Two local area high school baseball standouts announced their college verbal commitments over the past week.
Maryville third baseman Reuben Church committed to the University of Kentucky while South-Doyle right-hander Braden Jones pledged to Middle Tennessee State University.
Church, since he was a freshman, has had his eye on playing in the SEC. That future path became feasible when Missouri contacted him about a month ago. Then, Kentucky came into the picture two weeks back.
The 6-foot-2, 205-pound Church, a junior, said the Kentucky coaching staff wants to keep him at third and use his bat for bulk-run production. Through two years of varsity play, Church has hit .400 with 12 home runs, 17 doubles, 46 walks and 60 RBIs.
“Ever since I was a freshman, I’ve wanted to play in the SEC. Through the (recruiting) process, I’ve just tried to sort out these schools,” he said. “I just fell in love with Kentucky.
“They go through a very detailed lineup of how they want to win games,” Church added about the Kentucky coaches. “And, they said that I was one of the important pieces to the lineup, hitting doubles and home runs. They have other guys in mind for other specialties.”
Next up for Church, though, he wants to improve upon his fielding and speed.
Jones, who stands 6-4 and 155 pounds, has a few things he wants to get better at, as well, before he heads to Murfreesboro to play for the Blue Raiders.
But what their coaching staff liked about him now is a fastball that can reach into the upper 80s with movement and dip to baffle right-handed hitters. He has a penchant for strikes whether it’s with that fastball or with his changeup or slider.
ETSU and some junior colleges were on him, but Jones said many of his coaches told him he was Division I talent. He chose MTSU for the possibility of him playing right away in 2020. Jones went 5-4 last season for the Cherokees, striking out 64 in 53.1 innings pitched and allowing just 15 earned runs.
“It was my best option to play straight out of high school,” said Jones. “The coach said I’d have a good chance to pitch as a freshman.”
Former South-Doyle star Bryce Brentz (2007 graduate), who’s hit 139 career home runs in the minor leagues with 498 RBIs for MLB organizations like the Red Sox and Mets, starred at Middle Tennessee State. And that gave Jones some confidence, as well, that he could follow suit in Murfreesboro — except as a pitcher.
“It’s a great program. The year Bryce Brentz played here, South-Doyle was really good,” said Jones. “So the fact that he went there (to MTSU) means they have a pretty good tradition in baseball.”