When Hayden Dunhurst was a freshman on the Pearl River Central High School baseball team, his head coach was already hearing from a long list of Division I college programs.
Dunhurst, now a junior, does have plenty of pop, but the calls weren't coming due to his power at the plate.
It was because he was well beyond his years as a catcher.
“His defense is what got people on him,” PRC coach Neil Walther said. “I was getting calls from Duke, Central Florida and half the SEC teams and maybe more from all over the country during his freshman year.”
With teams lined up to recruit him, Dunhurst verbally committed to Ole Miss the summer before his sophomore year.
As skilled as he is on the defensive end, it's surprising to hear that Dunhurst hasn't received much instruction from specialists or attended camps.
YouTube has often been his best source of inspiration.
“I never went to camps or anything or took lessons,” he said. “I just started watching (St. Louis Cardinals catcher) Yadier Molina and (Kansas City Royals catcher) Salvador Perez. I watched their every single move and I'd study off them.”
The 5-foot-11, 210-pound Dunhurst regularly pulls up YouTube videos of Molina and Will Banfield of Lawrenceville, Georgia, — a catcher who is considered a top high school prospect for this year's MLB Draft.
After helping lead Pearl River Central to a Class 5A state title as a sophomore, Dunhurst is still progressing as a catcher in his junior campaign.
“I take a lot of pride in it,” he said. “I want to make sure all my pitchers trust me. I just want them to work with me in the game and feel confident that they don't have to worry about balls getting through me, 'I've got this and don't worry about the runner.' I want the pitcher to focus on getting the hitter out.”
With a pop time of 1.81 seconds, Dunhurst isn't challenged a whole lot by base runners.
That's the time taken from the moment a pitch hits the catcher's mitt to the moment it strikes the glove of the man covering second base.
Dunhurst has seen his batting average take a nice bump in recent weeks. Headed into Friday night's Game 1 contest at West Harrison in the second round of the Class 5A playoffs, Dunhurst is hitting .321 with three homers and 20 RBIs.
As a sophomore, Dunhurst was the power bat in the middle of the lineup. He hit .306 with 10 homers and 37 RBIs.
This season, Dunhurst has seen fewer pitches to hit and the walks have piled up.
“They do pitch around him a lot,” Walther said. “I can't remember how many times he was walked as as a sophomore and he walked 30 times as a freshman. Entering his junior year, he was five walks shy of breaking the school record for walks. He'll probably end up doubling that record. Just think about it, in four years, he will will have walked 130-140 times. He's on pace for 140 in his career.”
Dunhurst, who has seen his batting average jump nearly 60 points over the last three weeks, has worked on becoming a more well-rounded hitter.
“Last year, I hit a bunch of home runs,” he said. “This year, I've tried to hit a lot of ground balls and line drives – more base hits. I'm just trying to make the defense work.
“I'm starting to come around as a complete player. It used to be my defense that really got me through.”