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High school pitcher brings big to baseball

At 6 feet 4, 270 pounds, Kevin Deaton leads Merritt Island into today's state semifinal.

The third-best thing Kevin Deaton does on an athletic field is hit a baseball.

The Merritt Island senior is batting .455 with 13 home runs and 46 RBI in 32 games and has led the Mustangs to the Class 5A final four today at Legends Field in Tampa. Last season, he helped them to the 5A state title, batting .458 with nine home runs.

Makes you wonder what the other two things are, eh?

Deaton is considered a better pitcher than hitter, and he will be a high selection as a pitcher in the major-league baseball draft next month if teams aren't scared away by his football ability.

Deaton has signed to play football with Florida. Baseball/football stars who try to continue playing both sports after high school, such as Kenny Kelly (Devil Rays/Miami) and Doug Johnson (Rays/UF), aren't unusual, but Deaton is. Unlike those two and most others, he does not play a skill position.

He is an offensive lineman.

At 6 feet 4, 270 pounds _ listings considered short and light by those who have seen him _ Deaton is a rare athlete, a nimble, dexterous behemoth. He is talented and imposing on the football and baseball fields.

"Because of his size, he just plain intimidates other teams," Merritt Island baseball coach Chuck Goldfarb said.

Deaton's fastball is consistently in the high 80s, and his numbers could belong to Pedro Martinez.

This season, he has 139 strikeouts and 19 walks in 93 innings. Over the past two seasons, his record is 27-2. Like Martinez, he is a complete pitcher.

Goldfarb said Deaton's best pitch is his changeup. But which one? In his five-pitch repertoire, Deaton has two changeups, one that runs away from left-handed batters and one that drops for right-handed batters.

"He is a pitcher, not a thrower," Goldfarb said. "He varies his pitches and hits his spots."

Deaton, who plays first base when not pitching, is scheduled to start today for Merritt Island (28-4) at 1 p.m. against Gonzalez Tate (27-6).

Last season, he earned a complete-game win in the state semifinal and got the save the next day in the championship game win over Venice. Today, he faces a possible future teammate, Tate's Derell McCall, who signed with Florida to play baseball.

Deaton is considering three post-high school options: sign to play pro baseball, play college football or play college football and baseball.

"It's a hard decision," Deaton said. "I'm definitely waiting to see what happens in the draft. Right now, I have no idea what I'll do."

While Deaton said he has been told playing football and baseball in college is difficult, at least one person thinks he should do it.

"One of the Florida football coaches (Jim Collins) saw one of our (baseball) games, and he said, "Hey, this kid has got to play baseball for us, too,"' Goldfarb said. "He's very, very athletic for 6-4, 270. He's got quick feet, soft hands and great hand-eye coordination."

Despite his size, baseball, not football, is Deaton's original love. Football is something he was talked into playing before his sophomore year because of his size and athletic ability.

"I had played baseball my whole life, and I definitely was surprised that I was able to do well in football," Deaton said. "I just started playing and picked things up quickly, I guess."

If he decides to stick with football full time, Deaton's competitive baseball career could end in the next couple of days _ maybe with another state title.

"(Early in the season), people were saying we didn't have the team we had last year, that we couldn't play with the big boys," Deaton said. "It definitely motivated us."

Couldn't play with the big boys? Deaton, the Class 5A player of the year, is the big boy.

"He's the most dominant player in the history of the school," Goldfarb said.