Story by Griffin Pritchard | Publisher
Photos Courtesy of Drew Baker
CENTRAL ALABAMA SCOREBOARD OFFICE – There was a time when Drew Baker almost gave up on baseball. That’s an ironic way to start a story about a kid who’s playing the game professionally and is on the forefront of becoming reality. Baker – who laced up the spikes for Chipola College for a year, and then for Auburn University for a year and then back to Chipola – was taken in the 11th round by the Philadelphia Phillies.
“I was playing in the Cape Cod league and my parents had traveled up the week of the draft,” said Baker. “I was in their hotel room when the draft was going on. When my name got called, my mom didn’t cry but she screamed. Dad yelled.”
He’d been a professional baseball player for all of four hours when he answered the phone for this article.
“You’d like to know where you’re going to go,” said Baker. “But that’s the fun part. I know (the Phillies Organization) is going to take care of me. But where they feel like they are going to place me, it’s up to them. I’m just going to put my head down and continue to work hard.”
Before he gets to see the Liberty Bell swing electronically, his story starts several years ago when he made the decision to attend Macon East and play for coach Bob Pickett.
Baker explains: “Pickett found me when I was about 13 years old. I was in a bad spot with baseball and wasn’t really enjoying it. He told me that he knew I had a chance to be special; that he believed in me.”
Now this is a lot to take in for a child that, two years prior, took a comebacker off the skull and suffered a traumatic brain injury that required multiple surgeries and to this day causes him to be deaf in his right ear. It also caused Baker – drafted as a pitcher – to stop pitching.
Pickett: “I’m beyond proud of him. He is a hard worker, but is a better person. The sky’s the limit for him.”
Baker geared up and, as a freshman, became the Knights starting backstop.
“I give Pickett credit all the time, he’s a great coach and wants the best for his guys,” said Baker. “He’s going to coach you hard and tell you the things you want to hear, the things you don’t want to hear but need to hear. He wants you to be the best guy you can be on and off the field. He gave me my confidence back. I’m forever indebted to that man.”
Through the years Baker grew into a bigger, faster, and stronger Knight. At the end of his junior campaign, he barreled up a .395 average with a .455 on-base driving in 37 runs (scoring 15) with 13 doubles, 46 total hits and two long balls from the leadoff spot. He also helped lead the Knights to their first AISA State Championship in baseball in over a decade.
Heading into his senior season, Baker began thinking of next steps and signed up for an unsigned showcase at Chipola College (Florida).
“I called up my old travel ball coach and told him I had this showcase coming up and wanted to get in some extra work,” Baker said. “I worked as a catcher and afterward he came up to me and said “you’ve got a strong arm, you pitch? He told me to throw a bullpen. At the end of it, he said ‘you know you’re throwing 90-92 (MPH).’ He showed me the gun. I mean that’s pretty crazy. At that time 90 was pretty insane.”
Baker signed up as a catcher for his primary position and then rolled the dice and listed himself as a pitcher for his secondary position. His return to the bump turned heads.
Baker: “I did all the catching stuff and then pitched during the camp. (Chipola) Coach (Jeff) Johnson saw something in me and offered me. It was surreal. I’m 18 years old and am getting picked up by the best JuCo in the country.”
Chipola College – at this time – had just won the NJCAA National Championship and is considered the best pathway to the bigs. Working under the moniker #chiPROla, the Indians – every year since 1966 – have had players drafted.
“Florida JuCo baseball is unmatched and played at a very high level,” said Baker. “There is so much talent down there with all the good players competing.”
Baker took that momentum and turned in one whale of a senior season: 10-0 on the bump, MVP of the state tournament was part of the Knights 38-win season and helped Macon East (over a four-year span) win 131 games.
Pickett added: “A player like (Drew) really helps put your program on the map. Macon East has five guys playing at the college level, plus Drew who just signed pro.”
Baker threw for the Indians as a freshman and then accepted a scholarship offer to pitch for Auburn University. As a Tiger his name was drafted in the 16th round by the Dodgers organization. However, he chose to stay on campus.
“Going back to Chipola; the main reason was to develop and get better and you do that by pitching more,” said Baker. “Jeff (Johnson) helped me out with that. I feel like I’ve improved 10 times more than when I was just starting out. But, you’ve got to know, I’ve only been pitching for four years. With all of the success, it’s been a blessing to really excel at this so fast.”
After Covid and the subsequent shutdown of the season, the transfer portal opened and Baker stepped through to return somewhere more familiar and once again donned the Chipola colors.
That trip back to Florida proved to be impactful. According to Chipola stats Baker led the team in starts with 15 and wins with seven in 57 and a third innings pitched. He posted a 3.45 ERA and recorded 92 strikeouts with a fastball in the 90s.
“Coach Johnson saw something in me and knew I would be something special, but that it was going to take some work to get me straightened out,” said Baker. “I had some mechanics, but they weren’t good. I was just being athletic and throwing the ball hard.”
Baker said that when he started seriously throwing for the Indians he was somewhere between 87 and 91 MPH.
Baker: “By the end of the year it was between 93-95 touching 96 and 97.”
He ended up being one of four Indians taken in the draft.
Baker to the Phillies.
Andrew Moore to the Mariners (14th Round)
Luis Guerrero to the Red Sox (17th Round)
Jaylen Nowlin to the Twins (19th Round)
The 2021 draft spanned two days and extended to 20 rounds.
Baker – the only player taken this year with Alabama Independent School Association roots – is one of a handful of players with Alabama high school ties selected.
Story by Griffin Pritchard | PublisherPhotos By Brian Tannehill | Director of Photography CENTRAL...