The dreaded slump: It’s just part of the reason why, in baseball, there’s an age-old adage that says good pitching always beats good hitting. It says if you had to pick between the two, always go with the guys on the mound, not the ones in the batter’s box.
That may be true, especially in today’s game where dominant pitching often takes center stage. But the best hitters might beg to differ. They might argue that it’s just their mechanics or that their timing’s a bit off and that it’ll come around eventually.
And when it does, watch out.
In true freshman Brian Mundell’s case, it’s been a trying time at the plate during the past couple of weeks. But for those who were watching this past weekend in Cal Poly baseball’s weekend series against then-No. 4 Cal State Fullerton, they know firsthand that Mundell is back from the depths of his first collegiate slump.
On Saturday, against one of college baseball’s most dominant pitchers this year, Justin Garza, Mundell launched a 1-2 offering in the fourth inning and sailed it clear over the left field fence at Baggett Stadium — a crucial two-run home run that cut the Titans’ lead to 4-3 at the time.
And just like that, Mundell was back.
“A lot of our most productive hitters will have those times when they’re really hot,” head coach Larry Lee said. “And at this level (pitchers) will start attacking your weaknesses, so you have to find out what those weaknesses are and work on that in practice (to get out of a slump).”
Prior to that at-bat, Mundell had gone 1 for his last 31 with no homers. Since, Cal Poly’s designated hitter is 3 for 6 at the plate and has proven that, even as the second youngest player in the lineup, he wasn’t rattled by the rough patch.
“Just being in the lineup everyday has been great,” Mundell said. “DH-ing is not forgiving. You can’t go have a bad at-bat and go play the defense and completely forget about it. It’s kind of rough in that standpoint, but in all I love going out there. Hitting is my favorite thing to do.”
The freshman has certainly shown that this season as he is leading the team in home runs with eight on the season and sports Cal Poly’s second best slugging percentage (.512), trailing only sophomore outfielder Nick Torres. One more home run and he’ll tie Matt Jensen’s all-time record of nine by a Cal Poly freshman in a single season.
And he has 18 games left to do it.
Mundell was recruited to Cal Poly for that innate ability to hit, Lee said. Last year, he led Valencia High School with nine home runs and 32 RBIs as a senior, but really blossomed once he arrived on campus in the fall.
Freshman pitcher Casey Bloomquist saw that evolution firsthand when the two played summer ball together locally last year for the North County Indians. The sky is the limit for Mundell, he said.
“Brian’s gonna be playing for a long time, that’s for sure,” Bloomquist said. “He’s gonna be playing until he’s 40-years-old. He’s gonna be playing in the pros.”
The Cal Poly coaching staff had a similar feeling about the 6-foot-3, 225-pound prospect.
Mundell was recruited by familiar names such as UCLA and Oregon, both ranked in the top 10 in many major polls this week, and had offers rolling in from Big West Conference foes Cal State Fullerton, UC Irvine and UC Santa Barbara among other schools. He even had a glimpse of playing for 2012 national champion Arizona and was offered a chance at entering the MLB draft while in high school. But in the end, Mundell knew Cal Poly was the right fit for his career.
“(The coaching staff) is known for getting guys to the next level,” Mundell said. “I came up here and then I called all the other schools and said, ‘Hey, I’m going to Cal Poly. This is where I want to go,’ … You don’t really get that opportunity at other schools. I’ve already gotten a lot better than I was.”
He’s even improved considerably since the beginning of this season. Entering a series with Kansas State in early March, Mundell didn’t have a single extra base hit, but soon found his groove by hitting his first collegiate home run in the first game against the Wildcats. He then went on a tear, hitting his next six jacks in the next two series, including a 10th-inning walk-off home run against San Jose State.
“Not a lot of people get a chance to do that,” Mundell said. “I was lucky enough to come up in that position and lucky enough to hit the ball over the fence. It’s been a blessing to just get my chance and being able to produce. The big thing for me is having the guys trust me when my spot comes up in the lineup and that I can do my part.”
While a catcher by trade, Mundell hasn’t had the opportunity to sit behind the dish this season, a spot junior Chris Hoo and senior Elliot Stewart occupy. Instead, he’s had to solely produce from the batter’s box.
But the coaching staff has shown full confidence in his powerful frame and quick hands this season. He’s gotten the start at designated hitter in all 34 games he’s played in, a testament to the potential the coaches saw in him.
Admittedly, Mundell employed an unorthodox swing entering his first collegiate season, but worked throughout the fall to fine-tune his mechanics and earned himself a spot on the opening day roster.
“He really blossomed,” Lee said. “You could really see the power and see him hit the next step right before your eyes. He hit seven home runs in a short period of time. He’s been very patient and very mature for a hitter at his age.”
Put simply, if a team had to chose between the two, it might be better off choosing the guy in the batter’s box — not the one on the mound. Take it from the pitcher Bloomquist.
“He’s one of the batters in the lineup that the other teams hate facing,” Bloomquist said.
The original version of this story referred to the North County Indians as the Templeton Indians.