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In Middletown (R.I.), O'Regan an athlete for all seasons

5/10/2015

How many athletes do you know who can hit home runs, track down fly balls, throw out base stealers, lead his high school hockey team in scoring and also Hang Ten while surfing?

Not many.

But all of the above are applicable when discussing Middletown (R.I.) High senior catcher/outfielder Liam O’Regan. O’Regan flashed his power last winter in the finals of the National High School Home Run Derby when he bashed four homers that carried at least 450 feet at Marlins Park in Miami.

“He’s become a professional hitter,” said Islanders coach Chuck Paiva, who’s also the President and General Manager of the NECBL’s Newport Gulls. “He understands to hit the ball where it’s pitched and where his hands should be. He makes adjustments all the time.

“He can hit the ball out of there in any field. To see him spread the hits around the field just confirms to me that he keeps getting better. He understands hitting as well as anybody I’ve seen at this level. He’s a baseball rat. He hits every day.”

The Islanders play in Division I A (the Rhode Island Interscholastic Leagues top division). Through his first 14 games, O’Regan was hitting .407 replete with 16 runs scored.

Even more impressive is his OBP (.628), his slugging percentage (.628) and his OPS (1.316).

Patience is a virtue: But the story behind the story regarding O’Regan’s stats is that pitchers tend to “nibble” when he steps into the batter’s box.

“Teams pitch around him,” said Paiva. “I know it’s frustrating for him because every time first base is open they walk him intentionally or hit him (O’Regan’s been hit by pitches seven times). They don’t give him much to hit which can create a problem for a good hitter because they get frustrated.

“I know he handles it well because he’s a class kid and accepts it for what it is. At the next level, they aren’t going to be able to pitch around him. Hitting is 90 percent mental. I’ve noticed a tremendous adjustment he’s made mentally to discipline himself not to swing at bad pitches.

“I’m amazed at some times he has to take his walks,” continued Paiva. “But he doesn’t swing at bad pitches just to get a pitch. He’s got great plate discipline.”

O’Regan, who checks in at a solid 6-2, 200 pounds, realizes he’d be getting himself out if he swung at bad pitches.

“I really try not to swing at anything out of the zone,” said O’Regan, who’s committed to playing college ball at Elon University. “I might swing at a curveball or an off-speed pitch without two strikes because it’s in the zone and it’s a good pitch for me to drive.

“Normally, if I was on a different team or getting pitched in a different way, I’d wait and wouldn’t swing at those pitches without two strikes.”

What’s made this season even more of a challenge for O’Regan is the fact he’s popped up on the radar screen of pro scouts. In many cases, especially for high school players, that can prove to be a distraction. But that hasn’t been the case with O’Regan.

“I try not to look in the stands,” he said. “I don’t want to know who’s there until after the game – maybe have my coach tell me who came there to see me.

“I know I get pitched around a lot in high school and I like to show scouts how I can hit. I might be chasing a few (the operative word here is “few”) here and there just to hit it. But, otherwise, it doesn’t affect me too much.”

To surf or not to surf: What did affect O’Regan was when it came time to decide whether to continue surfing or concentrate on baseball. O’Regan began surfing when he was seven, primarily at Middletown’s Second Beach.

Eventually, he started entering contests around the time he became a teenager and found himself traveling up and down the East Coast in eighth grade and high school – while also playing baseball.

“I was doing bigger surf competitions with money involved,” said O’Regan. “But around the end of my freshman year was when I really focused on baseball.

“I could have gone in a different direction and tried to make it up to a pro circuit. But there aren’t enough waves around here that are good enough to keep practicing on. It would have required a lot of dedication and possibly moving to a different area to keep pursuing that.”

O’Regan, who was named to the 2015 Northeast Indoor Showcase Top Prospect List, became a catcher out of necessity even though outfield is his natural position. Because Middletown had graduated a catcher after O’Regan’s sophomore year, Paiva had to make a tough decision.

“Liam was the best athlete to take on that challenge and the best person to accept that opportunity,” said Paiva. “He went behind the dish and I don’t think I’ve seen anybody work harder than him to learn his craft behind the plate. He’s a tremendous athlete and his skill set is well-suited to play the outfield. He’s always been an outfielder. He runs well and has a strong arm.

“I think he’s going to be a projectable corner outfielder in college and beyond.”

Ironically, O’Regan relishes catching even though it’s a new position for him.

“I feel very comfortable in high school behind the plate,” he said. “I can control the game a lot and give my team the best chance to win. But I also feel comfortable in the outfield.

"I don’t have enough experience behind the plate right now to keep catching at a higher level. But I’m sure if I keep working at it I’ll have more options either in the outfield or behind the plate.”

But, conversely, that versatility could work to O’Regan’s advantage beyond high school, college and perhaps the pros if he gets drafted.

“The skills he’s learned as a catcher are only going to enhance his opportunities, especially as a catcher because it’s a difficult skill set,” said Paiva. “Having a catcher who can play multiple positions is a commodity on any baseball team.”

Good point.