There is a certain level of sensory deprivation Luke Hayden experienced in the week after week of indoor bullpen sessions, throwing pitch after pitch without most anyone knowing.
That changed when Edgewood’s senior-to-be stepped on a mound at LakePoint Sports complex in Emerson, Ga., representing the Canes National U-17 team against some of the best prep players in the country. People were in the stands. Within his own view, there was a Jumbotron flashing mile-per-hour readings.
“I was just too amped,” Hayden said.
An initial shot of adrenaline was something for the Indiana recruit to handle, especially after missing his entire junior season to the COVID-19 pandemic. Hayden, one of the state’s top 2021 recruits, found himself wanting to light up radar guns with a high-90s fastball, showing how much his arm has truly grown.
His velocity was good. His accuracy was not.
But since that opening start in early June, the hard-throwing righty has hit a groove. The MPH box has been lighting up with 94s and 95s, with the occasional 96. In the distance, Hayden can see pro scouts with their cameras out, watching as his slider runs away from bats.
He’s back in a groove, most recently posting four scoreless innings in the Canes’ win over Academy Select.
“It’s felt so good to actually play baseball again, it’s crazy,” Hayden said. “I think everyone was so bored, just going to the cages and hitting by themselves. Being on a team again, and competing against the best teams around, it was so nice to get back out there and play and see scouts. It’s like everything is going back to normal.”
Now that Hayden feels back on track, the question is where it’s taking him. He’s got more summer ball to play. Then, hopefully, a senior season at Edgewood. For now, the plan is for Hayden to follow his friend and former Edgewood teammate Ethan Vecrumba to IU.
But just like Vecrumba, Hayden’s talents aren’t making that choice clearcut. He recalls the spring of his sophomore year, when Vecrumba had to drop a phone into his back pocket before practice, because it was the day of the MLB draft and a call could be coming at any moment.
Vecrumba had to sort out his MLB options before heading to IU. Hayden could be on the same track.
“If you get the opportunity out of high school and the money’s there, and you can work out a fair amount, and there’s a team that’s willing to take a chance on you, then there is no reason why you wouldn’t take that,” Hayden said. “But if it’s not there, and you want to get your education before then, IU is a great choice.”
Since he hit 95 on the gun in Jupiter, Fla., in the fall, MLB interest has increased. Hayden, preparing for what’s next, hired an adviser. Following a good showing at Perfect Game’s national showcase this month, he heard from a half-dozen more teams, inquiring about his throwing schedule.
They want to see more.
Growing to 6-foot-1, 205 pounds, Hayden is starting to look more and more like a pro pitching prospect. By working to strengthen his lower half, driving more with his hips, what was once a violent, unconstrained delivery has eased up.
“I’m not throwing my head toward first base, my glove isn’t flying everywhere. It’s more down and through the catcher, and ultimately that will help throwing more strikes,” Hayden said. “I’ve never had arm problems but now that I’m taking stress off my arm, it’s safer. Scouts look and say ‘OK, he’s really effortless. He has room to gain more velo.’ That’s another check off their boxes.”
As he checks each box, Hayden’s chances at an MLB opportunity out of high school become more likely. He’s been able to compartmentalize it in the right ways, especially when he remembers that many of his 2021 counterparts are still trying to decide on a college.
Hayden doesn’t have to worry about impressing colleges right now, which is a blessing. He’s got IU. If he has anything to prove, it’s to scouts a level up.
Even then, there is no reason to press too hard. He can crank up the velocity to 96 miles per hour after hitters are behind 0-2 in the count. Not every pitch.
“You have to do what you’ve done your whole life because that’s why they are there,” Hayden said. “You want to impress them, but at the same time, you can’t. You have to pitch a game and do what you have been doing.”
For the most part, Hayden has executed in summer league games. In the last few months, he just hasn’t been able to pitch as much as he would have liked.
If there was a high school season, Hayden estimates he would have 50 to 60 innings under his belt by now. After his four-inning appearance in Alabama this past weekend, Hayden’s innings count has finally hit double digits at 10.
Rust and increased adrenaline were inevitable as Hayden returned to the mound, but he’s tried to stay as sharp as possible. Vecrumba, back home once IU’s season was canceled, has been a partner in crime, joining Hayden for long-tossing sessions on the football field at Edgewood.
The only problem is the field isn’t exactly open.
“We’ll get run off every now and again if we aren’t quick about what we do,” Hayden said.
When they can’t get on a field, the duo will travel to Flatwoods Park just outside of Ellettsville, tossing over basketball courts. Once, they threw in a gravel parking lot.
At Tier Ten in Spencer, Vecrumba and Hayden have found safe ground, matching up in the batting cages. Hayden’s former catcher, Harrison Pittsford, is there. Linton’s Kip Fougerousse, also bound for IU, has also joined them.
It was invaluable to get reps versus college hitters before summer ball. Except Hayden does have Vecrumba better scouted than an average opponent.
“I know what Ethan likes and doesn’t like,” Hayden said. “I think I did pretty good against them.”
When this month arrived, and summer baseball opened up, Hayden was ready. He was able to show off the advancements he’s made.
At least after he got past his initial surge of adrenaline.
Hayden feels ready for what may lie ahead with pro teams, too, because he watched Vecrumba go through the process. It’s a lot of time spent on the phone, just talking to teams. It’s a lot of filling out questionnaires.
It’s a lot of looking out past the fence lines, seeing scouts sitting in their golf carts and returning a gaze.
But really, it’s just about playing.
“It gets the adrenaline going a little bit, seeing them out there,” Hayden said. “But you can’t change what you’ve been doing. You just have to pitch.”