Last season, Skyler Ewing was a complementary piece to the Rice baseball team’s offense. He primarily hit somewhere between No. 6 and 8 in the batting order, churning out a rather unimpressive .226 batting average with four homers and 23 RBIs while starting 47 of the 57 games in which he played.
When you took a look at the batting order legendary coach Wayne Graham penciled in for Friday’s season opener at Stanford, seeing the first baseman at cleanup might have raised some eyebrows. But the way the 6-foot-1, 220-pounder hit Friday, it should be future Owls opponents raising eyebrows.
Ewing had singles in his first three at-bats and added a walk in his five plate appearances. More importantly, he drove in four of the first five Rice runs — including a go-ahead two-run single in the fifth inning –- before the Owls blew out Stanford 10-3. His four RBIs are a career high for a game.
The right-handed hitter had a productive summer in the Cape Cod League, batting .287 with four homers and 20 RBIs in 34 games for Hyannis. He also won the home run derby before the All-Star Game.
“Just simplifying everything,” Ewing said. “The game of baseball can be pretty tough mentally, so you just have to simplify things and obviously work on the things you need to work on.”
Ewing was not drafted in 2011 out of high school, where he ranked as Texas’ No. 93 prospect (high school or college) as a catcher at Arlington High School. But Rice has depth at catcher, so Graham moved Ewing to first base last season. Ewing found a groove during Conference USA play, hitting .298.
“I think his mechanics have gotten a whole lot better, he’s more rhythmic at the plate,” said Graham, noting Ewing was a top performer during fall ball. “He’s got the experience he needed to become a good hitter.”
Graham said Ewing would likely shift back to catcher once he goes pro. As a draft-eligible junior this season, that could be sooner than Graham would like.
The 6-foot-1, 220-pound Ewing enters the season a ‘later-rounds’ prospect, but has what some scouts call ‘power that will play,’ perhaps grading in the 55-60 range on the 20-80 scouting scale. Questions remain about the hit tool, but he has shown an ability to work counts and controls the strike zone well.