By Lance Gottardy
Big 12 Campus Correspondent
With rock solid defense and superior plate discipline for a young hitter, freshman Michael Cantu has made quite the name for himself during his first year in Austin, Texas.
Cantu, a catcher and first baseman, was recently named to the Big 12 All-Freshman Team, and was twice awarded Co-Big 12 Newcomer of the Week honors this season (Feb. 23 and April 20). These accolades come thanks to hot hitting and strong defense behind the plate, including a SportsCenter Top 10 play April 11 where he gunned down an Oklahoma baserunner at second base from his knees on a pitch in the dirt.
All season long the freshman has demonstrated his prowess in the batter’s box, including a five RBI outing February 20 vs. Minnesota and a three double game April 19 at Kansas, but his patience at the plate to draw a team-leading 33 walks has been most impressive. In fact, his 33 base on balls not only lead the Texas squad, but lead all Big 12 freshmen.
Yet, a year ago it seemed uncertain if the 6-foot-3-inch, 237 pounder would ever set foot on the Forty Acres thanks to the Major League Baseball Amateur Draft. A highly sought after prospect out of Moody High School in Corpus Christi, Texas, Cantu does not deny that becoming a professional baseball player had always been a dream for him and his family, but so was playing at Texas and receiving a quality education.
“After [I was not selected on] the first day of the draft, I thought to myself, it was just a better choice to go to school and get your education and improve your stock,” Cantu said. “Did I want to get drafted [early in the draft]? Yes, and if everything would have worked out then maybe the story would have been different, but I don’t regret anything. I love being here and it is one of the best decisions I have ever made. I am truly glad I stuck with my gut feeling.”
After all, he had perfect attendance from kindergarten through his senior year of high school, so why stop attending class now?
With the decision made, Cantu arrived at The University of Texas in the fall of 2014, much to the excitement of the players and coaches, and immediately announced his presence as a leader with his play on the field. His work ethic and ability to manage a pitching staff from behind the dish stood out for a first-year player, and the upperclassmen quickly took notice.
Senior pitcher Parker French has been thoroughly impressed by the freshman’s effort and leadership, crediting Cantu’s approach as the reason for his success.
“He’s a really mature baseball player in the sense that he doesn’t get outside himself,” French said. “He doesn’t try to do too much, he knows his skill set and what he’s good at and he does those things well. That is really impressive from a young player, because a lot of guys try to come into The University of Texas and try to do too much and be someone they're not, but he just stays with his approach behind the plate and hitting at the plate.”
Cantu’s approach and maturity are nothing new to him, as he claims it manifested his freshman year of high school when he took over as the starting quarterback of the varsity football team. He says he didn’t know if he was ready to be a leader then, but knew that he needed to be.
“You have to be a leader; you're the quarterback and everyone looks at the quarterback when things are going wrong. Well, catcher is sort of the quarterback of the baseball field, and it’s awesome that the way you carry yourself rubs off on other people … I was always told there is no age in baseball, so do not be afraid to be a leader and lead by example.”
With statements like that it is remarkable to believe that Cantu is in his first season at times, but he understands there is plenty of work to do improve both with respect to the team and himself. He cites the goal of his tenure at Texas as bringing home a national championship, but knows that is only possible if he keeps getting better with hard work each and every day.
“You have to keep grinding and keep getting better. I want to get this baseball program back to the top where it belongs, back to Omaha. And not just get to Omaha, but to win in Omaha. That’s going to be my goal, just doing whatever I can to get this team where it needs to be.”
Five-time national champion head coach Augie Garrido knows exactly what it takes to get to the top, and he sums Cantu up best, praising his demeanor both on and off the field as a quality that will undoubtedly lead him to a bright future in whatever endeavors he pursues.
“Michael is very mature for his age and it shows with the leadership he has provided our team as a freshman,” Garrido said. “He is well balanced as a human being with a strong commitment to excellence and to being the best at everything he does, on and off the field. Baseball reveals his work ethic, maturity and overall excellence.”