Nova Southeastern University left fielder Justin Garcia, the reigning Sunshine State Conference Player of the Week, has been hitting some massive home runs lately.
“One of them,’’ NSU coach Greg Brown said, “landed on the 50-yard line of the Dolphins complex.”
The Dolphins’ practice fields run vertically behind NSU’s complex, so saying that Garcia reached the 50 is quite an exaggeration. More accurate is one of Garcia’s blasts went 440 feet — still, an impressive shot.
Garcia, a 6-3, 235-pound lefty hitter, is certainly big enough to hit for power. But that wasn’t always the case.
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He was just 5-10, 160 pounds as a freshman at Hialeah High. He grew a couple of inches by his senior year but still hit just three homers that season.
“In high school, I didn’t really take baseball too seriously,” Garcia said.
That approach didn’t take him very far. In fact, he spent his first year out of high school taking classes at FIU — but without playing baseball.
“It was the first time since I was 5 years old that I wasn’t playing baseball,” Garcia said. “When the spring came and all my friends were playing baseball, I missed being a part of a team. It was a true test of how much I love the game.”
The next two years, Garcia played junior college ball, first at Wabash Valley in Carmel, Illinois, and then at State College of Florida in Manatee County. It was with the latter team that Garcia finally blossomed, hitting .315 with 13 homers and 50 RBI last year.
That landed Garcia a scholarship at NSU, where the junior is the Sharks’ cleanup hitter. To earn his Player of the Week award, he hit two homers and drove in five runs while hitting .500 in three games.
This season he is hitting .353 with three homers and nine RBI, helping NSU get off to a 9-1 start.
But he can do more than bash; He tripled earlier this week.
“Justin can run — he can swipe bags and go get the ball defensively,” Brown said. “And his work ethic is awesome.”
The UM baseball team will face five projected first-round picks this season, including three of the top six players, according to mlb.com’s list.
Mike Matuella, a 6-7 right-hander at Duke, is ranked No. 2 overall and No. 1 among college players.
The other top prospects UM will face are No. 5 Nathan Kirby, a left-hander at Virginia; No. 6 Kyle Funkhouser, RHP, Louisville; No. 26 Richie Martin, SS, Florida; and No. 28 D.J. Stewart, OF, FSU.
In addition to top players, No. 12 Miami will or has faced six teams currently ranked in the top 25: No. 4 Virginia; No. 6 Florida; No. 12 Louisville; No. 17 North Carolina; No. 21 FSU; and No. 22 UCF.