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Winter Park / Maitland Observer Friday, Jul. 13, 2018 4 months ago

Former Orangewood baseball players land deals in the MLB.

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Michael Gizzi signs a free agent contract with the Detroit Tigers, while Jackson Lueck gets taken in the eighth round by the Kansas City Royals.
by: Troy Herring Sports Editor

One of the biggest signs of success for a high school baseball program — or any program for that matter — is the number of players that reach the next level. For bigger schools this is often not a problem, but for smaller schools it can be a bit more difficult.

But despite its size, Orangewood Christian School in Maitland is doing something that many schools its size don’t often get to experience — seeing its kids make it to the big time.

 In the most recent MLB draft, which was held in June, Orangewood alums Michael Gizzi (’14) and Jackson Lueck (’15) found themselves a team to call their own in the Detroit Tigers and Kansas City Royals respectively.

Courtesy Photo: Michael Gizzi signed a free agent deal with the Detroit Tigers.

Seeing his former players get picked up by MLB teams is a sight that head baseball coach Scott Hilinski said never gets old.

“I think it’s awesome — just as a coach you become a fan watching guys kind of navigate college and navigate the next steps outside of high school,” Hilinski said. “It’s neat for the program, but it’s more special for their family and the journey that they’re on. It’s awesome to watch.”

Lueck, an Orlando native, was picked up in the eighth round (242th overall) by the Royals thanks in part to his strong offensive abilities, which all started back at Orangewood.

During his time as a Ram, Lueck — who switched up his time behind the plate, at first base and in the outfield — was a constant offensive force. Over his three years he racked up a batting average of .415, while snagging 60 RBI on 93 hits. 

His best year offensively saw the slugger hit a high school career best .438, that came along thanks to a high of 42 hits — which included six doubles, three triples and two homers.

Lueck would take that swat of his to Florida State University where through three years the outfielder would help lead the Seminoles to three straight ACC tournament titles, while being named All-ACC Third Team in 2018 and the ACC Championship MVP in 2017.

“He’s probably the most disciplined hitter that I’ve seen,” Hilinski said. “Very simple swing, very repeatable swing, good strike zone awareness and plate discipline — he’s just a guy that has that swing that, no matter what level he plays at, he is just going to be that .300 hitter.”

Gizzi, who graduated in 2014, didn’t get to hear his name called in the draft, but that didn’t stop the Detroit Tigers from signing the right-hander on a free agent deal following his senior year at Nova Southeastern.

A Winter Parker, Gizzi was another reliable offensive weapon for the Rams — especially during his senior year when he hit his best marks at the plate.

In 78 at-bats Gizzi totaled 36 RBI on 39 hits — which included seven doubles, two triples and six homers.

While Gizzi spent his time in the outfield at Orangewood and the State College of Florida, he would further develop his pitching arm as he took on the role of reliever during his last two seasons of college ball at Marshall and Nova Southeastern.

Courtesy Photo: Jackson Lueck follows up his career at Florida State as a Royal.

“Michael was awesome — he was fun to play with, he was always a guy that was raw in terms of tools and certain years trying to figure out his body and his swing and putting it together,” Hilinski said. “He certainly had a great arm that we knew would come into play, but Gizzi was a hitter and an outfielder, and (was) very productive for us. He didn’t get on the mound often for us as a high school player.”

Gizzi and Lueck themselves join a growing list of former Rams who’ve been drafted or picked up by MLB teams, which includes the school’s first ever player to start in a MLB game in Tomas Nido (’12) — who made his first appearance for the New York Mets last season. 

The surge in talent that has come in the last decade for the Rams’ baseball program is nothing short of impressive for a school its size.

But for the coaching staff at Orangewood there’s no surprise in what the Rams have been doing lately, especially, Hilinski said, when you consider the high quality kids that come through.

“Regardless of where our kids are going or the depth of the talent, I think we’ve always put a good product on the field,” Hilinski said. “They buy into playing hard, they buy in to putting their teammates ahead of themselves and they buy into competing — competing in life, competing in the classroom and competing on the baseball field.”

Troy Herring is the sports editor at the West Orange Times and Windermere Observer. He is a graduate of the University of Mount Olive (BS '12) and the University of Alabama (MA '16)....

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