By Bob Behre
Gavin Stellpflug was not a frontline starter as a sophomore last spring for NJSIAA Group 3 champion Somerville, but the 6-5, 210-pound righthander assumes that responsibility with fellow righthander Bobby Wortman in 2019.
Stellpflug pitched fewer than 20 innings for the Pioneers in 2018 but his stocked among college scouts, already strong, skyrocketed in June after his performance at Diamond Nation’s Garden State Underclass Games. An offer from Army in hand, Stellpflug suddenly drew the attention of such schools as Boston College, Xavier, Old Dominion, Seton Hall and Maryland.
“I got a lot more calls after the Underclass Games,” said Stellpflug. “I started talking to Maryland in July. They told me they had a spot for one more pitcher and it was between three guys. I just let it play out and hoped for the best.”
Stellpflug and his parents visited Maryland on Sept. 1 and Old Dominion on Sept. 2 as the Diamond Jacks Super 16 player whittled down his choices. “We had talked on the phone, but when we met the coaches in person we got to know them and their goals for the program. It was so much more impressive talking to them in person. My parents were blown away by the authenticity of the Maryland coaches. It made my decision much easier.”
Gavin made the decision on Sept. 3 that Maryland was where he wanted to store his baseball spikes for his four years of college.
Stellpflug throws a two-seam and four-seam fastball, a slider and is developing a changeup to his arsenal. “I started to figure out the changeup in late July and August and threw it pretty well at times,” he said. “It’s a work in progress.” His two-seamer has a little more depth and sink and “I miss more barrels with it.” His fastball has been clocked in the mid-80s.
“Gavin has a tremendous will to learn, grow and work,” says Steve DiTrolio, Diamond Nation’s Director of Recruiting. “His focus to his craft is undeniable and will certainly pay off this spring.”
Stellpflug admits that his focus on the mound became a bit more keen after the Underclass Games as he became aware of the amount of eyes following his moves on the field.
“The Underclass Games really kicked (the recruitment) off for me,” said Stellpflug. “I was seeing more and more coaches coming to my games by our first tournament after the Underclass Games. At first (the attention) was weird, but I found I liked it. It upped the ante. I discovered I was a lot more focused and knew what my plan was out there.”
Somerville will have a difficult act to follow this spring after the 2018 squad captured the Somerset County school’s first-ever group championship in baseball. Stellpflug watched as his buddy Wortman wriggled out of a bases-loaded, one-out jam in the top of the seventh inning to secure a 3-2 victory over Allentown in the Group 3 championship game.
“Bobby has huge guts,” said Stellpflug. “I’m excited for the two of us to get after it.”
Stellpflug pitched just 19.1 innings as a sophomore last spring and Wortman pitched 22.1 innings as a junior.
“Going in I’m thinking I’m going to be the ace, but it’s between me and Wortman, we’re the top two guys,” said Stellpflug. “Whoever’s the ace gets the most innings. That’s the next step I’d like to take. March is the month when everyone figures out their role.”
Stellpflug and Wortman give Somerville a strong 1-2 punch on the mound and the team remains very solid right up the middle with another Diamond Jack, Seton Hall University commit Devin Hack, patrolling center field and leading off. Returning behind the plate is senior Vince Mele as is sophomore second baseman Matt Miceli, a dynamic No. 2 hitter as a freshman in 2018 and another Diamond Jack.
“I think we’re really confident as a group having played together last year,” said Stellpflug. “I think people feel because we lost (All-Stater) Tom Babalis that we won’t be good, but we are a contender.”
Stellpflug's confidence entering this spring can be linked directly to his summer experience with the Diamond Jacks Super 16 squad. “Coach (Steve) DiTrolio split our innings in games, three and three or three, three and one. It gave us a chance to make more appearances and to be seen by more schools,” said Stellpflug. “I was definitely happy with my performance. I threw well, flashed some things and that gave us a chance to talk with schools more frequently. I went out each game with a goal and a plan to succeed.”
The experience of being seen by multiple college scouts in the Underclass Games and throughout the summer seems to have quickly matured Stellpflug, who certainly comes off as an astute student of the game of baseball and a player who is attuned to where he stands at this point.
“This time last year I really wasn’t aware of where I projected,” said Stellpflug. “Army wanted me to be their big righthander. Hearing things like that forces you to grow. It’s hard to manage that mentally.”
Stellpflug was still learning whether or not he belonged and looking around at all the top talent at the Underclass Games can be humbling. “Going out on the mound at the Underclass Games I was able to put everything aside," he said. "The most nerve wracking part is before the game when you notice who is watching, schools you never thought you’d be in the presence of. It can change your summer and your life.”
It certainly can. In fact, at the end of it all, Stellpflug can finally say, “I feel like I belong. I like the expectations to do well. I like the pressure that comes with competing for something big.”
DiTrolio certainly feels Stellpflug belongs.
“I would not be surprised if he positions himself as one of the top pitchers in the state by his senior year, and a potential draft guy,” said DiTrolio. “The University of Maryland got a grinder, that’s for sure.”