Malachi Hanes doesn’t mind if he’s called indecisive. In fact, he says people ask him the same question all the time and he doesn’t ever have a good answer for them.
Hanes was a high-performing defensive back/wide receiver for the state champion Butler football team before an injury sidelined him for much of this past fall, and he’s a pitcher/outfielder on the baseball team. When he’s asked which is his favorite sport – a question people often pose to him – Hanes’ answer is that he likes both of them equally and gives a slight nod to whatever’s in season.
And he’s good enough in both that choosing one over the other is a tough decision.
Despite missing all but a handful of games on the gridiron this past fall with a lacerated kidney, Hanes had already impressed the Catawba College coaching staff enough that they offered him a scholarship before the season began. But Hanes wanted his future college home to know he’s pretty good on the baseball diamond as well.
“They really wanted me to play football,” said Hanes, an athletic, 5-foot-11, 195-pound left-hander. “But I told them, ‘I’m a baseball player, too.’ They said they’d set me up with the baseball coaches but didn’t promise they’d offer (a scholarship) or anything.”
When Hanes’ name crossed the desk of Catawba baseball coach Jim Gantt, it sounded very familiar and not just because Hanes’ older brother, Jacob, is a former Butler player and current starting defensive lineman for the Indians football squad.
“They’d seen him play in a summer league game and already knew about Malachi on the baseball field,” said Butler’s second-year baseball coach Rick Sambrotto. “I think Malachi was a little surprised that they already knew about him.”
Hanes had performed well enough in that summer league game attended by Catawba coaches that they, too, offered him a scholarship.
Hanes didn’t play baseball as a freshman and was a little-used outfielder as a sophomore. As a sophomore, he struck out six times in his eight plate appearances, committed three errors in five chances in the field and pitched in one game, allowing four hits, one run and three walks in four innings of work.
“We were still kind of developing him (his sophomore) year, but we always had an idea that he’d help us out in his junior and senior years,” said Sambrotto, who was an assistant coach during Hanes’ first two seasons. “But I think he was a little under the radar last year and people didn’t know much about him in the beginning of the season.”
But Hanes quickly changed that.
He started eight games on the mound, posting a 4-1 record, while striking out 39 batters in 39 1/3 innings along the way. Hanes allowed just 26 hits and 16 earned runs and had an ERA south of 2.00 before a tough outing against Independence to close out the year raised his ERA to a more- than-respectable 2.85.
While Hanes came into his own as a pitcher, he also matured in the batter’s box, where he collected a hit in each of his final six games and batted .298 on the season. He also scored 14 runs and tallied two home runs, six doubles, a triple and 14 RBIs, all of which are tops among the Bulldogs returning players.
“I think I did pretty well last season,” Hanes said. “There were a couple of games where I didn’t focus as much as I should’ve. I have to get used to playing in the big games, but overall I pitched pretty well and hit the ball good, too.”
And there’s good reason to believe he can build on the success of his breakout junior campaign.
Hanes has added a slider that he plans on mixing in with his fastball, changeup and curveball to keep hitters more off-balance, and assistant coach Corey Charzuk said he’s been particularly impressed with the power and poise Hanes has displayed at the plate, where he’s also adopted a new approach.
“I’m more worried about getting base hits now,” Hanes said. “Most of my hits last year came from pulling the ball, but I don’t want to be a pull hitter. I want to get my hits up the middle or even get some (opposite-field) hits and spread it around.
“I hit home runs when I’m not trying to hit them. If I go up (to the plate) trying to hit home runs, I’ll pop it up. But if I go up there trying to get good, solid contact, that’s when I have the most success.”
Sambrotto said he feels opposing teams will take more notice of Hanes this season, but his senior will be ready for the challenge.
“He’s one of five seniors on the team,” Sambrotto said. “So we’ll need him to be more of a leader this season, and we’ve already seen that he’s taking that role seriously.
“Teams will pay attention to him a little more. But he’ll be fine. He’s got a quick bat, he’s a big, athletic guy, and he’s a lefty on the mound. He’ll only keep getting better on the mound and at the plate.”
While much will be expected of Hanes, he’s taking it all in stride.
“I don’t think I’ll have to carry the load, per se,” he said. “I think I’ll hit decent, and I’m just ready for the season to get started.
“Last year, we had some really good hitters, but I think this year we have a lot of guys who can hit the ball. We’re already good defensively, and we have a bunch of guys who are moving up from the JV team, and those guys did really well last year. We have a really good junior class coming up, and those guys are used to winning, so we should be really good.”
A lot of the Bulldogs’ success will depend on how quickly the newcomers can mesh with the veterans, but Hanes’ skill set will ultimately decide how good this Butler team can be.
And while Hanes no longer will sneak up on people, Sambrotto feels Hanes is on the verge of another breakout year.
“He’s so athletic on the mound, and he has a loose arm,” Sambrotto said. “I think if you don’t know about him on the mound, after you see him, he’s somebody you’re going to have to pay attention to.”