PULLMAN – Washington State leadoff hitter Trek Stemp will swing at just about anything.
The second baseman almost never walks, regularly hacks outside the strike zone and routinely finds himself on the wrong side of the count.
The results have been fantastic.
“I would say he’s as good a leadoff hitter as there is in the country,” WSU coach Marty Lees said. “And I believe everybody in the Pac-12 feels the same way. I think he’s a pitching coach’s nightmare.”
Stemp is batting .377, the second-best average in the conference, and has three hitting streaks of at least 10 games for WSU (13-23, 6-12 Pac-12). His 25 runs scored lead the team by a sizable margin, and he ranks No. 2 in the Pac-12 with 10 stolen bases, having been caught stealing just twice.
What some would initially deride as a lack of plate discipline is really an abundance of aggressiveness in the batter’s box, coupled with Stemp’s unyielding belief in his ability to catch up to pitches late in their journey across the plate.
“I try to let the ball get deep. The longer I can see the ball in, the more information I can get,” Stemp said. “I never really try to guess. I just try to stay aggressive and think I’m going to swing at every single pitch until the last second I decide not to.”
As someone who readily admits his power extends to the ability to generate flyouts, Stemp contents himself with singles. It makes him a good fit for Lees, a first-year coach whose offensive style is built around aggressive base running.
While the Cougars have regularly started a lineup composed primarily of freshmen and have struggled this year, Stemp’s proficiency at getting on base and pilfering his way around the horn gives them a lot of examples for future reference.
And WSU was nearly without the redshirt junior from Kennewick. Stemp left the program after his sophomore season to pursue a career in law enforcement. Despite passing all of the Washington State Patrol’s tests, he was told he was too young.
He then trained in a reserve program with the Whitman County Sheriff’s department, but shortly before graduating from that he felt the urge to pick up a baseball bat. The sheriffs encouraged him to return to the diamond, and he has become a cornerstone player in Lees’ fledgling program.
“I don’t regret leaving because I got (to train with law enforcement officers) and it really made me realize when I’m done playing, that’s what I want to do,” Stemp said.
Of course, with the way Stemp is swinging the bat, he might not be done all that quickly. While scouts have told him they would like to see more power from him, Stemp does have some leverage because he can return to school next year if he is unsatisfied with his draft slot or signing bonus.
And Lees, who wants his players to be terrors on the base paths, would love to have another year from his most consistent baserunner.
While the Bulldogs were unable to come away with a Senior Day win on Sunday, they still took two of three games from Santa Clara. GU (24-13, 12-6 WCC) leads the conference heading into an 11-game road trip to end the regular season. Up first is a big test in Provo, Utah, where second-place BYU will host the Zags for three games, starting on Thursday.
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