EDINBURG — Edinburg Vela rising senior AJ Sotelo, a multi-sport star and a veteran leader for the SaberCats on the diamond and the gridiron, announced his verbal commitment to play college baseball at University of the Incarnate Word in San Antonio via a Twitter post late Wednesday evening.
“Incarnate Word just being where it’s at in San Antonio is close to home and close to the family,” he said. “I had a couple of other offers, but I just felt like the relationship I had with the coaches, the relationship we had built throughout the process, made me feel wanted there. That’s what led me to make my decision.”
Sotelo credited his travel baseball team, the Lonestar Baseball Club, and the Vela varsity squad, as well as both coaching staffs, for helping him develop as a player, particularly his San Antonio-based pitching coach who he’s continued to train with since the spring sports season was suspended and later canceled.
“Once the season ended, I went up to San Antonio with Colter Bostick. He’s the founder of Maximized Baseball and Pitching and my pitching trainer,” Sotelo said. “He really helped me develop over time, so I was up there in San Antonio at least once a week putting in work. When I would come back down, he would give me workouts to do and stuff, and that’s really what’s led to a lot of my development over the last couple of months.”
The SaberCats’ senior was exposed to more than a few San Antonio connections during his stint with the Lonestar Baseball Club, a travel team which includes several high school players from Austin and San Antonio as well as the Rio Grande Valley.
“All those coaches have all played college baseball and a lot of them have also played professional baseball, so the connections they have are unreal,” he said. “My head coach, Coach Adam (Peña), he actually played at Incarnate Word, so he’s an alumnus there. It really helped out that those coaches had those connections there. They were really able to help me get recruited and at the end of the day, they helped me get committed there.”
Sotelo will see some other familiar faces once he officially joins the Cardinals’ baseball program.
He’ll be joined at UIW by Lonestar Baseball Club teammate Carson Babb, a right-handed pitcher, outfielder and fellow rising senior at Hutto High School, as well as pitcher Justin Anaya, a former Brownsville Veterans standout entering his junior season.
Sotelo, who’s set to enter his fourth season of varsity ball at Vela, also became the third SaberCat this summer playing for the Lonestar Baseball Club to commit to a Division I baseball program after his teammate and catcher Mito Perez committed to play at UTRGV, as well as Class of 2020 Vela grad Isaac Lopez, who will be playing middle infield for the Vaqueros this coming season.
During a shortened junior season, Sotelo tallied a 2-1 record in three starts and sported a 1.68 ERA with 25 strikeouts in 16.2 innings pitched by the time play was suspended.
A flamethrower on the hill, Sotelo hurls a fastball that hovers above 90 mph consistently and complements s that with a sweeping slider and devastating change-up. He has quite successfully sought to emulate his style and approach after former Houston Astros and current New York Yankees ace Gerrit Cole.
“I like the way that guy holds himself on the mound. He kind of has that bulldog mentality and that’s the kind of mentality I like to have on the mound,” Sotelo said. “I feel like I’m more of a location type of guy working in different pitches, setting up counts and all that good stuff, but sometimes I step up on the mound and just say ‘With this guy, I’m going to try to overpower him with my fastball.’ Or maybe he’s a little bit better of a hitter, so let me mix in some breaking balls.”
But as talented as he is on the mound, he acknowledges it might not be the final Division I offer he accepts.
As Edinburg Vela’s offensive field general in the huddle, he’s also developed into one of the RGV’s most prolific passers on one of its most dominant teams.
Sotelo has racked up 5,215 yards through the air as Vela’s two-year starter at quarterback while completing 63.4% of his passes and tallying 61 passing touchdowns compared to 16 interceptions.
He has also led the SaberCats to a 21-5 overall record over a two-year stretch and helped the team’s offense tally 996 total points, the most by any Valley program during that stint.
“One hundred percent,” said Sotelo when asked if he had considered trying to play both sports collegiately. “I just think that would be a dream that not a lot of athletes are able to do: having the luxury of playing both football and baseball in college. If the opportunity arises, I’m for sure going to go for it and I’m going to be hopeful that maybe I can be one of those athletes.”
Edinburg CISD, which had yet to begin offseason strength and conditioning programs, was one of many Valley school districts to temporarily suspend summer workouts as the number of active COVID-19 cases continues to climb both throughout the RGV and Texas.
That didn’t discourage Sotelo, though, who has kept his focus squarely on training for next season, whenever that may be.
“As fun as the recruiting process is, it’s also a very stressful process,” he said. “I’m fortunate enough to where this virus did shut down a lot of recruiting for a lot of people, but God blessed me enough to the point where I was still able to get discovered. At the end of the day, it’s a huge blessing.”
Sotelo and the SaberCats football squad are scheduled to kick off the regular season of RGV high school football in a goliath rematch against the McAllen Memorial Mustangs at 7 p.m. on Aug. 27 at Richard R. Flores Stadium in Edinburg.