MLB Draft: Speed, brains are assets for Catawba’s Ahearn
By Mike London
If you’re looking for a shortstop who can calculate square roots in his head and reel off the capitals of developing nations while he’s turning a double play, Chris Ahearn, 39th round pick of the San Diego Padres, is your guy.
Ahearn is one of the brighter players ever to put on a Catawba baseball uniform. He was honored recently for posting the top GPA among all Catawba’s senior male athletes ó 3.97 in Sports Management.
He also was an ESPN Academic All-American.
The Padres will sign Ahearn, who recently turned 23, today or Wednesday. They are delighted he thinks quickly, but they selected him in the 39th round mostly because he moves quickly.
Ahearn lists among his closest friends former Virginia football burner Andrew Pearman and Chris Davis, a pro sprinter who was national indoor champion at 60 meters when he was competing for North Carolina Central.
That’s fast company.
Ahearn still talks almost daily to Pearman and Davis because of a bond formed in 2003. Ahearn and his twin brother (Jon) ran with Pearman and Davis on Charlotte Providence’s 4×100 relay unit. The clocking was 42.26 seconds. They won the 4A state championship.
“My brother and I weren’t quite as fast as Chris and Andrew,” Ahearn said with a laugh. “But we chased ’em and tried to catch ’em.”
Ask Ahearn, 5-foot-11, 180 pounds, what his strength is, and he’ll respond with a single word: athleticism.
Open his closet and lots of different-sized balls will fall out. In high school, he was a pretty fair basketball player and All-State football player besides excelling in track and earning annual all-conference laurels in baseball.
After leaving Providence, Ahearn’s twin found a home in Gardner-Webb’s outfield.
Ahearn signed with Western Carolina but hit a wall. Lots of injuries and limited playing time in three years that included a redshirt. He still hit the books even if he wasn’t hitting curveballs. His shining moment in Cullowhee was being named Western’s Male Scholar-Athlete of the Year for 2006.
A transfer to Catawba got Ahearn’s athletic career back on track. He’s been an All-SAC shortstop in 2008 and 2009 and an integral part of teams that made regional appearances.
“People were like, ‘Oh, you’re going down to D-II, but I found out Catawba had guys who could play at any of the big-time programs,” Ahearn said. “Last season, Jerry Sands and David Thomas were such good players we all got looks from the scouts.”
As a junior, Ahearn belted a grand slam against Pfeiffer. He batted .293 with 14 doubles and 25 RBIs.
As a senior, he often hit cleanup and batted .356 with five homers, 38 RBIs and 14 steals in 51 games.
Those solid numbers led to pre-draft workouts.
“Twice for the Reds and also for the Cardinals and White Sox,” Ahearn said. “As far as the Padres, I had some contact. Their scout called two weeks before the draft to make sure I was healthy.”
Ahearn followed the draft online. His spirits rose every time the Reds, Cardinals or White Sox were due to pick. His spirits fell as soon as it was announced they’d picked someone else.”
“Then the Padres called,” Ahearn said. “I was happy. I’d put in a lot of work.”
Thirty-ninth round picks are longshots, but Ahearn has things that can’t be taught. He has unusual agility in the field that can lead to spectacular plays. On offense, his speed makes him a threat.
“Chris’ best baserunning is second to home and first to third more so than stealing bases,” Catawba coach Jim Gantt said. “But steals should come as he learns more about jumps and reads.
“He has the arm and glove to play defense in any league, and even though he won’t hit many homers, he has enough power to hit gaps.”
Ahearn figures he couldn’t have been picked by an organization that is a better fit for his strengths. The Padres play in spacious Petco Park, one of the most difficult offensive environments in the majors. Their needs are speed and defense, not mashers.
Ahearn fits that profile.
“What the Padres emphasize is that National League style of offense and making all the plays in the field,” Ahearn said. “Definitely, it’s a defense-oriented organization. I’m a defense-oriented player.”
The challenge for Ahearn will be hitting enough with a wood bat to stay in a pro lineup. Last summer, wielding a wood bat for the Asheboro Copperheads in the Coastal Plain League, he hit .248 with nine RBIs and eight steals in 52 games.
Of course, the CPL is a pitcher’s league. Ahearn was still fourth on the team in batting.
Ahearn expects to report to the Padres’ camp in Peoria, Ariz., by the weekend to start his pro career.
“As a fifth-year senior, I know I don’t have any leverage, so there’s not going to be a lot of bonus money involved,” he said. “But the opportunity is really all that matters. All I want is a chance.”
While Ahearn earned prestigious academic honors at Catawba, his twin was Big South Scholar-Athlete of the Year. Jon had a 3.90 GPA in a pre-med program.
“People forget sometimes that getting that college degree is the reason you go to school in the first place,” Gantt said. “Chris and his brother will be successful in life, and that’s for sure.”