As he approached the mound shortly before last week's 11-0 win over Apollo (Glendale, Ariz.) in the opening round of the National Coach Bob Invitational in Phoenix,
Edmond Santa Fe (Okla.)
ace pitcher Ty Hensley
locked eyes with more than 40 major league scouts.
The 6-foot-5, 220-pound righthander, MaxPreps' 23rd-ranked player in the Class of 2012
and the No. 13 pitcher overall, then calmed himself and went to work whiffing batters and knocking the tar out of the ball.
"He made himself a lot of money," Wolves coach Lonny Cobble said in reference to his senior's outburst in front of Major League VIPs just weeks before June's Major League Baseball Amateur Draft. "He performed at a high level and on a big stage last week. His fastball was consistently around 95 mph and his curveball was sharp."
Having coached at one of Oklahoma's big school powers over the past 19 seasons, Cobble has come to expect big things from Wolves players. But Hensley's 13-strikeout performance while facing just 17 batters in five innings had Cobble singing his ace's praises.
The University of Mississippi signee also belted a home run from the left side of the plate and ripped a double from the right side of the plate – setting himself up for a big climb up the draft board.
"It's pretty cool that that many people come out to see you play," Hensley said. "I just calmed myself and had to go out there and be myself. You have to try not to do too much – you can't be Superman. They're there to see you, and to see what you can do."
Cobble, the only baseball coach in Santa Fe (9-3) history and the owner of a sparkling 521-231 career record after last week's 2-2 showing in Arizona, foresaw big things from Hensley this season during preseason scrimmages – as did several of his former Santa Fe players.
"He's slimmer and more mature at the plate and on the mound," Cobble said. "Some of our former players were telling me how good he looks and I think that's a good sign. He's been an animal at the plate. That's his ticket to getting drafted if his pitching falters. The better the pitching he faces – the better he hits the ball."
Cobble has had 17 players drafted since 2002 and he has coached 15 All-State performers since 1998. Hensley, however, could be his best yet.
"He has a good, loose arm and he throws hard," Cobble said. "He has a good curveball and a good changeup. Ty is one of our top guys. He has tremendous velocity to go along with a 6-5 frame. He reminds me a lot of our own Brandon Wheaton, who played at Oklahoma State and was the first pick of the Yankees in the 2002 draft."
Hensley, who is hitting .478 this season with five home runs, a triple and three doubles to go with 13 RBIs in 12 games, described himself as the spitting image of his father, former Oklahoma prep Player of the Year Mike Hensley, who played professionally after graduating from and playing for the University of Oklahoma.
Following an All-Big Eight season in 1988, Mike Hensley was drafted by the St. Louis Cardinals in the Major League Supplemental Draft and stayed in the organization from 1988-92 before Tommy John surgery cut his career short.
"I strive to be better than him," the younger Hensley said of his father. "He got me hooked by just being around the game. When I was young he sometimes had to push me. Then as I matured I realized just how much work goes into playing ball.
"My father does a great job of separating himself from being a coach to being dad. We've both been able to do something that we love doing, now he gets to watch me. He had his day. Now he's excited for me and for what's to come."
Cobble himself has noticed a special father-son bond.
"Ty gets a lot of encouragement from his father," he said. "Because of Mike, Ty knows what to expect. Ty bounces a lot of things off of him."
The proud owner of a 2-0 record and a 2.33 earned run average in 2012, Hensley said that in order to be a great pitcher you have to have great mechanics as well as the desire to compete and to win.
Competing in a program such as Santa Fe, Cobble and Hensley both said there are always high expectations. But for whatever reason, the state championship trophy always seems to escape the Wolves trophy case. This season, however, Hensley sees a different outcome than in years past.
"We were thinking bigger," Hensley said of last season's 9-7 season-ending semifinal loss to Owasso in the Oklahoma Class 6A State Baseball Playoffs. "But instead we had this awful, bitter taste. Horrible. It's horrible. Our last game was a loss. With this season being our last one to play together, everybody is excited and motivated to go get the championship.
"Coach does such a great job of getting us seen and making us better players – we're going to do whatever it takes to get it done. There is no reason we shouldn't have won it in the past. I have a real good feeling about this team. We have nothing but confidence."
Hensley, who has fanned 27 batters so far this season to go along with just nine walks in 15 innings pitched, fits in well in Cobble's starting rotation. The larger than life righthander joins forces with lefty Jordan Watson
, an Oklahoma State recruit who throws in the upper 80s and the low 90s.Blake Robberson
and reliever Zach Loomis
as well as Matt McDowell
and Braden Downs
will have key roles this season. Cobble has a great mix of power and finesse at his fingertips.
Cobble said that Hensley, who went 8-2 on the mound a season ago with a 3.48 earned run average, is simply one of the good guys and a hard worker.
"He has a special thing going with the kids," Cobble said. "People watch Ty. I have two younger kids that are in the same boat as Ty talent-wise and they watch how he carries himself, what he does leadership-wise. That carries over from year to year here.
"He's so unselfish and that makes him special. The other guys could be jealous, but they're not because they know he's there for them too."
Hensley said his fastball is his No. 1 pitch, followed by his curve and a very good changeup.
"I've had a good feel for the curve since the day my dad first let me throw it," Hensley recalled. "It came instinctively. My spin is straight up and straight down, making it difficult for hitters to pick up."
Hensley said that his baseball aptitude plus his ability to adjust on the fly are big reasons Mississippi wants him to be a part of its baseball program in the future. The coaches like how he competes, he said.
Hensley was impressed with the sincerity that the ‘Ole Miss coaching staff displayed when it came after him.
"The coaching staff there is so amazing," he said. "They told me that I can pitch and play in the field and that's important to me because it's something I've been wanting to do for as long as I can. If they tell me no, now, then I'm a pitcher. But I don't want to say that any sooner than I have to."
As far as choosing between the draft and a college career in the SEC, Hensley said he'd worry about that decision when the time comes.
"If the right situation presents itself, I'll worry about it then," he said. "It's a decision I'll make with my family. I've been blessed and fortunate to be doing something that I love. I don't take it for granted. It can all be gone just like that."