The words are music to the ears of scouts and college recruiters, coaches and prospects alike. They’re as welcome as the arrival of spring after a winter filled with arctic vortices and as comforting as fresh grass in the outfield.
“Yeah, he’s back,” the words begin while building to their much-anticipated conclusion, “and he’s better than ever.”
They are the words every young prospect returning from an injury hopes to hear someone say when a new season begins. And they take on even more meaning as the season progresses, and the scouts, recruiters and coaches repeat them time and time again with even more candor and confidence.
They are also the words that Kyle Marsh, a highly regarded senior right-hander/shortstop at Spruce Creek High School in Port Orange, Fla., has been hearing quite a bit this spring after returning to the field following an injury that caused him to miss almost his entire junior season in 2013.
“I think he’s pretty much completely back from where he was when he got injured,” Spruce Creek head coach Johnny Goodrich told PG this week. “He’s having one heck of a year for us and he’s showing his true colors. … As the season (has gone on) it’s been a continual progression of him getting healthy and strong and getting back into the swing of things.”
Fully recovered from a freak injury incurred in March 2013, Marsh is indeed back better than ever. Through the Hawks’ first 21 games – they were 17-4 – he was 4-0 with one save, a 0.23 ERA and 52 strikeouts against 10 walks in 30 innings of work off the mound. He was also hitting .328 (21-for-64) with four doubles, a home run, nine RBI and seven runs scored as the starting shortstop.
“I’m feeling really good,” Marsh told PG in a telephone conversation this week. “I’ve been out for awhile but I’ve been doing good and I’m just slowly coming back into it. I haven’t had any problems with the knee and it’s 100 percent better now. There was never anything wrong with my arm; there was nothing wrong with any ligaments. It’s just that I fractured my patella.”
Marsh entered his junior season last spring with no limits on his potential, and it certainly started well enough – at one point early on, he was 1-1 with three saves, a 0.46 ERA and 34 strikeouts in just over 15 innings. He was also hitting .400 with a team-high 16 RBI.
But that season came to an abrupt end in March when he fell hard on his right knee while playing basketball during gym class, and the impact fractured his patella (knee cap). That was the extent of the injury – there were no ligament tears or any other damage structurally as some early reports erroneously indicated.
The injury did cost Marsh the 2013 season, however, and there was nothing he could do except watch as his team finished with a 16-10 record and came up short in its bid to repeat as Florida Class 8A state champions.
“It was very frustrating; just sitting in the dugout and watching my team play was the most frustrating part of it,” he said. “But I knew that I just had to work my butt off in the offseason and just try to get back to where I was before so I could come out and play again.”
After the injury, doctors used screws to put the kneecap back together and Marsh was forced to wear a cast for several weeks. Once the cast came off, he spent the summer working with his trainer and the screws were removed in the early fall. By the time he signed his national letter of intent with Central Florida in mid-November, he began throwing short sessions off the mound.
“I took the fall off (from baseball) just to keep training,” Marsh sad. “I tried to slowly work my way back into it while I was training, but it was nothing much, just about 15 pitches. I really didn’t get out on the mound until three or four weeks before our (spring) season started.”
The season has gone well for the Hawks as the 2014 Florida state high school postseason approaches. Marsh is one of eight seniors on the roster – “That whole class that came in with him – they won at 8 (years old) they won at 12 and they still win. It’s tough to find a group that knows how to win the way they do,” Goodrich said – including outfielder/left-hander Zach Spivey, a Florida Gulf Coast signee.
Marsh was among the country’s rising stars following his sophomore season at Spruce Creek in 2012, and was climbing the Perfect Game national class of 2014 rankings. He helped the Hawks win the Florida Class 8A state championship that season when he pitched two postseason no-hitters and finished 11-0 with a 0.35 ERA.
He accepted an invitation to the Perfect Game Junior National Showcase in Minneapolis that summer where he earned the highest PG Grade of 10.0 and was named to the Top Prospect List. PG scouts noted that Marsh was a “very athletic young player, loose build, up to 91 mph on the mound with a hard spinning mid-70s curveball … (who) can also play the middle-infield at high level and swing the bat.”
The summer of 2012 also saw Marsh play in five PG WWBA events with FTB, including the PG WWBA Underclass World Championship in Fort Myers, Fla., with FTB Chandler and the PG WWBA World Championship in Jupiter, Fla., with FTB Mizuno.
“I enjoyed Perfect Game a lot,” Marsh said. “I loved playing in those tournaments – travel ball was amazing; I loved it. Playing with FTB was a very good experience. It was a great team to play for and Coach (Jered) Goodwin is a great coach and it was just, overall, a lot of fun.”
Of his experience at the PG Junior National, he said: “Just being able to play against other kids that have a lot of talent and just being around that atmosphere was really great.”
Had the freak knee cap injury not occurred, Marsh certainly would have been invited to last summer’s Perfect Game National Showcase and would have undoubtedly competed in several PG WWBA tournaments with FTB. He was on the Cardinals Scout Team/FTB Chandler roster for October’s PG WWBA World Championship in Jupiter, but didn’t play.
Marsh stands at No. 257 in the class of 2014 national rankings but it’s a ranking that could rise if he continues to churn out impressive performance after impressive performance. His head coach needs no more convincing.
“He’s got some nasty stuff on the mound but it’s more than that for me,” Goodrich said. “I think you’ll there are guys across the country that are going to throw harder than him or that might have different attributes than him, but I don’t think you are going to find a more competitive kid out there than Kyle. He just brings a competitive edge that you don’t see on a baseball field every day.”
Marsh committed to Central Florida after his freshman year in high school – “I loved the campus, I loved the coaches, I loved the atmosphere; I just loved it in general. It felt good and it just felt like home,” he said – but his draft stock is also sure to rise as the spring progresses. He might have a decision to make sometime after the first week of June.
“Just like any person who’s in that situation, if it happens I think you’re going to take a look and evaluate the positives and the negatives of both sides and see if it’s better for me to go and play professional baseball or is it more advantageous for me to go play college baseball,” Goodrich said. “When it’s all said and done (the family) will make a reasonable decision as to what’s best for his future.”
As things stand right now, Marsh is only concerned with proving to everyone that he’s not only back, but he’s better than ever.
“It’s definitely been in the back of my mind,” he said when asked about his thoughts on the draft. “I’ve thought about it and I talk about it every now and then but I’m just trying to get through my senior year and try to win a state championship, and just take it from there.
“I have something to prove all spring because I’ve been out for so long,” he concluded. “Everybody wanted to see me come back and see how I’d do … and I think I’m doing a pretty good job. I feel really good, and I’m just trying to get stronger and get better with every start that I have and every game that we play. Right now I’m feeling good so I just have to keep it going.”