Caleb Hurst has always felt like an underdog as a pitcher.
That’s likely because he does not rely on a heater and doesn’t really look the part.
He often began the season on his various travel and school teams as the third or fourth pitcher in the rotation. He would frequently end the season as the top starter.
Listed at 6 feet 4, 150 pounds by one scouting agency, the lanky right-hander, though, continues to deceive hitters and coaches alike, winning key games and striking out a great number of batters.
That’s one reason first-year Lake Land baseball coach Julio Godinez sought Charleston High’s ace. On Tuesday afternoon, Hurst signed to play with the Lakers next year during a ceremony held at the school library, happy to follow a coach who had worked with him as a youth.
“I’ve never really thrown hard,” Hurst said, “so I was always proving myself every year.”
Hurst currently throws around 83 mph, several miles per hour below what most Division I coaches seek – and well below the MLB average of 93.2 on four-seam fastballs. But the 17-year-old is still growing. Hurst believes his physical maturity will result in higher velocity.
“I feel as though I have mastered the toughest part of the game,” Hurst said. “I feel like the velocity will come.”
Hurst relied on a variety of pitches last season to induce batters to hit a paltry .178 against him over 63 innings, and he showed exceptional control by posting more than a 5-1 ratio of strikeouts (87) to walks (16).
“I’m by far a junk pitcher,” Hurst said. “Any count, any pitch, whenever I want.”
Hurst went 5-3 with a 1.56 earned-run average across his junior season.
“Last year, he was pretty dominant in most of his outings,” CHS baseball coach Derrick Landrus said. “I can’t think of a bad outing he had. He’s around the plate all the time.”
Hurst pitched effectively during the Trojans’ postseason run as well, allowing only one run on a leadoff homer to Mahomet-Seymour in the Class 3A regional semifinal last season, setting up the school’s first regional baseball title in 11 years. Hurst limited the Bulldogs to six hits and a walk in that game, striking out nine across five innings.
Landrus said he has been impressed by Hurst since he elevated him to varsity midway through his sophomore season. In his first game, Hurst allowed one run over six innings to beat a talented Champaign Central team.
“He was one of the guys who I thought, man, I should have brought him up from the get-go,” Landrus said. “You knew he was for real.”
Hurst will join a Lake Land program that last year allowed nearly seven runs a game behind a mostly freshman staff, extending a childhood dream to pitch professionally.
“Other kids thought that was a dream that was unachievable,” Hurst said. “Now, I’ve made it farther than other kids believed.”