Christian Azcona’s willingness to switch positions and his ability to shine in his new spot may have expedited the whole recruitment process for the first-year Diamond Jack and St. Joseph (Met.) junior.
“We moved Christian’s position and, where some players may balk, he trusted his coaches had his best interest in mind and it really paid off for him,” said Azcona’s Diamond Jack Super 16U coach Steve DiTrolio, who doubles as the organization’s recruiting coordinator.
Azcona had shown ability at all four infield positions and has moved around the infield for his high school team, but the move this summer to first base proved beneficial in more ways than defensively for the Piscataway resident.
“At first I was a little skeptical about it,” said Azcona. “I sat down with ‘Ditro’ and he thought playing first base would take me the furthest. I think it worked.” It did seem to clear up some clutter in his mind and open the door to a more productive experience at the plate.
“I was pretty comfortable at first base and got used to it pretty quickly,” said Azcona. “It took stress off both sides of the ball for me. I think it really helped me as a hitter.”
It didn’t take long for Azcona to turn heads after his arrival to play ball with the Diamond Jacks.
“After the first weekend with the DJacks, I started talking to two schools and it went off from there,” said the lefty hitting Azcona. “I started hot at the plate and managed to stay consistent throughout the summer.”
The Diamond Jacks’ trips to Alabama and Georgia have been known to produce highly positive recruiting results for their players and Azcona would discover his turn was coming perhaps even faster than he had anticipated.
“At first I wanted to wait until the end of the fall to commit,” said the 6-0, 185-pound Azcona. But he was drawing the attention of a number of schools and one school from the south, in particular, had really gotten his attention.
“Eastern Kentucky saw me at Alabama, then in Georgia. That’s when I first got on the phone with them,” said Azcona. “I talked to coach Walt (Jones). He’s a cool dude. He took me through the process. I appreciated that. I was excited. The level of competition down south is great.” Jones is an Eastern Kentucky assistant and the program’s recruiting coordinator.”
Eastern Kentucky plays stiff Division 1 competition in the Ohio Valley Conference and its out-of-conference schedule is as good as it gets. The Colonels play such powerhouse programs as 2021 CWS runner-up Vanderbilt, Louisville, Tennessee and Georgia Tech, to name a few, so Azcona can expect to see some legit pitching.
That challenge enticed Azcona enough that he visited the school in Richmond, Kentucky in early September and, after his overnight visit and careful considerations the next week or so, he gave his verbal to coach Jones.
“I got to spend time with a bunch of the players and met the whole coaching staff,” said Azcona. “It’s a new staff and they are really looking to build a strong program. I wanted to be a part of that. They play Auburn opening week my freshman year. Playing teams like Vanderbilt, Louisville and Kentucky will be awesome.” Head coach Chris Prothro has begun his second year at Eastern Kentucky.
Azcona left Eastern Kentucky impressed not only in what he saw but what he experienced with his future teammates. “I saw guys who were focused on one thing,” he said, “getting their work in. When I spent the night there, we went to the cages and got our swings in. You can see they really want to get better. That was the cherry on top for me. I was pretty much sold. After a while of weighing my options I couldn’t wait any longer. I figured I had what I wanted right in front of me.”
The prospect of playing college baseball in the south was less a thought in his mind, Azcona admitted, than playing close to home.
“It’s something that kind of just worked out,” he said. “There are sacrifices you have to make in not being close to home, but my parents support my decision. My dad wanted it for me.”
Azcona transitioned nicely from the summer season to fall where he moved to the Diamond Jacks Super 17U squad under the direction of Kevin Cust, who has taken over some of DiTrolio’s recruiting responsibilities now that Ditrolio has been hired as a scout by the Milwaukee Brewers.
“The fall season went pretty well,” said Azcona. “I got that nice physical break between seasons then picked up where I left off. I had a chance to work on my mechanics more.”
DiTrolio anticipates a big jump for Azcona from his sophomore to junior year at St. Joes and the Diamond Jacks.
“Christian was a huge addition to our team this summer,” said DiTrolio. “He stepped right in and produced from the start. He was very coachable, always asking what he could do to improve. He’s going to have a breakout season this year.”
Winter workouts are now underway for all ball players and Azcona has specific plans of his own.
“Now it’s time to get stronger and work on my body more,” he said. “I have to work on the little things, get my speed up, keep my swing consistent, work on my arm strength. Junior year is an important year.”
The spring comes quickly and Azcona and his St. Joseph teammates have much to look forward to with a huge returning cast off an 18-win 2021 season that included the much-coveted Greater Middlesex Conference championship. St. Joe’s pitching surrendered just four runs in five county tournament games and some of that pitching is back. Virginia commit Donovan Zsak, who missed all of 2021 after Tommy John surgery, adds another legit Division 1 dimension to the staff.
“We’re going to make a state run,” said Azcona, who batted .375 as a sophomore. “We’re probably the best team in the conference. I’m excited. We’re going to win a lot of games and have a lot of fun doing it.”
St. Joseph coach Mike Murray knows plenty of work lies ahead before success can be realized, but, with players like Azcona it’ll be difficult to temper enthusiasm for the 2022 season.
“Christian is a really good kid and a hard working kid,” said Murray. “He missed his freshman year because of COVID and missed about a week and a half with us last year after his grandmother died. But he came back after that and ramped up really quickly in May and got hot. He swung great and settled in. He has those Division 1 level hitting tools.”
Azcona played primarily at second base in the spring.
“He’s a guy who works every day in the cage and fits into our young core who love baseball,” said Murray. “Christian handles velo real well. And he’s doing well academically here.”
Says Azcona, “When we play a team that has D-1 guys, coach Murray always points out how they stand out. He says if you want to be a D-1 player one day you have to work hard like them. Coach Murray is one of the best coaches I’ve had.”
Perfect Game’s short but impressive evaluation of Azcona about a year ago included the following observation. “The left-handed hitter steps into the box with an even and wide stance, high hands and a high back elbow. Azcona has a bent back leg with a low coiled leg lift trigger, a short stride and a good hip rotation as he throws his hands at the ball, generating a nice level swing working the ball gap to gap. Good student.”
Good ballplayer, hard worker, good student. A proven undefeated formula for success.