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One of the best in the nation

Ethan Bates' two-way play makes him a true weapon for Tech
Friday, March 29, 2024
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Louisiana Tech senior Ethan Bates is establishing himself as one of the best college baseball players in the country, at two different positions. Photos courtesy of Louisiana Tech

In the fall of 2022, Lane Burroughs got a call from coaches at Navarro Junior College in Corsicana, Texas.

They wanted to talk about Ethan Bates, a former top-20 prospect out of Hot Springs, Arkansas, who made his way from his home-state Razorbacks to the Bulldogs at Navarro for a year and now to Ruston and the Bulldogs of Louisiana Tech.

Burroughs and his staff liked what they saw out of Bates batting-wise at Navarro, slashing .324 with 22 extra-base hits and only 24 strikeouts in 173 at-bats. They knew they were bringing a big left-handed bat to the lineup. But when they picked up the phone, Tech received a tip that changed course of the program.

“When we got him, Navarro coaches called us and said, ‘Y’all might want to pitch Bates,” Burroughs said. “We didn’t know he pitched. He never said anything. And we’re like, ‘ Really?’ And they go, ‘Yeah, we probably should have pitched him more.’ So, we put him on the mound and went, ‘Wow, he’s pretty good.’” It’s true. Bates, who currently has the third-most saves in Tech history with a career 2.35 ERA across 57 innings as a Bulldog, didn’t let his coaches know he wasn’t just a high school ace but also had college pitching experience.

Granted, it was less than 20 innings in five appearances in his one year at Navarro.

But Tech pitching coach Cooper Fouts had to see it for himself and see if Navarro coaches had it right.

“When we were recruiting him, he only talked about it like, ‘I was our number one pitcher in high school. I used to beat a bunch of Arkansas guys.’ And it was kind of like, ‘ OK, that’s nice,’” Fouts said. “And I’ll never forget, coach (Mitch) Gaspard, myself, and coach (Matt) Miller, and I was playing catch with Ethan in early September. We had talked about it through the whole recruiting process but when I played catch I go, ‘The ball comes out different.’ He’s got, better than anyone I’ve ever been around, a feel for the baseball and how the ball moves — whether it’s a slider, changeup, fastball. His ability to manipulate the baseball with spin is unbelievable.”

When you talk about Bates, ‘unbelievable’ seems fitting.

The Tech senior has a .348 average with 13 doubles, a triple, 6 home runs, 39 RBIs, and just 4 strikeouts in 115 at-bats.

Oh, and he has a team-high 7 saves in 20 innings of work with a 0.89 ERA — with only 2 earned runs and 27 strikeouts as Tech’s closer.

“I’m glad the Navarro coach called us and told us we need to pitch him because it’s kind of worked out for us,” Burroughs said.

Don’t let the fun anecdote from Bates’ recruiting story fool you. His two-way abilities aren’t just the case of a recruiting story that is nice for a Conference USA school like Tech. Any school in the country would have their pick of him if he was on the open market.

After all, he’s proving to be one of the best all-around players in college baseball today.

Bates ranks second in the nation in saves (7), fifth in doubles (13), seventh in RBIs (39), 18th in hits (40), and is statistically the second-toughest player to strike out in the country with a 27.8% strikeout average.

Bates is the only player nationally to be top 10 in both doubles and RBIs and is the only player in the country to be top 10 in doubles, RBIs, and saves.

The only true comparison to Bates is Florida first baseman Jac Caglianone, viewed by many as a lock first-round draft pick in the 2024 MLB Draft.

It’s not completely apples to apples, as Caglianone works as a starter for the Gators when he’s not playing first and hitting for power.

And yet, Bates is better than him in most categories.

Bates has the edge in extra-base hits 20-14, RBIs 39-27, and has fewer strikeouts 4-11. Caglianone has Bates beat in home runs 12-6, but pitching-wise, Bates might have a case as well.

Again, Bates and Caglianone serve different purposes when they take the bump, but their innings pitched are close enough to where a comparison can be drawn. See it for yourself.

Caglianone: 27 1/3 innings, 12 hits, 5 earned runs, 18 walks, 39 strikeouts, 3 doubles, 3 home runs.

Bates: 20 1/3 innings, 5 hits, 2 earned runs, 8 walks, 27 strikeouts, 1 double, 0 home runs.

Burroughs, like any coach would, believes in his guys and wants them to gain respect and attention for their performances. And he knows Caglianone gets more headlines over Bates due to where he plays and the boom in his bat.

But after Bates went 6-for-12 with 2 home runs and 7 RBIs, along with 2 saves, in a series sweep of Northwestern State, Burroughs said it’s time his closer and cleanup hitter is taken seriously as one of the best in the game.

“Right now, he’s one of the best players in the country. I don’t care what anybody says,” Burroughs said. “He’s changed his approach. He takes his hits the other way. When he gets two strikes, he chokes up and he’ll drive the ball out of the park. Then you hand the baseball at the end of the game and he wants it and he’ll go out and nail it down. If there’s a guy better in the country doing what he’s doing, I don’t want to run into him.”

And after a series sweep of Jacksonville State, Burroughs continued his campaign to push Bates into the spotlight.

“He’s a special player – to have a guy like that at the back end of your bullpen and also a guy that can drive the ball out of the yard and drive in runs,” Burroughs said. “The guy at Florida gets all the attention. (Bates) is a pretty good two-way player. What he’s doing is pretty special. Saving ballgames. Driving the ball out of the yard. Driving in runs. I know that guy’s going to get all of the attention because he’s in Florida, but I don’t think many are doing it better than him (Bates) in the country.”

Cole McConnell, a record-setting player in his own right currently leading DI baseball with 41 RBIs, doesn’t take playing with Bates for granted. He knows not many in the country have someone like Bates hitting behind him in a lineup.

“It’s definitely not normal,” McConnell said of Bates. “Whenever he comes in the game, you pretty much know he’s going to win the game for us. It’s pretty cool to watch him. He can hit home runs and then in the ninth inning he can close it out. He can do it all for us.”

Bates carries himself quietly, opting to let his play do the talking for him. Even after recording his seventh save of the season in a win over JSU, the twoway Bulldog kept it simple on how he’s able to pitch so effectively after mashing at the dish.

“Really it’s just one hitter at a time, one pitch at a time,” Bates said. “You gotta attack everybody the same way. Just getting those last three outs is all that’s on my mind.”

Fouts won’t let Bates sell himself short, not when he watches up close his level of preparation and excellence that’s helped lead the Bulldogs to a 21-6 record on a five-game winning streak.

In nearly two decades of coaching college baseball, Fouts has never seen anyone like Bates.

“Not like that. Not a guy that can be so dominant on both sides,” Fouts said of Bates. “And the thing is, we talked about starting him in the fall when he got here. It wouldn’t have been his best role, but he’s well over 60% strikes with three pitches. And he can throw in any count. It’s kind of like what Landon (Tomkins) did last year where we gotta get him in the game, and he excelled, but it’s different with Ethan. The way he can affect the game on both sides is incredible. It’s incredible.”