Locals In MiLB: After Continuing Family Legacy At BYU, Justin Sterner Has Eyes On MLB

May 27, 2024, 3:56 PM | Updated: 4:02 pm

justin sterner byu...

PORT CHARLOTTE, FLORIDA - FEBRUARY 18: Justin Sterner #90 of the Tampa Bay Rays poses for a picture during Tampa Bay Rays Photo Day at Charlotte Sports Park on February 18, 2024 in Port Charlotte, Florida. (Photo by Elsa/Getty Images)

(Photo by Elsa/Getty Images)

DURHAM, North Carolina—Carrying on the family legacy at BYU was always the goal for Justin Sterner, but he didn’t always know if baseball would get him there. Following in Uncle Garrett Tujague’s footsteps, a former Cougar offensive lineman and OL coach, Sterner became the first of four siblings to play diamond sports in Provo when he joined former head coach Mike Littlewood’s team in 2018.

Sterner spoke with Bulls play-by-play person Patrick Kinas on the Durham Bulls Podcast earlier this month to discuss his baseball career, time in Provo, and LDS Mission. The Bulls are the Tampa Bay Rays’ Triple-A affiliate.

“I wasn’t the most recruited kid coming out of high school,” Sterner explained to Kinas. “I applied to BYU before baseball was even an opportunity.”

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Life is all about who you know, and after an initial rejection from his dream school, friends within the BYU program recommended the hard-throwing righty to the BYU coaching staff.

“The recruiting coordinator came down to see me play, and I ended up having a pretty good game. I got a couple of hits, made a good throw from the outfield to throw out a runner at home, and pitched an inning.”

The rest is history as they say.

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The Laguna Niguel, California native spent three seasons in Provo (2018-20), making 27 appearances (17 starts). He went 8-3 in 2019, finishing with a 2.92 ERA while striking out 71 batters in 71 innings. His 2.86 career ERA is the fourth-best in program history and the best since Mike Tucker (1976-78).

Sterner continues to make his home in Provo during the winter.

“That’s where I work out in the offseason. I’m around the team. It’s just a really special place. They’ve given me a lot, and I love being there.”

He also gets some personal motivation while training at the Cougars facility.

“It’s a cool thing they have in the facility there at BYU. As you walk through the hallway to get to the field, they have the jersey of every single player who’s played in the major leagues. So every time I walk through there to throw in the offseason, it’s that motivation that I want my jersey hanging up there.”

Sterner’s brother, Jack, just finished his junior season at BYU.

About Justin Sterner

Sterner built his work ethic playing for a nationally-ranked Dana Hills High School program.

“We had what felt like ten or eleven Division 1 commits. At least five or six guys went on to play professional baseball. From the beginning, it reminded me that I’m not the best; I’ll never be the best. It instilled a strong work ethic from a very young age.”

The Dolphins won their league in 2014 before rising to ninth nationally during Sterner’s junior season (2015). He had a 1.12 ERA as a senior.

Before joining the Cougars, Sterner served a two-year mission with The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints in Apia, Samoa.

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After his three seasons at BYU, Sterner went undrafted in the abbreviated, five-round 2020 MLB Player Draft before inking a free-agent contract with the Miami Marlins on August 3, 2020. Less than a year later, the Marlins dealt Sterner to the Rays organization.

Sterner’s father, Jeff, played baseball at BYU, as a walk-on, while his mother, Carol, played soccer. Athleticism seems to run in the family, and it was his supportive parents who gave Justin a chance to follow his baseball dream.

“They’re great examples. I’m super grateful for them and everything they’ve done for me throughout my entire life… My dad was happy to spend money on a baseball bat or a glove. It was fully committed to what we wanted to pursue as kids and it motivated us to work even harder to make them proud.”

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Brian Preece is a KSLsports.com insider covering the Utah State Aggies, Locals in MLB, and Salt Lake Bees. Follow Brian’s Bees, Beehive baseball, and Aggie athletics coverage here.

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Locals In MiLB: After Continuing Family Legacy At BYU, Justin Sterner Has Eyes On MLB