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BASEBALL PITCHER OF THE YEAR: Ethan Hankins, Forsyth Central
Most of the time, only Forsyth Central junior could beat himself
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Forsyth Central junior pitcher Ethan Hankins holds a picture from his earlier days in the sport. Hankins is the 2017 FCN Pitcher of the Year. - photo by Brian Paglia

The biggest positive Ethan Hankins took from his 2017 season wasn’t his almost nonexistent ERA (0.90), or his lopsided ratio of 77 strikeouts to 46 2/3 innings pitched.

It was the total that won him a bet against Eric Alonzo, one of his pitching coaches, on whether Hankins would keep his walk total under 15 this year. The Forsyth Central rising senior wound up with seven.

That’s evidence that Hankins is well aware of what the rest of the county has had the displeasure of learning: Most of the time, the only person who can beat Ethan Hankins is himself. That’s why he was the clear choice for 2017 Forsyth County News Pitcher of the Year.

“No offense to the other guys swinging the bat, but there's D-I college guys and professional guys that would have some trouble with some pitches and locations when he's on,” Forsyth Central head coach Kevin McCollum said.

Hankins, a Vanderbilt commit whose athletic 6-foot-5 frame and explosive stuff put him on track to be one of the top prospects for the 2018 MLB draft, could deal with most hitters just with his fastball. The pitch bursts out of his hand and regularly breaks 90 mph, with its late life and running action making it even more deadly.

“I wasn’t trying to overpower (hitters) or do anything crazy,” Hankins said. “I was just trying to locate my fastball and my curveball and changeup, all three for strikes. That was my biggest thing: I just went after them.”

Opposing hitters started adjusting to the fastball later in the year and sitting on it early in counts, Hankins noticed, so he started mixing in his changeup and curve more.

“For the most part, people sit on his fastball and do the best they can to catch up,” McCollum said. “Some teams do a better job of that than others, and that's when if he's able to get his breaking stuff across – which he was able to do more consistently this year – that will give them fits.”

His only major hiccup of the season came against nationally ranked Parkview in the first round of the state playoffs, when Hankins gave up seven runs in four innings.

Hankins is a seasoned member of the showcase circuit, so he’s plenty used to people catching up with his velocity. He played in the East Coast Pro showcase last summer, and hopes to be back there this year, as well as at the Area Code Games in California. Hankins also hopes to play in the Perfect Game All-American Classic, the Under Armour All-America Game and wants to compete for a chance to make USA Baseball’s U-18 national team.

His list of areas for improvement is short: Work on consistency with his curveball and changeup, and that’s about it. Hankins worked during the past offseason on his command, and the improvements he’s seen there have left him satisfied with his 2017 campaign.

Facing Hankins has been frightening enough for Forsyth County teams. It’s scarier still that he might get better.