Jacob Tonascia had never hit more than five home runs in a season at any of the previous places he played at—San Benito High, Mission College and Allan Hancock College—until this season. The Cal State University Monterey Bay senior catcher/first baseman is having a career season, and not a moment too soon.
Tonascia was one of the key players for an Otters team that recently concluded one of the great seasons in program history. CSUMB finished with a program single season, record-tying 39 wins en route to a NCAA Division West Regional appearance. Hitting anywhere in the Nos. 3, 4 and 5 spots in the lineup throughout the season, Tonascia has posted some incredible numbers, most notably the 18 home runs that broke the single-season CSUMB record along with teammate Hayden Duer.
The 6-foot-3, 230-pound Tonascia said several factors have gone into his power surge.
“It’s a blend between preparing myself a little better and joining San Benito Strength in Tres Pinos in the past off-season,” he said. “I got a lot stronger and developed a better mindset as far as to how to attack the game.”
Baseball is the ultimate game of adjustments—if you’re not making them, it’s going to be hard to last in the sport. Tonascia, who earned All-West First Team Region honors, has found a way to adjust in how opponents have been pitching him.
“Throughout college I’ve been seeing ways pitchers have been getting me out, and I’ve been able to adapt,” he said. “I’d say 75 percent of my home runs have been to right field, right-center, because pitchers have been throwing me away, and I’ve finally been able to attack that pitch. Ultimately, I had to start hitting like a big guy and start putting the ball in the air more.”
Tonascia credits Otters coach Walt White for letting him loose. In comparison, Tonascia said in his previous stops in community college, the emphasis was more on hitting behind runners and putting the ball in play.
“Coach White pushed me to hit the ball in the air more,” he said. “I started to make mechanical changes and got myself mentally ready to attack the baseball. I started leveraging counts to where I knew the pitchers had to throw me something that was hittable.”
Tonascia also pointed out that pitchers couldn’t really pitch around him because the CSUMB lineup is pretty balanced. It’s been a long road to Monterey for Tonascia, as he played at Mission College in Santa Clara upon graduating from San Benito High in 2013. After playing the 2014 season, Tonascia had to grayshirt his sophomore season after undergoing Tommy John surgery on his right elbow.
In that time, Mission College underwent a coaching shakeup, as an entirely new staff came on board. With all of the coaches who had recruited him no longer at Mission, Tonascia felt it was best for him to move on as well. Tonascia landed at Allan Hancock College in Santa Maria—he has family members who live there—and had a solid 2016 season.
More important, Tonascia’s one year in which he was sidelined re-invigorated his love for the game.
“Having that year off showed me how much I missed that team camaraderie and being with my best friends everyday,” he said. “Mentally, the surgery affected me the most. I had taken the game for granted. On some days at Mission, I didn’t want to be at practice. That is what I missed the most. … When I was at Allan Hancock, I had a different level of appreciation being with my teammates everyday. ”
With five former San Benito High players on the roster, some of the players playfully refer to the program as the Cal State Monterey Bay Haybalers. The last time CSUMB had a season like this, it was in 2013, when the Otters finished with 39 wins. That squad was led by a trio of former Balers standouts in Mark Hurley, Ronnie Fhurong and Brian Haggett.
“That was the last time Monterey Bay was a No. 1 seed,” Tonascia said. “The Hollister guys are doing it again.”
Tonascia hopes his history of elbow problems won’t be a preventing factor from getting selected in the Major League Baseball Draft in June. In addition to the Tommy John surgery, Tonascia has had two arthroscopic surgeries on that same right elbow. One thing is for certain: Tonascia fits the mold of today’s MLB slugger: physically strong, and an all or nothing swing that produces a round-tripper or a strikeout for the most part.
Tonascia has 16 home runs, a .330 average, 60 RBIs and a .641 slugging percentage with 66 strikeouts.