Ajay Sczepkowski readies for batting practice a few days before Opening Day, against Bourne. Photo Credit: Sadie Parker
by Mark Rappaport
Outfielder Ajay Sczepkowski had a historic season with the Georgia Gwinnett Grizzlies, winning the National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics (NAIA) Baseball Player of the Year.
In 2023, Sczepkowski batted .421 over 214 at-bats in just 57 games, recording 33 home runs and 102 runs batted in. He also recorded an impressive .521 on base percentage and 1.009 slugging percentage over 265 plate appearances, along with 36 stolen bases and 22 extra-base hits.
The numbers are gaudy, but the process behind those numbers has given Sczepkowski a new perspective on what hard work can achieve.
“I’ll say this 10 times over he is by far and away, the best person I’ve ever coached,” Georgia Gwinnett’s head coach, Jeremy Sheetinger said. “He is a Hall of Fame person. Like he has an unparalleled work ethic. He’s the epitome of a great teammate.”
This has been a long time coming for Sczepkowski, who began his career at Governor Mifflin High School in Pennsylvania, while playing four different sports. Eventually, Sczepkowski signed with the Harford Community College Fighting Owls in 2018, though his tenure there was upended due to both injuries and the 2020 coronavirus pandemic.
Sczepkowski returned to Harford Community College for his fourth and final year in 2021 where he broke out before transferring to Charleston Southern University in 2022. Sczepkowski exploded in his final year of NCAA collegiate play for the Buccaneers, batting .310 with nine home runs, 35 RBI and an on base percentage of .415 before transferring once again to Georgia Gwinnett in 2023.
Sczepkowski, 24 years old from Shillington, Pennsylvania, made history in 2023, becoming the first NAIA player to hit 30 home runs and steal 30 bases in a season. At the MLB level, this feat has only been accomplished 62 times by 40 players and is very rare at any level, from college to the minor and major leagues.
“He flirts with that ability to be a five tool player,” Sheetinger said. “It’s exceptional speed, obviously. He had 36 stolen bases on the year. It’s exceptional speed. He’s great defensively. He was a Gold Glove selection in left field for us. Phenomenal left fielder defensively. His ability to hit for power and hit for average. I mean, he’s got both of those tools.”
Sczepkowski steals a decisive second base on Opening Day, against Bourne, before scoring the tying run in the sixth inning. Photo credit: Sadie Parker
Success at Sczepkowski’s level is rare and unprecedented in college baseball because the season is significantly shorter than professional leagues. In 2023, only one NCAA Division I player recorded 105 RBI, and only 11 players recorded at least 80 RBI last season.
Only select players are able to make and succeed in professional sports. Sczepkowski knows that it requires commitment to make adjustments to aspects and techniques, which is where many athletes struggle. It is even more rare for athletes in sports to improve on their own while they are playing effectively.
“[I’m] not trying to do too much, knowing my role in the team and just trying to stick with that and just doing anything to try to help the team win. I think a lot of my success was just being simple,” Sczepkowski said. “I knew that previous years I think I put too much pressure on myself with the recruiting process, going through that for a bunch of years and trying to have good numbers and good stats and I think just being able to play loose really, really helped me.”
Sheetinger, cordially known as “Sheets,” had a lot of praise for Sczepkowski and his attitude towards the game.
“The big piece is curiosity and desire to get better,” Sheetinger said. “He’s constantly asking questions. He really takes a lot of pride and makes adjustments, which is a huge character trait of successful people. He’s not just content with where he’s at. He knows there’s another level he can get to. And Ajay is in constant pursuit of taking his game, his abilities, his IQ to the next level.”
Sczepkowski, like most collegiate and professional athletes, maintains a consistent workout routine throughout the year.
“I’ve always been a big gym person. So I always like to get my body moving during the week and before games and stuff get blood back in my body,” Sczepkowski said. “[I’m] just trusting the process and what you already have muscle memory of and letting that work.”
Sczepkowski will look to show off his skills for Brewster this summer.