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Career leadoff hitter John Nett set to lead 7th-seeded Kansas baseball team into Big 12 tournament

5 min read
Kansas centerfielder and leadoff hitter John Nett signals to a teammate on the base paths during a KU home game earlier this season. [Chance Parker photo]

It didn’t take Kansas second baseman Chase Diggins long to figure out what new teammate John Nett was going to be doing for the Jayhawks on the baseball diamond this spring.

“You see him and you’re like, ‘Yeah. That’s a leadoff hitter,’” Diggins recalled of his first glance at Nett when the two arrived in town last fall. “You see him run, he’s quick, he has a great approach and he has an exceptional eye. He’s one of the best in the business.”

While Nett’s qualifications at the top of the lineup certainly has filled an important role for the Jayhawks this spring, it has been business as usual for him.

Dating all the way back to the second game of his freshman season at St. Cloud State in 2020, the Appleton, Wisconsin native has been in that leadoff spot for just about every game he’s played.

“I’ve maybe bounced around a dozen times,” he told R1S1 Sports during a recent interview. “But, for the most part, I’ve always been a leadoff hitter. And I’ve always liked it.”

The reason behind Nett filling that role and enjoying it is tied to the same concept — his super-simple approach which emphasizes putting the ball in play and putting pressure on the defense.

“I can run pretty well,” Nett conceded. “So, I don’t necessarily have to hit balls super-hard all the time to find my way on base for guys behind me. That’s all I’m really focused on as a leadoff hitter – taking care of the guys behind me.”

When the 7th-seeded Jayhawks open play in the Big 12 tournament at 9 a.m. today against No. 6 seed Kansas State — with Nett leading off the game at the plate, no less — the KU leadoff hitter and centerfielder leads the Jayhawks with a .357 batting average and is one of three players to have started all 50 games this season.

He owns an on-base percentage of .434, good for third on the team, and leads the Jayhawks with nine stolen bases, 110 total bases, 74 hits and 51 runs scored. He also has shown a fair amount of pop at the plate, with six home runs and 16 doubles.

Nett credits a lot of his success to the help he gets from within the program. After planning to play football in college through his junior year of high school, Nett played just one summer of competitive baseball growing up.

That led him to St. Cloud State, where he earned All-American, All-Region and all-conference honors multiple times while also starting all 148 games he played in during his four years with the program.

“As a leadoff man, you have a job to do and that’s to be on base for the guys behind you. So, yeah, you do take pride in doing that successfully for the guys around you and your teammates.” — KU senior John Nett

Given his lack of exposure on the baseball circuit throughout his high school summers, Nett said he was thrilled to land at a winning program like St. Cloud State. However, when the opportunity to make the jump to the Big 12 came calling at Kansas, he didn’t hesitate to say yes.

“There’s just a lot more perks here,” he said. “I was at a Division II school before and there’s just a lot more resources, you get a lot more coaches at D-I. At the D-II level, you’re limited a little bit as far as resources go. Here, they really set you up for success. It’s really cool.”

Included on that list of perks are team managers, people who handle laundry duty, extra meals at the field and meals when you’re not even competing.

“I was ecstatic to get to St. Cloud,” he said. “It was a winning program, but this has been awesome. I’m challenging myself a little bit more and it’s a great way to go out.”

If there’s one thing that’s been consistent at his two stops, it’s been his role. A leadoff hitter is a leadoff hitter is a leadoff hitter. And Diggins said Nett takes the role very seriously.

“Even his BP’s very structured,” Diggins said of Nett’s hacks during batting practice. “He sticks to his approach the whole BP. That’s throughout the whole fall, throughout the whole spring; he’s continued that. He never goes out of the strike zone. His hand-eye coordination is through the roof. And he knows what he wants.”

That’s because he knows that achieving his goal for each at-bat leads to the success of the team.

“As a leadoff man, you have a job to do and that’s to be on base for the guys behind you,” he said. “So, yeah, you do take pride in doing that successfully for the guys around you and your teammates.”

KU senior John Nett waits on third base for play to resume during the Jayhawks' game against Missouri at Kauffman Stadium earlier this season. [Chance Parker photo]

Where things differ from his past four years to this year is in the amount of information he has at his disposal whenever he steps into the batter’s box. KU’s coaching staff, which is larger than the group at St. Cloud State, is constantly sending Nett and his teammates information on the pitchers they’ll be facing, scouting everything from tendencies and favorite pitches to how fast they work and when and why they tend to tire.

Does a pitcher like to live in the strike zone? Does he walk guys? Does he strike guys out? Is he typically getting ahead of hitters early in the count?

All of that helps Nett plan his approach, whether it’s the first at-bat of the game or he’s the seventh or eighth batter of an inning.

For him, the job does not change and the principles that he has stuck to that have made him a successful leadoff hitter for the past five seasons are on his mind during every trip to the plate.

“You have to prepare for the same for every at-bat,” he said. “And you never want to add stress to what you’re doing up there. That’s why I try to keep it as simple as possible and just always try to find a way to get on base.”

Asked to recall the wildest way he has reached base, Nett pointed to some happy accidents.

“A lot of putting the ball in play, pitcher fooling you, you tap one and you’re just getting out of the box as fast as you can,” he said. “I’ve had way too many hits like that. But you take them any way you can get ’em.”

As for his favorite way to get on base?

“The infield singles are pretty cool because you kind of know that you got away with one,” he said, smiling. “So, you enjoy them a little more. But they even out. You hit balls hard at people and get out and you get your infield hits, too.”

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