All-News4JAX baseball: First Coast’s Hunter Carns continues to raise his game

Catcher is coming off the best season of his career and only getting better

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – The target on Hunter Carns gets bigger by the year.

Does the pressure ramp up with that, too? Not quite.

“I don’t feel any pressure,” he said. “I’m able to compartmentalize it and I just need to do what I usually do.”

That chill demeanor and laser-focused attention to detail has chiseled Carns, the All-News4JAX baseball player of the year, into an elite prospect at First Coast High.

He’s been on the radar of scouts — and opposing teams — since his freshman season with the Buccaneers and continues to excel. The bullseye that accompanies being an elite prospect may grow every year, but so, too, does Carns’ production.

The junior catcher posted career highs in RBI (25), homers (8) and runs (32). His walks total nearly doubled as pitchers tried to solve the Florida State commit, something they haven’t quite yet figured out how to do.

Carns credits his incline to getting bigger, stronger and faster. He’s grown a couple inches and added 40 pounds to his frame since his freshman year. Carns said that he leans on coach Stephen Barnes to not sugarcoat anything. If there’s something that needs to be fixed, Carns welcomes the feedback and is quick to find a solution.

“After my sophomore year I got in the weight room a lot more to add that extra strength to hit for more power,” Carns said. “And also changed some things in my swing to allow me to hit for more power.”

Carns has been producing at a steady level since he first sat foot on First Coast’s field as a freshman. The changes he’s had to make during an ascent from promising newcomer to potential pro baseball draft pick is taking advantage of the opportunities.

“Yeah, I saw a lot less good pitches to hit,” Carns said. “But it was just not missing the good pitches I got to hit. I need to refine my approach a little bit because last year I was a little bit too anxious to hit. And that cost me sometimes.”

Carns’ slugging percentage — the metric that weighs batting productivity in total bases — was 1.000. That number ranked sixth in Florida. But the key to helping First Coast get back into the postseason after missing out in 2023 is patience and not doing too much.

“I’ve never really thought I need to do too much at the plate. When I’m at the plate, I always just think, ‘Be yourself,’ and don’t do anything. Don’t try to do something [too big].”

All-News4JAX baseball

First team

Pos., Player, School, Class, Notable

P, Colson Altman, Baker County, Jr.

Dominant season on the mound for 22-7, regional finalist Wildcats. Whiffed 108 in 59.1 IP and finished 9-2 with an 0.71 ERA.

P, Josh Fernald, Columbia, Sr.

Led Tigers to the Class 6A state semifinals. Went 9-1 on the mound (86 Ks in 50 IP, 0.56 ERA). At the plate, he hit .342 with 7 triples, 6 doubles, 3 HR and 33 RBI. Has signed with UCF.

P, Jack Newman, Bishop Kenny, Sr.

Helped lead Crusaders to Class 4A title game. Had 0.88 ERA, 57 Ks in 55.2 IP. Has signed with UNF.

P, Cooper Whited, Sandalwood, Sr.

Picked up several votes as area’s top player. Hit .451 with 24 RBI, 11 extra-base hits. On the mound, he was 4-0 with 48 Ks, 0.80 ERA in 44 IP. Gulf Coast State College signee.

C, Hunter Carns, First Coast, Jr.

Three-time All-News4JAX selection is the area’s top player. Hit .478 with career-best 25 RBI, 32 runs and 8 homers. Slugging percentage (1.000) ranked sixth in the state. Had 21 stolen bases. Florida State commit.

IF, Holden Bradshaw, Sandalwood, Sr.

Integral part of Gateway Conference champs. Hit .426 with team-best 3 HR. Added 13 stolen bases. Signed with Gulf Coast State College.

IF, Brett Dennis, Providence, Sr.

Versatile third baseman and hurler. UNF signee led Stallions to Class 3A state semis. Went 9-1 with 1.39 ERA, 66 Ks, in 65.1 IP. Hit .307 with 21 RBI, 21 runs scored, 11 extra-base hits.

IF, Caden Hartman, Fernandina Beach, Sr.

Led a remarkable Pirates season with career highs in average (.440), hits (37), RBI (26) and HR (2).

