Justin Toerner is a player who can both hit and pitch at a high level in division one baseball. The left hander is currently batting a career best .276 with 27 hits, 15 runs scored, while making six appearances on the mound and making one start.
The 5’10” junior from Temecula was originally recruited as a pitcher, but shortly became a hitter post-recruitment.
“I threw a little bit for my high school team and I was actually recruited here as a pitcher,” Toerner said. “They allowed me to hit a little bit and I just stuck with the outfield instead.”
Although Toerner was recruited as a pitcher, he went on to play in 56 games his freshman year, mostly as center field. During the 2015 season he hit .265 with 26 RBIs, 10 doubles and 27 runs scored while posting a 1.000 fielding percentage.
The center fielder went on to take another hiatus from pitching during the 2016 season, not throwing a single pitch on the mound.
During that season, Toerner started in 51 games in center field hitting .266, leading the team in triples (5) and coming in second in on base percentage (.402).
After not pitching a single inning in two seasons, Toerner got the chance to go back on the mound when the Matadors summer team staff suffered a pair of injuries. The center fielder was not shy about stepping up for the team and getting back on the mound.
“They needed someone to throw so I stepped up and threw an inning,” Toerner said. “Coach Moore saw the video, liked it and asked me if I wanted to keep throwing.”
Toerner has been utilized in a unique way this season. For many instances, he has started in center field and has later come into a game as relief pitcher.
Toerner said that Coach Moore has made the transition seamless for him.
“I just have to transition my mind into a pitching role and focus on attacking the hitters,” Toerner said. “It hasn’t been that tough. Coach Moore’s worked with me a lot on it and he’s made it really easy.”
Head coach Greg Moore is not shy about his confidence with the left hander, having played him in 108 games his first two seasons.
“Justin is the offensive and defensive catalyst on our team,” Moore said. “He hits in the lead off spot and has developed his zone discipline over the past two years. By the time he’s done he’ll be the best center fielder I’ve coached.”
Although Toerner has seen his struggles on the mound, posting a 6.17 era in 11.2 innings pitched, he has shown promise. In those 11.2 innings pitched the lefty has struck out 15 batters, which is good for the best strikeout per nine inning average for the Matadors at 12. The MLB average is around 7.7.
Moore was excited to talk about Toerner’s pitching potential as a position player.
“The things he does naturally, like tilt the ball and mix his plus change-up, you can’t teach,” Moore said. “As good as he is as a position player, he has such a bright future on the mound.”
Even though Toerner is the lead off man and the starting center fielder for the Matadors, he said there is something special about being on the mound.
“Aww man, I really like them both, but I’m going to have to go with pitching,” Toerner said. “There’s nothing like striking someone out, that’s always a great feeling.”
Toerner and the 14-14 Matadors look to dominate Big West play as they kick off a three-game home stand against 2016 College World Series standouts the UCSB Gauchos, on Friday at 3 p.m.