Javy Baez, Fernando Tatis an Inspiration to Illini SS Branden Comia



Shortstop Branden Comia graces the cover of Illinois Fighting Illini baseball’s 2021 record book. He’s one of the team’s top Major League Baseball Draft prospects and an Orland Park, IL native. A Carl Sandburg High School graduate, he hails from hard core White Sox country.

Born and bred in Sox territory, he was and is a Chicago Cubs fan, as his father hailed from the north side of Chicago. Naturally, lots of rivalry banter ensued. “It definitely helped with the World Series (title in 2016), it finally gave some something to fire back with,” Comia said during our exclusive interview this week.

“I do love Javier Baez and Fernando Tatis Jr. and I do, definitely, try to model my game on them,” Comia responded when I asked him who he models his game on, if anybody. The Illini shortstop agreed with me, wholeheartedly, when I said Tatis is the most exciting player to watch in MLB these days. Be sure to check out which way BetQL’s model is picking for this weekend’s MLB games. The Cubs are -1.5 at the very hapless Detroit Tigers tomorrow. Meanwhile the San Diego Padres are also favorites -1.5 to the St. Louis Cardinals in a rematch of last fall’s first round playoff series.

Comia certainly has great taste in baseball role models. Baez is a two time All-Star, former NLCS MVP, league RBI champion, and Gold Glove and Silver Slugger award winner. Tatis was all-MLB and a Silver Slugger in the one full season that he’s had at the big league level thus far.

And Comia has a ton of potenital to someday, down the line, maybe compete to reach the kind of heights that Baez and Tatis have. He’s ranked the No. 4 shortstop in the nation and the No. 11 MLB Draft prospect in the Big Ten by D1Baseball.

He’s also rated the “Best Defensive Infielder” and the No. 17 MLB Draft prospect in the Big Ten by Baseball America. This summer he’ll be playing in the brand new MLB Draft League, a collegiate summer league that soon commences its inaugural season. Created by Major League Baseball and Prep Baseball Report, the league will serve as a showcase for top draft-eligible prospects leading up to each summer’s MLB draft.

Branden Comia will play for the Mahoning Valley Scrappers, who are based in Niles, Ohio.

“I think consistency is the thing with me,” he responded when I asked what he needs to do to get to the show someday.

“I definitely have the talent to be there, and the work ethic for sure, but I think (the key) is to be consistent whether my swing is feeling really good, or really bad, and finding a happy medium.

“Coming into the year I knew there was going to be some struggles and I started the year 2 for my first 30, so I had to learn how to deal with that and not let it affect the rest of my season- growing up as a person and as a baseball player.”

The 21-year-old junior (sophomore in eligibility) said what he’s most proud of, in terms of what he’s accomplished thus far, is how he was able to get out of that slump. As of this writing his slash line reads .389/.484/.475 and that’s good for an OPS of .958.

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“When you’re in a slump like that, it’s really hard to keep your mind going from ‘is this really how this year is going to go down?’ So I would say I’m most proud of myself for showing up to the field everyday, with a good attitude, no matter what my average was and finally getting out of that little slump.”

The Preseason All-Big Ten team selection by Perfect Game leads the team in OBP (.500), hits (39) and runs (30) over last 23 games. In the COVID shortened season of 2020, he hit .400+ with an OPS of 1.200+, finishing 3rd in the Big Ten in OBP (.526).

Illini baseball coach Dan Hartleb says that the self-confidence is the key to Branden Comia realizing his full potential.

“I’ve told him since freshman year on that as soon as he has as much confidence in himself as I have in him as a coach, he’ll continue to grow,” Hartleb said.

“You look at the fact that he started out 2-for-30 and now he’s hitting up around .350, so he’s done a great job. He’s had a very good year, and been a big part of our successes. I can’t say enough of about what he’s done, both offensively and defensively.”

Comia majors in business and hopes to become a financial adviser someday, once his playing career is over. However, he is not a part of the crypto craze, a phenomenon that is extremely popular among his Illini teammates right now. Before he goes into finance, he certainly has a bright future on the diamond ahead of him.

Paul M. Banks runs The Sports Bank, partnered with News NowBanks, the author of “No, I Can’t Get You Free Tickets: Lessons Learned From a Life in the Sports Media Industry,” has regularly appeared in WGNSports IllustratedChicago Tribune and SB NationFollow him on Twitter and Instagram.

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