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New Albany pitcher Caden Robinson is dealing after COVID cancellations and an elbow injury wiped out 2 years

Robinson: “It feels absolutely amazing to be back on the bump with my high school teammates after everything that happened the past two years.”
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By Aaron Blankenship | Photos by Gabe Haferman

Caden Robinson routinely overpowers opposing batters with a fastball clocked at 91 mph.

Yet the New Albany senior captain’s ability to keep opponents off-balance with an array of pitches — including a deceptive changeup, wicked curveball and gnarly slider — is what makes him one of the hottest pitching prospects in Ohio.

“There’s great velocity on Caden’s fastball, and he turned a lot of heads last summer when he was clocked in the low 90s,” said New Albany baseball coach Dave Starling, who guided the Eagles to a 29-5 record and the Division I state title a year ago. “But Caden has great command of several pitches, and he knows there’s a big difference between throwing hard and pitching.

“He’s a competitor, and he’s also the most composed guy on the field. He has an excellent demeanor where he’s able to put his last pitch behind him and focus on the next one. He gets ahead of hitters, and he’s disciplined enough to use a variety of pitches to finish the job.”

Robinson made his season debut on the mound during the Eagles’ 17-3 victory over Olentangy Berlin on March 29. In 3 2/3 innings, Robinson struck out six and gave up three hits and two earned runs.

The University of Memphis recruit followed that up by striking out out five batters and giving up one earned run in three innings in a 4-3 victory over Grove City in New Albany’s Ohio Capital Conference-Ohio Division opener on Thursday.

“Caden has a lot of velocity on his fastball, but his best pitch is his changeup,” said Launch travel baseball coach Andrew Westbrook, who has served as Robinson’s pitching coach the past four years. “He has a couple of good breaking balls, too. His slider moves well side to side, and his curveball has a lot of up-and-down movement.”

When Robinson isn’t on the mound, he starts at first base, and he’s contributed to the Eagles’ offensive success during their 5-2 start this season. 

Through New Albany’s first six games, Robinson was batting .400 with a .500 on-base percentage, two triples, a double, two RBIs and four runs scored.

“Caden’s a very effective first baseman, and it’s good to have his bat in our lineup,” Starling said. “He does a good job of moving the ball around and getting on base.”

Robinson is savoring each opportunity he gets to pitch for the Eagles, after the COVID-19 pandemic wiped out his entire sophomore season and an elbow injury kept him off the mound for all but one game last season.

“It feels absolutely amazing to be back on the bump with my high school teammates after everything that happened the past two years,” Robinson said. “I’ve been playing baseball with most of these guys since we were very small, and I’m so grateful to be fully healthy and able to enjoy a full season with these guys my senior year.”

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Robinson credits his father, Charles, for teaching him the game’s fundamentals. Charles played baseball at Ohio State in the early '90s before winning a gold medal with the North squad in the 1990 U.S. Olympic Festival. 

After graduating from Ohio State, Charles played professional baseball for the Chillicothe Paints and Zanesville Greys squads in the independent Frontier League.

“I got my passion for baseball from my father,” Caden said. “He was my coach until I was about 13 years old. Having him as my coach wasn’t a cakewalk, but it gave me a lot of mental toughness. He also had me wrestle for seven years, which made me physically tougher.

“My mom (Lara) is my role model in life. She’s a perfectionist, and she motivates me to do my best in sports and academics.”

Robinson was expected to be a starting varsity pitcher as a sophomore, after pitching for New Albany’s junior varsity squad his freshman season. 

He’d made huge strides during the offseason when he started working with Westbrook to perfect his pitching techniques. He also worked hard in the weight room and improved his diet to gain 35 pounds of muscle.

“Andrew Westbrook has been a good mentor and friend, and I wouldn’t be where I am today without him,” Robinson said. “I got all of my pitches from him, and he completely changed the way I pitch. I had always been a string bean, and I was 5-9 and 130 pounds as a freshman. But I hit the iron a lot harder and ate a lot more of the right kind of food to gain a lot of weight that year.”

New Albany was entering the 2020 season with high expectations, before COVID-19 brought everything to an abrupt halt.