IF, Aiden Torrez, St. Joseph, Jr.

Big slugger hit .338 with 16 RBI, 8 doubles and 4 homers. On the mound he was 5-1 with 57 Ks in 46.1 IP. Committed to University of New Orleans.

OF, Kyle Boylston, St. Johns CD, Jr.

Career highs in hits (41), runs (27), RBI (14) and doubles (7). Had 19 stolen bases and excellent in the field (.958 fielding percentage). Hit .390 for Class 2A state runners-up. Florida Atlantic commit.

OF, Brady Harris, Trinity Christian, Fr.

Emerging star introduced himself to area with 31-RBI, 5-HR season for 22-5 Conquerors. Hit .337, scored 25 runs and stole 19 bases. Has committed to Florida.

OF, Andrew Johnson, Providence, Jr.

Hit .409 with 38 hits, 29 runs, 20 RBI and 9 extra-base hits. Had 13 stolen bases for Class 3A state final four team.

OF, Jacob Miller, Trinity Christian, Sr.

Led a deep Conquerors team with a .436 average. Drove in 17 runs and scored 25 times. Has signed with JU.

UT, Kody Daneault, St. Johns CD, Jr.

Led team in batting average (.473), hits (44), runs (36) and doubles (9). Belted a couple homers for state runner-up Spartans. Also went 4-0 with 29 Ks in 23.2 IP.

UT, Hayden Gustavson, Columbia, Sr.

Career year all over the field. Catcher posted career-best totals in average (.437), runs (30), RBI (32), triples (3), homers (2) and stolen bases (25). Was 2-0 with 3 saves, 23 Ks in 17.2 IP on the mound. Headed to State College of Florida. Two-time All-News4JAX selection.

Second team

Pos., Player, School, Class, Notable

P, Brayden Harris, Trinity Christian, Fr.: Logged 29.1 IP, 1.19 ERA, 4-1 mark for the Conquerors. At the plate, hit .333 with 6 RBI. Florida State commit.

P, Matt Hoag, Ponte Vedra, Jr.: Set program record in Ks this season (89). Went 5-5 with a save, 1.55 ERA. Committed to Florida State.

P, Chayce Kieck, Bolles, Jr.: Went 5-5 with 1.92 ERA, 98 Ks in 65.2 IP for 15-13 Bulldogs. Has committed to Clemson.

C, Titus Richardson, Baker County, Jr.: Hit a team-best .457 with 21 RBI and 42 hits for regional finalist. Committed to Middle Georgia State University.

IF, Sean Ashenfelder, Creekside, So.: A threat on the basepaths (25 steals). Hit .333 with 11 RBI, 4 doubles, HR.

IF, Anthony Brown, Englewood, Jr.: Hit .364 with 12 extra-base hits, 21 RBI and 15 stolen bases.

IF, Xavier Harris, Ridgeview, Sr.: Led the Panthers at the plate by hitting .441. Scored 40 runs and drove in 13. Stole 30 bases and had 1.161 OPS.

IF, Liam O’Neil, Providence, Sr.: Missed a handful of games due to injury but returned with a vengeance for 3A state semifinalist. Hit .417 with 3 HR, 17 RBI, 1.310 OPS. Signed with Polk State.

IF, Harper Osburn, Wolfson, Sr.: Catalyst in a breakout year for the Wolfpack. Hit .352 with team-best 32 hits, 22 RBI, 15 runs scored. On the mound, he was 4-1 with a save, 3.50 ERA, 52 Ks in 38 IP.

IF, Ayden Phillips, Columbia, So.: Led the Tigers at the plate with .452 average. Had 33 hits, 29 RBI, 9 stolen bases, 5 doubles and a pair of homers.

IF, Andrew Stancin, Stanton, Sr.: Very strong season with career highs across the board. Hit .338 with 24 hits, 23 runs, 26 RBI, 6 homers, 1.238 OPS. Signed with College of Central Florida.

IF, Mason Wortman, Providence, Jr.: Second baseman hit .389 with 15 runs scored, 14 stolen bases.

OF, Cole Carnell, Clay, So.: Hit .412 with 8 doubles, 4 triples, 28 runs and 15 RBI. Had .979 fielding percentage, 9 stolen bases for 23-7 regional finalist.

