COVINGTON, Ga. -- After Ryan Spikes burst on the scene for Alcovy baseball as a freshman in 2018, many people wondered what he could do in 2019 for an encore.
Being named the 2019 Covington News Baseball Player of the Year isn’t bad.
To be sure, this accolade is just one of many that Spikes collected after a stellar 2019 campaign where he led the Tigers in virtually every important offensive statistic. Spikes batted an area-best .486, he belted seven homers, scored 31 runs and ushered in 20 RBI while helping Alcovy to an 8-20 season in the first year of coach Jimmy Hughes’ tenure.
An 8-20 record isn’t that impressive, you might say? Consider, then, the fact that Alcovy and Spikes did what they did in arguably the toughest region in Georgia — especially as far as pitchers go — regardless of classification. Spikes’ consistency despite the region’s rigor was enough to make Hughes bullish on touting his sophomore as one of the state’s best.
“Ryan just continued to develop as the year went on, particularly at the plate,” Hughes said. “He stayed within himself and didn’t try to carry the load for nine players on his own shoulders. Obviously, he was on a record pace early with six home runs in the first nine games, but he didn’t change his approach. He wanted to hit the ball hard in every at-bat.”
For Spikes, when he looks back on his own progress, he measures it in ways that statisticians may not appreciate.
“I feel like my sophomore season was a big success, because I just became a better team player,” Spikes said. “I attribute that to my offseason work. In the offseason after my freshman year I got to work on my game. From being with Team USA to working on myself at home, my coaches and trainers and all, I know I’d gotten stronger and toned my body a little bit, and I think that offseason work was the key.”
In addition to his area-high batting average, Spikes also recorded a .944 slugging percentage, led the team in hits (35), doubles (8) and was a valuable part of Alcovy’s pitching rotation. Hughes said there’s one part of Spikes’ game that some may overlook, though.
“It’s his speed,” Hughes said. “Five of his hits this year were infield singles that he legged out. That’s an extra 50 to 60 points right there that’s added onto his average.”
But Hughes also lauded Spikes’ intangible qualities — many of which corroborates Spikes’ account of his offseason benefit.
“A lot of what we heard and saw with Ryan started and manifested itself with his offseason preparation,” Hughes said. “He was a workout warrior. Even when he wasn’t with our team lifting, he was going out and getting extra work, particularly with Brandon Thomas and Awaken Sports.”
And for Hughes, a new coach coming in to build a brand new program, that made things so much easier.
“It was easy for Ryan to grasp our concepts and terminology,” he said. “And honestly, sometimes the best strategy as a staff was to stay out of the way. And to me, that’s the mistake a lot of coaches make. No sense in reinventing the wheel when a kid is having obvious success. Ryan was certainly not one we had to micromanage.”
For now, Spikes has his college plans mapped out as he committed to Tennessee several months ago. He’s still keeping his options open and still has his ultimate dream of having his name called in the Major League Baseball draft. But for now, Spikes said he’s simply concentrating on becoming a better player while still in high school.
“To be honest, I’m really trying to improve and build my hitting, believe it or not,” he said. “That’s something I definitely can keep working on even while in high school. Being committed to Tennessee, I watch the SEC and the SEC has some of the best pitchers in the world. But I also want to touch up on my fielding, since defense wins games. And if you can’t stop the ball, it really doesn’t matter how much you can score.”
Although Spikes will see the best of the best while playing for his travel squad and spending time in Chicago with the 17u National Team Development Program this summer, Spikes said he didn’t see too much drop off in the caliber of athletes he saw in Region 3-AAAAAA during the high school season.
In fact, Spikes said some of the region’s pitchers compare favorably to some of the top talent he sees across the nation.
I feel like guys like (Heritage’s) Griffin Holcombe was the best,” he said. “His stuff was dirty. I mean, it had everything. It had movement, speed. He could spot the ball wherever he wanted.”
The rigor of the region didn’t necessarily catch Spikes off guard though.
“Honestly, I’m not really surprised,” he said. “I was just really ready for it this year, because I’ve heard things from my freshman year. I’ve heard how our region has top pitchers and that we’d face a lot of college commits. So really, I just took that with me and ran with it and tried to better myself.”
Part of bettering himself is bettering his team. Spikes said he plans to use his experiences this summer to make him a stronger player so that he can be an even bigger contributor to a growing Alcovy program.
“Coach Hughes came in and freshened everything up for us,” he said. “Even though the win-loss record isn’t where we wanted it to be last year, we all got better as a team. It’s fun to be a part of Alcovy baseball right now. The amount of effort coach Hughes brings to the program is so good, and you can tell he cares about this team and his coaches, and I feel like as long as our hearts stay in it like we are now, we’re going to be pretty strong.
“We want to win, our coaches want to win. That will make the difference.”