It's rather uncommon for a college baseball player to hit a home run and throw at least five strikeouts in the same game.
Kaleb Binstock has done it twice.
On June 25, the former Grand Forks Central standout hit one over the fence in the second inning of the Badlands Big Sticks' 7-4 win over the Spearfish Sasquatch. He closed out the game on the mound, recording five strikeouts while facing six batters.
Three weeks earlier, he recorded six strikeouts over 3⅔ innings in a 15-14 win over the Pierre Trappers. During the same game, he hit one of his four home runs on the season.
Binstock, who plays college baseball at the University of Jamestown, has settled into his role as first baseman and pitcher on the Badlands Big Sticks in the team's inaugural season in the Expedition League.
His efficiency at first, power at the plate and heat on the bump has proven integral in the Big Sticks' success this summer.
Fastball the ultimate weapon
While he was more of a setup man for the Jimmies, Badlands head coach Hayden Pewitt assigned Binstock as closer right away.
"I think he's the hardest thrower in the league," Pewitt said. "I don't want to start him and throw him too many innings, but his stuff is the best stuff in the league I've seen. He's got to be 92, 94 (mph). That's just a guess. His stuff just jumps out of his hands. His slider is completely wipe out. He's struck out more than two guys an inning."
Binstock's fastball was clocked at 93 mph during a game in Arizona this past spring. Over 17 ⅓ innings pitched this summer for the Big Sticks, Binstock's 34 strikeouts are a team high, and his 2.63 ERA is a team low.
Through half the summer season, he's already improved on his spring numbers. During his junior season at Jamestown, Binstock threw 17 innings, recording 22 strikeouts and a 5.29 ERA.
"I know I have the chance to throw every day; well with league rules you can only pitch two games in a row; but there's a chance I could get into the game if it's a save situation. So I think I'm putting a little more emphasis on my mechanics and my command," Binstock said. "This summer I've definitely commanded my pitches better. I've located in and around the zone a lot more."
In addition to his potent fastball, Binstock has a slider and a developing, rarely used, changeup in his repertoire.
"I really enjoy throwing the slider," Binstock said. "I'd rather use the fastball because I can throw it by a few kids, but the slider is a pitch I'll throw it at any count. If I'm down 3-0, or if I'm up 0-2. It doesn't matter. I have a lot of confidence in that pitch."
Productive at the plate, too
On the flip side, the 6-foot-1, 215-pound player is just as dangerous while facing an 0-2 pitch.
"I'd have to say, when I'm hitting, I'm a pretty good two-strike hitter," Binstock said. "I have a little bit more strikeouts this summer because I was trying to find my groove and stuff, but during the season I didn't strike out a whole lot. Whether it's just putting the ball in play or getting the bat on the baseball, but I feel like I'm a good two-strike hitter."
During his third season as a Jimmie, Binstock led his team at the plate with a .404 batting average and a team-high 12 home runs. In fact, his average was the second highest in the North Star Athletic Association, just .005 points shy of being the best batter in the league.
"I think this year our coaches really tried to simplify everything from the get-go. Right when we got there, after Christmas break, they kind of broke everything down with us. Just try to get back to something simple, something easy, something repeatable," Binstock said. "I think I found something that worked. Throughout the season I didn't make many adjustments. Maybe a tiny thing here or there, but it was nice to have our coaches always there."
He struggled transferring that success into the summer wood bat league, though, as he's beginning to find his groove, Binstock has a .242 average through 23 games, although his OPS—on-base plus slugging percentage—is much higher at .762.
Binstock averaged 0.62 strikeouts a game at Jamestown this spring, and averages 1.3 per game as a Big Stick.
He has proven himself to be a power hitter, though, with four home runs, including a grand slam in an 11-6 loss to the Hub City Hotshots on June 20.
Binstock and teammate Jake Thurber alternate at first base, where Binstock boasts a .965 fielding percentage, with five errors and 132 putouts.
Despite his success in other aspects of the game, Binstock says he feels the most comfortable at first base.
"I played a little bit of it in high school as well. Then when I got to college, after my freshman year, I actually had some knee problems so they moved me to first and I've been working at it for almost 2½ years now," he said.
Binstock graduated from Grand Forks Central in 2015, mostly playing catcher and pitching.
"I played football and hockey, and I loved both of those. I played those in high school. Baseball was the one sport that really made me happy," Binstock said. "It was my safe place. I could come here and get away from everything ... baseball is the sport that keeps me moving. It got me to college; it keeps me going through college. Baseball is a special thing to me."
At Jamestown, Binstock has been able to extend his love for the game for four more years while earning a degree in exercise science.
Last season, he and the Jimmies reached the championship game of the NAIA Regional in the Oklahoma City Bracket, ultimately falling to the host team, Oklahoma City, 4-0.
Going into his senior season, Binstock is one of the older players on the Badlands team. While he leads by example, taking the game seriously, he and the Big Sticks have gotten close over their collective goofiness.
"He's a goofball, that's for sure, but when he steps in between the lines he's got a little attitude," Pewitt said. "When he steps between the lines, he's a different person. When he gets off, when he comes back after an at-bat, he's very coachable and wants you to help a lot. He says thank you to everything we say to him. The goofiness is huge in our clubhouse, because we have so many goobers and they fit so well together so it's perfect."
In a group of goofs, Binstock has found one way to stand out, frequently donning cutoff shirts, drawing jokes from coaches and teammates alike.
"I always tell him the sleeve monsters got him," Pewitt said.