Zak Krill / UNLV athletics
Thursday, Feb. 14, 2019 | 2 a.m.
One day as a youngster, Bryson Stott stepped to the plate in his T-ball league and looked out at an empty infield. In the name of safety, the opposing coach had moved his players back to the outfield during Stott’s at-bats, keeping the tykes out of the line of fire.
UNLV non-conference home schedule
• February 15-17: Seattle
• February 19-20: UC-Santa Barbara
• February 26: Utah
• March 5: California State Bakersfield
• March 8-10: Bradley
• March 12-13: Washington State
All games at Earl E. Wilson Stadium on UNLV’s campus
Tickets: $5 for single game, $90 for season at unlvtickets.com
While the rest of the youngsters could barely swing a bat without teetering over, Stott’s powerful line drives had been deemed dangerous. The problem was eventually solved by advancing Stott ahead of his age group.
“They were scared I was going to hit some little kid and hurt somebody out there,” Stott remembers with a laugh. “We were all the same age, but me just hitting the ball harder at such a young age and getting moved up was probably a confidence booster.”
Not much has changed for Stott since those days. He’s not taking aim off the tee anymore, but the scouting report for the UNLV shortstop is pretty much the same: strong, athletic, great bat and lots and lots of line drives.
Stott’s ability to rip the ball is no longer considered a hazard. In fact, it’s the reason Major League Baseball teams are hoping to snag him in June when he’ll be eligible for the league’s amateur draft. After batting .333 through his first two college seasons, Stott is widely projected as a first-round pick.
Despite his exploits, though, Stott hasn’t always been viewed as a can’t-miss prospect. He hit .410 with three home runs as a senior at Desert Oasis in 2016, but he didn’t generate nearly the kind of draft buzz he’s getting these days. He had a smaller build at the time (he says a growth spurt stretched him from 5 feet, 4 inches as a sophomore to 6 feet, 1 inch as a senior), and his numbers weren’t enough to wow the pro scouts.
Stott says he had cursory discussions with a handful of MLB teams leading up to the 2016 entry draft, but he was mostly set on going to college and would have required a significant signing bonus to change his mind. He wasn’t surprised when he went unselected.
“I got a couple calls, talked to a couple teams,” he says, “but not like it is now. I had a pretty high number on myself, [because] I was happy to go to college.”
Stott sorted through his college offers, and though he wasn’t interested in UNLV at first—both of his parents had attended the hometown school, and Stott initially had his mind set on taking a different path—the program and coach Stan Stolte eventually won him over. Stott chose the Rebels over UNR.
When Stott showed up on UNLV’s campus two years ago, he didn’t look as he did in high school. He had continued growing, and with additional work in the weight room he soon filled out his 6-foot-3 frame. That increased his bat speed and made him an even more dangerous hitter.
Stolte wanted to get Stott’s bat into the lineup right away, but he wasn’t sure where. Stott was a natural shortstop, but his growth spurt threatened to size him out of the position. Third base looked like a safer bet.
Stott satisfied Stolte’s concerns about defense early in preseason, however, and earned the starting shortstop job. While he held his own with the glove, his bat stood out immediately. Stott logged a hit in each of the Rebels’ first seven games, and he racked up eight hits in an early three-game series against Cal State Fullerton, ranked No. 7 in the country at the time.
“Fullerton had pro-type arms all weekend,” Stolte recalls. “It was the best pitching we’d see all year, and Bryson was the best player on the field. And we had some good players, and Fullerton, too. He got off to a real hot start.”
Stott finished his first season with a .294 batting average, a .738 OPS (on-base plus slugging) and 29 RBIs, earning Mountain West Conference co-Freshman of the Year honors.
“He did everything right,” Stolte says. “He could field, run, catch the ball. Eventually he was going to hit with power. What kind of surprised me was how well-rounded he was.”
Stott’s sophomore season was a true breakout campaign. He raised his average to .365, bumped his on-base percentage from .359 to .442, clubbed 23 more extra-base hits and elevated his OPS from .738 to .998. Scouts soon came to the same realization his tee-ball league did—this is no ordinary, light-hitting shortstop.
Now, as Stott prepares for his junior season, he’s spending much of his time earning All-America honors and dodging draft questions. He has been named to just about every preseason list—including the Perfect Game/Rawlings All-America first team, the Baseball America second team and the Golden Spikes preseason watch list—but he doesn’t want his professional future to detract from what should be a promising season for UNLV baseball.
“I don’t try to look forward to anything,” Stott says. “When you’re a junior in the NCAA it’s in the back of your head, but I’m focusing on the team here.”
Still, Stott knows he’s close to achieving his professional dreams. The infielders these days aren’t running for cover, but as in tee ball, he’s about to be moved up to the next level.
“Sometimes I’ll sit back and look at what I’m doing and it’s surreal. When I was 5, 6, 7, they’d ask what you want to be when you grow up, and I’d say an MLB player or a pro athlete, and being this close is enjoyable. It’s one more goal that’s there, and to get to it is going to be pretty awesome.”
This story originally appeared in the Las Vegas Weekly.