Fort Hays State recently signed McPherson High’s top basketball player, Kyler Kinnamon.
Now the Tigers have signed MHS’ top baseball player, Cody Starkel.
Starkel, who earlier had verbally committed to the Tigers, made it official on Thursday during a signing ceremony at the MHS Library.
Starkel was one of only two seniors for the Bullpups, the other being Griffin Myers — who cast his lot earlier this week with Tabor College.
Starkel will be one of the more high-profile signings for Fort Hays. He was a driving force behind the Bullpups advancing to the finals of the Class 4A Division I State Tournament, losing to Topeka Hayden.
Starkel was a first-team All-State catcher and started in the Kansas All-Star Game earlier this month at Manhattan after hitting .455. He hit two homers, drove in 19 runs and had 11 other extra-base hits — nine double and two triples. He also had a .670 slugging percentage and astounding 1.204 OPS (on-base percentage plus slugging).
"I've got quite a few friends going out there," Starkel said. "I went on a visit earlier in the year and I really liked the campus. Talking to (Tiger) coach (Steve) Johnson, I really liked him."
Last summer, Starkel was a vital cog in McPherson winning the Class A American Legion state championship after the team had lost its first-round game. It roared back through to win the title, the team's first in 40 years.
Starkel's athleticism and versatility could earn him a look at other positions. He's tall for a catcher at 6-5, but possesses a strong arm and quickness.
"They said anywhere except for short, second or third," he said. "They could maybe move me to first or third or corner outfield, too."
Starkel says he'll continue to work on his hitting before going to Hays and also wants to improve his speed and strength. He's grown several inches in the last couple of years and has a frame that can easily add 20 pounds.
In addition to his outstanding baseball exploits, Starkel was a warrior on the football field as a defensive end, earning first-team AVCTL honors.
In the final game of the regular season against Hays, Starkel was pressed into emergency duty at quarterback when Kinnamon suffered a shoulder separation against Buhler. He responded by throwing for 209 yards in leading MHS to a 42-35 victory to clinch the district championship.
MHS baseball coach Heath Gerstner believes the Tigers are getting a gem as Starkel was a leader by example for the Bullpups, who experienced a renaissance after going 7-14 his junior year.
"Having an experienced catcher, there's nothing better than that," said Gerstner, who watched him last summer for the Legion team and knew he was going to be the team's pinwheel. "He had a lot of experience before this year and that excited me. We really treat our catchers like our quarterback and they've got to be our leader, they've got to be what we're about. How hard they play is a lot how everybody else plays around them."
Gerstner said he saw a lot of improvement in Starkel from the Legion season to the high school season.
"As a hitter he's come a long ways," Gerstner said. "(He) Changed his plan, learned to battle with two strikes, became more patient."
Starkel said playing football is on the back burner for now, but hasn't ruled it out completely. However, his main focus at this point is on baseball and getting the Tigers back to being contenders in the MIAA.
Starkel, the son of Jennifer and Jerry Starkel, will major in pre-law.