UT, Billy Girgis, Ridgeview, Sr.: Hit .433 with team-best 39 hits and 15 stolen bases. On the mound, he was 4-1 with 1.74 ERA, 42 Ks in 48.1 IP.

UT Jacob Thomas, St. Johns CD, Sr.: Went 8-1 with 2.53 ERA, 57 Ks in 38.2 IP. At the plate, hit .337 with 30 RBI, 2 HR, 16 runs scored.

Honorable mention

Pos., Player, School, Class

OF, Mo Alamo, Wolfson, Sr.

IF, Shawn Andrade, St. Johns CD, Sr.

OF, Aiden Arnett, Trinity Christian, Fr.

C, Alex Bahrain, Stanton, Sr.

P, Roman Bascelli, Creekside, Jr.

IF, Jacob Baxley, Middleburg, Sr.

OF, Sean Benjamin, Fernandina Beach, Jr.

P, Trevor Bradley, St. Johns CD, Jr.

P, Tommy Brice, Bolles, Jr.

UT, Enrique Castillo, Tocoi Creek, Sr.

C, Franco Chaluja, Bishop Kenny, Jr.

IF, Brett Corbitt, Eagle’s View, Sr.

IF, Coron Davis, Fletcher, Jr.

P, Luke Davis, Baker County, Sr.

OF, Davion Dean, Baker County, So.

OF, Matt Dumas, Columbia, Sr.

IF, Cade Eidam, Ponte Vedra, Jr.

UT, Ayden Elixson, Union County, Sr.

IF, JP Espinosa, Oakleaf, So.

OF, Camdon Frier, Columbia, Jr.

UT, Maxwell Gallagher, Baldwin, Fr.

C, Kyle Geib, Menendez, Jr.

IF, Gabe Gerhardt, Beachside, Fr.

IF, Nolan Hartsell, Bolles, Sr.

OF, Xavier Hutton-Corp, Fernandina Beach, Jr.

P/OF, Mason Jones, Yulee, Fr.

UT, Braden Kessel, Ponte Vedra, Sr.

P, Aidan King, Bishop Snyder, Jr.

P, Jake Larson, Nease, Sr.

UT, Trevon Lee, Union County, Sr.

P, Landon McDonald, Oakleaf, Jr.

UT, Carson McFarlin, Creekside, Jr.

P, Easton McMahan, Clay, So.

IF, Michael Miniotas, Sandalwood, Sr.

P, Landen Moore, Trinity Christian, Sr.

OF, Josh Murray, Fleming Island, So.

P, Ben Monger, Bishop Kenny, Sr.

P, Brodie Nichols, Yulee, So.

IF, Ashton Nugent, Trinity Christian, Sr.

IF, Julian Ortiz, First Coast, Jr.

OF, Devin Outlaw, Oakleaf, Sr.

OF, Blake Pacheco, Sandalwood, Sr.

C/P, Dom Patruno, Englewood, So.

P, Cole Perkins, Fernandina Beach, Sr.

P, Kyle Powers, Providence, Jr.

P, Dominic Rabiei, Providence, Jr.

P, Joseph Rainbolt, Wolfson, Sr.

P, Keegan Roach, Ridgeview, Jr.

P, Cayden Robinson, Fleming Island, Sr.

IF, Alijah Robinson, Wolfson, Sr.

IF, Josh Rouw, Clay, Sr.

P, Schuyler Sanford, Bartram Trail, Jr.

UT, Gage Smith, Keystone Heights, Sr.

OF, Jordan Smith, Wolfson, Jr.

IF, Michael Stephens, Mandarin, Sr.

OF Abram Summers, Fleming Island, Sr.

IF, Josh Taylor, Orange Park, Sr.

UT, Kustar Webb, Westside, Jr.

P, Ethan Wheeler, Trinity Christian, Fr.

OF, Brady Wright, UC, Sr.

UT, Ethan Yesensky, Ponte Vedra, Sr.

About the Author:

Justin Barney joined News4Jax in February 2019, but he’s been covering sports on the First Coast for more than 20 years.