Until now, it had been a couple of years since Kennesaw State catcher Max Pentecost experienced life in the limelight.
Pentecost was quite the hot commodity coming out of high school in Georgia. He was ranked No. 203 nationally as a high school senior, and attended KSU despite heavy overtures from the Texas Rangers as a seventh-round pick in the Major League Baseball draft. Though some at the time felt Pentecost should’ve signed and skipped his collegiate career, it’s becoming more clear he made the right decision.
Following a good college spring season as a sophomore, Pentecost traveled to the prestigious Cape Cod Baseball League this summer, where he put together a performance that had scouts buzzing, making major strides in all aspects of the game, particularly from an offensive standpoint.
For that reason and more, Pentecost, one of the nation’s fastest-rising 2014 MLB draft prospects, is the Perfect Game College Summer Player of the Year.
“Pentecost was one of the most impressive all-around catchers to play on the Cape since Buster Posey (FSU). He consistently posted sub-1.90 pop times and showed athletic actions behind the plate,” Perfect Game’s Frankie Pilliere, who lives on the Cape, said. “He’s currently an above-average runner, and none of these attributes are even his best trait. The best is his bat. He’s compact to the baseball and squares up off speed pitches as consistently as any player I’ve seen. He blossomed despite facing some elite pitching.”
Kennesaw State's Max Pentecost has elevated himself to a potential first-rounder.
Pentecost’s summer with the Bourne Braves was much like his spring with the Owls. Though his defense behind the plate was up to par for the Owls in the spring, his offensive game left something to be desired until halfway through the season. This summer, Pentecost began the Cape season with the Braves just OK, but really put all the pieces together during a two-week stretch in which coaches say he was unstoppable, helping him earn a spot in the Cape Cod League All-Star Game.
“I think he has tremendous work ethic and he’s very serious about what he does. I thought he was going to do pretty well defensively, and he did. He was hitting OK with us, then all of a sudden, he just went off,” Bourne head coach Harvey Shapiro, who has spent 11 seasons as a Cape manager, said. “He showed a good approach at the plate, using the whole field, and he’s an interesting guy at catcher. He can run, and over the course of the summer, he’d drag bunt for base hits. That’s pretty unusual for a catcher. In terms of athletic ability and recent players I’ve coached, he kind of reminded me of Pat Cantwell from Stony Brook."
Ironically, Cantwell went on to be drafted in the third round of the 2012 MLB draft by the Texas Rangers following a stellar junior campaign for Stony Brook. But though Pentecost might garner comparisons to Cantwell in the athleticism department, his offensive skills are far more advanced, drawing some comparisons to former Florida All-American catcher Mike Zunino, who of course, had a great junior season for the Gators on the way to being a first-round pick.
Time will tell if Pentecost can meet those expectations, but he's headed the right direction. Pentecost's summer at Bourne was impressive both in terms of his defensive advancements and offensive production. At the plate, Pentecost batted .346 with seven doubles, six homers and 29 RBIs, while also scoring 20 runs and even tallying five stolen bases.
"I really thought I got more comfortable in my overall game while up there at the Cape," Pentecost said. "I've definitely shortened up my swing a lot. The beginning of last season (the spring), I was getting long with my swing and was fouling off a lot of fastballs and such. I just figured out to keep most my weight back and sit back on the off speed pitches. I definitely got more comfortable just letting the ball travel to me as opposed to just jabbing at it. Besides that, I really thought I improved my blocking skills this summer, while also becoming more of a leader.”
Pentecost’s progressions over the summer shouldn’t come as much of a surprise. He’s always had the potential to be an even more elite prospect since his high school days. It’s the reason the Texas Rangers took a gamble on him as a prep star -- lots of upside.
But like most college players, this summer and the past couple of years has been a process for Pentecost. As a freshman for the Owls, he was a little raw and played around the field with KSU already having outstanding catcher Ronnie Freeman on the club. Pentecost learned a lot about leadership and other skills from Freeman, who was one of the nation’s elite hitters at the time.
As a freshman, he batted just .267 with 17 RBIs, with some gap power, but no home runs. Following that campaign, Pentecost went off to the New England Collegiate League for the summer, where he batted .303 for the Holyoke Blue Sox and impressed scouts enough that Shapiro received a call from a professional scout suggesting he should recruit Pentecost to join the Cape Cod League the next summer.
Come fall 2012, longtime Kennesaw State head coach Mike Sansing had a plan for the toolsy Pentecost.
“He’s got long legs and in the fall we felt like he was a little high behind the plate. We got him with our strength coach and talked to him a lot about flexibility. He spent the winter in the weight room, while also doing some stretching and yoga-type of exercises that Ronnie helped pass on to him,” Sansing said. “He’s a very athletic guy anyway, so once he did that, he was outstanding. He just didn’t let balls in the dirt get past him in the spring. He just does that was with ease.”
Even with good defensive skills in the spring, Pentecost still wasn’t exactly where he wanted to be as an overall player. He had the defensive aspect of the game mastered, but still needed to make significant strides offensively, where he had been just OK halfway through the season. Pentecost made the necessary adjustments and finished the spring on a high note at the plate, hitting .302 for the Owls with some power production.
“Through the second half of the season, he was a different guy. He was hitting pitches he wasn’t hitting before. He just had a tremendous amount of confidence, and it certainly showed,” Sansing said. “You wonder when that light will go off and on all the time with young players. I felt like his light went off at the end of the spring. I watched him a little bit on television this summer, too, and it looked like he got more physical.
“He got back here last week and the first thing I noticed -- his shoulders. He’s been lifting, his swing looks strong and his hands look quick,” he continued. “He’s just physically more impressive, and has gotten much better.”
Pentecost entered his sophomore campaign ranked as the No. 52 overall prospect in that college class by Perfect Game, but times have changed. Once bridled with at least some uncertainty, Pentecost now appears to be a potential first-round pick if he can transfer the progressions made this summer over to his play in the spring.
Pentecost’s responsibilities for the Owls also are expected to change. Though most college coaches call pitches during games, Sansing said he feels comfortable, at least entering the fall, letting the talented junior catcher call pitches.
All the added awards and responsibilities for Pentecost might seem like a lot to comprehend right now, but don’t look for it to deter the laid back catcher from Georgia. He’s well versed on dealing with the limelight. Call this a refresher course.
“All of a sudden, he’s in the spotlight again, and he’s going to get a lot of attention next season at Kennesaw State,” Shapiro said. “He’s going to work hard, and he’s going to work hard on the defensive aspect of his game. He just needs to remember to have fun and don’t put too much pressure on himself.”