In the last few weeks, the Walla Walla Sweets have publicized the signing of a pair of catchers: Richmond’s Ryan Shaw and UCLA’s Will McInerny. Today, the team is excited to announce the addition of a couple more backstops.
Colby Watilo, a Walla Walla native and sophomore at nearby George Fox will be joining the Sweets’ roster in 2017. He’ll be joined by San Diego commit Adam Kerner, who is currently finishing his senior season at Oaks Christian HS in Westlake Village, CA, outside Los Angeles.
Watilo graduated from Walla Walla HS in 2015. He was a three-year varsity starter for the Blue Devils where he spent time both in the outfield and behind the plate. Watilo batted .444 his senior year.
Watilo is a career .333 hitter at George Fox—three hits in nine at-bats across seven games played. He picked up his first collegiate base knock on February 10th, a leadoff single in the bottom of the eighth inning of a 12-3 loss to Redlands.
2017 will be Watilo’s second stint with the Sweets. He made a pair of appearances with the team last season but spent much of the summer working with the Walla Walla coaching staff on developing his skills. The extra effort paid off.
“I got offered a 10 day contract to begin the summer,” said Watilo. “Through that time I got to build a good relationship with coach Mutz and coach Wilkerson, which allowed me to continue working with and spending time with the team throughout the summer as my contract expired. That experience last summer ultimately led to me being offered a full year contract for the upcoming summer.”
Watilo’s upside is his defense. He has an agile frame and can move gracefully behind the plate. He is also an excellent receiver and pitch framer.
“I would say my biggest strength on the field is defense,” he said. “Personally, I take a lot of pride in my receiving and constant working to get strikes for the pitching staff.”
“He’s a good receiver, calls a good game. He did a good job,” said coach Frank Mutz.
It’s a big jump from Division III to the West Coast League. But after a year of seasoning, Watilo should be ready to flourish in the WCL.
“I think the biggest difference is simply that the game speeds up a couple of notches. People throw the baseball a little harder, hit it a little harder, and run a little faster. But in the end, the bases are the same distance apart and baseball is still baseball so I’m confident I will be able to handle the difference in competition levels,” Watilo said.
What’s more, Watilo provides an on-field link to the Walla Walla community that has been so supportive of the Sweets for the last seven years.
“It’s good for our community to have Whitman kids or Walla Walla kids. It’s exciting to see their own play and have success at this high level,” said Mutz.
Joining Watilo on the Sweets’ roster will be rising freshman Adam Kerner, who will join No. 19 San Diego next fall. A senior at Oaks Christian HS in Westlake Village, CA, Kerner earned a 9.5/10 rating at the Perfect Game national showcase in June 2016.
At the showcase, Kerner dazzled with a 1.84 second pop time (the interval between when the catcher receives a pitch and when his throw to second base reaches the infielder’s glove), which placed him in the 94th percentile among all prep catchers. He’s also a terrific athlete—Kerner ran the 60 yard dash in 6.77 seconds.
“He’s considered one of the top catching prospects in Southern California and the country,” said Mutz. “I was with him recently at a USA baseball showcase at Lake Elsinore so I got to see him catch all day and swing the bat. He’s a special player. I know that [head coach] Rich Hill at USD is very concerned they’re going to lose him to the draft.”
“He’s a very offensive, very physical, very strong hitter. He’s going to hit for power, going to hit for average. He’s got a high IQ. He’s very advanced for a high school player,” Mutz added.
Spending a few months in Walla Walla before heading off to school should help Kerner adjust to college life both on and off the field.
“Playing in Walla Walla, a summer of catching top pitchers and calling the game, will give him an opportunity to start right away at USD. The game is so much faster at the college level. If he catches up to the curveballs and sliders, he’ll be ready.”
“That’s the biggest jump from high school to college player—the slider. The quality of the breaking pitches goes way up in college. If they can hit that, they’ll contribute right away,” said Mutz.
The WCL season is long and arduous and takes a toll on even the most conditioned athletes. The Sweets’ catching depth will be important for the team this summer.
“In college, you play a few times a week. In Walla Walla, we play every single day,” said Mutz. “That’s why having quality catching depth is so important. Guys need to last all season and remain productive. If you keep everybody rested, they can sustain all year.”
Between Shaw, McInerny, Watilo and Kerner, the Sweets should have no shortage of quality backstops. Walla Walla’s catchers are young but amply talented. Each has the ability to contribute to a winning team.