As some of you may know, the College Baseball Home Run Derby was Thursday night. Eight participants were chosen for the event, ranging from Arizona to Richmond to Ohio State. Many people expected the big boys to win the event, the towering power hitters that were 6'2"-6'4". However, it was 5'10" Gutierrez that took Omaha by storm, hitting a whooping 52 out of the 128 HRs for the event. No that's not a typo. He started off the 1st round of the Derby with 15 home runs, breaking the previous 1st round record. The next round, Gutierrez took it up a notch, hitting 19 home runs. He had 34 HRs his first two rounds, 18 more than the next man (Tres Barrera) and 14 more than the most HRs ever hit in a HR derby (Michael Aquino). Unfortunately for Gutierrez, he didn't win the HR derby. Him and Barrera had to clean the slate for the final round, and Barrera's 25 homers edged out Gutierrez's 18 homers. Eric still came out a winner, finishing the event with 52 HRs, 11 more than anyone else in the field. That was just a taste of what he's done his college career.
Eric Gutierrez had been around baseball all his life. In an article in March written by Zach DiSchiano, Gutierrez described his early path and love for baseball, along with his college recruitment. He started playing baseball at a very young age in Mission, TX. He would play games in Mexico at a young age, learning from his dad throughout the years. As an eighth grader, he would hit in the batting cage before and after the high school squad practiced. When he did get to high school, he immediately played for the varsity team. Even after he made the squad, he would constantly go to the batting cage, improving on his swing. It would pay off, as Gutierrez hit an amazing .591 with 8 HRs and 50 RBIs his freshmen year. However, Collegiate programs still weren't taking notice though, except for Oklahoma. Specially, Tim Tadlock.
Due to location and finical experiences, Eric didn't play a lot of summer ball, which meant he didn't get to showcase his abilities as much as some athletes. He did attend to a summer tournament after his freshmen year though, when Tadlock was there to scout another player. When he saw that Gute was batting in the 3-hole, Tadlock knew that was a sure sign that Gute could hit. But Oklahoma didn't need a right handed power bat that the time, so Tadlock didn't offer him in scholarship. In fact, no program offered Eric a scholarship. Referring back to the article, Sharyland HS coach Bart Bickerson stated that all Gutierrez got was a preferred walk-on spot at Texas Pan-American. The reason why was because of Gutierrez's small stature at the time (5'8") and the fact he did not really fit any particular position. He didn't get a scholarship offer until Tadlock took the head coaching job at Texas Tech and needed a right handed power hitter, prompting him to get Gutierrez. Now with a baseball scholarship and way to go, Gutierrez was about to take off.
I wasn't able to watch Texas Tech baseball his freshmen year, so I don't have a personal experience of his play, but he did fairly well. During his freshmen campaign, he started every single game for the Red Raiders, playing 52 games at 1st, 3 in the OF and 1 as DH. He had a respectable .251 AVG with 7 HRs, 29 RBIs and a .377 OBP that season, heating up near the end of the season when he hit 4 HRs with 8 RBIs in his last 6 games. He nearly doubled his stats his Sophomore year. Here are his stats from last season and where they rank in the Big XII.
|.302 AVG||74 Hits||18 2Bs||12 HRs||58 RBIs||46 Runs||132 Total Bases||.539 SLG||.399 OBP||26 Walks|
|----------||9th in Big XII||3rd in Big XII||1st in Big XII||1st in Big XII||8th in Big XII||1st in Big XII||2nd in Big XII||---------||-----------|
Just ridiculous numbers. Even though Gutierrez didn't win player of the year in the Big XII, there was no doubt in people's minds that Gute was one of the (if not the) best players in the conference. I was fortunate enough to witness Gutierrez first hand this season. Right away, he became my favorite player. Usually my favorite guys are middle infielders, but something about Eric seemed different. He was crushing balls all over the place, hitting doubles in the gap and turning pop ups into homers. There were a few games where he would hit multiple homers and rack up the RBIs, almost winning the game by himself. All of this with a 5'10" frame and a weight on his shoulder. He is also one of the hardest workers on the team. No one could figure out how to stop Eric Gutierrez. The combination of him, Adam Kirsch and Tyler Neslony throughout the season proved to be a deadly formula that gave the Red Raiders the best offense in the Big XII behind Oklahoma State.
Not only is he great hitter and player, but also an emotional and passionate guy. During the series finale against Oklahoma, he lifted a pop up over the left field wall. Two innings later, he did the same thing, taking a pitch over the wall. Gutierrez took admiration of the HR, probably a little longer than most would have. That did not sit well with the Oklahoma catcher, who approached Gute as he crossed home. Gute and the catcher barked back and forth for while before going back to their respective dugouts. The next time Eric came up to bat, he got whacked on the 2nd pitch. The pitcher nor catcher wasn't ejected for some reason, and Eric Gutierrez became heated again. He would get his revenge though, scoring on an Adam Kirsch hit. Another instance came in the Miami game where he dropped the ball in the lap of another player after a fierce collision at first base. The Miami coach blew up and a scuffle started, leading to the ejection of Gutierrez. He is passionate about the game and Texas Tech, showing true emotion on the field. Some may argue that this type of behavior is not good, but I'd rather have a player who gives his all and shows passion then not to give everything he has.
Gutierrez reminds me a lot of a player that played football for Texas Tech. Much like Gutierrez, Wes Welker was also not recruited well out of high school and committed late to Texas Tech after a new coach was hired. Despite his same frame, he became one of the best players for the Red Raider football team when they were on the rise. He helped take them to four bowl games and paved the way for future great teams. Like Welker, Gutierrez has already helped lead his team to the postseason, leading the Red Raider team all the way to Omaha. And much like Welker, he will probably be overlooked in the MLB draft next year due to his size. Maybe I'm wrong and a team is smart enough to take a chance on Gute, but his 5'10" frame and his "inability" to play some positions at an MLB level may scare some scouts. Hopefully that won't happen and Gute will be picked high like he should be, but if he does slip, there no doubt in my mind he will keep on working his way till he gets in the MLB.
Eric Gutierrez will be entering his junior year next season, with a majority of his team back and another chance to go to Omaha. My bet is that Gute will improve even more in 2015 and show that he is the best player in the Big XII and is good enough to swing a big league bat. Who knows, maybe he'll make in the league like Welker did? Maybe he'll take America by storm became a premier player at his position? Maybe he'll have kids who are "undersized" look up to him and believe they can make it also? Who knows, maybe he'll be hitting in another HR Derby?