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Cleveland’s Big Papi

Cleveland’s Big Papi

| On 16, Feb 2015

He wore number 38 for the University of Virginia Cavaliers to start last season. In June of 2014, 38 took on a whole new meaning for Mike Papi when he was selected as the 38th overall pick in the first round of the MLB First Year Player draft.

Papi did not shed his collegiate uniform right away, however, as the Cavaliers made a run at the College World Series last season. Papi was one of eight players from the 2014 UVA squad to be drafted, which made it to Omaha last season but fell short of winning the College World Series. For Papi and his teammates, being drafted in the midst of playing in the CWS required strong mental focus that kept his mind on his collegiate performance, not his impending future with the Indians.

“Our main focus the whole year was to make it to Omaha, and, once we were there, to win the national championship,” Papi said. “It was easy for all of us that got drafted this year to put the professional baseball to the back of our mind and not even think about it.”

Papi, age 22,  played for UVA’s baseball team as an outfielder and first baseman. A lefty-hitter, Papi appeared in 35 games as a freshman in 2012 and finished fifth on the team with eight doubles, despite not playing after April 21 due to injury. He had a nine-game hitting streak from March 3-17, and recorded a hit and two runs in his first career start and appearance on February 17, 2012, against Boston College.

As a sophomore, Papi began to rake in the acknowledgment as a top talent. He was named a First-Team All-American by ABCA and Baseball America, and also earned ABCA First-Team All-Atlantic Region honors. He was named to the All-ACC First Team, as well as received an invitation to try out for the 2013 USA Baseball Collegiate National Team following the 2013 season. Named the 2013 VaSID State Player of the Year, Papi was also named the ACC Player of the Week for the last two weeks of the regular season, and was the ACC’s batting champion with a .381 average. He also led the league with a .412 average in ACC games, as well as led the league in OBP (.517) and was second in SLG (.619). Papi was second in the nation in OBP.

If his sophomore year meant earning recognition, Papi’s junior year was all about proving those accolades true. In 2014, Papi and the UVA baseball team moved through the season to the college world series, making the trek to Omaha though ultimately falling short to Vanderbilt, the 2014 CWS champions. In the CWS, Papi hit .273 with six walks and was lauded for his walk-off double in the bottom of the ninth inning to bring UVA to a 3-2 win over Ole Miss in the CWS opener on June 17.

Papi chose to sign with the Indians following his team’s run in the CWS and, in doing so, reunited with former UVA teammate Kyle Crockett, who had been drafted by the Indians in 2013. Papi and Crockett didn’t get to see much of each other last season, however, as Crockett had already established himself as a mainstay with the big league bullpen. Papi instead found himself playing for a while with the Mahoning Valley Scrappers before ending the season with the Lake County Captains.

Most of Papi’s hype comes from his college performance, as he set a career-high in 2014 with 11 home runs at UVA. Papi does have a strong ability with a bat, though Papi is not a player who brings a lot of power to the plate. He hit .178 with the Captains in 2014 with three home runs and 15 RBI. Papi is more known for his discipline at the plate, as he drew 26 walks in 39 games with the Captains. He also demonstrates defensive prowess, especially for the minor leagues, in recording only two errors in 38 professional games.

Papi’s professional career is very much only just beginning. As he gets more and more used to the atmosphere of the Indians organization and the professional level of play, it is likely that his numbers will rise to meet those that he was known for while at UVA.

“I try to keep an even-keeled attitude the whole time,” Papi said of his approach to the game. “I come to the field and bring high-energy to the clubhouse, and then bring it onto the field, as well.”

It will be quite a few years before Papi’s presence graces the big league stage. The next few seasons will be all about his development and adjustment to the professional stage. Should Papi reach the levels that he found himself at while at UVA, his presence in the Indians’ organization will be felt.

“I’m a hard worker,” Papi said of his work ethic. “I’m going to come here every day and play loose and aggressive and just enjoy the game.”

Photo: Lianna Holub/DTTWLN photographer