How Jake Anchia’s experience at Nova Southeastern and relationship with manager Greg Brown set the foundation for the rest of his professional career.
Headlining the upper section of Greg Brown’s bio page on the Nova Southeastern University Athletics website sits a high definition photo of a celebration with former Sharks catcher Jake Anchia (see above).
In the photo, Anchia and Brown are sporting ear-to-ear smiles as they exchange a fist bump near the third-base coaches’ box, acknowledging a mere snapshot of the three year that these two spent together in the tropical suburb of Davie, Florida.
With that chapter barely visible now in the rear-view mirror, Anchia and Brown have both had time reflect on the lessons that they learned from one another and used it to further their individual careers.
As a member of the Seattle Mariners organization, Anchia, 22, has become a fan favorite with the West Virginia Power during his All-Star season in downtown Charleston. It is his first full season in Minor League Baseball after being selected in the seventh round (208th Overall) in the 2018 Draft.
The Miami Lakes, Fla., native has used this season to solidify himself as one of the most talented hitters in the South Atlantic League, and a top catching prospect. Anchia, who has had plenty of doubters along the way, saw his baseball career blossom during his time at Nova Southeastern, especially under Brown’s tutelage.
The star-studded catcher made a name for himself as a freshman when he replaced his former high school teammate, and then-injured, Michael Hernandez as the full-time catcher during the Sharks’ 2016 postseason run. Hernandez was a ‘top-15’ catcher in the nation at the time, and earned the majority of his playing time as a junior over Anchia before the injury. However, Anchia maximized his newly-created starting role in 2016, playing in all five games of the NCAA National Tournament and crushing multiple postseason home runs that helped bring home a national title for the Sharks.
“We knew we had something with Jake before 2016,” Brown said. “He stepped in and helped lead us to a National Championship at a crucial time that season.”
On the Northeastern side of the Nova campus sits a modest 500-seat baseball complex that is overshadowed by a six-story parking garage towering above the center-field wall. Displayed on the top level of the garage is a long and narrow blue banner with the white block letters that spell out ‘2016 National Champions’, an achievement that Anchia and Brown were blessed to share during their time together.
One thing that will never show up in a box score from that magical run, though, is the leadership, commitment and pride that Anchia brought to the forefront for the Sharks. He quickly blossomed into a championship-caliber catcher and teammate, but he would have missed out entirely on being a Shark if the coaching staff had not recognized the talent that lied within.
“I actually take a lot of pride in this,” Brown recalled. “Before he showed up [on campus], a lot of scouts said that he could not catch. That really gave us a leg up on everyone else because we knew he could.”
Brown and the rest of the Sharks’ coaching staff identified Anchia as a catcher before he was truly ready to be an everyday presence behind the plate. Anchia, who played a lot of outfield in high school, displayed a lot of hidden athleticism in a wide frame that Brown and the rest of the staff fell in love with during recruitment.
“I was fortunate enough to go to a really good high school, a baseball powerhouse,” Anchia said. “But, it wasn’t until the fall of my senior year that Nova gave me the offer. I was looking for other schools, but no one gave me what I was searching for, so I said ‘Hey, they are taking a chance on me, so I’m going there’.”
Anchia also appreciated the close proximity to his family in Florida, along with the catching pedigree that Brown and the entire program brought to the table.
“Jake is special to me as a coach,” Brown stated. “He had other opportunities to go play, but he opted out of those to work with us.”
A former professional catcher in his own right, Brown, has been at Nova Southeastern since 2011, and has worked in baseball since his playing career ended in 2007. The Hollywood, Fla., native spent four seasons in the Miami Marlins system and made it as high as Double-A on a couple of occasions. During his time as Marlins farmhand, Brown was a backstop for a part of two seasons for the Power’s fellow South Atlantic League foe, the Greensboro Grasshoppers.
Even before his time at Nova Southeastern, Brown was able to scout other offensive talents like J.D. Martinez and Keke Hernandez, who he signed as ‘under-the-radar’ prospects. Brown now takes pride in his recruiting ability, especially in finding field generals that can fill his team and he can put behind the plate.
“For the most part,” Brown mentioned. “People don’t know how to evaluate catchers, especially defensively. It’s one of the toughest things to do as a scout.”
Brown has more than evaluated catchers at Nova Southeastern; he has built a Division II powerhouse that continues to produce professional-quality backstops. One reason behind this is the rigorous leadership academy that the Sharks coaching staff goes through each year. The only players that are also required to complete the course, the catchers.
