JAC CAGLIANONE WAS a freshman in highschool in 2018 when Shohei Ohtani arrived in Main League Baseball. Like so many, the 15-year-old Caglianone marveled at Ohtani’s means to hit tape-measure house runs on the identical day he threw 100 mph fastballs. His fascination went past simply gawking, although. Caglianone aspired to be Ohtani.
“I simply thought it was the best factor ever,” he stated. “I would all the time completed each, and it was one thing that I deliberate to do in faculty, and seeing the best way his sport grew and holding a reasonably shut eye on him and learning all that he did — that was precisely who I needed to be.”
Caglianone is 20 now and primed to make his Men’s College World Series debut (Friday, 7 p.m. ET on ESPN) as a sophomore for a powerful Florida Gators group. In a bracket loaded with future MLB stars, Caglianone may be essentially the most fascinating. Of all of the gamers previously 5 years to try enjoying each methods, to embrace the psychological and bodily burden — to have the gall to suppose he can imitate Ohtani — none has completed it in addition to Caglianone in 2023.
In his first faculty season as a two-way participant — Caglianone did not pitch his freshman yr as he recovered from Tommy John surgical procedure — the 6-foot-5, 245-pound left-hander led the nation with 31 house runs as a primary baseman and usually hit 99 mph with a fastball that carried him to a 3.78 ERA over 16 begins. Whereas faculty baseball is populated with way more two-way gamers than professional ball, virtually all of them depart behind such aspirations finally, specializing in whichever place will greatest set them as much as play skilled baseball. Paul Skenes, one of the best two-way participant within the nation final yr, ditched hitting after he transferred to LSU, the place he flourished into the best pitcher in college baseball and a sure top-5 choose.
Caglianone has no such plans. Being the following nice two-way participant, he stated, is his future.
“I do not actually see me actually stopping until a group flat-out tells me down the highway that I’ve received to choose one or makes the choice for me,” Caglianone stated. “I’ve no real interest in stopping in any respect.”
Which implies the participant who gladly wears the nickname “Jactani” — given to him by Nick De La Torre, a author who covers Florida — will introduce himself to the nation on faculty baseball’s grandest stage this weekend. And if he lives as much as expectations, it’ll undoubtedly power groups to proceed asking themselves the identical query they have been asking all yr.
Can he do it within the massive leagues?
FOR THE PAST three years, Ohtani has been so significantly better than everybody else in MLB that it is simple to take him as a right. In virtually each method, Ohtani is an accident, a glitch within the matrix, a confluence of bodily qualities and expertise that merely do not overlap in human beings who select to play baseball.
The dimensions, the facility, the athleticism — it’s plentiful in Caglianone, too. Caglianone (pronounced CAG-lee-own) grew up in Tampa and blossomed at Plant Excessive, the baseball manufacturing unit that additionally produced Pete Alonso and Kyle Tucker. His father, Jeff — Jac is definitely an acronym for Jeffrey Alan Caglianone, his given title — performed baseball at Stetson and inspired the younger Caglianone to reap the benefits of all his expertise.
Florida recruited him and deliberate to make use of him as a pitcher solely, however that plan modified after Caglianone blew out his elbow every week earlier than arriving on campus in August 2021. To remain busy through the yearlong rehab, he lifted weights and swung the bat. The loud cracks didn’t take lengthy to note. Florida coach Kevin O’Sullivan quickly thereafter requested if Caglianone would possibly take into account burning his deliberate redshirt season so he might be a part of the lineup. He agreed, homered in his third faculty at-bat, whacked seven complete over 115 plate appearances and regarded the a part of a promising hitter. Caglianone, stated Jarrett Schweim, the athletic coach for Florida’s baseball group, was “a 6-5, 235-pound freshman who can elevate a home. Cags is slightly little bit of an anomaly in terms of faculty baseball our bodies and bodily talents.”
Schweim is aware of outliers effectively. When he was the athletic coach for the UCF basketball program, a 7-foot-6 heart named Tacko Fall was enjoying for the group. Schweim needed to know the best way to preserve him wholesome, and he knew he wanted assist. He positioned a telephone name to the coaching employees of the Houston Rockets, hoping that the Rockets’ expertise with Yao Ming, their 7-foot-6 Corridor of Fame heart, would possibly supply some perception. (Do not skimp on orthotics, he was instructed.)
“The largest factor is managing a physique,” Schweim stated, and that sounds a lot easier than it’s. As a way to play each methods, Caglianone must do almost twice the work of his teammates. The video games are literally the simple half. It is the work in between, the upkeep, the self-discipline — the popularity that well being is extra necessary than efficiency as a result of efficiency cannot exist with out well being.
As Caglianone started his return to pitching this offseason, it grew to become clear that this may be no odd rehab. Planning a return from Tommy John surgical procedure is hard sufficient. Doing so for a pitcher who additionally performs first base full time is insanity. So Schweim and Florida’s power and conditioning coaches vowed to be much more hands-on — actually and figuratively.
They monitor Caglianone’s sleep patterns via a Whoop band and guarantee he will get a minimum of 5,000 energy a day to stave off the burden loss that usually comes throughout a season. They did virtually day by day upkeep on his physique: massages Monday, acupuncture or dry needling Tuesdays, smooth tissue work on his fascia all through the week. They stayed on him about holding his left arm hearty with lower-weight workout routines that strengthened the flexor mass (forearm), rotator cuff (shoulder) and all over the place in between.
