Although we’d love to have him back here next year, there are a lot of Major League teams that really like him. —BYU baseball coach Mike Littlewood
PROVO — When outfielder Kyle Dean went down with a season-ending injury last season, BYU baseball coach Mike Littlewood turned to freshman Brock Hale.
Hale got the first opportunity to play in place of Dean "but he had some anxious at-bats and didn’t look very comfortable,” Littlewood recalled. “So we put Keaton Kringlen in and the rest is history. Kringlen became a freshman All-American.”
It’s not that Hale played poorly — he hit .367 in 49 at-bats. Though Hale had a limited role a year ago, Littlewood saw his potential.
“He’s a pure hitter. He doesn’t seem to get fooled on curveballs, he’s not late on fastballs," Littlewood said. "He’s a player that’s a draftable kid. He’s not super dynamic until he steps into the box. Although we’d love to have him back here next year, there are a lot of Major League teams that really like him. Brock didn’t get that many chances last year. But we knew that he would step in this year and be one of the main cogs in our lineup.”
And that’s exactly what’s happened.
Hale is hitting a team-leading .372 on the season going into this weekend’s home series against Portland. In 137 at-bats, Hale has collected 51 hits, including 11 doubles and seven home runs. He's knocked in 30 runs and has scored 38. In Tuesday's 7-6 loss to Utah, Hale blasted a home run that cleared the scoreboard in left field.
To what does he attribute his success?
“It’s about staying loose and confident. The biggest thing for me is, mentally having an approach at the plate,” Hale said. “I may start 0 for 2, but I know I can end up 2 for 4."
Hale also credits working with BYU mental strength coach Dr. Craig Manning.
“I like his philosophy about having different cues to focus on,” he said. “I’ve been using that a lot. It’s helped my performance a ton. It’s calmed my mind.”
For Hale, it was a challenge not being an everyday player last season.
“It was tough. I wanted that spot real bad and to be able to play every day as a freshman,” he said. “Anxiety and the nerves kind of got to me. A lot of things overwhelmed me. I did pretty well with the role I had. I felt like I could have done better. After that season, I think the biggest thing I learned was to focus on what I had to do and let the results come.”
This season, the results have been impressive. The only thing that has stopped him is a knee injury he suffered against Saint Mary’s last month.
The 6-foot, 203-pound sophomore missed eight straight games before being inserted into the lineup as a designated hitter. He doubled twice, scored once and had an RBI in a 9-8 victory at San Diego as the DH.
The Cougars went on to win two of three games against the Toreros. It marked the first time BYU has won a series in San Diego since joining the West Coast Conference.
Soon thereafter, Hale's knee continued to improve and he returned to his spot in the outfield.
“Brock’s a great player. He quietly goes about his business," Littlewood said. "He gets his work done at practice and doesn’t say a whole lot. He’s a quiet leader."
Growing up in Mesa, Arizona, Hale didn’t have his sights set on being a Cougar.
“I’ll be completely honest — I never really thought a ton about coming to BYU. I grew up around Arizona State and I watched them a little bit,” said Hale, whose grandfather Lee Ferrin played baseball at ASU. “I remember my parents told me, ‘Since you’re going on a mission, you might as well contact BYU.’ I never thought about it too much. They never contacted me so I was planning to go to junior college after my mission. That was my only option. It wasn’t until near the end of my senior season when I got a call from BYU. They heard about me and wanted to watch me play. That was the best option for me, to come to BYU. It ended up being a great decision for me.”
Littlewood remembers receiving a phone call from a scout who let him know about Hale when he was a senior in high school.
“He told me, ‘There’s a Mormon kid down here that’s a pretty good player," Littlewood said. "He’s second in the state in home runs and leads Arizona state high school in stolen bases.”
Hale served in the Chile Santiago South mission before enrolling at BYU.
While Hale would someday like to play professionally, right now it’s all about helping the Cougars win the WCC championship and get to the NCAA regionals.
“(The Major Leagues) is something I want to do for sure. That’s been my dream since I was a little kid,” Hale said. “My main goal is winning here. The draft will come in the future and work itself out. As of right now, I’m just focused on helping my team the best I can to win, win the WCC conference tournament and go to the NCAA super regional. That’s my mindset right now, helping my team win.”