ANNA — In case you hadn’t heard, there’s a 14-year-old kid in Anna who can throw a baseball over the plate at 87 miles per hour — and he has a wicked 3-2 change-up. Not only that, but this 6-2, 170-pound Anna Middle Schooler possesses the bearing and demeanor of someone quite older. Put that all together and serious interest from big-time college programs TCU, Texas A&M and Vanderbilt is quite understandable. Oh, and PerfectGame.org ranks him the nation’s No. 5 prospect in the high school Class of 2021.
His name is Rawley Hector and he’s the son Joey and Amy Hector. Yes, that Joey Hector — head coach of the Anna Coyotes baseball team. Hector says his son has been around baseball since he was just a tyke, and a good bit of it was in and around Hector’s high school dugouts.
“He’s been taking ground balls with my high school teams since he was about five,” Hector said. “… I’ve got pictures of him, where he leads the team across the field to shake hands with the other team. I’ve coached him from day one.”
“I always looked up to the high school players,” Rawley says. “Those were my role models at the time. I didn’t know any better — they were older than me, they were playing for my dad. I thought they were pros. They always had fun because they were high schoolers, and they made me feel like I was part of the team, which was my favorite part.”
Shortly after the Hectors moved from Gilmer to Anna five years ago, Rawley joined the Dallas Tigers, a Select baseball club that’s sent more than 150 players on to play Division I ball and 26 players to the major leagues. The team has won 15 national titles since 1993.
“It’s one of the best teams in the country, Select-world wise,” Hector says. “Being on a team like that has helped him a bunch.”
With the Tigers, and later with the North Texas Regional Team, Rawley caught the eye of baseball talent experts from across the country. In August of 2015, he was invited to Team USA tryouts in North Carolina where, competing against top talent from California to Virginia, Rawley was one of 12 players selected from about 400 participants for the 14-and-under national team.
Last July, Rawley traveled with the squad to Panama for a two-week tournament. There, he led Team USA in RBIs and batting average, and pitched in a tense, final-day battle against a talented Columbia club. Rawley pitched a solid 3 1/3 innings in that one, allowing one hit and one unearned run, as the Americans rallied to win, 14-8, in the ninth inning.
“We were ecstatic, because it was the last day and it was in a big game,” Rawley said.
As for the current keen interest from colleges, Rawley says the whole experience has been fun – and he’d like to keep it that way.
“I’m very thankful that it’s happening,” he said. “It could be the other way around. … I’m trying to stay away from the stressful part because I’m so young. I want to enjoy it. If I’m not enjoying it now, I don’t know what it would like in the future. But it’s been a blast. It’s awesome and it’s humbling.”
Hector said he really started to notice his son’s exceptional ability when Rawley was about 10 years old.
“He could throw the ball a lot harder than everybody else was. At the time, we thought, ‘Well it’s just because he practices every day with the high school kids, so he’s used to it.’ But then, on the Dallas Tigers, the caliber of players that they play against is so much higher. When you still stick out when playing kids like that, you start to realize that he’s got a little different something that other people don’t have. Then he started hitting home runs. He could swing it.”
Now, more than Rawley’s athletic skill, Hector said people speak of his personal attributes, his value as a teammate.
“They talk more about what he does off the field, and how he is as a teammate, and how he is as friend and a role model,” he said.
Hector said Rawley calls and checks in with A&M, TCU and Vandy — schools that have shown interest.
“At his age, they can’t call him,” Hector said. “He’s been to their prospect camps. … When you go to a prospect camp and you’re throwing 86-87 miles an hour, that gets people’s attention.”
Hector noted that the process, the road ahead, can be stressful and that Rawley must continue to progress.
“But it’s a cool thing to watch, it’s a cool thing to be a part of,” he said. “I think he does a good job of keeping it in perspective.”
Rawley says his pitching role model is Los Angeles Dodgers ace Clayton Kershaw, the three-time Cy Young award-winner.
“‘Public Enemy No. 1’ with his curveball,” he grinned. “There’s not many times where you see him losing. … I’ve always wanted to be like him. He does things for charities, he’s not all about himself. He’s very selfless, puts his team first. That’s what I want to be like when I’m older.”
Rawley’s favorite pitch is his change-up.
“That’s the thing I fall back on if something else isn’t working,” he said. “When I get most hyped-up is when I throw my 3-2 change-up. I feel like there are a lot of people that aren’t able to throw a 3-2 change-up. They’re usually throwing fastballs, and the hitter is usually expecting fastball.”
His toughest pitch to learn? The curveball.
“There are so many things that can go wrong with it,” Rawley said. “You can hurt your arm in so many ways throwing the curveball. … That’s definitely the toughest pitch — protecting the arm, knowing where it’s going to break, adjusting your eye-sight to be able to throw it.”
This fall, Rawley moves up to Anna High School where a spot on the Coyotes’ roster awaits.
“We’re excited about getting him next year,” Hector said. “We’ve got a good eighth-grade class coming. We’re hopeful that, with the addition of those eighth-graders and the core we had this year, we can come out and do some better things next year. But by no means does one player make a team. It takes a whole lot more than one guy, especially when you’re playing the guys we’re playing. The district is very talented. It’ll be fun to be able to coach him on a high school level. It’s going to be a weird experience too.”
As for dealing with the sometimes overwhelming collegiate attention, Hector said parents of top athletes should help their son or daughter focus on one or two schools that they’re really interested in.
He offered this advice as well: “Enjoy the process and enjoy your kid. It’s a deal where everybody wants their kid to be successful, but I wouldn’t push them. I don’t make (Rawley) come take batting practice. I don’t make him throw. If he says, ‘Come throw BP,’ I throw BP. A lot of BP — four hours’s worth,” he laughed. “Support your kid. And if they’re meant to play they’re going to play. Again, I couldn’t stress enough, enjoy the process. Let them be a kid, let them have fun. Don’t turn it into a job. It’s baseball.”