Jacob Tanis doesn’t talk a whole lot, and certainly he’s less interested in talking about himself than most other topics.
That’s fine, because he has plenty of people who will talk for him and about him. And considering he is having one of the best seasons in Mercer baseball history, there’s quite a bit to say.
Tyler McCarty is a senior who will leave Mercer with a career average in the .320 range, evidence he knows something about hitting. He just shakes his head when the discussion turns to Tanis.
“The first day he took batting practice, he hit about seven out,” said McCarty, a Spalding graduate. “I think everybody kind of knew he was going to be something special.”
Head coach Craig Gibson uses a word fans don’t often hear.
“He creates a lot of torque,” Gibson said. “He has great torque for a baseball player. His hands, his arms, his wrists are really strong. The ball just jumps off that bat.
“I don’t think he’ll have a problem transitioning to a wood bat on the next level.”
“He’s got phenomenal, what I call ‘Bat whip,’ through the zone,” McCarty said. “His hands work so good. When he gets to the ball, he unloads on it. He hits them as far as anybody I’ve seen hit them.”
And as far as Mercer goes, the sophomore third baseman is hitting as many homers as anybody. It’s the same story nationally, where Tanis is in the top five among Division I players in home runs and RBI.
This season, he has gone hitless in only nine of 48 games. That’s balanced by 13 three-hit games, including one stretch of five games in a row. Tanis has come up with all goose eggs — no hits, runs or RBI — only four times. A 17-game hitting streak came to an end on May 1 in the final game of Mercer’s sweep of Kennesaw State.
And Tanis’ take on this breakout season?
“It’s going all right, I guess,” said the third baseman, with whom a conversation is peppered with “Yes sir” and “No sir.”
Clearly, Tanis is more about the walk than the talk. He has the often-cited “it” but almost doesn’t seem to know it.
“Yes, ‘it’ would be the way to talk about it,” sophomore pitcher Brandon Love said. “It’s not a thing of confidence or, I guess, swag if you want to say it. He has nothing like that about him.
“All he wants to do is take care of his business and help the team out in any way he can.”
His strikeout total is still a little higher than he’d like, one for every 5.4 at-bats, which is a slight step backward from last season’s 1-6.1. But that’s almost nitpicking.
Tanis is tied with his head coach for the sixth best single-season home run mark in school history and is six home runs from breaking it.
He’ll finish this season in the top 10 on single-season lists for hits, homers, RBI, doubles, at-bats and total bases. He’s five percentage points from the 10th-best average, Jeremy Avery’s .379 in 1997.
Mercer has maintained no career records, so where Tanis stands statistically now and where he’ll finish — is hard to figure.
According to single-season top 10s that are available, Tim Smith has at least 38 home runs, Jeremy Avery 37 and Gibson 33. All three have two top-10 home runs seasons, and those figures are for the two seasons.
Tanis has 30 in two seasons, with at least eight more games this season and six coming against teams with a combined 15-23 conference record.
Racking up such power numbers wasn’t Tanis’ priority after hitting .340 as a freshman.
“Work on defense, my lateral movements, side to side, get more ground balls, be able to have more range out there,” he said. “Be able to make plays I don’t think I would’ve made last year.”
Gibson, an all-conference shortstop during his days at Mercer in the 1980s, likes the progress Tanis has made at third, where his fielding percentage has improved by nearly 30 percentage points.
“I wanted him to increase his range on the field, and he’s done that,” Gibson said. “And he can still get better.”
Tanis is the baseball version of a gym rat. If somebody will throw, he’ll swing as long as the pitcher’s arm holds up. If somebody will hit him grounders, he’ll chase them until the batter has had enough.
“It’s just incredible,” Love said. “Jake’s work ethic is really what makes him. I’d rather have him in any situation because of the work his puts in on and off the field.
“If he could sleep here, he would.”
Tanis, who has had hand injuries in high school and college, may have slipped under the radar coming out of McIntosh. His average has slipped below .300 for only six games in nearly two seasons, and he is currently batting .374, a bump of 34 points from last season. Tanis hasn’t been below .350 since March 21.
And he has fared well against major opponents. He is 5-for-9 with five RBI in two games this season against Georgia Tech and went 3-for-5 with two runs and three RBI in his second career game, last season against Mississippi. He was named to the Louisville Slugger’s freshman All-America team.
Mercer’s main competition for Tanis was Samford and Appalachian State, but he liked Mercer and joined center fielder Billy Burns to highlight the signees of 2008, although the two didn’t know each other until they showed up at Mercer.
“Once I did see him and saw his swing, I knew that he was capable of some great things,” said Burns, who is having an all-conference season himself with a .376 average and 17 stolen bases. “He’s obviously fulfilled that potential right now, and he’s still growing.”
Tanis is in one of the nation’s most potent lineups, so he’s getting some pitches. Michael Langley is batting .389 and ranks ninth nationally in hits, John Moreland is 15th nationally in total home runs and 33rd in homers per game. Thomas Carroll is 28th in doubles and 79th in RBI for the Bears, whose .337 average is 24th.
“Up and down, one through nine, we’re all swinging the bat really well, just smoking balls around the park.” Tanis said. “I can tell (opponents) might be pitching around me, but they’ve got to deal with the guys behind me, too.”
Tanis spent much of the offseason working out with his sister Alyssa, a trainer in a Peachtree City gym.
“I’ll be doing that a lot more,” the 6-foot-1, 190-pounder said. “I like her workout.”
Tanis is well-traveled, ending up at Mercer after being born in California and then moving to Iowa, because of his father’s career at a pilot.
The swing Tanis has that impresses his teammates and coaches was born out of listening to all of his hitting coaches and studying the game.
“Growing up, I always heard, ‘Be smooth and be quick to the ball,’ ” he said. “Being able to use your hands and your wrists actually provides a lot more power than you think. And being able to use your legs; it’s not all about having a strong upper body.”
Tanis, a point guard on McIntosh’s basketball team, will have a decision to make in a year about going pro or getting another year of seasoning at Mercer. That he’ll be a professional soon isn’t the question.
Jeff Treadway played at Georgia, and then in the majors for nearly a decade before embarking on a coaching career that included managing the Macon Braves.
The Bears’ volunteer coach knows of what he speaks.
“He uses his hands really well; he stays in the zone a long time,” Treadway said. “He’s able to hit a lot of balls the other way as well. He generates a lot of bat speed, therefore there’s a lot of power.
“Tools-wise, you have your five-tool guys, and he’s got three or four tools, and he’s above average in three or four categories. One thing I see about Jake is that he’s improving so much in the environment he’s in, and I’ve seen improvement in a three- or four-week period, huge improvement in everything he’s doing.
“His work ethic, his makeup, all of those things, are great, perfect. His makeup, his background, his personality, they’re all perfect for the game.”
Mercer at Lipscomb, 6 p.m., Thursday
Tanis’ national rankings
A look at where Mercer’s Jacob Tanis ranks in college baseball:
Category Rank Stat
RBI 1 73
Home runs 2 19
Total bases 2 152
RBI/game 3 1.52
HRs/game 9 .4
Hits 14 77
Runs 22 56.0
Slugging 33 .738
Sac flies 55 5.0
Runs/game 95 1.17
Doubles/game 154 .38
Average 262 .374