The hot corner blazes

by Staff

Last season you needed a score card to keep track of who was playing third base for the San Diego State baseball team. Bryan Moreno, Brandon Lennox and Jason Phillips, among others, tried to fill the hot corner, and while Phillips did an admirable job, he was best suited to play behind the plate.

When last season ended, no player had established himself as a possible starter for this season, which forced the Aztec coaching staff to search for someone new, someone who could finally put an end to the dilemma at third base.

“Third base was definitely a problem for us last season,” SDSU head coach Jim Dietz said. “This year, we think we’ve got someone who can get the job done.”

That someone is junior college All-American Alex Palaez, from nearby Southwestern College in Chula Vista. If the early returns are any indication, you can put your score card away and put Palaez’s name at third base for the next two seasons.

He has made a huge impact in just a few weeks. From day one, he has been inserted in the third spot of the batting order, the spot usually filled by the team’s best hitter. Last season, All-American Travis Lee filled the third hole in the lineup.

Palaez showed the ability to be that kind of hitter while at Southwestern College. He hit .415 with 10 home runs, 13 doubles and 50 RBIs last season. He not only earned junior college All-American honors, he was selected as the Pacific Coast Conference’s Co-Most Valuable Player.

“Alex is a great hitter,” Southwestern College assistant coach Jay Martel said. “He’s an aggressive hitter. If you put the ball in the zone, he’s going to swing the bat. He is a typical Mexican-style hitter.”

That description doesn’t faze Palaez, because he likes to take his hacks when he gets to the plate. Last season for the Apaches, he walked just 16 times.

“I like to swing at everything,” said Palaez, who is hitting .371 with one home run and 13 RBIs. “I had something to prove when I first got to Southwestern. I wanted to prove to everybody that I could hit a little, and the only way to do that was to swing the bat.”

He has shown a bit more discipline early this season, already walking 17 times. He hasn’t been looking for the walk because opposing pitchers have elected not to give him anything to hit.

“I’m just trying to get on the base,” Palaez said. “I’ve got guys like Andy Bevins and Phillips who can really hit and drive me in.”

Bevins and Phillips have taken advantage of Palaez being on base, racking up big RBI totals so far this season. Teammates appreciate the job Palaez has done to help the Aztecs win.

“Alex has done a great job of getting on base,” Bevins said. “He’s given us a chance to drive in some runs.”

SDSU was not Palaez’s first choice. Then-top-ranked USC nearly snatched up the third baseman, but at the last minute the Aztecs made an offer he couldn’t refuse.

“I would have liked to play for USC,” Palaez said. “But the Aztecs made me a better offer, and it was more beneficial financially for me to come to SDSU.”

His parents, Manuel and Susana, may be the happiest people to see Alex stay in San Diego, where they can watch their son continue his baseball career.

“When I told (my parents) that schools from the Midwest were interested, they would say, ‘What about San Diego State?'” Palaez said. “It wasn’t until the last week of school before SDSU made an offer, and now I’m happy to be here.”

The Aztec baseball team is happy Palaez is here, too. He’s finally put an end to the revolving door at third base.