“We have a three-year plan here,” Brown explained. “Our goal here is not just to get these guys to the pros, but to actually have them be a professional when they leave our program.”
With all of the talent that Brown and the Sharks had accumulated at the catcher position, Anchia was stuck in a log jam that kept him low on the depth chart when he first arrived at school. Though he only made 18 starts as a freshman, Anchia continued to produce even with a large chunk of his playing time coming off the bench. Despite the limited action, Anchia still managed to mash a freshman-school record eight homers, a total that topped Major League All-Star J.D. Martinez’s previous mark of five.
Anchia proved early on that he was always up for the big-time moments, but struggled to show the discipline early in his years to be a role model in practice. The numbers were present as a backstop, but the Nova coaching staff harped on Anchia to be a better practice player and a leader for the squad.
“My freshman year he pushed me,” Anchia said. “He [Brown] knew that I had a lot of potential in me. He was hard on me and wanted me to succeed, so he pushed me to become a better catcher, a better hitter and especially a better leader.”
Those lessons were put to the test in year two for Anchia, as the Sharks had a healthy Hernandez return from injury and held a crowded catching group. The two had to split time behind the plate with rotations between catching and being the designated hitter. However, Anchia took that season as a learning opportunity instead of getting frustrated with the situation.
“He [Hernandez] took me under his wing as a freshman,” Anchia explained. “His senior year (Anchia’s sophomore year), he was still there and was the team captain and leader both on the field and in the clubhouse. It was fun to be a part of that group.”
As a sophomore, Anchia cracked 17 homers with 55 RBI in 47 games, scored a total of 57 times and shared the team lead with 15 doubles and two triples. He was also named a D2CCA Second Team All-Region recipient after posting a .326/.443/.719 slash line on the year.
His junior campaign became a proving ground for Anchia, as he earned his first opportunity as the everyday starting catcher. With the raw hitting ability always present for Anchia, it was an opportunity for him to show that he could be a professional defensively.
Anchia broke through in that category in his final year, winning a Division II ABCA/Rawlings Gold Glove Award at catcher. He also cracked 22 long balls on the year and broke the program’s career home run record that was previously held by Martinez as well. That year thrust Anchia into the national spotlight, catching the eye of professional scouts everywhere and ultimately raising his draft stock heading into the summer.
As the June draft got underway, the process became more stressful for Anchia and his family, but Jake decided he was going to loosen the tension with a little comedic relief.
“They saw me pick up the phone,” Anchia explained. “Everyone stopped talking and I walked away. Well, I hung up and they all started asking ‘who was it, who was it?’ So, I told them I wasn’t telling them yet!”
Of course, the family roared with laughter in the exciting yet anxious moments. Yet, when Anchia’s name popped up on the television, all the anxiousness faded, and he was officially a Seattle Mariner.
Anchia spent his first professional season with the Everett AquaSox before being named an Opening Day starter for West Virginia in 2019. He has kept the power numbers high, mashing double-digit homers that have been at or near the top of the team for the majority of his campaign.
Along with the All-Star caliber numbers that Anchia has produced, he has shown off that clutch gene that surfaced during his time with Nova. Late-inning heroics have become a staple of Anchia’s game with a walk-off homer, a grand slam and multiple conversions in crucial situations already under his belt.
There have been multiple times this season when Anchia has been the star of the show, but he never forgets where he came from and who got him to where he is.
“He [Anchia] definitely has a flair for the dramatics on the field,” Brown stated. “But you wouldn’t know that [from just talking with him], because he is so humble and docile off of it.”
A humble nature definitely ebbs from Anchia, who has been categorized as a lifelong family man who cares about those around him and has truly blossomed into the ideal teammate. As a leader in the clubhouse and a workhorse behind the plate, Anchia has become a ballplayer that any manager would be happy to have on their roster.
“The human element is what shines through with Jake,” Brown said. “It’s what sets him apart from everyone else.”
That element stems from lessons learned at Nova Southeastern for both Anchia and Brown, and has solidified a foundation for the rest of their careers. Whether it was the leadership academy, the individual coaching sessions or in-game moments, Anchia has developed into the player he is today because of Brown.
Thanks to Anchia, Coach Brown has a crowning name in his program that is given to an individual who exemplifies what it means to be a good teammate and a grinder on the baseball diamond. Meanwhile, Jake continues to be that for the Seattle Mariners as he grinds through the early years of his professional career.
“The best baseball is still ahead of Jake,” Brown claimed. “He is what I like to call, ‘The Ultimate Shark.’”