Valley star eighth-grader Sanders commits to Auburn

Published 8:30 am Tuesday, April 7, 2020

There aren’t a lot of eighth-graders that already know where they’re going to college, but Jackson Sanders isn’t an average middle schooler.

Sanders is the ace of the Valley High School baseball pitching staff. At 14, the left-hander dominates on the mound, sitting in the mid-80s on his four-seam fastball that can touch 88 MPH.

On Feb. 24, he committed to pitch for Auburn head coach Butch Thompson.

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“It’s a great school,” Sanders said. “They have great coaches. They went to the College World Series last year, so I just wanted to be part of that.”

Thompson has led the Tigers to at least an NCAA Regional three of his four years at Auburn. He is a player’s first type of coach, which is one of the factors that allowed Sanders to feel comfortable committing.

Since he took over in 2016, Thompson has had 22 players drafted, 13 of which were pitchers. The most notable was Casey Mize, who was the No. 1 pick by the Tigers in 2018.

“He’s a great guy. I just feel comfortable with him,” Sanders said. “They develop pitchers.”

In the shortened season, Sanders dominated on the mound, going 3-1 in his four starts. He totaled 20 ⅔ innings, allowing 10 hits and six earned runs (2.62) ERA while striking out 15 batters.

The one number that is unique to Sanders that most other varsity pitchers don’t have to worry about is the pitch count. A freshman or sophomore pitcher can throw 100 pitches an outing,  while a junior or senior pitcher can throw 120 pitches. As an eighth-grader, Sanders can throw just 85 pitches.

“It doesn’t matter if I’m pitching to a seventh-grader or a senior, I’m going to have the same approach and just work on my craft,” Sanders said.  “I like to get ahead with the fastball and follow up with the off-speed if they get on the fastball.”

When the Rams took down Troup High School 6-2 in early March, Sanders was on the mound. He dominated Tigers, allowing two unearned runs off one hit in a complete-game effort.

He entered the seventh inning seven pitches away from the 85-pitch limit. He used just three to retire the Tigers in order.

“He does such a good job of getting ahead of guys,” Valley head coach Patrick Shivers said after the win. “He does a good job of doing that [pitching to contact] and he’s smart.”

Sanders throws four different pitches, a four-seam fastball, two-seam fastball, changeup and curveball. His curveball is more of a slurve, which is a mix of a slider and a curveball, which has side-to-side action while dropping. He is working on learning a circle changeup, which has a downward movement.

When he is not on the mound, Sanders is the Rams’ starting center fielder. He also bats third in the Rams’ lineup. He leads the team with a .538 batting average and is second in both slugging % (.692) and OPS (1.283). He’s knocked in 13 runs and swiped six bases.

“The game kind of slowed down for me this year,” Sanders said. “I got better at seeing off-speed pitches.”

There aren’t a lot of eighth-graders that already know where they’re going to college, but Jackson Sanders isn’t an average middle schooler.

Sanders is the ace of the Valley High School baseball pitching staff. At 14, the left-hander dominates on the mound, sitting in the mid-80s on his four-seam fastball that can touch 88 MPH.

On Feb. 24, he committed to pitch for Auburn head coach Butch Thompson.

“It’s a great school,” Sanders said. “They have great coaches. They went to the College World Series last year, so I just wanted to be part of that.”

Thompson has led the Tigers to at least an NCAA Regional three of his four years at Auburn. He is a player’s first type of coach, which is one of the factors that allowed Sanders to feel comfortable committing.

Since he took over in 2016, Thompson has had 22 players drafted, 13 of which were pitchers. The most notable was Casey Mize, who was the No. 1 pick by the Tigers in 2018.

“He’s a great guy. I just feel comfortable with him,” Sanders said. “They develop pitchers.”

In the shortened season, Sanders dominated on the mound, going 3-1 in his four starts. He totaled 20 ⅔ innings, allowing 10 hits and six earned runs (2.62) ERA while striking out 15 batters.

The one number that is unique to Sanders that most other varsity pitchers don’t have to worry about is the pitch count. A freshman or sophomore pitcher can throw 100 pitches an outing,  while a junior or senior pitcher can throw 120 pitches. As an eighth-grader, Sanders can throw just 85 pitches.

“It doesn’t matter if I’m pitching to a seventh-grader or a senior, I’m going to have the same approach and just work on my craft,” Sanders said.  “I like to get ahead with the fastball and follow up with the off-speed if they get on the fastball.”

When the Rams took down Troup High School 6-2 in early March, Sanders was on the mound. He dominated Tigers, allowing two unearned runs off one hit in a complete-game effort.

He entered the seventh inning seven pitches away from the 85-pitch limit. He used just three to retire the Tigers in order.

“He does such a good job of getting ahead of guys,” Valley head coach Patrick Shivers said after the win. “He does a good job of doing that [pitching to contact] and he’s smart.”

Sanders throws four different pitches, a four-seam fastball, two-seam fastball, changeup and curveball. His curveball is more of a slurve, which is a mix of a slider and a curveball, which has side-to-side action while dropping. He is working on learning a circle changeup, which has a downward movement.

When he is not on the mound, Sanders is the Rams’ starting center fielder. He also bats third in the Rams’ lineup. He leads the team with a .538 batting average and is second in both slugging % (.692) and OPS (1.283). He’s knocked in 13 runs and swiped six bases.

“The game kind of slowed down for me this year,” Sanders said. “I got better at seeing off-speed pitches.”