Making a big impression

Six-foot-5 left-hander Neal Davis of Catonsville has gained the attention of major league scouts.

March 29, 2006|By LEM SATTERFIELD | LEM SATTERFIELD,SUN REPORTER

The goals of Catonsville pitcher Neal Davis are common: Be a leader. Work hard. Never give up, "no matter what's going on in the game."

His talent is uncommon.

The Comets senior, a 6-foot-5, 200-pound left-hander, can be exceptionally effective with his fastball, and also throws a slider and changeup.

"My fastball has a lot of natural movement from just being a left-handed pitcher, but I'm always working on my control, spotting my ball, which is probably more important than my speed," Davis said. "The goal is to be able to throw your pitches anywhere you want at any time for a strike."

Davis' size and skill have major league scouts crowding behind backstops to clock his fastball and to take note of his every move.

Dean Albany, Davis' summer league coach, said his long arms, work ethic and potential growth, are among the assets that make Davis a prospect.

"Everybody would like to see guys throw harder, and Neal will later on, when he matures, puts on weight, gets bigger," Albany said. "He can be more consistent with his breaking ball, and he's got to develop his changeup, which he's been working on. But Neal's a smart kid - I don't worry about him. He picks up on things pretty easily."

An A-average student, Davis already has accepted a scholarship to attend Virginia. So it would likely take a large sum of money - not to mention being drafted within the first three rounds - to convince Davis to alter his plans of pursuing a college business major.

"To be honest, it wouldn't really be the round, per se, that I'd get drafted in. It probably would come down to the amount of money. If everything worked out financially, I would probably sign a professional contract," Davis said. "On the other hand, Virginia has the fifth-best business school in the nation, so I'd maybe lean toward something like that as a major. Who knows? I may fall in love with [business] and continue with that."

Davis might be getting the most attention, but he's not the only reason hopes are high at Catonsville. The Comets also return two other senior pitchers, left-hander Adam Kolarek and right-hander Chris Smith, and a number of players from last year's Class 3A North regional semifinalist.

"Neal is the most vocal player we have, and he's all business on the mound," Catonsville coach Rich Hambor said. "I've known him since he was about 10 years old, and he's always had the fiery competitive spirit he has now. As the leader of our pitching staff and our team, ultimately - regardless of the attention he gets - Neal's No. 1 goal is for the team to succeed."

A second-team All-Metro selection last season, Davis went 7-2 with an 0.96 ERA, 128 strikeouts and 10 walks in 65 1/3 innings. Davis combined with Kolarek and Smith for 185 strikeouts in 113 innings last season, as the Comets finished 15-4 and won the Baltimore County 4A-3A League title.

Throw in players such as senior third baseman Chris Krabitz, senior first baseman Andy Peters and 6-2, 270-pound junior catcher Joe McNamara - an All-County lineman in football- and you have a balanced squad that could bring home the program's first state title since 1976.

"We've had great teams in the past, but the group of guys we have this year are fantastic," Davis said. "The guys up from the JV, the guys back on varsity. The pitchers, we're a pretty close group - Adam, Chris and myself. We're always trying to teach each other new things ... trying to help each other.

"I'm personally very fortunate to be in this position, getting all of this attention. I just hope anyone who comes to see me throw, that they see not only kids from my team, but kids we're playing against."

Still, it is Davis who is the primary focus this season.

"Adam and I played all summer, probably around 60 games - part of the time with the Maryland Red Dogs [club team]," said Smith, who went unbeaten in three starts last season. "We're all excited and ready to go, with Neal being the No. 1 guy who's just going to dominate teams."

Davis' fastball was consistently clocked between 87 and 89 mph during the summer, when he was the youngest player on Albany's 20-and-under Maryland Orioles squad that won its third straight All-American Amateur Baseball Association national title in August in Johnstown, Pa.

"I didn't know how fast I was throwing until my last start last year at Catonsville, when my summer coach, Dean Albany, came to watch me throw," said Davis, who also played for the Oriolelanders developmental team in the fall. "Fortunately, Coach Albany did all that he did during the summer, getting me out there for everybody to see. I went to a couple of tournaments where pro scouts were. I think they just like the fact that I'm a big-bodied lefty. Things kind of took off from there.

"For now, I'm just going to go out on the baseball diamond and do what I've been doing for the past three years. Hopefully, that will pay off and I'll get drafted high. If not, I've got a good shot to go to a good college and play there. If that happens, I'll explore some courses at Virginia. I'm still up in the air. Whatever happens, happens."

lem.satterfield@baltsun.com

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