Tom Keegan: Greyson Jenista’s star keeps rising
Few things in sports are as difficult to project as a baseball player’s bat.
For example, Mike Piazza has a bust in Cooperstown, but even with the endorsement of Ted Williams, who had worked with him on his swing one day in his basement, and family friend Tommy Lasorda, Piazza wasn’t selected until the 62nd round of the Major League free-agent draft.
Piazza’s story proves that even the best bats can escape the eyes of the best talent scouts.
Greyson Jenista, another overlooked bat, is emerging as quite the story himself.
Born at Lawrence Memorial Hospital, Jenista, who has six siblings, moved to Eudora when he was “very young,” then to Johnson County and then back to Eudora in the middle of his high school years. He spent his junior and senior years playing for De Soto High’s basketball and baseball teams.
He didn’t make the Journal-World’s 10-person All-Area baseball team and was one of 20 players to earn an honorable mention. But earlier this week, he earned the most prestigious summer honor available to college baseball players, one that puts him in mighty, elite company.
Jenista, a 6-foot-4, 240-pound first baseman/outfielder entering his junior year at Wichita State, was named MVP of the esteemed Cape Cod League after batting .317 for the Cotuit Kettleers and standing out in center field. He bats left, throws right and draws high grades for his speed and versatile glove.
Toronto Blue Jays All-Star first baseman Justin Smoak (2006), who has 32 home runs, and Tampa Bay Rays third baseman Evan Longoria (2005), a three-time All-Star, are among past winners of the award. Other current big-leaguers include: Conor Gillespie of the Giants (2007), A.J. Pollock of the Diamondbacks (2008), Kolten Wong of the Cardinals (2009) and Travis Jankowski of the Padres (2010).
Wichita State head coach Todd Butler credits his director of operations, Scott Gurss, with telling him about Jenista. Gurss had scouted Jenista when working as hitting coach and recruiting coordinator at Neosho Community College.
“He said, ‘Hey, there’s a kid from Eudora you should take a look at.’ He came to our camp and when he swung the bat I liked the way his hands worked, so I offered him on the spot and he accepted,” Butler said. “He wasn’t physically strong when he came in, but he’s worked really hard in the weight room and has really grown into his body athletically. It’s a credit to his commitment to becoming a better player.”
Jenista said “my recruiting process was a littler shorter than most.”
“Wichita State was my only offer,” he said. “I committed early in my junior year. I committed the same day they offered me, and I’ve been happy I did ever since.”
Butler said he has felt from the beginning of Jenista’s career with the Shockers that he’s “one of the best hitters in college baseball.”
Jenista hit .326 with five home runs and 32 RBIs in 57 games as a freshman for the Shockers and .320 with nine homers and 41 RBIs as a sophomore.
He earned Cape Cod League MVP honors during his second summer spent with the same host family.
Jenista said he thinks he hit .220 in his first summer in the Cape. What did he learn from that?
“I learned that I wasn’t good enough,” he said. “That league’s a whole different animal. I got humbled very, very quickly. I had to fight through it, get through the summer and get back to Wichita.”
Baseball’s all about making adjustments, and Jenista made them.
“You’re getting everybody’s best starting arm and everybody’s best bullpen arm,” Jenista said of the Cape Cod League.
Lawrence High baseball coach Brad Stoll introduced himself to Jenista while coaching another Cape Cod League team during the summer of 2016.
“He told me there was a time he thought he was going to come to Lawrence High (after transferring from Mill Valley),” Stoll said. “I said, ‘Don’t tell me that now!’ The first two games we faced him, we thought he was very pitch-able. By the next four games we played him, he had made some great adjustments. And he’s a big kid, real long levers, square shoulders, big square jaw. He looks like you want them to look.”
Jenista, 20, was not drafted out of De Soto High in 2015. He projects as an early round draft choice this coming June.