Finally, we have reached the apex of hitters in the 2014 Valley League season. But before we get to the accolades, let’s take a quick look at the players who have been named #1 in the past:
2007: Jason Kipnis, Covington (It was a tough call between Jason and Luke Greinke that year… I think I made the right call. Jason has been the starting second baseman for the Cleveland Indians for three years now!)
2008: Tyler Townsend, Winchester (Tyler reached Double-A in the Orioles’ system before retiring)
2009: Stephen McQuail, Front Royal (Stephen is currently in the Diamondbacks’ system)
2010: Cory Spangenberg, Winchester (Cory made his major league debut this September!)
2011: Brad Zebedis, Strasburg (Brad finished up four years at Presbyterian last spring. He was not drafted.)
2012: Jimmy Yezzo, Winchester (Jimmy played in Low-A Hagerstown in the Nationals’ system in 2014)
2013: Jordan Tarsovich, Strasburg (Jordan has one year left at VMI)
And now, to the surprise of utterly no one, the #1 hitter in the Valley League in 2014 is Gunnar McNeill, the first baseman/pitcher from Staunton and Florida International!
Gunnar quite literally hit from the minute he played his first game in the Valley to the game in which Staunton was eliminated. In fact, he went 3-4 with a double and walk on opening day, and again went 3-4 with a run and walk on July 31, the day Staunton was eliminated from the playoffs against Charles Town.
Overall, Gunnar hit 402/469/604 in 169 at-bats in the regular season, along with 28 runs, 68 hits, 16 doubles, 6 home runs, 50 RBIs, a 22/19 BB/K ratio, and he even added 6 stolen bases. In the three games Staunton played in the playoffs, Gunnar went 7-12, with 2 runs, a double, 2 RBIs, and 2 walks with 0 strikeouts. The lowest batting average he had at any point in the season was .375. He was hitting .396 with three games left, and with a shade of Ted Williams, went 3-3, 0-3, and 2-4 to end the regular season at .402.
He finished 1st in the league in batting average, 5th in on-base percentage, 1st in slugging percentage, 1st in OPS (on-base plus slugging), 1st in hits, 2nd in doubles, tied for 4th in home runs, 1st in RBIs, and 1st in total bases (102). He had four hits in a game twice, three hits in a game 6 times, and two hits in a game 16 times. He had two or more hits in a game in 24 of Staunton’s 45 games!
The league named Gunnar the Most Valuable Player. Baseball America named him the 6th best prospect in the league, while lauding him for his power and toughness. (Did you know that Gunnar was hit in the face with a line drive in high school, breaking several bones, but he was back on the field two weeks later?) Perfect Game said Gunnar was the best hitter in the league, and that he also had the best power.
Staunton Coach G.W. Laase also sung the praises of his slugger. “If I had to describe Gunnar in one word, it would have to be ‘business.’ He was all business, all the time. He came in with a goal of being the best hitter in the league, and from day one, he worked harder than anyone that I have ever coached,” Laase said. “Gunnar had provided us that steady pop in the middle, and when we set the table, boy, did he clean up.” He added, “This was one of the greatest performances that I have seen in the league in some time, and we hope that he carries the momentum into the fall and spring.”
Gunnar will compete as a sophomore at FIU in 2015. As a freshman in 2014, he hit 280/379/400 in 50 at-bats, and also threw 26 1/3 innings, going 1-2, 2.05, with 19 strikeouts.
Only time will tell how Gunnar will rank with the other #1’s listed at the top of this post. Coach Laase, however, is unequivocal in his praise. “Gunnar’s potential is the sky. He eats, sleeps, and breathes baseball. He’s in a great program at FIU, and I have no doubt in my mind that he will continue to grow as a player making huge contributions to the team,” he said. “The organization and the city of Staunton are extremely proud of Gunnar for what he did on and off the field this past summer.”
Indeed! Congratulations on your dominating summer, Gunnar, and good luck in the future!