After opening what was expected to be a breakthrough season with a 7-7 record against beatable opponents, Michael Paez and his Coastal Carolina teammates huddled to regroup.
“We had a players meeting and pretty much told each other, ‘We’ve got to play for Coach [Gary] Gilmore. We have such a talented team that he deserves to go to Omaha,’ or at least have a chance to make a run at it,” Paez said.
Coastal Carolina ultimately won the Big South title, beating Liberty 1-0 in the championship game on Paez’s third-inning homer. The Chanticleers then won a regional at NC State. They advanced to the school’s first College World Series on Paez’s run-scoring walk-off chopper over third base in a super regional at LSU, the site where Stony Brook similarly had its magical moment in 2012.
Coastal Carolina’s magic continued in Omaha, though. The program won the College World Series with a 4-3 victory over Arizona on June 30.
It was the Conway, South Carolina, school’s first national championship in any sport.
Less than two weeks later, the 5-foot-8, 175-pound Paez is set to make his professional debut Wednesday or Thursday with the Brooklyn Cyclones. The Mets selected Paez in the fourth round early last month, before the bulk of the Chanticleers’ magical run.
A shortstop with Coastal Carolina, Paez primarily will play second base with Brooklyn. Arizona State product Colby Woodmansee, the organization’s fifth-round selection, will continue to handle shortstop.
“Because he’s a smaller guy, 5-8 or 5-9, I think he was undervalued by the industry a little bit,” Mets amateur scouting director Tommy Tanous said about Paez. “He’s a guy who hit 15 home runs. … There’s some power with this kid. In the Cape Cod League, with wood bats, sometimes our concerns are how they hit with metal vs. wood. This kid showed power in the Cape. He hit .295. Over his career, this is a guy who had more walks than strikeouts. So I think this is a guy that’s been under the radar a little bit.”
Yes, the homer against Liberty was a big moment for Paez. But Paez suggested his most meaningful moment of the run came with the walk-off hit at LSU.
“It was kind of relieving,” he said. “That day I was 0-for-4 with three strikeouts going into that last at-bat. I was telling myself, ‘There’s no way I’m going to let this kid strike me out again.’ … I still don’t think anyone knows I had three strikeouts that game at all. Everybody just knows I got that hit.”
Paez produced two homers as a freshman, eight as a sophomore and 15 as a junior. He does not consider himself a power hitter, but suggests he “can run into the ball and hit it a long way” if he connects on the barrel. Barreling up baseballs was an emphasis of his junior season. After his leg kick, he previously had been striding over the chalk line and tying himself up rather than striding toward the pitcher. He fixed that flaw this season with solid power results.
Paez had to work to get recruited by Coastal Carolina. While playing high school baseball in Miami, he received no attention from the major in-state programs in Florida.
“And I don’t blame any of those schools,” Paez said. “You’re not going to take a kid that’s going to be 5-7, 150 when you’ve got a kid that’s 6-3, 185. I just played in a lot of tournaments and am blessed that one of the Coastal Carolina coaches watched one of my teammates play, and I ended up playing very well in that game. They sent me an email to come to a camp. Sometimes those camps are money-makers, so I was hesitant to go. But I was like, ‘You know what, what do I have to lose? I’ll go to Myrtle Beach, a little vacation with my parents and just play baseball.’ And I played really well in the camp and they offered me that day.
“I had to go find a school. It wasn’t like schools were crawling over me.”
A communications major, Paez made the dean’s list all three years at Coastal Carolina.
The Mets also were partly attracted to Paez’s swagger.
“I definitely play with a chip on my shoulder. That’s for sure,” Paez said. “I’m not here for no reason. I definitely make it known that I worked hard to get here, and I just want to have fun playing the game.”
