There has been one Savannah Bananas baseball player head and shoulders — quite literally — above the rest.
Seven-foot pitcher Jared Beck is the tallest Banana ever and helped the team win the Coastal Plain League championship in 2021.
The left-hander out of Saint Leo University in Florida was one of seven current and former Bananas selected last week in the MLB draft. When the Baltimore Orioles called his name in the 13th round, 377th overall, Beck continued on a path that could someday make him the tallest player in major league history.
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Taller than 6-foot-10 Randy Johnson (1988-2009), an intimidating southpaw now in the National Baseball Hall of Fame. Taller than 6-11 right-handers Jon Rauch (2002-13) and Sean Hjelle, who made his debut this season for the Giants, and are tied for tallest players ever at the MLB level.
Beck isn’t there yet, but he already has proven to be a force on the mound.
Just ask his former Bananas teammate Nick Clarno, who caught Beck as a catcher and is thankful he didn’t have to bat against him.
“I’ve watched him throw a lot of strikes and strike a lot of people out last year,” Clarno said Wednesday.
“It’s probably hard because, first of all, it’s coming higher up, so you’ve got to change the bat angle. He’s reaching out farther than most guys. His curveball would literally seem like it’s coming from the sky. I don’t know how people hit him, if they did. … I wouldn’t have hit him.”
Clarno’s not giving himself enough credit, having succeeded as a hitter as an all-conference player at Lenoir-Rhyne University and a standout with the Bananas. After the draft, the Atlanta Braves signed Clarno, who played at Grayson High, as a catcher.
The Orioles didn’t wait that long to draft Beck, who started 13 games for Saint Leo and recorded 105 strikeouts to 31 walks in 68.1 innings. He also allowed 55 hits and sported a 4-4 record with a 3.95 ERA.
His total strikeout led the Sunshine State Conference, and opposing batters’ .217 average was fourth in the league. Beck, who hails from Davenport, Iowa, made second-team All-SSC.
“Last summer when (Beck) was here, he really took the next step to being as good as he could possibly be,” Bananas fifth-year head coach Tyler Gillum said. “Then he took it into school and had an unbelievable year.”
Beck had been dominant with Savannah, yielding nine hits with 38 strikeouts and a 1.05 ERA in 25.2 innings.
Gillum said Beck pitched in the 88 to 92 mph range, topping at around 94. He described the 225-pounder as athletic, getting more coordinated and mature as time passed.
“He’s a great kid,” Gillum said. “You get guys with long arms like that, being 7-footers, and they do let the ball go really close to the plate. It makes it tough (on batters) to hit.”
Bananas in the draft
Drafted from the current team were CPL All-Stars Beau Brewer, a third baseman, by the New York Yankees in the 19th round; and Carson Dorsey, a left-handed pitcher, by the Texas Rangers in the 17th round.
“It’s been an unreal experience,” Brewer said after his final Bananas game on Wednesday night. “I walked in here not knowing people and now it’s family and now I love it like family. It’s been a once-in-a-lifetime experience.”
From McKinney near Dallas, Texas, Brewer played for Paris (Texas) Junior College and had signed to play next school year for the University of Kansas. The utility player was batting .333 in 33 games — seventh-best in the league — when the Yankees grabbed him with the 580th pick.
Bananas alumni drafted were left-hander Nate Peterson (on the Bananas in 2019), outfielder Bill Knight (2020, ’21), left-hander Joe Miller (2021); Beck; and Georgia senior right-hander Jack Gowen (2019, ’20), a graduate of Charlton County High School. Knight, who played at Mercer, is an Augusta native and Burke County High alumnus.
After the draft, the Los Angeles Dodgers signed Bananas slugger Livan Reinoso (2021, ’22), the San Francisco Giants signed Florida State right-hander Davis Hare (2021), a South Effingham High graduate from Guyton; and the Atlanta Braves inked Clarno (2020, ’21, ’22) and Georgia Southern left-hander Hayden Harris (2021), a Grovetown High graduate.
Harris was added to the Bananas’ roster late in the 2021 season and was a key contributor in their run to the CPL crown.
Clarno’s value to the team extended well beyond his duties at catcher, third base and first base as well as with the bat. He was a high-energy guy, charging up his teammates with chatter and sometimes startling actions — like eating a live cockroach in the clubhouse — to snap the club out of a funk.
“All the fun here is amazing, all the fans that come and all my lifelong friends I’ve made since I’ve been here,” said Clarno, 24, who graduated in May from Lenoir-Rhyne in Hickory, NC, with a degree in business management. “As far as the baseball goes, the coaching here is unreal.”
Clarno credited the coaching staff led by Gillum, whom the player called “about the best there is” in teaching him “so much about the game, probably more than any coach I’ve had.”
When players returned to their college teams, they nearly all played better, Clarno said of the 2021 Bananas.
“I think it’s because of here,” Clarno said. “I think this place teaches you to relax and have fun with the game. At the same time, they’ve taught us so many development things as far as drills, baserunning, hitting, everything in the game.”
The Bananas tied the Peninsula Pilots for most players picked from a CPL team with seven in the 20-round draft. A year ago, Savannah and Lexington County led the league with eight. The Bananas led the CPL in 2019 with 11 players selected in a 40-round draft.
It’s validation to the Bananas organization that developing talent — players, coaches, front office staff — is part of the equation.
“We try to do everything here,” Gillum said. “It’s not just entertainment. It’s also on the baseball side of things. It’s always good to have those guys drafted. Those guys get to see their lifelong dream that they’ve wanted to do that since they were 5 years old. We were just one step in the process to help them get that.
“We’re pumped for those guys. I think it solidifies that we’re not just entertaining. We’re also being really good on the field, too. It’s really cool.”
Nathan Dominitz is the Sports Content Editor of the Savannah Morning News and savannahnow.com. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org. Twitter: @NathanDominitz
Bananas get picked in 2022 MLB draft
Round Overall pick Name College MLB team Bananas team
8 252 Nate Peterson Illinois-Chicago Milwaukee 2019
10 306 Bill Knight Mercer Seattle 2020, ’21
11 327 Joe Miller Pennsylvania Detroit 2021
13 377 Jared Beck Saint Leo Baltimore 2021
17 499 Carson Dorsey Gulf Coast CC Texas 2022
19,580 Beau Brewer Paris JC Yankees 2022
20 592 Jack Gowen Georgia Miami 2019, ’20