LSU center fielder Andrew Stevenson was the Nationals’ first pick in the 2015 First-Year Player Draft on Monday as the No. 58 selection. He leads the Tigers in hitting with a .356 average in 59 games, including 11 doubles, five triples, a homer, 26 stolen bases and 21 RBIs.
“I’ve had a great year,” Stevenson said. “We got a great team over here and we’re playing some great baseball.”
He still has some college baseball to play as the Tigers defeated Louisiana-Lafayette in the super regional to reach the College World Series in Omaha, Neb., this weekend. The Tigers take on TCU on Sunday at 3 p.m.
“We have been having great starting pitching. That’s something that pushed us through the regional and super regional, and that is something that is going to carry us, along with our hitting,” Stevenson said. “Try to make a little noise and bring home a championship.”
Stevenson has worked on his swing since he arrived in Baton Rouge. His swing has been called unorthodox, but to me it looks like a long and smooth stroke. The left-handed hitting Stevenson sets up close to inner edge of the batter’s box and turns his right foot in before exploding with his swing. His arms begin at his waist, holding the bat tight to the knob.
“I started doing that probably the summer of my freshman year,” Stevenson said. “My freshman year I really didn’t have a great year and decided to make a few changes. I went to summer ball (and) I started messing with a few things. I kind of found something that clicked. It might not look how it’s supposed to, but, hey, it works for me. I was able to put up solid numbers past two seasons, no matter if it was summer ball or here at LSU.”
Stevenson is only a junior, but said he has learned a great deal in just three seasons for coach Paul Mainieri.
“Throughout my three years here, I have definitely matured as a baseball player, knowing what kind of game I can bring to the table,” Stevenson said. “Each year, I have kind of gotten better at specific things - like this year, I set base stealing as probably one of the things I made the biggest jump on, and also being more consistent at the plate.”
Stevenson is known for his outstanding defense in the outfield and using his speed to get to the ball. He has worked hard on the base paths to use his feet to make life difficult for the opponent.
“I was always blessed with speed,” Stevenson said. “That’s something I tried to focus on more this year. Last year, I didn’t have as many stolen bases as I think I should have. This year, I was able to work with hitting coach Andy Cannizaro and I think I have 26 (steals) on the year. I think I should have a few more and just keep working to get better at that.”
His high school coach at St. Thomas More, Gary Perkins, played a big role in Stevenson’s growth as a baseball player. Stevenson has played center field since he was a sophomore in high school when Coach Perkins gave him the chance.
“He’s the first one to kind of give me a shot and just prove that I could be out there,” Stevenson said. “I was sophomore coming in with a bunch of veteran guys and he just kind of stuck me in center and said, ‘Go make some catches.’ I haven’t looked back. (Perkins was) very instrumental in that part and just kind of believing in me. (He) just let me go out there and play some baseball.”
Stevenson found out the Nationals had picked him through his baseball advisor. Stevenson had a lot of scouts look at him this season and the advisor helped with all the media inquiries.
“I was just excited that they believe in how I play and that I can one day contribute to their team and hopefully get to the big leagues one day,” Stevenson said.
“I just (want to) go in there and just take each day a time and just have fun, just enjoy playing baseball. Hey, getting paid to play the game I love, what’s better than that? That’s how I look at it.”
Stevenson loved watching a very famous player growing up and the way that player went after the ball.
“When I was younger, I loved watching Ken Griffey, Jr. in the outfield, just crashing into the walls and going to get it. That was something. Always like watching his videos,” Stevenson said. “Just playing the game hard, just kind of sacrificing himself to make the big catch. That’s something I enjoy doing.”
The Nationals will probably tell him it’s not worth that much to crash into the wall for a play with the experiences of Bryce Harper and Steven Souza Jr., have endured the past few seasons.
Last summer, Stevenson got the opportunity to play in the Cape Cod League, his first venture to the New England area, and came back with valuable experience.
“It was awesome,” Stevenson said. “You get to play against some of the best guys in college baseball. You get to compete and see what kind of player you are. It was just an awesome experience the way they have it up there.”
“I think I’m ready and I’m just thankful they’ve given me the opportunity to play at the next level.”