For Cam Clayton, playing for the Portland Pickles is the ideal way to spend his summer between high school and college.
The recent Lakeridge High graduate, who is headed to the University of Washington to play Pac-12 baseball, appreciates the opportunity to take the field alongside current college players. Facing college-level pitching, combined with adjusting hitting with a wood bat, has presented challenges. But, he's fitting in just fine.
Through July 25, Clayton had the third best batting average on the Pickles. In 21 West Coast League games, Clayton was hitting .299 with 10 runs scored and 11 stolen bases on 15 attempts. Add in eight non-league games, and Clayton was batting .310 over 29 appearances for the Pickles.
"Moving to college pitching with the higher (velocity) and high spin rate, guys are a lot better pitchers," Clayton said. "They know how to throw. They're not getting pitches called by their high school coach. You take that equation and you add a wood bat in and it's great preparation for when I head up to Seattle."
Clayton said it took him a couple of weeks to adjust from the high school pitching he saw this spring to the college pitching he faces with the Pickles. Not only does the ball get to the plate faster, but most college pitchers throw multiple pitches.
Had he been selected early enough in the recent Major League Baseball Entry Draft, he might have been tempted to go straight to work on his pro career.
Clayton was not selected. He did not sound disappointed. He said he was anticipating college ball, anyway.
"I was definitely leaning toward college a little bit, for me and my family, to stay close to home," he said. "I'm just fine with (the) Plan B of going up to U-Dub. It's a great opportunity. I'm super excited."
Under MLB rules, players who enter a four-year college must complete their junior year or turn 21 to become draft-eligible again.
Playing for the Pickles certainly is more convenient than last summer. Clayton played with a Seattle-based club team. With Washington and Oregon shut down because of the pandemic, he traveled to Idaho every weekend, spending 16 hours on the road to play ball two days a week.
In addition to the quick commute, Clayton is enjoying playing in front of fans at Walker Stadium. And, while winning baseball games is always the goal, success this summer will be measured by how much improvement he can make.
"I just want to get a lot better hitting the ball hard," Clayton said. "I don't want to focus on my batting average or anything like that. I mainly just want to go up there and just see how many times I can hit line drives."
Another cool aspect of his West Coast League experience is forming bonds with new teammates. Clayton said he is a bit surprised at how well the Pickles, with players from around the West, have bonded as short-term teammates.
"We're all from a bunch of different locations, so it's going to be tough when it's time for everyone to go home," Clayton said.
The Pickles are in the midst of their final home stand at Walker Stadium. Port Angeles visits July 27-29, Bend July 30-Aug. 1 and Bellingham Aug. 3-5.
Portland closes out the West Coast League schedule visiting Bend Aug. 6-8 and Port Angeles Aug. 10-12.
To make the WCL playoffs, which begin Aug. 13, the Pickles need to either win the South Division's second half or finish with the second best overall record in the division if first-half champion Corvallis also wins the second half. Entering the July 27 game against Port Angeles, Portland is 19-14 overall in WCL play, one-half game ahead of third-place Ridgefield. At 4-5, Portland was three games behind Corvallis and fourth in the second-half standings.
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