Mesa State center fielder does small things as senior
He doesn’t lead the baseball team in home runs, RBI or batting average.
Justin Little doesn’t draw intentional walks or hit walk-off home runs. He doesn’t even have 10 home runs in his four years, but the Mesa State College senior center fielder has been the engine for the offense, which is among the national leaders in several categories.
“Justin is a player that can hurt you in a lot of ways,” Mesa State coach Chris Hanks said. “He can hurt you with his speed obviously with stolen bases, turning a single into a double or a double into a triple.
“He can track balls in the outfield and cover a lot of ground. He does a good job with what I call hitter memory. You have to position him (in the outfield) one time and you don’t have to after that. He’s good at reading guys swings and making those adjustments in positioning from at-bat to at-bat.
“He’s a leader by example. We have a lot of hard-working kids, but I don’t think any kid works as consistently as Justin. He’s got great discipline with his preparation and that’s what, with good athletic skills, that makes him a great player.”
Little, a biology major and a two-time RMAC Academic Player of the Year, played middle infield for Legacy High School and had aspirations of playing there for the third-ranked Mavericks (30-5, 20-2 RMAC).
“When I came in as a freshman, I wanted to play infield, but that didn’t work out,” Little said.
“They moved me to the outfield and I’ve been there ever since. I wanted to come in and play, produce and help the team win. It really hasn’t changed throughout the years. Still, my goal is to do anything I can to help the team win. Lay down a sacrifice, move a guy to second, stuff like that.”
The leadoff hitter for the Mavericks sets the table for the offense.
“Being a leadoff hitter, I’m not trying to drive the ball out of the park,” Little said. “I’m trying to get on base and let everybody do the work. Ground balls in the hole to shortstop I can get hits because of my speed. Little singles here and there help.”
He’s been successful at getting those little singles here and there and it shows in the statistics.
Two weeks ago, Little broke the school record for career runs scored.
“The runs record is a testament to everybody else,” he said. “They are the ones that hit me in. I have, what, eight home runs total in my four years.”
Last weekend, he broke the career hits record previously held by Landon Wareham. Little has 248 hits.
Little needs two triples to tie the single-season triples record. Kevin Becker and Little each have six.
He needs three stolen bases to tie the career record of 64. He leads the team with 16 stolen bases this season.
“The one I want is the stolen base record, since I first saw it on the board,” Little said. “I think it’s a tough record to get and it would be a good challenge.
“I’m always thinking about (stealing a base).”
Little has been the mark of consistency since his freshman year.
“The one thing you notice about Justin, there aren’t real extreme highs and lows,” Hanks said.
“When you check the boxscores, he’ll probably have a hit or two, he’s not going to strike out that much.
“What you don’t see in a boxscore is the stress he puts on a defense. He has the ability to move runners. He’s self-made in that area. He’s learned how to do that in his four years. He’s real attentive to those things.”