ARLINGTON, Texas -- UTA senior baseball standout Omar Salinas had a prolific junior season as one of the top hitters in the Sun Belt Conference.
But it was his defensive role at first base, acquired midway through the season, that allowed the Arlington High School product to focus on doing what he's always done – hit line drives.
As UTA's everyday DH through the first two months of the season, Salinas was learning to adjust to a new role of not being on the field for each pitch.
"My whole baseball life, I never really dwelled on at-bats," Salinas said. "If I struck out, I struck out, I didn't carry it with me. When I was a DH, and I struck out, I'd go back to the dugout and worry about it until my next at-bat. When I started playing first, I was able to let it go, play my position and try to make a good play defensively. Then I'd just be able to focus on hitting."
Salinas, a 5-foot-11, 200-pound, sweet-swinging left-handed hitter, was hitting .250 after the final game of the pre-conference schedule.
After a season-ending injury to starting shortstop Josh Minjarez, Salinas was put into the field for the first time in his UTA career, starting at first base in the Sun Belt Conference opener at Georgia State. His confidence, baseball instincts and awareness on the field had an instant impact on the UTA defense.
First base was a position he wouldn't relinquish the remainder of the year. Salinas played in every game at first base to finish the year and put up staggering numbers.
Overall, he hit .333 (65-for-195) with team highs in doubles (11), homers (11), RBI (44), walks (33), slugging (.559) and on-base percentage (.439). Ten of his 11 homers in 2017 came in league play, where he hit .366 with 31 RBI.
Salinas traveled a circuitous route to land at Arlington and the pitcher-haven Clay Gould Ballpark. He shattered form UTA great Hunter Pence's record at Arlington High School, hitting .475 as a senior.
"My goal was always to break that record at Arlington just because it was Hunter Pence's record," Salinas remembered. "Throughout my time there my batting average just kept getting better and better and then by the time my senior year I started hitting everyday and finally got to it."
Undersized compared to some power-hitting sluggers, Salinas ventured to Hill Community College to establish himself as an offensive weapon. He earned first-team all-league and second-team junior college all-America accolades from 2015-16. As a sophomore in 2016, Salinas hit .444 with 11 homers and 59 RBI.
His patient approach at the plate began to show up at the collegiate level at Hill, where he struck out only 16 times – while drawing 27 walks – in 189 at-bats in 2016.
"I've always had that approach," Salinas said. "Go with the pitch. If it's outside, drive it the other way and if it's inside, turn on it."
He continued to shine in his plate discipline at UTA, owning a 33-31 walk-strikeout ratio. Overall, Salinas reached base safely in 46 of his 50 starts in 2017.
"I've always been able to recognize the ball out of the pitcher's hand and have an ability to see spin," Salinas said."
Now entering his senior season as a preseason All-Sun Belt Conference selection by the league coaches – after a first-team All-League campaign in 2017 – Salinas is more prepared to have an all-around impact on the lineup, and its defense.
"I know what to expect. I have a little more experience out there," Salinas said. "With runners in scoring position, I know how to do my job and last year I didn't really know much. I know how to focus on doing my job and getting a ground ball to second base to get a runner in from third. Before, I was just trying to hit homers. The experience really helps me know what to expect."
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