Credit: Kyle Calzia | Mustang News

Cal Poly Baseball’s 8-5 start to the season is their best 13-game stretch to begin a season since 2016. A large part of the successful start can be credited to the play of redshirt freshmen shortstop Brooks Lee and starting pitcher Drew Thorpe.

“True leaders are hard to come by and Brooks and Drew are two of those guys,” Head Coach Larry Lee said. “Their makeup and presence sets an example for the rest of the team.”

Due to COVID-19 cutting last year’s season short after 16 games, Brooks and Thorpe were unable to finish their first season with the Mustangs. However, the two standout freshmen worked hard in the offseason and have gotten off to a hot start.

“During the fall I was doing all my rehab and started off this season strong with my body,” Brooks said. “I’ve been doing everything possible to get ready for this season.”

“I stayed on top of my stuff and pushed through the fall up until the season,” Thorpe said.

The hard work put in throughout the extended offseason has paid off in the first 13 games for Brooks and Thorpe. 

Brooks said last season was especially tough because on top of the shortened season due to COVID-19, he was nursing an injury for the majority of the year. In fact, he only recorded two at bats for the Mustangs last season.

“He’s learning on the run right now in game situations,” Lee said. “He’s catching up quickly and making adjustments in-game.”

Those adjustments have proven successful as Brooks, who was ranked by Baseball America as the No. 3 overall prospect in the 2022 MLB Draft, is batting .440 and leads the team with four home runs and 18 RBIs. He also leads the Mustangs with a slugging percentage of .840.

Brooks collected his second straight Big West Player of the Week award last week, after going 7-14 with five extra-base hits in Cal Poly’s series win against No. 6 UCLA.

Brooks, when asked about how he has found success at the plate, credited his teammates around him.

“Baseball is a momentum sport and hitting is usually contagious,” Brooks said. “When the start of our lineup does well it usually carries over and we score a lot of runs because hitters get more comfortable.”

The San Luis Obispo High School product has produced in a major way for Cal Poly through the first four series of the season, but Lee said that his impact goes beyond his on-field production.

“No matter what his production is in a game, he makes everybody else around him better,” Lee said. “He has a presence on the field that we haven’t had in years.”

Brooks has started all but two games for the Mustangs this season and Cal Poly lost both of the matches where he didn’t start. Lee said he believes that this shows his presence in the lineup and the effect it has on other players.

“He carries himself a certain way to where players feel like they’re going to win this particular game,” Lee said. “When he’s not in the lineup, it’s like night and day and the team doesn’t have that same confidence.”

As Brooks leads the offensive charge for the Mustangs, Thorpe has been the ace of Cal Poly’s staff, starting every Friday night for the first three series of the season.

In the shortened 2020 season, Thorpe boasted a 3.21 ERA in 28 innings pitched while recording 31 strikeouts. Those numbers have only improved this year.

Through his first three starts, Thorpe holds a record of 2-0 with an ERA of 2.74. In a total of 23 innings, he has allowed just seven runs on 15 hits to go along with 29 total strikeouts. 

According to Thorpe, the development and implementation of a slider to his pitch sequence has helped him take a major step forward this season.

“I’ve developed my slider a lot this offseason and that’s helped me,” Thorpe said. “Last year I was just a fastball/changeup guy so adding the slider onto that helps me be more dominant.”

Lee also mentioned how the addition of the slider will help his game, saying that it “makes it more difficult for hitters to eliminate any pitches against [Thorpe].”

After starting later on in the series last year for the Mustangs, Thorpe was thrust into the role of “Friday starter” this season. In college baseball, the Friday starter is generally regarded as the ace of the staff.

“Friday night is a big night and going out to get that first win is obviously important and special for the team,” Thorpe said.

Being the starting pitcher for a team on Friday nights usually comes with added pressure, but Lee said he thinks that Thorpe has handled that pressure well and will continue to thrive in those situations.

“He has a great feel for the game and is a great athlete out there on the mound,” Lee said. “The moment is never too big for him.”

Although the production and statistics are present for both of these young players, their positions as leaders on the team is what makes them stand out from most players in college baseball.

“They have the ability to play to win and are very tough minded,” Lee said. “You need leaders that are not only your better players but they carry themselves in a winning way to have a successful team. Overall, they make everybody else around them better.”

Having freshmen as two of the leading forces of the program “bodes well for the next two years,” according to Lee.

With Thorpe and Brooks leading the charge on both sides of the ball for the Mustangs going forward, Cal Poly Baseball will hope to make a push towards a Big West Conference Championship.

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