Prep Baseball Report

Payne: ‘Nevada Is Going To Be A Place That’s Special’

Bruce Hefflinger
Michigan Senior Writer

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Payne: ‘Nevada Is Going To Be A Place That’s Special’

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Kellen Payne RHP / OF / Byron Center, MI / 2025

BYRON CENTER - Kellen Payne had never been to Nevada, so when an invite for a visit came there was some uncertainty.

“Being from the east side of the country, I wasn’t sure what to expect out west,” reflected the Byron Center High School junior. “It was cool to see the difference.”

The seventh-rated 2025 right-handed pitcher in Michigan came away impressed.

“The field is on a hill and the backdrop is all mountains,” Payne explained about the baseball complex at the university located in Reno. “But the coaches are the main reason why I committed there. The pitching coach and head coach have MLB experience and the end goal is to make it to MLB. They know what it takes to do that and can show me the way to get there.

“Also, the college in general is trending up along with its baseball program. They’re expanding the stadium with a new field and there’s a new basketball arena. A lot of things are growing and expanding. There’s a lot of things to do as well. It will be nice to have options to explore nature or go to the city.”

Central Michigan, Cincinnati and Lipscomb were others that showed an interest in the 17-year-old, but the process went quickly when Nevada entered the picture.

“They knew about me through another coach I knew who gave a shout out of my name,” Payne related. “They looked me up on PBR and saw that I went to the Future Games and saw my numbers. I got a call with the recruiting coordinator and two days after had a call with the head coach. I went out there on a visit two or three days after that. It was awesome.”

The fifth-rated uncommitted junior in Michigan at the time made an impression on Nevada.

“They like my ability to compete,” Payne explained. “I’m a little different on the mound, not the regular lengthy pitcher. I bring it from different angles. They see me being very projectable. There’s a lot I can clean up mechanically.”

A full-ride offer came on the visit and a commitment followed a month later.

“I wanted to make sure I covered all my bases with other colleges,” Payne noted. “What it came down to was there any other better situation? These were coaches that really want you, that can help get you to the next level and not have to pay for college.”

With a commitment came relief.

“It was in eighth grade when I knew I wanted to play college baseball,” Payne said. “It started out with me wanting to play at local colleges but then that season, playing for the Wow Factor, we traveled all over and I was seeing guys committed to big schools and I was playing with them.

“I was playing on teams with 90 percent of the players committed and I was wondering when I was gonna start getting interest,” the 6-0 205-pounder continued. “Once the Aug. 1 rule came out I put it all aside and knew the opportunity would come. I prepared for a PBR winter showcase, my first since the Future Games. I wanted coaches to see I got better and had made a big jump. At my size I had to show now and that’s what I did.

“I went to Elite Scout Day and it panned out. I ran it up to 93 in a bullpen before it and 91 at the PBR event. College coaches wanted to see that and that’s when things ramped up on my recruitment and I began having more serious conversations.”

Assistance came along the way from high school coaches Pat and Kyle McKenzie along with Elite Baseball facilities in Wyoming where Payne was “sharpened into a mature player.”

But it was at home where the most help was given.

“I thank both of my parents, especially my mom who’s always been there through the best and worst, from not wanting to play baseball at 14 to Nevada,” Payne explained. “Fields changed at 14U and baseball was a struggle. I switched to a better team and I couldn’t figure it out. I didn’t want to deal with the failure that comes with baseball. I was used to being ‘the guy.’

“But my mom, having been a Division I softball player at Central, kept pushing me. She knew I loved it and I’m glad she helped me through that.”

An “awesome” feeling was the result.

“I knew I made the right decision as soon as I got off the phone,” Payne said of his commitment. “There were no what-ifs, I was happy going to Nevada. Every player works to be a college player and then a pro player, this is just another step to the end goal of pitching for a major league team one day.”

Communication, business and sport management are all being considered as a major by Payne, a 3.4 student confident about what he can provide the Mountain West Conference program.

“I’ll bring a lot of energy,” Payne explained. “I’ll come in as a freshman and do whatever it takes to win, starting or relieving. I like setting the tone, that’s what I’m going to be all about.”

There is more that the 17th-ranked junior in Michigan is looking forward to at Nevada.

“What I’m most excited about is adding to their success,” Payne concluded. “I think Nevada is going to be a place that’s special and I’m excited to be part of that. I’m also excited for the adventure that comes with being in another part of the U.S. and exploring that.”

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