CSN's Weidenaar catches scouts' eyes

LAMAR, Colo. -- As a maturing teenager, Gabe Weidenaar realized he had all the tools to be a prospect. He could hit, run, throw and field almost every position.

But growing up in Montana, the one thing he lacked was exposure. In March and April, when scouts were scouring the country, he was often snowed in the house. And his high school did not have a baseball team.

"I wanted to get out of the cold weather," he said.

After making a phone call and scheduling a workout, he found a roster spot at the College of Southern Nevada. As it turned out, he could not have landed in a hotter spot.

Exposure is no longer a problem, because Weidenaar bats in front of Bryce Harper, maybe the most-scouted amateur player in the country. Once a secret, Weidenaar is now getting seen by all the right people.

"It's pretty amazing," Coyotes coach Tim Chambers said. "He's a stud, a really good athlete. Gabe's big and strong, and he hits with power."

Major league scouts follow Harper everywhere, even to the middle of nowhere to this tiny outpost in southeast Colorado, where the NJCAA Western District Tournament begins today.

CSN (46-13) plays Western Nebraska (24-37) at 2 p.m. Central Arizona (43-18) faces Lamar Community College (47-10) in the opening game at 11 a.m. The winner of the double-elimination tourney advances to the Junior College World Series.

Harper left Las Vegas High School after his sophomore year, and his talents as a power hitter are well documented. But he also has done some pitching, and Weidenaar is similar in that respect.

"Gabe came in as a two-way guy," said Chambers, who knew little about Weidenaar, a 6-foot-4-inch sophomore, before he showed up at the Henderson campus for a tryout.

Weidenaar, who can throw a 94 mph fastball, was the Coyotes' ace last season, when he went 8-3 with a 2.79 ERA. He struck out 98 and walked only 19 in 71 innings.

He had not shown Chambers much at the plate before this season.

"At first he had me primarily as a position player, and then I started to shine as a pitcher," Weidenaar said. "Chambers said, 'You're just a pitcher. You're not hitting anymore.'

"At such a high-level program, not a lot of guys get a chance to do both. Pitching has always been my love."

CSN was stacked with quality pitchers going into the season. Right-hander Donn Roach, a Bishop Gorman High School graduate, is the new staff ace and will start today's game. But Weidenaar still figured prominently in the pitching rotation in January.

"Start swinging a bat in case there's an emergency and we need you," Chambers told Weidenaar at a practice, and it wasn't long before his bat earned him a permanent spot in the lineup.

Weidenaar, who plays third base and center field, is hitting .346 with five home runs and 25 RBIs in 43 games. He also has 11 stolen bases in 12 attempts.

"He's great to hit behind," Harper said. "He's very athletic, and he can swing the bat really well."

Chambers said Weidenaar might be the best all-around athlete on the team, and he has not totally abandoned pitching this season. He's 1-0 with 21 strikeouts and two walks in six relief appearances.

If he gets selected high enough in next month's draft, Weidenaar hopes to sign. If not, he's looking at UNLV, New Mexico and Hawaii as college options.

The addition of Harper, he said, has been a blessing.

"At first it seemed like it would be more of a circus. People thought it would maybe hurt our team chemistry with Bryce," Weidenaar said. "But I feel like with him it has helped it a ton.

"His love for the game and his knowledge of the game, I feel he helps our team a lot. That's pretty much a treat to bat in front of him."

Contact reporter Matt Youmans at myoumans@reviewjournal.com or 702-387-2907.