Kyle Muller from Jesuit College Prep in Dallas was presented with the Gatorade National Baseball Player of the Year award Monday in a surprise ceremony that featured Texas Rangers ace Cole Hamels.
The 6-foot-7, 245-pound left-handed pitcher and outfielder led the Rangers to a 34-8-2 record and the Class 6A Region 2 title. Muller owns an 8-0 record on the mound with a 0.46 ERA and 133 strikeouts, surrendering just 26 hits and issuing only 15 walks in 76 innings.
The southpaw has hurled five shutouts and fired two no-hitters to post a WHIP of 0.54 entering the 6A state semifinals, scheduled for June 10. Also an elite hitting prospect, Muller batted .396 with 15 home runs and 52 RBI through 44 games, slugging at an .849 clip and swiping 20 bases in 21 attempts. A 2015 Under Armour All-American, he set a national high school record by striking out 33 consecutive hitters in March.
We sat down with Muller, 18, to better understand how he outshined nearly a half-million high school baseball players nationwide to win the award.
Q: A lot of your extended family has enjoyed major collegiate success in football and basketball. Do you think you’ve turned them into baseball fans yet?
A: I think they’re coming along. My mom’s side of the family are big football fans. But they’re starting to understand what baseball means to my brother (University of Texas at San Antonio junior right-hander) Chris and me.
Q: Your Uncle John is an associate commissioner for Big 12 men’s basketball. Bet you’ve had some sweet seats to some big games, no?
A: You know, I’ve never been. I’ve been too busy trying to be a better baseball player.
Q: Your arguably the most improved prep pitcher in the country over the past nine months in terms of physique, command and velocity. What was the key to that journey?
A: For me, it’s been eating healthy and eating everything I can. Also, working out six days a week in the four months leading up to this season. I tried to get in the best shape I could possibly be. I also did make small adjustments. Because I’m really long-limbed, I had to improve my efficiency to the plate, keeping my legs involved and staying on line to the catcher.
Q: Does your growth as a pitcher in terms of how you attack hitters inform your approach as a right-handed hitter?
A: It definitely helps to see it from both sides. If I’m at the plate in a certain count, I think about what I would do and might adjust my approach in terms of what to look for. But I don’t guess at the plate. I’m pretty much a see-the-ball-and-hit-it guy.
Q: Cole Hamels is pitching tomorrow against the cross-state rival Houston Astros. Today he hands you the National POY trophy. Are you a little shell-shocked right now?
A: Yes. I don’t know if it’s sunk yet. This whole season has been a whirlwind. To be called the best high school baseball in the country is unbelievable. What it means to me is hard to describe.
Q: This wild ride doesn’t stop here. The MLB Draft is Thursday. Two questions: Are you going to sleep the night before, and what will your approach and expectations be during the draft?
A: The night before I’ll probably get some sleep. It’ll be like Christmas. You know, butterflies and anticipation. The night of the draft itself might be harder. I’ll have a lot on my mind and I’m also starting the next day in the state semifinals.
Q: You’ve pitched in the heat all your life. What if you get drafted by Seattle or Colorado?
A: I hear the air is thin in Colorado, so that just means I’ll be able to throw the baseball faster. Seattle? Hey, I can pitch in the rain.
Q: You’ve got a state semifinal game at noon on Friday. How do keep your eyes on the prize at the end of a week like this one?
A: We’ve been working for these two games all year. Now that they’re here, it’s hard to lose sight of our goal. For me, I’m just trying to take it day by day and take it all in and enjoy the moment.