Prep Baseball: East’s Troutman commits to Appalachian State
By Mike London
GRANITE QUARRY ó People say he’s a late bloomer, but East Rowan senior Preston Troutman knows that’s a myth.
He’s been working at baseball like its his full-time job since Little League. East coach Brian Hightower calls Troutman’s work ethic “ridiculous,” and that’s ridiculous in a good way.
“Preston and (teammate) Noah Holmes, no one’s ever taken more swings or more groundballs than those two guys,” Hightower said. “Preston never says die. He hates to ever make an out. He treats every at-bat like it’s his last. Gotta love a kid like that.”
Work ethic and intensity have paid off for Troutman, an athlete good enough to make big plays as a receiver for this season’s East’s football team.
Troutman has verbally committed to Appalachian State and plans to officially sign with the Mountaineers in November.
“It was either Appalachian or Western Carolina,” Troutman said. “When I visited, I just really liked App and the coaches.”
Troutman is only 5-foot-9, 154 pounds, but he’s strong for his size and his right arm may as well be plugged into an electrical socket. He’ll probably double up as a middle infielder and relief pitcher for the Mountaineers. His fastball is often clocked in the 86-88 mph range.
“Definitely, Preston could be a two-way guy in college,” Hightower said. “Appalachian is banking on his potential.”
Most Division I commitments are high schools studs by the time they’re sophomores and some shine as freshmen.
Troutman has that great arm, sharp fundamentals and soft hands, but he didn’t make a varsity impact until his junior year.
“Preston came to East as this really small guy,” Hightower said. “If he doesn’t work like crazy in the weight room and work to get stronger with (football coach) Brian Hinson, then he’s not the prospect he is now. He worked and worked, really pushed himself, and then he just took off.”
Hightower never doubted Troutman could play. He saw him throw the heck out of the ball from shortstop last fall at a showcase at Belmont Abbey when it was 32 degrees. College coaches that were watching wondered if that live-armed shortstop could pitch. Hightower told them the kid could hum it and had a nasty breaking ball.
Still, East is East. Talented players sometimes stack up like jets circling an airport in a holding pattern, waiting their turn. There was no clear role for Troutman when his junior season began.
“I’d looked forward to being a starter, to follow J-Ro (Charlotte’s Justin Roland) at shortstop, but it didn’t work out that way,” Troutman said. “I just waited for my chance and had faith I’d get it.”
In East’s sixth game, Troutman had two hits and two RBIs and earned a save by nailing down a wild game against North Iredell that East had trailed early 6-0.
In East’s ninth game, Troutman came out of the bullpen to shut out eventual 3A state champion Lake Norman for 41/3 innings. That opened a lot of people’s eyes.
After he went 2-for-2 in East’s 10th game at Statesville, the lefty hitter became a fixture in the lineup ó either as the starting pitcher, the DH or the shortstop.
He batted .387 for the season with 20 runs and 14 RBIs in 62 at-bats. He also drew 20 walks for an outstanding on-base percentage of .542. On the mound, he was 4-1 with two saves and a 1.77 ERA. He fanned 53 in 352/3 innings.
“Preston had a lot of 3-2 counts, threw a lot of pitches,” Hightower said. “It was something Coach (Brian) Hatley and I just had to get used to because he might need 75 pitches to get through four innings. He wasn’t always consistent, he’s still looking to find that, but he competed every pitch.”
There haven’t been many all-county players who started a season on the bench, but Troutman was an obvious choice.
Appalachian watched Troutman in the Cliff Peeler Easter Tournament at Salisbury. Troutman says, by rule, the Mountaineers couldn’t speak to him that day, but they did start e-mailing.
Over the summer, Troutman’s stock kept rising. It was no easy assignment following Roland as the Rowan County Legion shortstop, but he hit .288, scored 41 runs and made the plays. He was up and down on the mound ó it’s not easy closing games after playing eight innings at shortstop ó but there were flashes of brilliance.
Troutman’s excellent performance at the State Games in June ó tenacious at-bats and 87 mph fastballs ó drew attention from just about every college in the state and helped Appalachian decide Troutman was someone it really had to have. His 4.0 GPA didn’t hurt him a bit.
Then Troutman helped Rowan make its run to the World Series.
“Just an awesome experience,” he said. “I’ll never forget it. They treated us like kings.”
This spring, Troutman and Holmes will lead a talented, young team. If Troutman finds consistency, he could dominate. He’s ready for that next step.
“I just love to play ball,” he said. “That’s all I’ve ever wanted.”