By the point the primary sport of a sequence rolled round Friday, Caglianone was able to play first base. He would arrive on the stadium effectively over three hours earlier than first pitch and climb into Normatec boots, which just about go from foot to hip and use compression to get blood circulating. So long as he felt good, the plan was the identical Saturday, although if ever the employees felt Caglianone wanted a breather, he might take it straightforward on drills and throws.
When Sunday rolled round, Caglianone would present as much as the stadium round 7:30 a.m. for the midday sport, hop into the new tub for 10 or quarter-hour, do his arm workout routines afterward, heat up and attempt to match his prodigious offensive output on the mound. Maybe no different group within the nation would use a participant with Caglianone’s stuff as their No. 3 starter, however having right-handers Hurston Waldrep and Brandon Sproat — the previous an anticipated top-15 choose, the latter projected to go within the first spherical — is a luxurious that affords it.
Subsequent season, Caglianone figures the script will probably be flipped. As an alternative of enjoying 9 innings at first Friday and Saturday earlier than beginning Sunday afternoon, he’ll be in line to be Florida’s Friday evening starter and should handle any lethargy within the subject Saturday and Sunday. It does not concern him.
“The largest factor that goes ignored is the restoration,” he stated. “I am not going to take a seat right here and say that I do not really feel fatigued in any respect. However I really feel I might do that all yr, truthfully.”
OTHERS HAVE TRIED this audacious act and run into the cruel actuality that dominance in faculty doesn’t essentially translate. Many of the nice ones — from John Olerud, after whom the faculty award for one of the best two-way participant is called, to Nick Markakis, who was a two-way juco legend — do not hassle making an attempt. Like Caglianone, Kent State’s John Van Benschoten hit 31 house runs to guide the nation in 2001. The Pittsburgh Pirates most well-liked his proper arm to his bat. Van Benschoten’s profession ended with the one worst ERA of the 5,544 pitchers with a minimum of 90 main league innings (9.20) — and one house run hit.
The closest to Ohtani that the faculty system has produced is Brendan McKay, the fourth general choose within the 2017 draft out of Louisville. He debuted for the Tampa Bay Rays in 2019 with 49 forgettable innings, homered as soon as in 11 plate appearances, and has been damage just about ever since. There are pitchers who change into hitters (Rick Ankiel and Adam Loewen) and hitters who change into pitchers (Kenley Jansen and Sean Doolittle, a two-way star at Virginia) and they’re rightly celebrated for his or her expertise, as a result of it takes most gamers a lifetime of focus, of uber-specialization, to even sniff the massive leagues. To be that good at each — even when not concurrently — is an unimaginable feat.
For all of the sanguine value determinations that Ohtani’s success would pave the best way for an inflow of two-way gamers into MLB, a number of executives now say it’d even have the alternative impact. Stated one longtime normal supervisor: “If it’s important to be essentially the most proficient participant on this planet to do it, then it is in all probability too exhausting for anybody else to do.” Solely gamers with off-the-charts instruments on either side are prone to even get the prospect. San Francisco took left-hander Reggie Crawford — he of the 100 mph fastball and batted ball — with the thirtieth choose in final yr’s draft.
Caglianone’s aspirations are larger. If he can refine his management — “I want to chop down on walks,” he stated, acknowledging that 49 in 69 innings will not play — maybe extra groups will regard him long run as somebody who might begin on the mound. Along with the massive fastball, he throws a slider that flashes as an above-average pitch and a work-in-progress changeup. Despite the fact that his batting numbers this season (.336/.402/.766 with 31 house runs and 84 RBIs) have been sufficient to position him with Skenes and his LSU teammate Dylan Crews because the finalists for the Golden Spikes Award — the faculty baseball Heisman — scouts stated Caglianone must tighten his swing selections subsequent yr if he desires to hitch UNC’s Vance Honeycutt within the dialogue for the No. 1 general choose within the draft.
For all of the chasing Caglianone would possibly do, he hits the ball with the power of few on this planet. His house runs usually went greater than 450 ft. His opposite-field photographs rose with the majesty solely really elite energy hitters produce. His peak batted-ball numbers — within the 118 mph vary — put him in a cohort with one of the best sluggers on this planet: Aaron Judge, Vladimir Guerrero Jr., Giancarlo Stanton … and Ohtani. And even Ohtani does not take a look at his limits by enjoying within the subject day by day, one thing on which Caglianone prides himself.
“I all the time was a hitter who might pitch,” Caglianone stated. “Then in highschool, when the velo began ticking up, I grew to become a pitcher who might hit. However now it is shifted to which one’s going higher for me in the mean time.”
Florida hopes the reply to that query is: each. This week, O’Sullivan might flip to Caglianone in a fireman position, maybe a preview of what an Ohtani-adjacent massive league profession might appear to be: on a regular basis participant within the subject, high-velocity arm out of the bullpen. Or perhaps the Gators stumble of their first sport towards a harmful Virginia lineup, win their second sport and switch to Caglianone to start out their third to keep away from elimination.
No matter his position is, it’ll embrace hitting and pitching. The Jac Caglianone expertise is coming to the Males’s Faculty World Collection, and it’ll function a reminder, to followers and all 30 entrance places of work watching, that as cool as Ohtani is, Jactani is a superb imitation.