pitch. Developing curveball can be dropped in for strikes, tends to slow arm on the pitch.”