Coming out of Arroyo Grande High in 2008, Lucas Kephart was generally regarded by college coaches as a potentially valuable left-handed hitter but also as a catcher who needed to sharpen his defensive abilities.
“I always thought he could hit at the Division I level,” said Vince Sagisi, who coached Kephart with the Santa Maria-based California Wahoos summer club from 2006 to 2008. “But his defense was a little bit behind.
“He wasn’t a polished thrower,” added Sagisi, who has a background as a scout for the Cleveland Indians. “You’ve got to get rid of the ball quick behind the plate to control the running game. That was the missing link for him to become a Division I player.”
Not anymore. After spending the past two years playing at Sacramento City College, Kephart has accepted a partial scholarship to continue his career at the University of Texas.
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“He’s worked on that the last couple of years, really improved and became a more well rounded prospect,” Sagisi said.
Texas went 50-13 this season, falling in the Super Regional round. The Longhorns, coached by Augie Garrido, who coached at Cal Poly from 1970 to 1972, finished the year ranked No. 9 in the nation by Baseball America.
“It’s one of the top schools athletically and academically,” Kephart said. “I’m just blessed to be able to go there and have an opportunity. It took a while for it to sink in.
“I had a great time at Sacramento City,” Kephart continued. “It was a great experience, and I learned so much.”
While at Arroyo Grande, Kephart earned all-San Luis Obispo County honors for three straight seasons starting in 2006, and was an honorable mention as a freshman in 2005. Over his four seasons with the Eagles, he compiled 91 RBI.
Sacramento City went 25-17 this past season, winning the Big 8 Conference championship.
But the 5-foot-11, 200-pound Kephart almost saw his entire sophomore campaign scrapped before it started when an “almost fatal” bout with severe pneumonia hospitalized him for eight days at the start of the season, leaving him in the ICU for six of them.
Kephart, however, went on to start 23 games, including 16 of the final 17, winning the school’s Scholar-Athlete of the Year award.
Still, at the plate, his numbers slumped to a .227 batting average with three RBI during the regular season, a far cry from his production as a freshman with a clean bill of health when he hit .286 with 22 RBI, in addition to collecting 26 walks.
“That really set me back,” Kephart said of the pneumonia. “It was pretty tough.”
He was still getting attention from schools like Oregon State, Hawaii and San Diego based largely on his earlier showings, though. With the NCAA’s regular signing period deadline looming Sunday, and Texas in need of a catcher, Longhorns assistant coach Tommy Harmon dialed up Gary Woods, the hitting coach for the Santa Barbara Foresters summer program, to ask if he had anyone in mind to fill the spot.
After Woods mentioned Kephart, who had finally fully recovered from the pneumonia, Sagisi did his former player a favor, bringing him in for a workout with the Wahoos to showcase him for Harmon, who extended an offer soon afterward.
This year, Kephart is the second former Wahoos player to have played at the prep level in San Luis Obispo County to earn a Division I scholarship, joining recently graduated Nipomo senior Jeff McNeil. McNeil originally committed to Cal State Northridge before being released from his letter of intent due to coaching changes, recently opting for Long Beach State.
Providing a spotlight for Central Coast players to be “properly evaluated” by colleges was distinctly what Sagisi, a Santa Maria native, intended upon forming the Wahoos in 2006. Since then, he estimates about 20 have landed at four-year universities. And now, Kephart’s name can be placed near the top of that list.
“He did what he needed to do to be a Division I player,” Sagisi said. “There’s nobody who’s going to out-work him. No one has given it to him — he’s earned it.”