by Eric Uribe
Perfect Game called Byler “among the nation’s most dangerous power threats” and “a clear-cut next level hitter.” Byler is scary good. His resume suggests that he’s the best player in all of Wolf Pack sports and one of the best The accolades keep racking up for Nevada first baseman Austin Byler. A week after being named preseason All-American first-team by Perfect Game, the online baseball publication named Byler the sluggers the program has seen this century.
Last season, Byler led the Mountain West Conference in home runs (14), slugging percentage (.624) and total bases (138) en route to a first-team All-MWC selection. He ranked ninth in batting average (.326) and fifth in RBI’s (47).
Byler was drafted in the ninth round of the 2014 MLB Draft by the Washing- ton Nationals. However, the 6-foot-3, 225-pounder spurned the team (and an estimated $145,000 salary) to return to Nevada for his senior campaign.
In many ways, Byler reminds me of ex-Wolf Pack basketball star Deonte Burton, who is unarguably the athlete the school has since the past five years. Both were top-five players in their respective sport. Both flirted with turning pro after their junior seasons before deciding return as seniors. Both have a humble demeanor about them. Both are special players that don’t come too often to the Wolf Pack. However, Byler can do something this season that
Burton never did: lead Nevada to a conference championship (no, I don’t count the 2012 regular-season Western Athletic Conference title as a champion- ship for Burton, sorry!). A year removed from a 31-27 (15-15 MW) season and fourth- place finish, expectations are high for the Wolf Pack heading into the year. With Byler back at the plate and alongside ten other seniors, Nevada is talent-laden. An NCAA Regional Championship appearance, which would be the program’s first since 2000, isn’t far fetched.
“Nevada will be relying on him to put up the same type of numbers in 2015, in a lineup that’s perhaps more dangerous than it is being given credit for,” Perfect Diamond wrote about Byler.
The hardest question is, can Byler perform at an even higher level with shoulder-heavy expectations? Burton always did, hitting game-winners and posting a career year during his final go at Nevada. Being the face of the
program and leading it to a championship is enough to make most players crumble. However, Byler is playing for something even bigger. Scouts will be perched behind home plate throughout the season watching every swing he takes. Byler’s draft stock in the 2016 MLB Draft will rise or fall off his production this year.
Pressure busts pipes or makes diamonds. Nevada will take the diamond for the first time on Feb. 13 against Abilene Christian, before the home opener with Fresno State a week later. If there’s a reason to catch a game at Peccole Park this season, look no further than Byler. Behind his big bat and the direction of head coach Jay Johnson, the program is on the rise. The Wolf Pack baseball team has long been the forgotten “big three” sport. Nonetheless, there’s reason to believe the squad will be much better than the football and basketball teams.
Eric Uribe can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and on Twitter @Uribe_Eric.