By: Jackson Kaplan
MOREHEAD CITY---Upon arriving in Morehead City this summer, Stephen Wallace, a rising senior at the University of Mount Olive, looked to become the big-time contributor he always thought possible. Wallace was born in Charlotte, NC playing his high school baseball at South Stanly High School in Norwood. While in high school, Wallace was selected as the All-Conference Player of the year during his final season earning Louisville Slugger First Team All-American honors. Before transferring to Mount Olive, Wallace spent his first two seasons at Winthrop University in Rock Hill, SC.
Wallace struggled to find his stroke at Winthrop playing in just 22 games during his freshman year hitting .185 with three home runs and 15 hits. His sophomore season faired much the same as Wallace hit for a .157 average in 20 games with two home runs and 11 hits for the Eagles. But here in the Coastal Plain League, the Marlins have learned what Wallace can really accomplish at the plate.
"Well if it (the pitch) is straight it's probably going over the fence. The guy has a lot of power," teammate Dominick Cammarata warned.
This past season, Wallace joined the Mount Olive Trojans, a private Division-II college in North Carolina playing in 25 games with an improved batting average. From there, Wallace has flashed out of the gates for the Marlins with seven home runs, which ranks second in the Coastal Plain League along with 52 total bases, the third-best mark in the league. "Well obviously I started off a little slow, (but) I knew I had potential to be up there in the clean-up spot," Wallace states.
Wallace has played multiple roles for the Marlins this summer, switching off between playing third base and the outfield. Towards the beginning of the season, until fairly recently, he hit towards the bottom of the batting order as a seven, eight, or nine-hole hitter. But that learning process has helped him develop into a more confident slugger. "It was really just putting pieces together and becoming an overall better player and being who I could be," Wallace admits.
For Wallace, he says the transformation has all been about just coming together as a player and settling well into his role in the lineup. He also has worked closely with hitting coach Courtney Spitz over the course of the summer to fix some flaws in his hitting mechanics. "I've mainly just had a problem pulling off the ball early in the season and he is just mainly helping me stay on the ball," Wallace said of coach Spitz from Heston College.
The rising senior has been determined to keep improving his hitting skills every day by working on specific drills to fulfill his goals. All of that work has noticeably paid off in recent games as Wallace remains right in the middle of the line-up consistently, becoming a major threat every time he steps into the batter box. While he still leads the CPL in strikeouts, Wallace has developed a more patient eye at the dish as he now leads the team with 13 walks on the season.
"(I've been) Doing some drills and mechanic things to help me stay more on the ball and make more solid contact, as well as get my strikeouts down."
Some of Wallace's teammates shared their lofty praise for the much-improved slugger.
Dominick Cammarata, the freshman catcher from the University of Tennessee, feels that Wallace has the ability to change the score with one swing of the bat. Although much like what coach Spitz has been preaching, his power-hitting teammate notices that Wallace will only continue to improve. "He needs to work on hitting the off-speed a little bit better, but I think that'll come around with age and experience. I (still) think power and hitting the fastball, he can do it."
His fellow University of Mount Olive teammate, Grant Tyndall, lives with Wallace during the summer here at Morehead City. His collegiate teammate continues to be impressed with what Wallace brings to the table in the batter's box. "He's got unreal bat speed," Tyndall says, adding, "He's got great power and any fastball thrown in the zone has a chance of going out."
After spending the first month of the season together in Morehead City, Tyndall notes a closer relationship now than during their first year together at Mt. Olive. "Oh yeah, he's awesome," Tyndall said. "He came in this year and was just a good guy and cool to hang out with."
Wallace has worked hard to become one of the more feared hitters in the Coastal Plain League and looks to improve on a day-by-day basis heading into the second half of the season. The Marlins have themselves one powerful hitter and Stephen Wallace looks forward to proving himself as a reliable threat in the middle of the lineup from here out; both in the CPL and for Mt. Olive.
The Coastal Plain League is the nation's hottest summer collegiate baseball league. Celebrating its 19th season in 2015, the CPL features 15 teams playing in North Carolina, South Carolina and Virginia. The CPL gives college players the chance to refine their skills with the use of wooden bats. Players are housed with local host families for the summer and past experiences have been very positive for both players and hosts. The CPL has had over 1,200 alumni drafted and 79 of those – including 2011 AL MVP and Cy Young winner Justin Verlander – make their Major League debut; while another notable alum - Russell Wilson - won Super Bowl XLVIII. For more information on the Coastal Plain League, please visit the league website at www.coastalplain.comand follow us via Twitter @CPLBaseball.