Nittany Lion Spotlight: Ben Heath

Penn State catcher Ben Heath homers against the hated Pitt Panthers at Trees Field.

As a team, it certainly wasn't a banner year for your Penn State baseball team.

The Nitts finished the season last in the Big Ten, and were one of only two teams in the conference, the other being Northwestern who tied for third in league play, to finish with a losing record overall.

There were certainly bright spots, though, so things aren't all bad.  On April 13, Penn State rallied late for a come-from-behind victory over then No. 24 Pittsburgh.  The Lions also managed to take two of three from Ohio State before sweeping Michigan State at home April 30-May 2, arguably slamming the door on both teams' post season hopes.  In the Michigan State series,  Penn State pounded Sparty 49-13 in the three game set.

But perhaps the best news for Penn State baseball came yesterday, when catcher Ben Heath was selected in the fifth round of the Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft by the Houston Astros with the 153rd overall pick.  Heath is Penn State's highest pick among position players since Greg Vogel in 1976.

 

Heath's stats are video game like.

In only 198 at-bats, he hit .369 with 19 home runs, 57 RBIs.  His OPS (On-base plus slugging for you sabermetrically challenged) was an other worldly 1.198 (anything about .800 is generally considered pretty good).

He becomes only Penn State's eighth player to be selected in the first 10 rounds of the amateur draft. 

Crawfish Boxes has Heath profiled.

The 6-foot-2, 220 pound junior was a semifinalist for the Dick Howser Award, given to college baseball's top player each year. He was also named a Louisville All-American and a semifinalist for the Johnny Bench Award, honoring the nation's top catcher. There was only one other catcher to make the Howser list as a semfinalist.

Heath also broke Penn State's home run record, hitting 19 in 198 at-bats. He also had 16 doubles and one triple while hitting .398 at the plate with a .451 on-base percentage. He walked 31 times and struck out 38 times, both pretty good rates for a catcher. This was the first season he's gotten serious playing time, as he walked just eight times in 97 at-bats in 2008 and played almost never his freshman year.

He did play in the Big Ten, which had a down year talent-wise. Against first-round pick Alex Wimmers, Heath was 1 for 3 with a walk and a strikeout in their only meeting. He also faced Texas A&M's Michael Wacha, who was an All-Big 12 honorable mention, and was 1 for 4 with two strikeouts. That's not a lot of evidence about his batting skills, but it appears he's got a little bit of pop.

Watching the little video available on his swing, it looks busy, but he's still in a good hitting position and seems to pull his hips through well. That means he's not just relying on his upper body for his strength. Also looks like it has a bit of a natural uppercut, but can get long at times.

In addition to being named a second team All-American, Heath also earned first team All-Big Ten honors.  Teammates Steve Snyder (Third Team All Big Ten) and Elliot Searer (Big Ten All-Freshman) joined Heath in earning post-season awards.  More on them here.

Heath is a junior and could return to Happy Valley for his senior season, but expect him to sign with the Astros and begin his pro career with either the club's Gulf Coast League, Rookie, or Single-A Short Season teams.

While it's doubtful this is something that will make a lasting impact on the direction of Penn State baseball, it's certainly a nice feather for coach Robbie WIne to have in his hat on the recruiting trail.  Best of luck to Ben should he decide to go pro!

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