By Gideon Rubin
Josh Estill was among the Santa Fe Christian baseball team’s leaders in nearly all offensive categories last season.
But it’s the grunt work he does behind the plate that he’d prefer college and professional scouts take notice of.
Estill, who’ll be a senior this year, is a rising catching star who prides himself for defense first. Offense, he says, is “almost like a bonus.”
“Being a catcher, the (operative) word is ‘catch,’ especially for getting into college,” Estill said. “(College scouts) are looking for a guy who can control the game from behind the plate and I believe I can do that.
“I take pride in my hitting too, but catching can take me much farther than my hitting will.”
It seems like there’s no limit to where Estill’s catching can take him, and these days, he’s made refining those skills a priority.
Over the summer, he decided to forgo his senior year on the football team so he could concentrate on honing his baseball skills and participating in some high profile showcase events.
It was an admittedly tough choice for Estill, a two-way standout on the football team last season who helped lead the Eagles to the San Diego Section Div. V semifinals playing middle linebacker and fullback. Estill led the team with 89 tackles, was the team’s third leading rusher with 759 on 147 carries and led the team with 11 touchdowns.
The decision was especially difficult because of the close friendships he has with nearly the entire football team. Especially the seniors, many of whom he’s known since middle school.
He said he turned to his religious faith in making what was one of the most difficult decisions of his life.
“It was tough, for sure,” Estill said. “All my friends play on the football team and it was hard to get away from the fact that we were best friends and we’d been talking about playing our senior year since middle school.”
Estill’s first love, however, has always been baseball, a sport he’s played since he was practically a toddler. He’s hoping to play for a Top 25 Div. I school, the first step towards his goal of eventually playing in the major leagues.
Estill’s presence in the middle of the lineup was a key factor in leading the Eagles to a Div. V section title. He was among the team’s most productive hitters last season in a breakthrough offensive year. He led the team with six homers, was second with 30 RBI, and was among the team’s leading hitters, batting .351.
But his calling card right now as far as scouts are concerned is his advanced behind-the-plate skill set.
Estill has a powerful and accurate throwing arm to go along with sound receiving mechanics. His 1.9-second “Pop Time,” the amount of time it takes from him to get the ball to his middle infielder from the instant he receives a pitch, is among the tops in the nation, SFC coach Don Mitchell said.
Mitchell said the extra work Estill put into refining his catching skills in the offseason going into his junior year helped make him the anchor of a defense that was the team’s strong suit throughout the season. He also credits Estill with shepherding a pitching staff that combined for a stunning 1.96 ERA. Estill was charged with just one passed ball in 30 games.
“Last year he became an extremely good catcher,” Mitchell said. “He dedicated himself to improving his defense, and he’s become a Div. I prospect because of how well he developed his defense in the last year.”
And although he won’t be snuffing out plays at the line of scrimmage anytime soon, Estill will continue to bring his football mentality to the baseball field, he said, noting that blocking home plate is something he takes personally.
“If there’s a play at the plate, nine out of 10 times that guy’s not scoring,” Estill said.
“I get that from football. I’m used to collisions, and I’m not afraid to get hit.”
It is the part of the game that he says he thrives on.
“There is absolutely nothing glorious about catching and having somebody hit you, but honestly there’s nothing in the world I love more than getting after it like that,” he said.
Estill credits his parents with instilling a work ethic that’s helped him excel at a demanding position.
“My parents never really handed me anything,” he said. They encouraged hard work.”
Estill’s work ethic has paid dividends in the classroom too. He’s maintained a 4.3 GPA, and plans to major in economics or business.
His impeccable academic and athletic credentials figure to help him on what he hopes is the path to realizing his big league dreams.
“My ultimate goal to get a shot to play in the major leagues,” Estill said.
“There’s nothing more fun than right now trying to play Div. I baseball, and then after college, there’s pro ball.
“Whatever happens, whatever college I end up going to, my ultimate goal is to play pro ball.”