JONESBORO, Ark. (7/14/16) – Arkansas State head baseball coach Tommy Raffo announced Tuesday that junior college transfers Toby Johnson, Casey Vaughan, Grant Hawkins, Alex Howard, Justin Felix, and Winston Welch have all signed a National Letter of Intent to continue their baseball careers at A-State.
“In addition to our extremely talented fall signing class, we are excited to announce our six spring signees for the upcoming 2017 season,” Raffo said. “The Sun Belt Conference is a premier league in college baseball with a national champion, a regional host, and a regional participant this past season. We feel it is important to find special baseball student-athletes that put A-State in a position to win championships and assistants Noah Sanders and Caleb Longshore have accomplished the goal for this upcoming year.”
Johnson comes to A-State after playing last season at Lower Columbia College in Longview, Wash. He played in a team-high 48 games during the 2016 campaign for head coach Eddie Smith and hit .290 while scoring a team-best 46 runs. The Curtis, Wash., native reached base at a .426 clip and drove in 24 runs with 12 doubles and two triples to his credit. Additionally, the infielder led the team in hit-by-pitches (23) and steals (11). The Red Devils were near the top of the Northwest Athletic Conference, a wood-bat league, standings all year and finished in the final four of the conference tournament.
“Toby brings a ton of energy to both the field and the locker room,” Sanders said. “He is a lead-off type hitter who has proven he can get on base in a variety of ways at the collegiate level. He brings speed, athleticism, and an intense will to compete to the program.”
Vaughan joins the Red Wolves after competing for Crowder College in Neosho, Mo., under head coach Travis Lallemand. The Cabot, Ark., native hit .319 with a .449 on-base percentage and .549 slugging percentage as a redshirt sophomore in 2016. He hit a team-best 12 homers and had the second most RBI on the team with 55. The outfielder also led the team in walks (43) and steals (16) as the Roughriders won 40 games, marking the sixth time in the last seven years the team has won at least 40 contests.
“Casey is a player with a strong mental makeup that has shown the ability to hit for power to all fields,” added Sanders. “He also brings speed to both the base paths and the outfield. He bounced back after a season ending injury in 2015 and had a career year as a sophomore. He plays multiple positions and brings a middle-of-the-order type bat to the lineup.”
Hawkins played the past season at Dyersburg State Community College in Dyersburg, Tenn., for head coach Robert White and led the Eagles in runs scored (56) and steals (13). The Murfreesboro, Tenn., native hit .363 with a .451 on-base percentage and .536 slugging percentage. The middle infielder laced 10 doubles, three triples, and five home runs with 42 RBI during the 2016 campaign which saw the Eagles finish one game shy of the NJCAA Division I World Series and achieve a ranking as high as No. 5 during the year.
“Grant is a premier defender who has the ability to hit for extra bases,” offered Sanders. “He works extremely hard on his craft and brings in the experience of going deep into the postseason. He played through multiple injuries as a sophomore, and brings a certain aspect of toughness onto the team.”
Howard is an infielder who registered a .380 batting average, .450 on-base percentage, and .769 slugging percentage during the 2016 campaign for New Mexico Military Institute. The First-Team All-Western Junior College Athletic Conference (WJCAC) selection was third on the team with 12 home runs and 63 RBI, while leading NMMI in doubles (25) and triples (10). He also scored a team-high 68 runs and also stole five bases. The 25 doubles were a school record for a season, while the Albuquerque, N.M., native is the career leader in hits and runs for NMMI, while also ranking second in RBI and fourth in home runs.
“Alex is a player who brings a high level of athleticism and a very dynamic offensive game to our program,” Sanders stated. “He is a guy that gets a lot of hits, can hit for power, and also runs the bases extremely well. He is also a proven defender in the infield with a plus arm and range in every direction.”
A catcher by trade, Felix led New Mexico Military Institute with a .395 batting average to go along with team-bests in on-base percentage (.465) and slugging percentage (.811). The All-WJCAC selection tied for the team lead in homers with 17 and second with 64 RBI. The Nogales, Ariz., native also added 14 doubles, six triples, and 57 runs scored. The 64 RBI were the second-most in school history, while he finished third in school history in career home runs.
“Justin possesses an interesting skill set as a power-hitting catcher that runs well and can really defend his position,” continued Sanders. “He also provides leadership and mental toughness, which he showed while catching every game during his sophomore season. His dynamic offensive game mixed with his ability on defense make him a very interesting player.”
Welch, the last of the trio from NMMI, played right field for the Broncos and earned honorable mention All-WJCAC honors during the 2016 season. A native of Tucson, Ariz., he hit .373 with 19 doubles, 17 home runs to tie for the team lead, and knocked in a team-high 65 runs. The 65 RBI were a single-season school record and tops the school’s list for career doubles. Additionally, he ranks second in career home runs and third in hits and RBI.
“Winston is a power-hitting outfielder who has shown immense power over the past two seasons at NMMI,” Sanders explained. “He possesses a middle-of-the-order type bat, and has the ability to play multiple positions in the outfield. He brings a great work ethic and high baseball IQ to the program.”
New Mexico Military Institute, based in Roswell, N.M., went 29-30 with a 22-14 mark in conference play under former A-State assistant coach Chris Cook, who just completed his fourth year as head coach. The team’s 28 overall regular-season wins and 22 conference victories were both school records, while the team made the NJCAA Region V Tournament for the first time since 1961.