“That was definitely so hard to take, because I was close with a lot of the seniors and juniors on that team, and I wanted to win a state championship with them,” Robinson said. “Thankfully, I got a lot of support from friends and family to help me get through that disappointment, and I kept the grind going and continued to push myself on the mound and in the weight room to get better.”

Robinson was expected to be one of the Eagles’ top varsity pitchers as a junior, but his prized right arm began to feel sore while throwing on a chilly day in late February.

When the pain didn’t go away, Robinson drove two hours south to meet with famed orthopedic surgeon Timothy Kremchek, who has served as the team medical director for the Cincinnati Reds for more than 25 years. 

Tests revealed a sprained ulnar collateral ligament, which meant he had a tear on the ligament on the inner side of his right elbow that connects his upper arm bone and forearm bone.

“I found out that I had a sprained UCL and might need to have a surgery that would put me out for 12 to 14 months,” Robinson said. “Hearing those words on my 17th birthday (March 15, 2021) broke my heart.”

Instead of undergoing surgery, Robinson opted to try platelet rich plasma therapy to repair his UCL. After receiving a PRP injection in his elbow to stimulate accelerated tissue healing, Robinson’s arm was locked into a brace that prevented him from moving his elbow for a week.

“The needle gave me agonizing pain, and then when I got out of the brace, every time I moved my arm a tiny bit it hurt,” Robinson said.

After working with physical therapist Mitch Salsbery for several weeks, Robinson gradually regained his range of motion to the point where he could pinch-hit for New Albany late in the season while wearing a large brace on his right arm.

While making 39 plate appearances in 15 games, Robinson had a .395 on-base percentage with four RBIs and 10 runs scored.

“My physical therapy did wonders for me, and after about three weeks, the pain went away and I got my range of motion back,” Robinson said. “I sat on the sidelines for a month-and-a-half, so I tried to contribute by being a leader on the bench by cheering on my teammates the best I could. I also watched the games and saw what I could do better as a pitcher.”

Robinson played first base the last five games of his junior season, and he threw 20 pitches to register one out in the sixth inning of the Eagles’ 6-5 victory over Cincinnati Elder in the state final.

“When I started throwing again, I felt a lot of pain in my elbow, which was so scary because I didn’t know if it was fixed yet,” Robinson said. “I was cleared to throw 20 pitches the day of the state final and I was begging to get on the mound in that game. I hadn’t thrown off a mound until I was in the bullpen in the state final, and when they put me in to pitch, it was surreal.

“When I stepped on the mound, people were going crazy, and it was an absolute adrenaline rush, and I felt like I was on top of the world. I was angry with myself because I got only one out and left with the bases loaded, but we still won the game, and winning the state championship with my teammates was an amazing experience.”

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After working with Tread Athletics coach Justin Liserio to maintain a strict diet, workout and pitching program this year, Robinson is now 6-foot-1 and 180 pounds and throwing completely pain-free.

“I’ve learned to throw harder using my entire body instead of just my arm,” Robinson said. “It’s been a relief to be able to do my thing at my best with no pain, and I’m excited about this season.

“Back-to-back state champs sounds good to me, but right now, I’m just living in the moment and enjoying every game. I’ve gained a great appreciation for the guys on the bench, after sitting beside them most of last season, and I’m enjoying the experience of being with my teammates every day.”

Robinson, who has a cumulative 4.2 grade-point average, is planning to major in business at Memphis.

In his spare time, Robinson has acquired thousands of baseball and football cards, and he's made thousands of dollars selling some of his more valuable cards online.

“Memphis believed in me even after I was injured, which means a lot to me, and it just felt like the perfect fit for me,” Robinson said. “I’m looking forward to playing baseball there and getting a good education.

“Only the top 2% of college players get drafted, so I’ve set my mind on getting a business degree. I’ve always had an interest in running a business, and selling cards online is already like a business for me, so that’s what I’m going to study.”

Robinson, though, is hoping to earn the opportunity to play professional baseball before pursuing a business career.

“Major League Baseball is my dream, and I’m never going to stop working toward that goal while I’m playing baseball,” Robinson said. “I love the game, and I’ve really enjoyed and appreciated every moment since I’ve been healthy again, and I just want to keep working hard so I can do my best.”