Alec Atkinson and Reid Easterly hadn’t met often before, pretty much only as rivals in District 19-6A baseball.
But on June 9, the two incoming seniors found out they intend to play on the same team in college.
Atkinson, an infielder/pitcher at Katy High, and Easterly, a left-handed pitcher at Cinco Ranch, each verbally committed to play for Yale after next season. The two players committed on the same day to the same program.
Easterly announced his commitment at 5:53 p.m. that Sunday. Atkinson revealed his not even two hours later, at 7:26 p.m.
“We’ve met before,” Easterly said. “He’s a really good player. I’m excited to get to play with him.”
Yale, which went 18-23 in 2019 (12-8 in Ivy League play) and led the conference in team ERA and fielding percentage, had four players selected during last week’s Major League Baseball first-year player draft.
Atkinson and Easterly are hoping to join those ranks in a few more years.
The 5-foot-11, 165-pound Atkinson hit .439 with seven stolen bases and six RBIs in 12 district games last season. He went 3-0 with a 2.06 ERA on the mound, compiling 17 strikeouts to six walks in 17 innings.
Atkinson, whose family moved to Katy from the Rio Grande Valley during the winter of his eighth-grade year, said Yale edged Harvard because of the Bulldogs’ coaching staff.
“Besides the world-class education, it’s a program on the upswing,” Atkinson said. “This last year, they set the NCAA all-time record for fielding percentage and they have one of the best infield coaches in the country (Tucker Frawley). They also had four draft picks this year. There’s an excitement there about the future of the program, from the coaches and the players.”
Atkinson plans to play shortstop for Yale. He primarily played third base when he wasn’t Katy’s ace last season.
Atkinson said it’s possible he ends up playing both ways at Yale, pitching and hitting, but right now Yale likes his arm strength, speed and range in the middle infield.
“They told me I was their prototype guy, as far as someone who’s going to be reliable in the field and have enough speed to get some extra-base hits,” said Atkinson, who will study finance and economics. “Their field plays really big, and, especially with their middle infielders, they look for guys who can split the gaps, steal bases, create an extra 90 feet.”
Atkinson boasts a 4.70 grade-point average. Academics was at the top of the list when choosing a college.
“It wasn’t just a four-year decision,” Atkinson said. “It was a 40-year decision. I’m looking to be set up out of college if the baseball thing doesn’t work out.”
Now Atkinson can concern himself with his senior season. Katy will return all of its pitchers and almost all of its infield after making a run to the area playoffs last season.
“I just want to win state,” Atkinson said. “I really think we can make a run.
“As far as me, I just want to continue playing the game I know how to play. It’s about staying within myself and not trying to do too much. I know I’m not going to hit 10, 15 home runs. I’m going to hit for average and get on base.”
Easterly’s command and ability to throw four pitches for strikes attracted him to Yale.
The 5-10, 175-pounder went 2-1 during district play last season for the Cougars. He totaled 27 strikeouts to five walks in 18.3 innings. He allowed four earned runs and 12 hits in helping Cinco Ranch return to the postseason.
Yale was a no-brainer for Easterly, who holds a 4.33 GPA and said he will probably study economics.
“I really loved the campus and everything they had going on,” Easterly said. “Talking with the coaches, I really felt like I fit into what they were trying to do and what they’re looking for in a pitcher. They told me they really valued command and throwing strikes. I feel like those are my strengths as a pitcher. They told me to keep developing that and work with it.”
Easterly’s fastball topped out at 87 miles per hour last season. His sophomore season, it topped out at 80 mph.
He credits his throwing program at Texas Baseball Ranch and a more intense weightlifting regimen for his improved velocity. Easterly’s best pitch is his slider, but he can also throw the fastball, changeup and curveball for strikes.
“It’s a focus thing,” Easterly said of his impressive command. “When you’re playing catch, it’s focusing down on where you’re throwing it and making sure everything is right. During warmups, it’s aiming right. It’s a focus on where you’re throwing the ball.”
Easterly said it’s a relief to put his recruitment behind him. He is eager to help second-year coach Brett Wallace continue building the program into a perennial force in Region III-6A.
“I just want to fine-tune all my skills and help this team win as many games as it can,” Easterly said. “Coach Wallace really wants to turn us into a strong program, and we’re working hard. We had a much better year this year than last year. We just want to keep building on that.”