If he so chose, Riley Unroe could rest on his laurels and still be one of the best baseball players in the East Valley.
As both a switch-hitter and a pitcher, it must get tiresome doing double the workload of other players at practice. It would be easy to cut down on that, or to reduce his two-hour weight-lifting sessions in the dead of the offseason.
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But the Desert Ridge senior shortstop is not interested in being one of the best players in the East Valley or even the state. He wants to be among the best in the world. And with that, he can’t ever stop improving.
“You’ve heard the phrase, ‘Hard work beats talent when talent doesn’t work hard,’ right?” Unroe said. “Every day I go to bed, if I’m not satisfied with what I’ve done on that day and I haven’t gotten better, I know someone else has. And if somebody else has gotten better, that means someone else is making it to the big leagues faster than I am, which is my ultimate goal in life. I’ve got to work hard for that dream because I know it’s not easy.”
Heading into his senior season, Unroe set up almost-unattainable expectations for himself: a .700 batting average, 15 home runs, 60 stolen bases, 55 RBIs, 50 runs scored, no strikeouts at the plate and no earned runs allowed on the mound.
“I hope that doesn’t come off as cocky, but... you’ve got to shoot for the moon so even if you don’t reach it, you’re still in the stars, you know what I mean?” Unroe said.
And he did end up in the stratosphere. Unroe’s quest for near-perfection lifted him to great heights this season. He finished the year batting .553 with 10 home runs, 59 RBIs, 54 runs scored and 25 stolen bases. His on-base-plus-slugging-percentage of 1.764 was the best in the East Valley, and he went 2-1 with a 2.63 ERA on the mound as the team’s closer. Unroe gave up just one earned run in the regular season before allowing a grand slam to Mountain Pointe’s Brantley Bell in the playoffs.
His ability to excel in so many different areas has made Unroe the Tribune’s Baseball Player of the Year.
Heading into the season, Unroe said the biggest knock on him was his power. He felt he had it, but as a leadoff hitter instead concentrated on finding the gaps to get on base for teammates.
He made a slight tweak this year to give his batted balls more loft, and his 10 home runs finished near the top of the state leaderboard.
He’s already committed to play for Southern California next season, but may never get there. The Major League Baseball draft begins on June 6, and Unroe’s stock continues to rise. He’s listed as the No. 56 overall prospect by Baseball America, where the signing bonus slot recommendation comes close to $1 million.
As one of the best high school seniors in the nation, Unroe knew every move he made this season was going to be scrutinized, but he wasn’t worried.
As the scouts came out in full force, he had two options: cower from the spotlight, or embrace it.
After all the work he put in, slinking away was not an option.
“You can’t,” Unroe said. “If you come out here worried about what other people think of you, it’s the same way as in life, you’re going to be timid. You can’t do anything at your best ability if you’re timid. You’ve got to be free. I sound like a hippie a little bit, but do your own thing and not worry about it. That’s exactly what my mindset was this year.”