Baseball: Olentangy alumnus Nate Monastra decides to return to Xavier

DAVE PURPURA
dpurpura@thisweeknews.com
Olentangy graduate Nate Monastra hopes for a strong finish to his college career at Xavier. By virtue of an NCAA waiver in the wake of the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic, Monastra, a catcher, will return for a fifth season in 2021 and hopes to be selected in the MLB draft.

Nate Monastra's lifelong love of baseball briefly was at odds with his future plans this spring.

Entering his senior season at Xavier, Monastra already had a job lined up in General Electric Aviation's finance department -- if he wasn't selected in the MLB draft -- when the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic hit.

The NCAA canceled spring sports March 12 and later offered senior spring athletes a waiver to return for their fifth season, which presented Monastra, a 2016 graduate of Olentangy, with a tough choice.

"I was excited about (my job), but I also didn't want to end my career 15 games into my senior season," said Monastra, who was not selected in last month's MLB draft, which was limited to only five rounds. "It took me a couple weeks to decide because it was hard to pass up a job, but at the end of the day, I thought the best decision was to come back."

Monastra has been a mainstay for the Musketeers for the past three seasons, having split time between catcher and designated hitter as a sophomore before becoming the team's primary catcher as a junior in 2019. Ranked the second-best catching prospect in the state as a high school senior, Monastra started all 15 games this spring, batting .230 with 14 hits, including a home run.

"You know what you're going to get every single day when you put him in the lineup. That's such a luxury to have, especially at that position," Xavier coach Billy O'Conner said. "He's been through some battles. The situation doesn't become too big for him."

Despite Monastra's high school success -- he batted .456 with 28 RBI and 29 runs scored as a senior and .340 as a junior and twice was named first-team all-OCC-Capital Division -- he and O'Conner agreed that Monastra's college fortunes improved after an initiation of sorts.

"When I got to Xavier, I was averse to criticism. I didn't respond well to it," Monastra said. "The coaches were pretty tough on me freshman year (in an attempt) to toughen me up. It's pretty basic, but I think the biggest thing that's helped me with my development is just learning how to breathe, not worrying so much about failing and just trusting in my ability.

"You have to learn to be able to perform under pressure and with scrutiny constantly on you. That was big because it helped me learn to relax and perform to my standards."

Monastra started 21 of the 37 games in which he appeared as a freshman, batting .207 with two home runs and 11 RBI as Xavier won the Big East Tournament and went 2-2 in the NCAA tournament.

He made a dramatic jump during his sophomore year, earning a split in playing time behind the plate with then-senior Nate Soria, who later was drafted by Tampa Bay. Monastra started 44 games either at catcher or designated hitter and batted .280 with a career-high five home runs and 19 RBI.

"I really didn't think he'd beat (Soler) out, but he did. That was impressive," O'Conner said. "That was a talented catching crew we had, and he'd developed offensively to the point that we had to keep his bat in the lineup."

Monastra remained sharp by playing in wooden-bat leagues each of the past three summers. He was in the Hamptons Collegiate Baseball League in 2017, the Coastal Plains League in 2018 and the New England Collegiate Baseball League last year.

Monastra also has taken on a coaching role, as he is helping neighbor and Olentangy rising junior Carter Williamson with catching and weightlifting.

"He's taught me a lot of things, like how to correctly do lifts. He really pushes me," Williamson said. "I am definitely looking to play in college. I hope I'm getting some looks at this point, but I'm not really sure. Hopefully everything Nate has taught me will help with that. I'm a better catcher because of it."

Even though next year's MLB draft will be cut to 20 rounds from the usual 40, Monastra hopes to be selected.

"Taking away 55 rounds in two years is pretty crazy," he said. "It'll make things a lot tougher, but I am up for the challenge."

dpurpura@thisweeknews.com

@ThisWeekDave