By Brad Fauber
WINCHESTER -- When Michael Paul first arrived at Shenandoah University for his freshman year in the fall of 2011, Hornets head baseball coach Kevin Anderson knew the Red Hill, Pa., native would need some tuning if Paul was to fill the role Anderson had envisioned for him on SU's baseball team.
Anderson wanted the 6-foot-4, 240-pound Paul to play third base for the Hornets, a position relatively new to him.
"It's funny. We saw Mikey in high school and he was a pitcher and an offensive tackle [on the football team]," Anderson said on Thursday. "He has worked extremely hard to improve his athleticism and I think it's been a direct correlation, as his athleticism has improved, his baseball has improved. He's been very receptive to coaching, and we've taken a pitcher, offensive tackle and made him a third baseman. That's a credit to him for just working and buying in."
Anderson said Paul -- now a junior -- continues to improve his footwork while trying to master the hot corner on a fast and very difficult infield at Bridgeforth Field, but Paul's greatest value to the Hornets this season has been in the batter's box.
Prior to Friday's game against visiting Penn State-Altoona, Paul was second in the Old Dominion Athletic Conference in batting average (.475), slugging percentage (.787), runs batted in (27) and runs scored (24). He also leads the Hornets (13-2) with three home runs and a .557 on-base percentage, and he has struck out just four times in 59 at-bats.
"I'm seeing the ball pretty well. My approach, compared to last year, is so much better," said Paul, who batted .324 with five home runs and 32 RBIs last season. "I'm not trying to spin off balls ... I'm really going [opposite field] a lot, which is my strength. Just the technique, I know just the little things -- coach is having me drop my hands a little bit. I feel like I've squared a lot more balls up. And just a lot of the [game film] helps you make minor adjustments that really show in a game."
Paul emphasized the importance of studying game film to constantly fine-tune his batting technique as a big reason for his impressive output so far, and Anderson said Paul approaches each at-bat with the correct mindset.
"I think he goes up with a plan and trying to hit to his strength," Anderson said. "He also has power to the opposite field. He's a student of the game, and he goes up and he understands the situation in an individual at-bat. He's seeing the ball well right now."
Paul's hot streak at the plate has been just one of many for the Hornets this season. As a team Shenandoah was batting .383 prior to Friday's contest, and five of SU's everyday players are batting .400 or better.
Paul credited the players around him in the lineup for helping him put up the numbers he has this season, and he added that the success of the Hornets up and down the lineup has helped relieve some of the pressure on him to produce runs from the cleanup spot.
"Never once has there been any pressure or I feel like I need to get a hit," Paul said. "It's one of those things where I know I can get a hit ... if not, the guy behind me can get a hit. So not putting stress on myself really calms me at the plate."
Anderson said Paul -- a mathematics major -- has held a 4.0 GPA during his entire career at Shenandoah, and that work ethic spills over onto the practice field and in the batting cage.
"We're firm believers, when you have good habits, that's in three phases -- as a person, as a student and a player. He has all three," Anderson said. "He's a great person, has a tremendous work ethic in the classroom and on the baseball field. I definitely believe that's why he's had success.
"If we had a barn full of him, we'd be in pretty good shape," Anderson added with a smile.
Contact sports writer Brad Fauber at 540-465-5137 ext. 184, or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow on Twitter @BradFauberNVD