Camden Karlin flourishing as pitcher/catcher for Free State baseball

photo by: Carter Gaskins

Free State junior Camden Karlin (9) winds up to throw a pitch in the regional championship Thursday night at FSHS on May 16, 2019.

Free State junior Camden Karlin has never wasted an opportunity to get better as a baseball player.

When he was in elementary school, Karlin used to bring his glove and a baseball to the bus stop. He would throw about 20 pitches to his dad, who made Karlin play both pitcher and catcher as early as little league. The morning bullpen session would take place at the end of their street before the bus arrived.

“That’s just helped me prepare for this,” Karlin said. “I just wanted to get better, no matter how old I was. I think it has helped me in the long run too.”

Karlin has been the same type of player ever since then, and it is one of the many reasons why he’s had so much success for Free State’s baseball team this spring.

The Firebirds have leaned on Karlin this season, as he has logged plenty of playing time as both a catcher and pitcher. Karlin has contributed to a three-headed rotation — along with Ethan Bradford and David Stuart — that has stifled opponents this year.

When he’s not on the mound, Karlin is behind the dish to catch the other two hurlers. He’s also the leadoff batter for a lineup that scored 21 runs during regionals to notch a second consecutive trip to the 6A state tournament.

“We are not big believers in the pitching/catching combo at this level,” FSHS coach Mike Hill said. “He’s too good in both places not to use.”

Karlin has been able to handle the grueling task of playing both crucial positions, and he wouldn’t want it any other way.

“I like them both. If it comes time to choose, I don’t know what I would do,” Karlin said. “Catching wise, you basically control the whole game. You are basically the quarterback on the baseball field. Pitching wise, you can control the whole game with your tempo.”

As a pitcher, Karlin has appeared in 10 games and started six of them. He has a 5-1 record, allowing five earned runs to go along with 35 strikeouts. Karlin has also recorded two saves in as many opportunities.

Karlin tossed five shutout innings in the regional championship game last week. Karlin was also recently recognized with a first-team selection on the all-Sunflower League team and the all-State team as a pitcher.

The most impressive stat, though, is the fact that Karlin has walked only one batter all year. Karlin has issued just one free pass in 37 total innings of work.

“There is no biting around the edges for him. He can do that because he throws three pitches for strikes,” Hill said. “I also think it is his competitive nature. There is a lot to be said for that. He likes to get after it.”

Karlin isn’t looking for the big strikeout when he’s on the mound, but rather trying to induce weak contact. He’s trusting his defense to make a play, and trying to keep his pitch count low in order to eat up innings.

As a hitter, Karlin also has the mentality of doing whatever is best for the team. He posted a team-high .449 on-base percentage in the regular season, while drawing 13 walks.

While embracing multiple roles, Karlin helped the Firebirds secure their first Sunflower League title since 2013 and hopes to accomplish much more this week.

“We just need to keep doing what we have been doing all season,” Karlin said. “We were here last year, so at least we have our feet wet and know the atmosphere that we will be playing in.”

Free State will take on Olathe East during the opening round at 3:30 p.m. Thursday at Hoglund Ballpark.

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