By Mike London KANNAPOLIS — A.L. Brown senior Zach Mullinax has gotten used to it. People ask him where he’s going to college, and after he tells them, they’ve still got no idea where he’s headed. “Say what is the u

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, December 17, 2013

KANNAPOLIS — A.L. Brown senior Zach Mullinax has gotten used to it.
People ask him where he’s going to college, and after he tells them, they’ve still got no idea where he’s headed.
“Say what is the usual response,” Mullinax admitted with a smile.
Mullinax signed in November to play baseball for Salem International. It’s a Division II school in Salem, W. Va. It’s about six hours from Kannapolis.
For years, it was just plain Salem College. Then it was briefly Salem-Teikyo. Then it evolved into Salem International University. Students that go there call it SIU.
Mullinax is likely to be a good college catcher. He easily passes the eye test. At 6-foot-2, 190 pounds, he looks like a tight end.
“He’s a pretty physical kid,” A.L. Brown baseball coach Empsy Thompson said. “His power is gap to gap, but if he gets his pitch, I don’t think there’s a park he can’t hit it out of.”
Mullinax didn’t know a thing about Salem International until the day the family returned home from a vacation. There was a message on the answering machine, and the voice belonged to the coach at Salem International. He was introducing himself and his school.
“He’d never seen me play, but he’d seen my profile onlne and was interested,” Mullinax said. “We set up a visit, and when we went up there, I loved it. It was this small town in the middle of a valley. I felt like everything was falling into place for the future.”
As a physical, strong-armed catcher who also is a good student, Mullinax is a recruitable commodity. Next to lefty pitchers, catchers are the hardest thing to find.
He has not been a catcher forever.
“Growing up, I was usually the first baseman because I was the tall, slow, fat kid,” Mullinax said. “Then in eighth grade, we got new catching gear, and I was like, “Wow! New gear. Sure, I’ll try catching.’ It didn’t take long to fall in love with the position. The pro I looked up to was (St. Louis Cardinals catcher) Yadier Molina, and I just tried to work and work like he did.”
Mullinax stopped being the fat, slow kid along the way.
“The jump he made from freshman year to sophomore year was as big a jump as I’ve ever seen,” Thompson said. “Just tremendous growth. Bigger, faster, stronger.”
When you talk bigger, faster and stronger in Kannapolis, you’re talking about the influence of strength and conditioning coach Todd Hagler’s weight room.
“Coach Hag instills a work ethic in you, and things started to kick in my sophomore year,” Mullinax said. “I could see my 40 times and shuttle times coming down and I could see my lifts going up. I fell in love with weightlifting the same way I did catching.”
A cousin of former South Rowan pole vaulter Makenzie Mullinax, Zach benches 250 pounds and squats 385. He’s a 7.0 runner in the 60, which is fast for a catcher.
“He runs very well,” Thompson said. “It’s not like we’ll be using a courtesy runner for him. And he’s got a plus arm. We’d love for him to pitch some for us, but he’s going to have to catch.”
A.L. Brown has a catching shortage — two catchers in four grades.
Mullinax plays a lot of baseball. Besides playing for the Wonders, he’s competed with a CNC showcase team made up mostly of Randolph County players, as well as the Kannapolis American Legion team.
“With that showcase team, I saw a high level of pitchers and hitters,” Mullinax said. “We were 30-5.”
He made his varsity debut at A.L. Brown when he was called up from the jayvees as a sophomore.
As a junior, he was a catcher/DH, with Ryan Austin, who is now at St. Andrews, handling a lot of the catching duties. When Austin pitched, Mullinax caught him.
Mullinax said his highlight last spring wasn’t a game-winning longball — it was a squeeze bunt in extra innings that won a game with Cabarrus.
As a senior, Mulinax will be expected to bat in the middle of the lineup, but as is the case with all catchers, his primary responsibility will be defense. He’ll make the calls on first-and-third situations and pickoff plays, and he’ll be counted on to throw out basestealers.
His “pop” time — that’s the time it takes for him to get the ball from his mitt into the glove of the middle infielder covering second base — is excellent. He said he’s consistently at 1.95 seconds, with a personal-best of 1.88 at a showcase camp.
“We’ll be counting on Zach a lot,” Thompson said. “He and Trace Hagler are going to have to lead a bunch of young kids this year, but that’s another good thing about Zach. He doesn’t mind leading.”