HARROGATE, Tenn. — Lincoln Memorial University head baseball coach Jeff Sziksai introduced five fresh signees on Tuesday as Eric Kalman, Danny Valdez, Jake Watkins, Jake Mills and Wes Neiderland have committed to join the Railsplitters for the 2015 campaign.
These five additions bring the 2014 recruiting class to nine for Sziksai and his staff as Shane Whalen, Dannon Grubb, Chase Randolph and Logan Augustine inked with the Railsplitters in the early signing period back in late November.
Listed as a 5-11, 195-pound infielder, Eric Kalman is set to join the Railsplitters after a two-year stay at Division I George Washington University. During his freshman season at GWU, Kalman started every contest, batting .255 with 48 hits, nine doubles, 21 RBI and nine stolen bases.
“I chose LMU because I believe that the athletics and academics that the school has to offer will give me the opportunity to excel and achieve my goals. The relationship that I was able to build with the coaching staff throughout the recruiting process has made me feel comfortable as I head into this new chapter of my life,” Kalman said.
Head coach Jeff Sziksai on Kalman: “We are excited about the experience and versatility that Eric brings to the program. He has the ability to play any infield position and brings a physical presence to our lineup. Eric should have an exciting future in an LMU uniform.”
Originally hailing from Orlando, Fla., Danny Valdez is heading to Harrogate from familiar territory as he is currently completing his second year at Kaskaskia College, alma mater of All-SAC Honorable Mention catcher Kyle Floyd. Valdez is a 6-0, 170-pound third baseman who posted a monster freshman season while competing for the Blue Devils as he batted .382 and slugged .490 with 24 RBI and 29 runs in 2013. Valdez surpassed several of those figures in 2014, reaching base at a .404 clip while scoring 31 times.
“I have heard nothing but great things about LMU and the program that they’re building. I played with catcher Kyle Floyd last year at Kaskaskia, as we went to the World Series, so he was a huge part in the recruitment process and getting me to commit to LMU,” Valdez said. “I chose LMU to continue to build the program to be one of the best in the nation, win and become the best player I can possibly be. I also chose LMU because of the opportunity they provided for me to continue my education and baseball career.”
Sziksai on Valdez: “Danny is an extremely versatile player and is athletic enough to play anywhere in the infield. He has proven to be able to handle the bat as well, leading last year’s Kaskaskia College team in hitting on a team that advanced to the World Series. He knows how to win and we are excited about Danny’s future as a Railsplitter.”
A 6-2, 200-pound pitcher, Jake Watkins put up stellar numbers while competing in the North Georgia area, one of the most competitive regions for prep baseball in the nation. During his senior season at Hillgrove High School, Watkins has compiled a 4-1 record on the mound with a 2.4 earned run average and 35 strikeouts. For his efforts, Watkins was honored with an Outstanding Season Award from the Georgia Dugout Club.
“I chose LMU because of the enthusiastic coaching staff I met on my first visit to LMU. Also, the success of the baseball team stood out to me and seems like a good fit because of the program that is run there. The all-around atmosphere at LMU was very alive and everyone that was there provided the impression that they enjoyed everything about it,” Watkins said.
Sziksai on Watkins: “Jake has a ton of upside and has had a lot of success in a very competitive area of the country for high school baseball. I am excited to see his development once he gets in our strength and conditioning program as I think he could have an immediate impact on our program. Jake has a very bright future at LMU.”
Bringing some much needed size to the mound, Jake Mills is a 6-4, 230-pound right-hander pitcher hailing from McCordsville, Ind. Mills also boast two years of collegiate pitching experience as he is in his second year at junior college Vincennes University. Mills has put together a 7-3 record up to this point, tossing 51 innings with 42 total strikeouts. Mills’ season was highlighted by a no-hitter against Parkland College on April 6.
“LMU has a great baseball program. The coaching staff is perfect for my needs on and off of the field. The school is top notch with so many opportunities to get a job outside of the school. I am very happy to be given the opportunity to move on with my baseball career and that I am getting the chance to keep chasing my dream. I believe LMU can give me the chance to fulfill that dream,” Mills said.
Sziksai on Mills: “Jake will bring a big, physical presence to the mound next year for us. He has been the top guy for his program at the junior college level, and we are expecting him to continue to develop and play a major part in our success in the immediate future.”
Wes Neiderland is a 6-2, 175-pound outfielder who has posted two stellar seasons at Columbia State Community College. In 2013 (his debut season), Neiderland batted .361 with 26 stolen bases. This season, the Thompson Station, Tenn., native has compiled a .338 clip with eight triples, nine doubles and 16 stolen bases. Neiderland was a recipient of the Rawlings Gold Glove Award, which is a national NJCAA award representing the top fielders at the junior college level.
“I chose LMU because it felt like home when I visited. They have a beautiful campus and a winning baseball program that likes to work hard,” Neiderland said.
Sziksai on Neiderland: “Wes is an extremely athletic outfielder that has the ability to play any of the three outfield spots. He can affect the game in a number of ways whether it be hitting for average, stealing bases, or covering ground in the outfield. He is also a proven winner coming from Columbia State and we are excited to see the impact he has for LMU next year.”
A year removed from claiming the program’s first Food Lion South Atlantic Conference Championship title, the Railsplitters tied the program record for league wins (16) and highest league finish (3rd) in 2014. The Railsplitters won the opener of this year’s SAC Championship, but losses to Wingate and eventual tournament champion Catawba withdrew LMU’s hopes for a repeat. Lincoln Memorial, once again, led the conference in hitting, topping the SAC in batting average with a .308 cumulative mark while ranking first in slugging, second in on-base percentage and third in runs scored.