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Monday, July 26, 2021

Jefferies mastering juggling act behind the plate

 

Jake Jefferies has a lot on his plate.

In addition to juggling his communication classes, handling a 12-man pitching staff, flirting with .400 and opening letters from major league baseball teams about the upcoming draft, the junior catcher also has to, well, clean his plate.

“It’s OK,” Jefferies said of his post-game duty of maintaining the infield dirt by home plate. “It just comes along with being a college student and not having crews to take care of it for us.”

The Merced, Calif. native has come into his own in his third year at UC Davis, establishing himself as a model of excellence while leading the Aggies in their first Division I season on the diamond.

“It’s an exciting experience and a bit overwhelming at times, but you just have to find a balance between everything and try to level it all out,” Jefferies said.

“All of those elements are difficult to manage, and he’s done a very good job of that,” said head coach Rex Peters. “He’s been calling the games pretty much himself throughout the year while also taking a beating as a catcher. And with all the attention he’s getting from the professional baseball scouts and being the main offensive guy on this team, he’s got a lot of responsibility. He’s handled it very well.”

The backstop has turned heads all across the country with his incredible offensive season. Jefferies is second in the Big West Conference in both hits (72) and RBI (50) while compiling an impressive .379/.447/.521 vital line through 190 at-bats. He has also struck out just six times over that span, making him the second-toughest batter to whiff in the nation.

“It wasn’t necessarily something specifically that clicked this year,” Jefferies said. “I just kind of learned some new things like finding the right pitch and not getting myself out as much. It’s all about having quality at-bats and getting the good pitch to hit rather than getting yourself out with ground balls from just swinging at a pitch low and away.”

Jefferies is expected to go as high as the fourth round in June’s amateur draft. Last season, Aggie third baseman Daniel Descalso became the program’s highest player ever taken in the draft after being selected by the St. Louis Cardinals in the fifth round with the 112th overall pick.

“The draft is very exciting,” Jefferies said. “Obviously you always dream of being a professional baseball player, but I’m just trying to put it in the back of my mind and try to make the playoffs first. My number one priority is getting the playoff berth and proving to everybody what we’re capable of.”

Senior outfielder Ryan Royster was taken in the 44th round of last year’s draft by the Cleveland Indians but opted to return to UC Davis. Having gone through the process already, Royster has given his teammate advice on how to handle the national attention.

“I’ve talked to him about focusing on the task at hand, and he’s been doing a great job of that,” Royster said. “The draft takes care of itself if you handle your business in practice and in games.”

Jefferies’ monster season has made plenty of noise within the conference, as he is being touted as one of the leading candidates for the Big West Player of the Year Award.

“I think you have to put him in there for consideration,” Peters said. “The key with him is confidence. We always felt like he had the ability to have a season like he’s having this year, and it was just a matter of time before he got his confidence and had things take off.

“A confident hitter is a tough out, and he’s proven that. It has been contagious to some of the other hitters in our lineup. He makes us a better team.”

In addition to the Big West Player of the Year talk, it was announced yesterday that Jefferies and third baseman Ty Kelly have been included in the narrowed-down Brooks Wallace Player of the Year Award list as announced by the College Baseball Foundation.

“That’s not on my mind when I’m at the plate,” Jefferies said of his personal accolades. “If we make it to the playoffs and I end up not getting any recognition, that’s OK. It’s a team game, and getting to the playoffs is the one thing we’re trying to do and what we want most.”

 

RAY LIN can be reached at sports@californiaaggie.com. XXX

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