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Crosscutters’ Matthew Etzel leads MLB Draft League in multiple stats amid sensational debut season

Crosscutters Matt Etzel watches a long fly ball during batting practice before their game against the West Virginia Black Bears at Muncy Bank Ballpark, June 29, 2022. DAVE KENNEDY/Sun-Gazette

Matthew Etzel was already having a breakout, monstrous season in his Crosscutters debut weeks ago. By the end of June, Williamsport’s leadoff man has only elevated to new heights since.

Etzel currently leads the MLB Draft League in batting average at .431 and is the only player over .400. He also leads the league in numerous other categories, such as total hits (31), RBIs (20), OBP (.512), SLG (.667), OPS (1.179) and total bases (48).

The jump from JUCO meant more unpredictability from the mound. Pitches can have more sink, they’re not down the middle over the plate as much and the talent pool of the league is much deeper.

But Etzel is taking it all not just in stride, but with a hop and skip in his step.

“I’m definitely getting a lot more comfortable with everything game by game, each time I get out there on the field,” Etzel said. “Just the experience gets me more confident and comfortable.”

Etzel has won all three team Player of the Week awards so far and is a two-time league Hitter of the Week after being named back-to-back weeks in June.

The 6-foot-3, 208-pound Panola College product was new to leading off games beginning his tenure with the Crosscutters, having filled the second and third holes in Texas. But the learning curve didn’t take long, if anything, and it might be safe to say Etzel has fully embraced it.

“I’ve grown to like it a lot more now,” Etzel said. “It’s nice. I can get a leadoff single and go steal some bags, put myself in scoring position for the team to hit me in.”

It hasn’t been just Etzel’s batting that’s stood out. He’s gone 17 for 17 in stealing bases without getting picked off once, the second best mark in the MLB Draft League. Williamsport leads the league in stolen bases with 57 bags taken.

“We have a lot of good guys with a lot of good speed and knowledge in baserunning,” Etzel said. “We definitely take advantage of that against every team.”

Etzel has been with the Crosscutters since the start of the summer. As temp deals have shaken up the league and players have come and gone, the Panola sophomore hasn’t strayed from his firm role in center field or at the top of the order.

On June 27, right-handed pitchers Cam Robinson (University of Louisville) and Wesley Scott (Walters State), as well as outfielder Michael Gupton (Rolesville High School, Ill.), were added to the roster.

Righties Terry Busse and Jason Rakers, as well as catcher Eddie Niemann III, have been dropped.

“It’s tough to see people go who you like playing with,” Etzel said. “But that’s just part of the business. I’ve just been dealing with it I guess.”

All season long, the Crosscutters have been battling neck-and-neck at the top of the standings. At the beginning of the summer, Mahoning Valley had been on a roll with a 9-1 start.

Trenton has since emerged as a top contender after briefly taking first in the standings with Williamsport at its heels.

Despite being in last place all season so far, State College has battled back within four games of first place. The competition has been tight throughout the summer, and that’s what Etzel has enjoyed most.

“It’s just been a lot of fun,” Etzel said. “I see a lot of things I haven’t seen before in my career playing baseball and I’m just glad to be able to keep learning the game.”

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