Average: Wagner Lagrange, GCL Mets, .351; T.J. Rivera, Vegas, .348; Amed Rosario, Binghamton, .330; Ricardo Cespedes, Kingsport, .328; Brandon Nimmo, Vegas, .328; Gavin Cecchini, Vegas, .323; Wuilmer Becerra, St. Lucie, .319; Travis Taijeron, Vegas, .308; Kevin Taylor, St. Lucie, .307; Tomas Nido, St. Lucie, .303.
Homers: Johnny Monell, Vegas, 14; Travis Taijeron, Vegas, 13; Marc Krauss, Vegas, 12; Dilson Herrera, Vegas, 12; Dominic Smith, Binghamton, 10.
RBIs: Travis Taijeron, Vegas, 69; T.J. Rivera, Vegas, 63; David Thompson, Columbia, 60; Dominic Smith, Binghamton, 59; Amed Rosario, Binghamton, 52.
Steals: Champ Stuart, Binghamton, 26; Amed Rosario, Binghamton, 14; J.C. Rodriguez, Columbia, 14; Patrick Biondi, St. Lucie, 13; Roger Bernadina, Vegas, 12.
ERA: Thomas Szapucki, Kingsport, 0.42; Sixto Torres, GCL Mets, 1.93; P.J. Conlon, St. Lucie, 1.97; Ricky Knapp, St. Lucie, 2.12; Luis De Los Santos, GCL Mets, 2.40; Luis Silva, GCL Mets, 2.45; Merandy Gonzalez, Brooklyn, 2.73; Max Wotell, Kingsport, 2.87; Kevin Canelon, Columbia, 3.13; Harol Gonzalez, Brooklyn, 3.25.
Saves: Alex Palsha, Columbia, 14; Corey Taylor, St. Lucie, 13; Paul Sewald, Vegas, 9; Akeel Morris, Binghamton, 6; Beck Wheeler, Vegas, 6.
Strikeouts: Tyler Pill, Binghamton, 88; Joe Shaw, Columbia, 88; Kevin Canelon, Columbia, 80; P.J. Conlon, St. Lucie, 80; Sean Gilmartin, Vegas, 77.
Wally Backman will manage the Pacific Coast League in Wednesday’s Triple-A All-Star Game in Charlotte. Infielder T.J. Rivera, outfielder Travis Taijeron and right-hander Gabriel Ynoa also will represent Las Vegas.
Infielder Matt Oberste and right-handers Tyler Pill and Logan Taylor will represent Binghamton in the Eastern League All-Star Game on Wednesday at Akron.
Right-hander Cameron Planck, the 11th-round pick out of high school in Kentucky, has signed with the Mets. He had committed to Louisville. Planck reportedly received a signing bonus near $1 million.
Because Hartford’s stadium is not ready yet, the Yard Goats played as the home team in Binghamton last week. The games were closed to the public. The team relocated from New Britain after last season.
With first-round pick Justin Dunn on the mound, the Cyclones turned a triple play on Sunday (catcher Dan Rizzie to Woodmansee to Nick Sergakis). It marked the first triple play turned by a home team in Brooklyn since the Dodgers on April 26, 1949. Left fielder Gene Hermanski caught a fly ball, and threw the baseball to second baseman Jackie Robinson and then on to first baseman Gil Hodges.
Left-hander Kyle Regnault, who had been sidelined with a shoulder issue since making one appearance in April with Binghamton, logged two innings in the Gulf Coast League on Monday.
Columbia’s Dale Burdick produced his first homer of the season on Tuesday. Burdick was drafted in the 40th round in 2014. Teams had shied away because he was committed to Mississippi State.
Jeff Diehl had landed on the DL with the Fireflies. He has a team-leading nine homers.
Kevin Kaczmarski is 9-for-16 with three doubles and a homer in his last four games with Columbia.
Vicente Lupo is hitting .354 with 12 RBIs in 16 games since the South Atlantic League All-Star break. He hit only .181 with seven RBIs in 25 games in the first half with the Fireflies and had been demoted to Brooklyn to regroup.
“Farm Report” appears on Wednesdays during the regular season.