The West Coast League attracts high-level collegiate talent from all over the country. In 2017, the Sweets are poised to have a group of ballplayers that represents 20 different college programs, scattered nationwide. The WCL player pool extends far beyond the left coast of the United States. Recruits flock to Walla Walla from schools in Georgia, Massachusetts, Virginia, Rhode Island, and many other locations. In fact, it’s tough to find a region not represented by WCL players.
With such a wide-open talent base, this year’s Sweets are introducing a bit of continuity by adding a pair of former high school teammates. High-achievers both on and off the field at Harvard-Westlake HS in Los Angeles, Harvard OF Jake Suddleson and Brown 3B/RHP Cameron Deere had both the academic and hardball chops to earn a roster spot at two of the finest schools in the country. This summer, the freshman tandem will re-unite in Walla Walla, trading in their Harvard-Westlake Wolverines caps for some red-and-navy blue Sweets gear.
Suddleson, a lanky speedster, has already appeared in a pair of games for the Crimson, who didn’t begin their schedule until March 3rd. Jake earned the start in right field on opening day and drove in a run in the fifth inning of a 13-1 Harvard win over Lafayette. Six at-bats into his college career, Jake is coming along in his post-prep adjustment.
“College baseball is extremely different from high school,” he said. “In high school, baseball was always melded into your schedule. But in college, that’s not always the case so staying on top of work is critical.”
Surely, the academic pressure might be a bit heavier at Harvard than at some other schools. But even with balancing Division I baseball with an Ivy League workload, Suddleson is loving the transition to college ball.
“The best positive surprise this year has been how easy it was to fit into the playing style of my teammates. Oftentimes, when you go to a new team there is an adjustment period where you figure out how the people around you play. However, our chemistry has been amazing so far,” Suddleson said.
Suddleson batted leadoff and captained Harvard-Westlake his senior year. His on-field performance earned him a selection to California’s all-state second team. He was ranked top-500 nationwide by Perfect Game.
“I think my greatest strengths are my bat, speed for my size, and ability to make plays in the outfield,” said Suddleson.
Still, Suddleson owes his success to more than his physical gifts. For a young player, Jake has a terrific work ethic.
“The most important lesson I’ve learned along the way to D1 baseball is to outwork everyone, especially when people aren’t looking. There are people who will naturally be more talented than you, but there is no excuse for letting someone outwork you. Work is something you can control, and being in control of as much as possible is crucial in a game where so much is out of your control,” he said.
Suddleson had a lot of help in steering Harvard-Westlake to finish 2016 as the 12th ranked high school program in California. His teammate Cameron Deere emerged last season as a two-way threat for the Wolverines, both as a corner infielder and a right-handed pitcher. Now, Deere has moved on to Division I baseball at Brown University. Like Suddleson, Deere was an extremely strong student.
“Working hard in the classroom helped [Deere and me] get here,” said Suddleson. “A lot of guys rely mainly on baseball to get recruited, but academics has always been emphasized in my household, as well as Cameron’s, so I think we were pushed harder to do well in the classroom to from an early age.”
Although Deere has yet to appear in a contest for the Bears, he can help teams both on the mound as well as at the plate.
“Primarily, I will be a position player, playing at the corner [infield spots]. My greatest strength is hitting,” Deere said. “I think [hitting] is what got me to the Division I level. It’s the part of my game I work on the most, mainly because you need to practice hitting more than any other facet of baseball.”
Even though Deere will mostly be a batter this season, he was clocked at 87 mph off the mound at a Perfect Game showcase his senior year. His experience a pitcher, he says, helps his approach at the plate.
“As a pitcher, it certainly helps knowing what it’s like to hit,” he said. “Before every pitch, I think about what it is that I would never be expecting.”
Like Suddleson, Deere is finding the transition to college equal parts challenging and rewarding.
“The biggest difference I’ve noticed, you realize this quickly, is that everyone at the Division I level is extraordinary in at least one facet of the game,” Deere said regarding his college transition. “I feel like the average high school hitter or pitcher doesn’t have that one special talent. So you realize quickly once you get into practices that everyone has one reason why they should be playing over you and it forces a very tight competitive atmosphere.”
“My best positive surprise,” he added, “is the experience of being with 30 of your friends for six to ten hours every day. It’s been great building these lifelong friendships.”
Both Suddleson and Deere will be extremely important to the Sweets this season. Head Coach Frank Mutz, who was familiar with these two from high school, had his sights on them for years.
“I played against those guys for four years in high school, that’s why I put them on my team. Both swing the bat with power. Both understand the game. They’re mature players. They’re very physical. We’re counting on them to be in the middle of our lineup [batting] three, four, or five.”
Mutz, who coaches at Harvard-Westlake’s division rival Chaminade Prep, praised Suddleson and Deere for their abilities and their leadership. They both possess the type of intangibles that can spur a team to winning consistently. Perhaps, says Mutz, they picked up these gifts as wide-eyed freshmen on the 2013 Harvard-Westlake squad that won a national championship.
“They were undefeated that year. It was really remarkable. Even though they had three pitchers who were future first-round picks [Lucas Gilito by the Nationals, Max Fried by the Padres and Jack Flaherty by the Cardinals], those two stood out even then,” said Mutz.
Suddleson and Deere figure to be major presences in the Sweets’ lineup this summer. As right-handed power hitters, both should be able to take advantage of the short left field fence at Borleske Stadium. Mutz says he’d like for Deere to pitch a few innings for the team as well.
“I do recall him being a really good pitcher in high school,” said Mutz. “It’s going to depend on how stretched out his arm is and whether his college coach has him throwing [bullpens] enough during the season.”
Regardless of their role, Jake Suddleson and Cameron Deere will help the Sweets win games both with their abilities on the field and with their demeanor in the locker room. Mutz had plenty of talented prospects to pick from during the recruiting process. What pulled him toward the Harvard-Westlake tandem was their track record of winning big games at the highest levels of prep ball.
“What stands out is they’re winners. They’ve always been winners,” Mutz said. “They understand how to win games and we really wanted them on our roster because they’re going to teach other guys how to win. Lots of guys are talented. Winning is the big thing that separates prospects.”
“They’re freshmen but they will be part of the leadership of our team,” said Mutz.