The Juneau-Douglas baseball team picked up another honor Wednesday on its quest for a state championship and a perfect in-state season, as senior pitcher/slugger Dylan Baker was named the 2010 Gatorade Alaska Baseball Player of the Year.
Baker joins JDHS alums Chad Bentz (1999), Joe Kohan (2008) and Zach Mixson (2005) as Crimson Bears who have been named Alaska's top prep baseball player.
"I've always wanted to win it. Since I was a freshman, I've been thinking about it," Baker said of the honor. "Once I became a senior, I tried my best to get it. It's one of the greatest things I've ever won, so it's a great feeling.
"It was definitely between (teammate) Alex (Cohen) and I, and we've been battling for it the whole year."
The award, which recognizes not only outstanding athletic excellence, but also high standards of academic achievement and exemplary character demonstrated on and off the field, distinguishes Baker as Alaska's best high school baseball player.
Now a finalist for the prestigious Gatorade National Baseball Player of the Year award, announced in June, Baker joins an elite alumni association of past state baseball award winners including Derek Jeter (1991-92, Kalamazoo HS, Mich.), Roy Halladay (1994-95, Arvada West HS, Colo.), David Price (2003-04, Blackman HS, Tenn.), Chipper Jones (1989-90, Bolles School, Fla.), Derek Lee (1992-93, El Camino HS, Calif.) and John Lester (2001-02, Bellarmine Prep, Wash.).
The 6-foot-3, 185-pound senior right-hander started 6-1 with a 1.29 ERA this season on the mound, recording 61 strikeouts in 32 2-3 innings and leading the Crimson Bears (18-0 in-state, 19-5 overall) to the state tournament, which begins today.
"My pitching has gotten a lot better. I was pretty good last year, but this year I'm throwing a lot harder," Baker said. "I'm hitting 86 or 87 (mph), and sometimes 88. So pitching definitely helped me get the award, not just my hitting."
But Baker's bat also has garnered him plenty of attention.
A returning All-Southeast Conference honoree, Baker owned a .458 batting average with 36 runs scored, 29 RBI, 13 home runs and six doubles through 24 games. As a sophomore in 2008, he helped lead Juneau-Douglas to the state title.
"He's been on a roll," rival Ketchikan manager Dave Price said. "He's hitting the ball well, and he's doing what his team needs him to do in the leadoff spot. He's also probably the best pitcher in the state of Alaska. At the plate, he's a tough out. He adjusts well.
"As a leadoff hitter, he has the ability to hit the ball out of the ballpark at any given time, and he puts the ball in the gaps. As far as pitching goes, he mixes up his fastball and curveball well. He's very effective."
Baker has maintained a 3.38 unweighted GPA in the classroom. A member of his school's Club Expedition, he also has donated his time locally by preparing and serving food at multiple homeless shelters.
Baker is undecided on college, but he's looking to play somewhere in California or Oregon, though California "has nicer weather," he said.
As for a college position, Baker said he'd like to continue to pitch and play the field because he enjoys hitting so much.
"I have a summer league coach, and Coach (Steve) Bavard are telling me to keep my options open because some schools let you do both," he said. "As long as I can do both I'm going to stick with it, but once I have to choose, I'll probably go with pitching."
The Gatorade Player of the Year program annually recognizes one winner in the District of Columbia and each of the 50 states that sanction high school football, girls' volleyball, boys' and girls' cross country, boys' and girls' basketball, boys' and girls' soccer, baseball, softball, and boys' and girls' track & field, and awards one National Player of the Year in each sport. The selection process is administered by ESPN RISE and the Gatorade high school sports leadership team, which work with top sport-specific experts and a media advisory board of accomplished, veteran prep sports journalists to determine the state winners in each sport.
Baker joins recent Gatorade Alaska Baseball Players of the Year Ross Venneberg (2008-09, Sitka), Kohan (2007-08, Juneau-Douglas) and Ryan Skillern (2006-07, South) among the state's list of former award winners.
Editor's note: This story also used information from a Gatorade press release.