I heard a draft story a few years ago. A scout was at a high school game, planning to grade a specific player, when he saw another player leap over the center field fence with one step. Suddenly, the scout was more interested in the leaper than the player he was originally there to see.
The story, apocryphal or not, shows the importance of a baseball player’s current and future physical ability. If a player stands out, that can be a reason, all by itself, to follow a player who will perhaps play pro ball in the future.
New Market’s Oraj Anu is one of those players. His physicality is amazing; he is just built big and strong, like a linebacker. When I attended a game with my daughter, I asked her, “Which of those players do you think is the best athlete?” She answered, “Number 22.” Number 22, of course, is Oraj.
Drafted in the 27th round in 2017 out of high school by the Boston Red Sox, Oraj chose not to sign and go to Wallace Community College in Alabama. In his freshman year there, the switch hitter slashed 390/428/665 in 54 games and exactly 200 at-bats. He scored 54 runs, drove in 60, and hit 22 doubles and 11 home runs. ABCA/Rawlings named him a second team All-American at DH.
Undrafted in 2018, he has come out to New Market to join the Rebels. In 17 games so far in the Valley, Oraj is hitting 278/385/500 in 54 at-bats, with 3 doubles and 3 home runs.
Oraj graciously took a few minutes to answer some questions about a week ago:
All Things Valley League: How did you get connected with the League?
Oraj Anu: My head coach wanted me to come out here cause I already have three teammates here- Peyton (Millirons), Jared (Shemper), and Jacinto (Arredondo). They’re all pitchers; I’m the only position player here.
ATVL: So how’s it going so far?
OA: I think it’s going really well. I mean, the ball’s not falling for me but I’m making hard contact. I’m lining out. And as long as I put the ball in play, it’s better than striking out.
ATVL: What are your goals this summer? What do you really want to accomplish?
OA: I want to cut don on my strikeouts, because I felt like I struck out too much this spring. I want a lot of at-bats so I can get ready for my next year to see if I can get drafted.
ATVL: Speaking of your next year, are you planning to return to Wallace?
OA: Yes, sir.
ATVL: So why’d you choose Wallace out of high school?
OA: Well, I knew the assistant coach because I played travel ball with him and I was going to FIU (Florida International) but I would have to redshirt there; I wouldn’t be able to play my freshman year… so I was recommended to come to Wallace. I like it there.
ATVL: What’s it like playing for Mackey Sasser?
OA: He’s old school, but he’s real nice and relaxed- a chill guy. He’s a really good hitter; he gives us good advice down there. I like my coach.
ATVL: Let’s go back to when you were drafted (2017). One of the things I read about you is that you had done a lot of showcase work when you were in high school, but then you moved to the Bahamas. Can you explain that?
OA: I went down there because I had a sick relative. Me and my mom were real close [with the relative], and we were back and forth down there. I spent a year down there, hoping to get into the International Draft, but that didn’t work out… I enjoyed my year down there. I met a lot of people that I hadn’t seen for years. I ended up coming back. I did miss the All-American games, but I don’t really care about that.
ATVL: So are you originally from the Bahamas?
OA: I’m from Orlando, but I grew up in the Bahamas. I was back and forth, because I’m a dual citizen.
ATVL: At the plate, do you feel more comfortable from one side or the other?
OA: I feel comfortable from both sides… I’m a natural righty, but I feel like I have more power from the right side, but I hit more home runs lefty, which is weird. I guess because I face more righty pitchers. I feel like both sides are equal.
ATVL: Any idea why you weren’t drafted this year, after getting drafted out of high school?
OA: It’s mostly because I didn’t play a position. I DH mostly. That’s why I didn’t get drafted.
ATVL: So position-wise, you sort of eliminate yourself from one whole half of the major leagues. So is that something you’re working on this summer?
OA: I’m working on it this summer. I’m mainly a left fielder, but I can play anywhere in the outfield.
ATVL: Favorite major league team?
OA: Atlanta Braves. I like them because of Chipper Jones, one of the best switch hitters of all time…. I like to watch him hit, and I try to model my swing after him.
ATVL: He’s a good one to model it after. One last question: what piece of advice would you give to someone, or what bit of information would you give about yourself that makes you you? What makes you special?
OA: The most special thing about me is that I’m ambidextrous. The throw with both hands and hit from both sides of the plate. Because I have to work even harder, because I do things differently than everyone else, I would say never give up, and give it your 100.
ATVL: Sounds great, thank you!