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Freshman outfielder Lance Salsgiver was named a first-team All-American at Davison High School his junior season, and he was anointed the top baseball player in the state of Michigan by the Detroit Free Press last year.
He was recruited by perennial baseball powers Stanford and Georgia Tech to play baseball. Yet instead of playing at a top 25 school with a scholarship, Salsgiver is playing right field for the Crimson this spring.
“Both Stanford and Georgia Tech told me that I would probably have to redshirt and sit for a year,” Salsgiver says. “I wanted to play right away, and I came to visit Harvard last year, and I really liked the school and the program. Academics have always been very important to me as well, and getting a degree at Harvard is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.”
Not only did Salsgiver give up the chance for a scholarship, he also put off the opportunity to play professional baseball. Salsgiver received letters from each of the 30 major league teams, and scouts from teams such as the New York Yankees ate dinner in his home with his family last year.
Salsgiver was virtually assured by the director of scouting for Major League Baseball that he would be taken in the first 10 rounds of the 50-round Major League Baseball Entry Draft, and could expect a signing bonus of at least six figures.
For Salsgiver, though, college at Harvard was too enticing an opportunity to pass up.
“I really didn’t want to miss out on that part of my life,” Salsgiver says. “I know I have to improve a lot still, but I hope someday I can play professional baseball, and that opportunity will still be there in four years. But getting a degree was very important to me.”
Salsgiver holds 15 records at Davison, including a .527 career average and a .597 average his junior year. He is the only first-team high school All-American on the Crimson.
The 6’, 185-lb outfielder has had no problems adapting his game to the college level.
Salsgiver is an all-around player in every sense of the word—what major league scouts call the five-tool prospect.
First, he can hit for average as well as power as evidenced by his .343 average, 23 RBI and three home runs in his first Harvard season. He can run, leading the Crimson in stolen bases with 12 in 14 attempts.
Finally, Salsgiver has shown defensive range and a strong arm, as evidenced by his outfield-leading nine assists on the season.
“Lance has been a tremendous addition defensively in right field,” senior catcher Brian Lentz says. “He has a great arm and has thrown people out on the bases in big situations.”
Salsgiver has seamlessly made the switch from high school shortstop to college outfielder this season.
“I’ve been a middle infielder my whole life,” Salsgiver says. “But a lot of the pro scouts I talked to told me that I projected as an outfielder at the next level, because they said I’ve got good speed and a strong arm. I really have loved being an outfielder this year though, just running around out there and trying to throw guys out. I have no plans to move back to infield, but I’ll play wherever [Harvard] coach [Joe] Walsh wants me to play.”
Salsgiver was also a pitcher in high school—and a dominating one at that. In his junior season, he went 13-0 for Davison with 122 strikeouts, and was named All-State as a pitcher as well as a hitter. With the recent loss of ace Trey Hendricks leaving Harvard one Ivy starter short, Salsgiver might be needed on the hill as well as at the plate this weekend.
“I hurt my arm a little bit in the fall, and I decided I just wanted to back off on the pitching for awhile and focus on being an everyday player,” Salsgiver says. “I’ve been throwing some bullpen sessions lately though, and Coach Walsh has said he might use me in relief down the stretch.”
Salsgiver started playing baseball at the age of four, when his parents, Wendy and Dennis, encouraged him to start playing T-ball. Since then, he has never stopped playing the game, and his father Dennis has been there for him the whole way.
“My father has definitely been the biggest influence on my life baseball-wise,” Salsgiver says. “For the first 13 or 14 years of my life, my Dad was my coach.”
While Dennis Salsgiver wasn’t the head coach at Davison, he served as an assistant coach and was always there to help Lance correct his swing if something was off.
“Not having my Dad around this year has been a little tough, but [Harvard assistant] coach [Matt] Hyde is really an excellent hitting coach and so I don’t think it’s really affected me,” Salsgiver says. “Plus, my parents have flown out to a number of my games this year, and it’s been great to have them supporting me.”
Salsgiver is one of only three players (along with freshman Zak Farkes and sophomore Ian Wallace) to start every game this season for Harvard, and by his own admission, he has had a couple of mini-slumps.
But along with the Crimson’s other freshmen positional players, Farkes—the reigning Ivy League Rookie of the Week—Josh Klimkiewicz and Chris Mackey, Salsgiver is hitting his stride at the plate at exactly the right time for Walsh’s team.
In Harvard’s last three games—a pair of wins over Brown and one over Holy Cross—Salsgiver has gone 8-for-14 with 9 RBI.
“Lance has really started to improve at the plate,” Lentz says. “It is important for all the freshmen to not feel a lot of pressure at the plate, but they all have a lot of talent and Lance now can hit anywhere in our lineup.”
After his huge Monday at Brown, (5-for-8 with 7 RBI), Walsh deposited Salsgiver into the No. 3 spot vacated by Lentz, who moved to the cleanup spot to replace the injured Hendricks. The freshman outfielder may find himself there for the rest of the year.
“Hopefully this year we can step it up and win the Ivy League,” Salsgiver says. “But this freshman class has a lot of talent and I’m really looking forward to the next four years here.”
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