TUNNEL HILL, Ga. — The negative impact on high school athletes during the COVID-19 pandemic has been well documented. There are a few, like Cade Fisher, who actually benefitted from time away from the game.
The Northwest Whitfield High School baseball phenom was, like the other thousands of prep athletes who lost their 2020 seasons, heartbroken after finding out he couldn't compete a year ago. Instead of sulking, however, the junior left-handed pitcher decided to use his down time to focus on a future that today seems limitless.
Fisher tore his ACL early in the 2020 football season, putting his sophomore baseball season in jeopardy. However, successful surgery and extensive physical therapy by the focused Fisher had him on schedule to make his debut when the pandemic hit. He spent the next few months ramping up his rehab while adding strength all over.
After returning to the mound during a dominating summer with his East Cobb travel team, Fisher continued his training — and eating. In a year he's grown over two inches and added 26 pounds. Now at 6-foot-4 and 188 pounds he's added five mph to his fastball (topping out at 92) while refining his best pitch, a devastating curveball.
The combination has been nearly unhittable. In seven starts he is 6-0 with a 0.15 ERA (one run in 47 innings). In those 47 innings he's allowed 13 hits (.082 opponent batting average) and has struck out 106, more than 15 per game.
His 13 strikeouts in Tuesday's 5-0 win over Southeast Whitfield broke the school's single season strikeout record.
"Looking back, maybe last year was a blessing to him because he was able to extend his rehab," said his father, Chad Fisher, who is the Northwest Whitfield football offensive coordinator. "He was 162 pounds this summer and was 188 at the start of this baseball season, and a lot of that was because he was able to strengthen his knee and use his legs to work out."
Cade Fisher may have suddenly burst onto the local scene, but he's been known nationally for a couple of years. In his freshman year the Bruins were loaded with pitchers, including University of Georgia's Hank Bearden and Fisher's brother, Ty, who is at Tennessee Tech, so Cade spent the season on junior varsity.
That summer, though, his work in summer ball quickly caught recruiter's attention and the offers started rolling in from schools like Georgia, Miami and Virginia. An unofficial visit to Gainesville led to a quick commitment to the Gators — all before pitching an inning in high school.
"At first it was kind of shocking to get big offers, but then I was able to settle down and focus on my future," Fisher said. "It got hectic at times, and I guess it was because I was young and hadn't expected it. Florida just felt like home, so it was an easy choice. It's great, though, to have this done. It's really helped me concentrate on being the best I can be without pressing."
Fisher's 2021 debut was nearly immaculate. He struck out 21 in a 5-0 shutout over Dade County, the only two runners reaching on errors. He followed that up with three consecutive one-hit shutouts, striking out 16 twice and 11 in the other. The start before his gem over Southeast Whitfield was a 17-strikeout three-hitter over Cedartown, handing the Bulldogs their first Region 7-AAAA loss.
"He's been as good as I've seen around here," Northwest coach Todd Middleton said. "He throws hard and he has great command of three pitches. He doesn't walk anybody and he locates well. He's pitching, not just throwing and he has a great demeanor on the mound. He's nice and calm, doesn't get too up or down."
Fisher feels his breaking pitch is his best weapon, though the ability to use his fastball to consistently get ahead — he has thrown first-pitch strikes to 72% of batters — opens everything else up. That includes a changeup that will, Middleton believes, set him apart at the next level.
"He's got a really good chanegup, which is not an easy pitch to throw," Middleton said. "A lot of times in high school a guy who throws that hard is helping a batter when he throws a changeup, but it will help him as he goes on. College guys can time most fastballs, and that's when the changeup becomes a weapon."
Cade credits brother Ty, a two-sport star at Northwest, with teaching him the changeup, though he believes — like in most things — he's already better at it. Ty's success has always motivated his younger brother, so much so that they are now prohibited from competing against each other in, well, anything.
"He's really competitive," Chad Fisher says of Cade. "He's always worked really hard to be the best he can be. Having an older brother that did it before him has made him really competitive.
"He wants to be as good as or better than Ty," he added with a laugh. "They can't even play checkers or go play catch together without it turning into something competitive."
That desire to be the best could continue to pay off. The Fishers have already hired a Major League Baseball draft advisor to consider their options in 2022, something that would have seemed crazy a year ago. However, if Middleton is correct, there will be a decision to make next June.
"It's hard to project things like the draft this far out, but he's certainly got a chance," Middleton said. "First off, he might still be growing. He wears size 15 or 16 shoe and he's got uncles who are 6-5 and 6-6, so he's still got some growing to do. His velocity has increased every year and by the time he gets out of here he will be consistently in the low to mid 90s I would think. And he's left-handed, which is always a plus with big league teams.
"He's really good right now but he's not as good as he's going to be."
Contact Lindsey Young at firstname.lastname@example.org; follow him on Twitter @youngsports22