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Northern Sun Baseball's Best-Kept Secret

01/30/2019 - 5:40 PM

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Northern Sun Baseball's Best-Kept Secret
Caeden Harris celebrates after blasting a home run


Dating back to 2010, St. Cloud State Baseball has had eight outfielders post an OPS of 1.000 or better. All but one of them earned All-Northern Sun Conference recognition for their efforts.


That outlier would be Caeden Harris, who slashed .393/.469/.577 for a team-best 1.045 OPS last season.


Harris came to St. Cloud State in 2017 after slashing .306/.366/.491 with 15 doubles, 8 triples and three home runs over two seasons at Allen County Community College in Iola, Kansas. With Logan Swann, Jackson Goplen and Mitch Mallek locked in as the Huskies starting outfielders, Harris was redshirted to preserve a year of eligibility. As for most JUCO transfers, redshirting in his first season served as a mental test.


“It made me hungry,” remembers Harris, “It gave me an edge in the cage and in the weight room. I wanted to come out that next spring and show everyone what I was capable of.”


The Leawood, Kansas native worked tirelessly at building strength and mass in the weight room, as the former shortstop anticipated a move to the corner outfield.


“I got a lot bigger and stronger,” Harris said, “Redshirting allowed me to lift for an extended period of time without having to slow down in the weight room to be able to play 6-plus games a week. I put on close to 15 pounds in 6 months.”


Entering 2018, Harris slotted into the Huskies lineup as their starting left fielder. At 6’1-210 with blazing speed and a penchant for tape-measure batting practice shots, the tools were there for a power-speed monster. But being a year removed from live game action, even Harris himself wasn't quite sure what to expect in his first season in the scarlet and black.


“It’s tough to say what I expected from myself since it was my first year in the conference,” said Harris, “I just wanted to make the biggest impact I could for the team. I was just excited to get back out on to the baseball field and compete again. I knew I had put in the work and that once I settled in I was going to be fine.”


Boy, did he settle in quickly.


Over his first 21 games, the righthanded hitter slashed .481/.522/.740 for a 1.262 OPS with 7 doubles, 5 triples, a home run, 7 steals and 24 RBI. Harris spent the majority of the season’s first two months ranking top-10 nationally in batting average. Somewhat surprisingly given the volatility of St. Cloud State’s travel schedule in 2018, Harris pointed to the experience of traveling with his teammates as a primary factor in his success.


“I was really enjoying every aspect of playing baseball again,” Harris said, “I was having so much fun being with my team, traveling to Sioux Falls, however many times we went. We didn’t have the most ideal schedule last year. But it was really tough to complain knowing how fortunate I was to be surrounded by a great group of guys. Most people don’t get the opportunity to play for such a successful college program.”


A strong Opening Series against Missouri Western State where Harris went 5-9 with a double, two triples and four walks also helped him get locked in early.


“Having a big first weekend helped a lot too,” Harris recounts, “I started out seeing the ball really well and was comfortable in the box, and it just rolled on throughout the season.”


When asked about why Harris didn't receive any NSIC or Central Region recognition following his tremendously productive season, one of the only possible explanations the St. Cloud State coaching staff can offer up is a cold streak that he struggled with in the middle of Northern Sun play.


Digging into the numbers, the Huskies’ left fielder’s cold skid spanned from March 30 to April 22, dipping his average to a season-low .368 after the last game of the slump. Over the 12-game span Harris slashed .162/.340/.162 with only three RBI, a 23.4% K rate and a 14.9% walk rate. Interestingly, Harris’ batting average on balls in play (BABiP), one of the more frequently utilized “luck factors” in baseball statistics, stood at a meager .231 across his slump, a full 220 points below his final season mark.


“Coach Dolan says it best,” quips Harris, “‘Trying to square up a round ball with a round bat is a messed-up deal.’ I’d worked extremely hard to become the hitter I was last year and couldn’t have been happier with how I was hitting throughout most of the season, but in the game of baseball success like that is rarely sustained without some bumps in the road. It was a tough stretch and it was a big mental test.  But I had to remind myself that it’s just a part of the game and I knew I was due to come back out on top at any time.”


Harris rebounded with aplomb to close out the season, finishing with his .393/.469/.577 slash line to go with 8 doubles, 5 triples, four home runs, 39 runs scored, 39 RBI and a .459 weighted on-base average (wOBA).


All in all, Harris quietly led St. Cloud State in batting average, on-base percentage, slugging percentage, OPS, and wOBA. He finished second among all Northern Sun qualifiers in on-base percentage, and fourth in both batting average and OPS. Compared to his fellow qualifying NSIC outfielders, Harris paced the field in OBP and finished just behind Northern State star senior Jack Schmidt in batting average and OPS.


And yet, Harris did not receive a single postseason honor from any publication.


Not that it matters to him.


“Whether I won any awards or not doesn’t change how I viewed my season last year,” said Harris, “I didn’t go into last off-season or this one with a goal of being All-NSIC or All-American. I have no control over what other people think of how I played. The goal we are all focused on this season is being the first St. Cloud State Baseball team to go the College World Series.”


Harris enters 2019 as a redshirt senior starting left fielder and middle-of-the-order thumper for a Huskies team with expectations higher than ever. If you can believe it, one of the best hitters in the Central Region thinks he can be even better in his final season.


“I always think I can improve,” Harris explains, “I have improved as a player from year to year my whole career. In the words of Kansas City superstar Patrick Mahomes, ‘If there’s one thing I do know, it’s how to get better.’ I really like that quote. I came to St. Cloud State at 21 years old and the truth is I was a very different player and athlete before I got here. My teammates have only known me as a big and strong, but for most of my life that wasn’t me. A lot of our players were ‘the guy’ in high school and I didn’t play varsity until I was a senior. I’ve come a long way, but I still feel like I’m getting better.”


One major factor in Harris’ continued development both physically and skill-wise comes in his training with Driveline Hitting Director Jason Ochart, now Minor League Hitting Coordinator for the Philadelphia Phillies, over the summer.


“Driveline was a really great experience for me,” explained Harris, “Getting the opportunity to build a relationship with and receive feedback from Jason Ochart was a really important step in my improvement as a hitter. His ability to take a difficult concept and explain it in very easy terms in actually pretty incredible. I did a lot of ‘unlearning’ this summer.”


In fact, Harris has helped the Huskies incorporate Driveline into their hitting development programs.


“The driveline approach to hitting is really logical,” Harris said, “I was so impressed with what they had going on up there that I brought some of the essential training tools we used back to St. Cloud State and the hitters have all bought in. I hit the ball harder and further than I did before I got there, and I know the guys who have put in the work here with the equipment have experienced the same thing.”


With Harris anchoring the heart of the Huskies’ order alongside returners Mitch Mallek and Mat Meyer, along with newcomers Matt Quade and Toran Shahidi, St. Cloud State looks to field one of the best lineups in the country. Assuming Harris keeps hitting like he did last year, keeping his production under the radar may become very difficult for the Huskies.


Harris’ expectations for 2019 are short and simple.


“The 2019 St. Cloud State Huskies are going to the College World Series,” Harris exclaims, “NO CAP!”

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