CEDAR RAPIDS, Iowa – Stop us if you heard this one before. These two guys walk into a showcase …
One has spent the spring battering pitchers in the Iowa Community College Athletic Conference (ICCAC) while playing for Kirkwood Community College in southwest Cedar Rapids. He spent the first 14 years of his life in his native Cuba and graduated from John I. Leonard High School in central Palm Beach County, Fla., in 2011.
The other spent a mostly frustrating senior season pitching for Mount Mercy University, located in northeast Cedar Rapids, in the NAIA Division I Midwest Collegiate Conference. A native of Downey, Calif., he arrived in eastern Iowa in 2012 after a two-year stint at East Los Angeles College, a junior college located in Monterey Park, Calif.
The divergent paths Kirkwood catcher/third baseman Dairo Gonzalez and Mount Mercy right-hander Abe Carrasco have walked finally crossed on Monday when they both performed for the PG Navy team at the Perfect Game Pre-Draft Showcase at Perfect Game Field-Veterans Memorial Stadium.
So, is there a punch-line to this quirky little tale? Only if punch-lines can be more interesting and surprising than humorous. Because as it turns out, these two obscure prospects from two fairly obscure schools in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, turned in two of the more noteworthy performances out of the 46 top prospects in attendance at the PG Pre-Draft.
“That was probably one of the coolest things that I’ve ever had to do,” Carrasco, speaking on Thursday, said of the experience. “I had never been in front of that many scouts before, so it was awesome just to go out there and show what I can do. I don’t want to think too much and make myself nervous so I just went out there and threw the ball. I wasn’t focusing on anything else but getting every pitch to the glove.”
Gonzalez – who spoke no English when he immigrated to the United States from Cuba with his parents as a 14-year-old five years ago but speaks it quite serviceably now – agreed with Carrasco.
“That was a great experience for me,” he said Thursday. “I came in ready to play baseball and it was important to be there. That was the largest number of scouts of I’ve been in front of before.”
The scouts certainly saw more than they could have ever expected from both Gonzalez and Carrasco on a mostly sunny spring day at the PG Pre-Draft. If the two players were under the radar coming into the event, they at least moved into the loop after their performances on Monday.
GONZALEZ WAS RECRUITED TO KIRKWOOD by former longtime Eagles coach John Lewis with a little help from a former high school teammate who was already at the school. Kirkwood, which played under first-year head coach Todd Rima this season, boasts a very diverse roster with seven native Puerto Ricans and Gonzalez, a native Cuban. The Latino players have had to make a lot of adjustments.
“At first I didn’t know the English and it was spoken in (his high school), so that was pretty tough for me,” Gonzalez said, while adding that he always had baseball to fall back on. “I was playing baseball (in Cuba) when I was 5 years old. I kept playing baseball my whole life in Cuba and I love to play baseball.”
Gonzalez (6-foot-2, 200-pounds) was Kirkwood’s primary third baseman most of the season but was pressed into catching duties when the Eagles’ starter went down with an injury late in the season. He slid into those duties easily and threw 80 mph from home to second and recorded a 1.94 pop-time during the Pre-Draft’s workout session. He also ran a 6.72-second 60-yard dash, and was named the No. 2 position player top prospect at the event behind Canadian shortstop Malik Collymore.
It is Gonzalez’s bat that will carry him to the next level (he knocked a home run and two doubles in game action Monday). He hit .373 with 13 home runs and 51 RBI as a freshman at Kirkwood in 2012, and almost won the ICCAC triple crown this season after leading the league in home runs (8) and RBI (50) and finishing second in batting (.423).
He was named the NJCAA Division II National Player of the Week in late April when in an eight-game stretch he went 15-for-29 (.517) with six home runs, 19 RBI and 14 runs scored. Gonzalez has signed with Missouri Baptist University, an NAIA baseball power located in St. Louis.
CARRASCO IS ONE OF TWO PLAYERS on Mount Mercy’s roster from East Los Angeles College and one of 19 Mustangs recruited by head coach Desi Druschel from California junior colleges. Carrasco had previously known some other players that were on the Mount Mercy roster two years ago who had also earned two-year degrees at East L.A., so he decided to join them in eastern Iowa.
“These last two years have been good,” Carrasco said. “Even though (the 2013) season didn’t end as well as we wanted it to, I feel like I grew stronger and I was throwing the ball harder, and I just felt good all season.”
Carrasco (6-2, 195) looked as good as he felt at the PG Pre-Draft, and was one of 14 pitchers named to the Top Prospect list. His fastball sat at 91-93 mph, and according to the PG scouting report, “He threw a good curveball for strikes and showed feel for a sinking changeup, as well. Carrasco showed pitchability and had an excellent performance.”
“There have been times that I’ve been told that I hit 93 during the season, so I guess I wasn’t too surprised (when it happened Monday),” Carrasco said. “I went into (the Pre-Draft) thinking that this might be my last chance or the only opportunity like this ever given to me, so I just let it all out, I guess.”
He was an Honorable Mention NAIA All-American as a junior when he finished 12-2 with a 2.10 ERA. He threw eight complete games and four shutouts while striking out 64 and walking 15.
“When I was pitching last year, I was just in a groove; it was like nothing could go wrong,” Carrasco said. “I had so much confidence in my teammates, and they were there to back me up and I was there to help them get the ‘W’. Last year was awesome.”
This season was a bit more of a struggle. Carrasco was 3-7 with a 3.76 ERA, although he did throw three more complete games with two more shutouts while striking out 54 and walking 26.
IT’S UNLIKELY THAT EITHER Gonzalez’s or Carrasco’s names entered many draft conversations before the PG Pre-Draft Showcase but their names are out there now. Out there enough, anyway, for the two prospects to pay a little closer attention when the draft takes place June 6-8.
“I’m going to look at it and see if I get drafted,” Gonzalez said simply, not mincing words.
So, these two guys walk into a showcase … and poof! A couple of draft prospects are born.
“I’ve always been waiting to be given the opportunity to show people what I’ve got,” Carrasco said. “I’m just happy that it turned out great for me, and it’s just up to (the MLB organizations) to see what they want to do and see if they want to give me a chance or not.”