While other Minnesota prep baseball stars were searching for the college that best fit his talents — Mahtomedi’s Sean Hjelle committed to Kentucky, Bloomington Jefferson’s Jake Irvin to Oklahoma, Chanhassen’s Ty Denzer to Kansas, among others — Waconia’s Jake Stevenson, a hard-throwing righthanded pitcher, always knew where he wanted to play after high school.
“I’ve always wanted to be a Gopher,” said Stevenson, who committed to Minnesota last summer and signed a letter of intent in November. “I grew up a Gophers fan.”
This spring Stevenson has helped Waconia to a 17-4 record through Sunday. He talked pitching with staff writer Jim Paulsen.
Q: Let’s start with this season — has it gone as well as you hoped?
A: This season has been going great. To be honest, I didn’t know what to expect. We lost 10, 11 seniors to graduation, but we’ve gotten big seasons from a lot of guys, and we’re playing well. We’re hitting a lot better that expected.
Q: You play baseball with the Minnesota Blizzard club team and get the chance to train year-round. That must help when it comes to being ready for the high school season.
A: Typically, playing with the Blizzard helps a ton because you get to see live pitching. But I couldn’t do that this year because I broke my wrist in basketball season. So I struggled a little early on. But I’m hitting a lot better now.
Q: How did you break it?
A: I had a stress fracture in it from baseball because of how I put it down when I was sliding. I broke it in basketball when was running and I braced myself so I didn’t run into a wall.
Q: Give a scouting report on yourself.
A: I’m a pretty hard thrower. I throw over the top, which helps with my downward angle. I predominantly use my fastball, but I’ve got a changeup, a slider and a curve that I’ll mix in.
Q: Has your fastball ever been clocked?
A: Yeah, I sit anywhere between 86 to 89 [mph]. I’ve touched 91. I believe I can increase my velocity because I’ve never been on a strict lifting program. Jake Irvin is a good friend of mine and increased his velocity by working out, especially on his legs. I can work on my leg drive more.
Q: What will you need to work on to be successful at Minnesota?
A: I typically use my fastball to get ahead on a batter and then just spot it. But at college, that’s probably not going to work as well. I’ll have to develop a better changeup that I can throw in certain situations.
Q: So much of pitching is mental. How do you approach that aspect?
A: My parents got me a book called “Mindgym” that helps. And one of my Spanish teachers got me a book called “One Pitch Warrior.” They talk about believing in yourself, and having a positive attitude. I’m a big believer in visualization. I try to visualize what will happen before I go out and do it.
Q: Have you had issues with your brain getting in the way in the past?
A: I definitely struggled with that a lot when I was younger. I’m pretty tough on myself. I was worse when I was younger, and I didn’t know how to bounce back if I felt like I couldn’t throw a strike. So now I take my time between pitches. If it’s a 3-2 count, I’ll step off the mound, talk myself through it. It’s OK to step off and take a breather.
Q: What is one thing about baseball that resonates with you on a basic level?
A: I hate to say that everything does, because obviously that’s not a good answer. I just love showing up before a game and hanging out with the guys. I love big games and the anticipation before playing in a championship game or an elimination game.