Seven student-athletes have signed a National Letter of Intent to continue their academic and baseball careers at Youngstown State University starting in the fall of 2015, Penguins head coach Steve Gillispie announced.
Five of the seven are high school seniors who will be freshmen on the 2016 YSU squad, and two are junior college transfers who will start as juniors at Youngstown State. The class is comprised of three position players, two right-handed pitchers and a left-handed pitcher/first baseman. The class includes high school seniors Kyle Benyo (Austintown, Ohio), Evan Cheng (Pittsburgh, Pa.), Collin Floyd (Akron, Ohio), Chris Sparks (Crooksville, Ohio) and Blake Zeller (Centerville, Ohio). The junior college transfers are Javier Alvarez (Long Beach, California) and Tyler Sutherland (Chanute, Kansas).
"With the completion of this signing class, I feel it is by far the most talented of the classes we have assembled since we started two years ago," Gillispie said. "Coach Neal and Coach Smallcomb did a fantastic job of addressing the needs that will come with graduation in the spring. We have added power, speed, defense, and pitching to the roster, and once again we were able to keep balance in the age of the squad. Some of our new members were named to the Prep Baseball Report Top 100 in Ohio, and some are a little bit unknown. We feel they all have the potential to impact our program in ways that will keep us playing for championships."
Javier Alavarez (RHP - Long Beach, California/Los Angeles Harbor College/Lakewood High School): Alvarez posted a 3.01 ERA with 63 strikeouts in 80.2 innings as a freshman at Los Angeles Harbor College in 2014. The 6-foot-1 right-hander earned five of team's 15 wins, and he earned the save in another. He struck out 10 batters against El Camino, and he finished his freshman campaign with 7.03 strikeouts per nine innings and a 2.6:1 strikeout-to-walk ratio. He threw a perfect game his senior year at Lakewood High School.
"Javier is a very accomplished pitcher who does all of the extra little things well," Gillispie said. "He holds runners and fields his position quite well. We believe he has the ability to pitch on the weekends in the Horizon League due to his pitch command and pitch quality. He posted a winning record as a freshman in a very tough area of Southern California, and those experiences should translate well here to YSU."
Kyle Benyo (OF - Austintown, Ohio/IMG Academy/Austintown Fitch High School): Benyo batted .404 with seven home runs, five doubles and 22 RBIs for Austintown Fitch as a junior. He recently received All-Tournament Team honors at the 2014 World Wood Bat Association Florida Qualifier when he went 8-for-16 with four doubles and two triples at IMG Academy.
"Being an Austintown native, Kyle is a player we have watched for a couple of years, and he has turned into a very skilled athlete who possesses three above-average baseball tools," Gillispie said. "We feel Kyle projects as a dominant offensive player with a great deal of bat speed and raw power, and he also runs and throws above average for a college outfielder. The experience he is gaining at IMG will put him ahead of the curve for most incoming freshmen, and his commitment fills an immediate need that will be created with the graduation of our senior class."
Evan Cheng (SS - Pittsburgh, Pa./Allerdice High School): Cheng batted .419 with three doubles while boasting a .987 fielding percentage in 2014 at Allerdice High. Additionally, he was named to the All-Tournament Team at the Perfect Game 17U BCS.
"Evan is another player who we have followed for a couple of years, and his development is very encouraging to us," Gillispie said. "We have been looking to improve our depth in the middle infield positions, and Evan greatly helps us do that. He has shown the hands and arm strength needed to play the shortstop position, and, from an offensive standpoint, his bat has gotten better each year. Evan has gained great experience playing at the highest levels of high school baseball, and his selection to the all-tournament team at the Perfect Game Wood Bat World Series makes us believe he is ready for our level."
Collin Floyd (LHP/IB - Akron, Ohio/Springfield High School): Floyd has posted an impressive career at Springfield High School in Akron on the mound and in the field. As a hitter, he's batted .390 with 19 doubles, four home runs and 64 RBIs in his first three years. As a pitcher, he's struck out 180 batters and registered a 1.70 ERA in 107 innings.
"Collin will fill a need for us as we look to keep quality left-handed pitchers on our staff," Gillispie said. "We believe he will immediately show an above-average velocity fastball and swing-and-miss type off-speed pitches. He projects very well physically, as he is already 6-foot-4 and a very good athlete. He has hit for a high average in the past as a first baseman, and we like the potential extra option he brings to our roster offensively."
Chris Sparks (RHP - Crooksville, Ohio/Crooksville High School): Sparks was named Honorable Mention All-Ohio as a junior when he went 7-3 with 100 strikeouts in 72.1 innings. He's been a first-team all-conference and all-district selection in each of the past two seasons, and he was named to the All-Tournament Team at the Perfect Game 17u WWBA in Atlanta for a 15-strikeout effort.
"We feel Chris helps fill the needs we have on the mound," Gillispie said. "He has already shown his fastball velocity to be in the upper 80s, and we feel there should be quick gains with physical strength and maturity. One of the things that attracted us to him, though, was his breaking pitches. They give him strikeout capability, and he has shown that ability playing at a very high level of competition both in high school and in the summer seasons. Chris is another of our signees who was named to the All-Tournament Team at the Perfect Game Wood Bat World Series."
Tyler Sutherland (OF/1B - Chanute, Kansas/Neosho County Community College/Arkansas City High School): Sutherland finished his freshman year at Nosho County with a .391 average, 16 doubles, three triples and four home runs. He ended the season on an 11-game hitting streak and earned First Team All-Jayhawk Conference honors as an outfielder. He was a two-time all-conference and all-state selection in high school.
"Tyler is someone who we are very excited to have come into our program," Gillispie said. "He is a very versatile defensive player and has the potential to fill the middle of the batting order offensively. Tyler has been very successful in the junior college ranks, and his experience at that level should help fill the holes that will be left at the end of the 2015 season. We are also very impressed with Tyler's success in the classroom and his character as an individual."
Blake Zeller (C/OF - Centerville, Ohio/Centerville High School): Zeller batted .395 with eight doubles, three home runs and 15 RBIs while fielding at a .974 clip as a junior at Centerville High. He was named first-team all-conference and all-area while being named Centerville's Offensive Player of the Year.
"We are very excited about adding Blake to our roster," Gillispie said. "His time has been split between football and baseball, and he has excelled in both. We believe he will quickly refine his raw skills as he is able to focus solely on baseball. He possesses above-average bat speed, and his potential to hit with power from the left side will be evident right away. Defensively, he will bring some versatility with him, but his catching skills will absolutely add to our depth behind the plate."