After bursting on the scene by earning second-team all-county honors as a freshman two years ago, Buford pitcher Dylan Lesko skyrocketed to the upper echelon of the Class of 2022 rankings with a strong performance during a surprisingly busy summer travel ball season last year.
But it was perhaps the work that he didn’t turn in last offseason that may have been they key for the 2021 Daily Post Pitcher of the Year turning in one of the most dominant seasons on the mound in Gwinnett County history.
“I think we actually got in more (games) than usual because we had that time off in March, and I think we started playing in the later part of April so that we could just play baseball,” Lesko said of his travel schedule last summer with the East Cobb Astros. “Everyone had been locked (down during the peak of the COVID-19 pandemic), … and as some states were more lenient on their rules, we started to play baseball.
“It definitely helped. I mean, since I played more last summer, I shut down a little earlier and didn’t play in the fall, which helped me because I had time to work out and do a long toss program and really just strengthen myself and prepare myself for the high school season.”
Lesko’s balance of work and rest earned the seal of approval from Buford head coach Stuart Chester.
He certainly can’t argue with the results, as the 6-foot-3, 195-pound junior right-hander put up video game-like numbers, finishing 11-0 with a 0.35 ERA and 112 strikeouts, and allowing only 26 hits and 15 walks, in 60 innings this spring. Included in those numbers were five complete games, highlighted by a two-hit shutout with 18 strikeouts in a 4-0 win over Class AAAAAAA quarterfinalist Grayson on April 19.
“He did have some time off, and I really wish with baseball and parents, the trend would go to where (the kids) could get two or three months off and get away from it and rest their arms,” Chester said of Lesko. “At their age, they’re still developing and they need a break. And (Lesko) got a little bit of a break.”
Like the Daily Post’s Baseball Player of the Year, Wesleyan’s Druw Jones, Lesko, who is already committed to play college ball at Vanderbilt, also came into the 2021 season knowing a little something about dealing with high expectations.
Those expectations rose further for him personally after a strong freshman year of high school ball and an even stronger summer last year made him a consensus pick in the top three of the Class of 2022 from several different scouting sites and is being eyed as a potential high-round pick in next year’s Major League Baseball Draft.
And Chester wasn’t surprised how Lesko rose to the occasion this spring.
“I said this when he came in as a freshman. He’s so far more advanced mentally than his age, and really his ability,” Chester said. “If I just had to grade him, I guess, he’s going to get an A-plus in just about every aspect, but the mental make-up of Dylan Lesko is what separates him from all other athletes I’ve coached or been around, or I’ve seen. It’s just the competitiveness and mental make-up.
“He topped out at 99 (miles per hour on his fastball) and that’s absolutely awesome and great, and you’ll see that in MLB all the time and you’ll see (high school pitchers) across the state (of Georgia) in the mid-90s all the time. But when you put that ability into a person with his mindset, it’s something to witness.”
Of course, Lesko and his Buford teammates also head to deal with increasingly high expectations after winning their first 32 games this season, including the opening game of their best-of-three Class AAAAAA second-round state playoff series against Pope.
But after dropping the next two games to bring their season to a sudden and premature end, Lesko says the Wolves learned a valuable lesson, one which will bring him and his returning teammates into 2022 with a bit of a chip on their collective shoulder.
“This past year, we were ranked highly across the board,” Lesko said. “I think we got a little complacent because by the time (of the second round), we were undefeated. We were winning every game, so we just laid back and Pope shocked us. They did what they had to do.
“For this next year, I think that will help a lot because a good amount of our starters are back and we’ll be seniors. So we (now) know what it takes, and we’ll keep pushing because we know anyone can shock anyone else at anytime.”