Paul Boyd has spent 23 years working in newspapers, 21 of those in sports. His primary focus at the Northwest Arkansas Newspapers is covering sports at Rogers Heritage High School.
RAZORBACKS: Beeks Answers Call
PITCHER WORKS ON GAME
NORTHWEST ARKANSAS Mitch Cameron tried to convince several college baseball coaches he had something special a year ago.
Left-hander Jalen Beeks led Cameron’s Prairie Grove Tigers to the Class 4A state championship game last spring, but fell just short of a state title.
With only a few scholarship offers from junior colleges, Beeks chose to stay close to home and attend Crowder College in Neosho, Mo.
A year later Beeks is an inch taller, 10-15 pounds heavier and his fastball velocity has climbed from the mid-80s to 90-plus miles per hour.
And the 18-year-old finally got the call he’d been waiting for from the University of Arkansas a couple of weeks ago.
Beeks couldn’t wait to say yes when the Razorbacks called with a scholarship offer even though he had been at Crowder only one year.
“It was a no-brainer for me,” Beeks said. “It’s one of my dreams to play baseball for Arkansas. I had some other looks, but my mind was solely focused on Arkansas. I was really stoked when they called to offer.”
Cameron was surprised larger schools didn’t show more interest in Beeks, but he’s pleased with how the situation has worked out.
“Arkansas talked to him last year and said if he went to a junior college they would keep an eye on him,” Cameron said. “It’s paid off for him, he’s 89-92 and topping out at 93 now.”
But the coach is not surprised at all given Beeks’ work ethic.
“Not many Jalen Beeks come around very often,” Cameron said. “He throws on his own. I’ve seen him running on his own, lifting. When he was with us he was the first one to practice and last one to leave.
“His goal is to play pro baseball and he’s going to work to reach that goal.”
The increase in velocity helped Beeks draw more attention from Division I colleges. His fastball went from 84-86 miles per hour in high school to consistently 89-91 and topped out at 93 this season.
Beeks admitted learning to take a little off his pitches was probably the biggest lesson he gleaned over the past year.
“Beginning the season I was fastball, curve and the changeup was probably my third pitch,” Beeks said. “I’d say by the end of the year the change was my best pitch.
“It doesn’t matter how fast a fastball’s coming, people are going to be able to hit it at this level. You’ve got to have good secondary pitches and the changeup did it for me. It dropped down and away to right-handed hitters and I got them to roll over a lot. It’s helped me a lot to be more efficient.”
Developing the changeup also helped Beeks lower his pitch count, therefore, he was able to pitch deeper into games.
Crowder College baseball coach Travis Lallemand was thrilled to hear Beeks talk about developing the changeup as a big key to his success.
“By about mid-March he had to rely on that change and he really grew up a little bit,” Lallemand said. “He’s a great stuff guy. But him having that understanding probably means more for his future than about anything.
“I don’t want to make it too cliche, but is a ‘less is more’ type of thing. He butted his head against a wall a time or two, then figured out backing off his fastball and using offspeed can buy you out of innings a little quicker.”
Lallemand said Beeks was the No. 1 starter all season, but showed great heart late in the season in postseason play.
Beeks got a no-decision, allowing three runs over seven innings against Maple Woods. But came back two days later to pitch a scoreless ninth inning and earn a save. That win put Crowder into the Region XVI title game. He added another scoreless inning in relief in the region final, but the Roughriders came up just short.
School: Crowder Colege
Notable: Signed recently to play baseball at Arkansas. ... Led Prairie Grove to a Class 4A state runnerup finish in 2011. ... Was the ace of the pitching staff for Crowder College this season, finishing 6-3 with a save and a 3.32 earned run average. ... Struck out 90 batters in 78 2/3 innings while allowing 66 hits and walking just 23 in 19 games for the Roughriders.
“That was one of the most impressive things I saw out of him all season,” Lallemand said. “We had the tying run on and he got three outs for us to get to the championship game, then he got a couple outs to give us a chance in the finals.”
Lallemand also said Beeks could be key contributor right away in the back end of the Razorbacks’ bullpen. Beeks would have commanded more attention if he had stayed two years at Crowder, Lallemand said.
“Oh there’s no doubt, if we’d opened it up, every SEC school in the country would have recruited him I think,” Lallemand said.
Beeks’ increase in velocity has also piqued the interest of professional scouts, but he’s likely headed for Fayetteville even if he gets drafted in a couple of weeks.
“I have an adviser and I’ve been told my best chance is to go to Arkansas for two years,” Beeks said. “It’s what I’ve always dreamed about playing there. I just need to continue to adapt and get bigger.”