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Showcase : : Story
Reflections on Caribbean Showcase
David Rawnsley        
Published: Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Also see:  Caribbean Showcase Scout Blogs | Top Prospect List

Holding a showcase in Puerto Rico has been under discussion at the Perfect Game offices for years but it wasn’t until now that everything came together. The thought of the four PG staffers that worked the event; myself, Ben Ford, Kirk Gardner and Todd Gold, is “We can’t wait for next year!!.”

Ignoring the obvious benefit of working a showcase from a seaside resort (actually a Courtyard Marriott with a casino and a huge salsa bar in the lobby) and a view toward the beach that Gardner described as “looking like a screen saver,” the overwhelming lasting impression of this event is going to be the incredible amount of athletic talent that was on display. There was an unmistakable “Wow!” factor during and after the event.

First, consider some of the numbers. The event attracted 137 players, which roughly doubled what Perfect Game’s initial projection of participants was going to be. That in and of itself is a great sign of the health of baseball on the island and, quite frankly, the respect with which Perfect Game is held in by the players and parents here.

A total of 102 players ran the 60. 55 of those players ran 7.00 or less on the wet turf field at Roberto Clemente Stadium. 15 of those ran under 6.65. You couldn’t find 55 players in the whole state of California who could run under 7.00 and scouts who know what I’m saying about California and running speed know exactly what I’m talking about.

42 players threw from the outfield during drills. 12 of those threw 90 mph or above, including a 98 from Jacob Cordero and a 97 from Johneshwy Fargas.

49 players threw during infield drills. 21 of those threw 84 mph or above and seven threw 90 mph or above.

24 catchers threw during catching drills. 17 of those popped 2.01 or less, including four in the 1.83-1.86 range.

The only event on the Perfect Game showcase calendar where you expect that type of across the board position athleticism is at the National Showcase and perhaps the World Showcase. In fact, there were a number of players who ran in the 6.8 range and threw 90 mph from their position who weren’t included in the immediate post-showcase Top Prospect List. That’s unheard of at a regional showcase.

The Issue of Pitchers

We touched on the issue of Puerto Rico’s rather dismal history of producing high quality Major League pitchers in the showcase preview last week. Boiled down, the fact is that the recently retired Javy Vasquez (165-160, 4.22 career) is by a significant margin the best pitcher the island has ever produced, and I mean that as no disrespect to Vasquez. His primary competition for that distinction is Juan Pizarro and Willie Hernandez.

Of the 31 players from the 2012, 2013 and 2014 classes that were included in the event Top Prospect List, only 4 of them were primary pitchers. In a showcase where position players throwing 90 mph during drills were the expectation, only one pitcher, RHP Joe Jimenez, threw a pitch above 88 mph. The quality of off speed pitches, especially curveballs, was even less than the fastball velocities.

I asked a number of Puerto Rican scouts why, in the big picture, this was the case. The answer was very consistent. One scout said, “Young players in Puerto Rico grow up wanting to be Pudge Rodriguez or Juan Gonzalez or Roberto Alomar or Carlos Beltran. They don’t want to be Javy Vazquez. Most have no interest in pitching at all. It would be like a young football player going to his coach and saying he wanted to be the punter instead of the quarterback.”

Edwin Rodriguez (see below) summarized the story of RHP J.O. Berrios, who became the highest drafted Puerto Rican pitcher ever last June when the Twins selected him with the 32
nd overall pick.

“Berrios had been with my Mizuno team for a couple of years and only wanted to play shortstop despite the fact he wasn’t a shortstop prospect. I told him I had Carlos Correa playing shortstop and Jan Hernandez playing third base for the team, that’s what shortstop prospects look like, you are a pitcher. He decided to leave my team for a team that told him he could play shortstop. That team let him play shortstop for two weeks, then told him he was a pitcher only. Berrios fought it every inch of the way, but now he is one of the best pitching prospects in the lower minor leagues and a very wealthy 18-year old.”

Rodriguez also noted that RHP Jorge Lopez, who was a second round pick in 2011, actually played very little baseball growing up. Lopez was a top level volleyball player to whom baseball was a secondary sport for most of his athletic development period.

You are very unlikely to find a two-way prospect such as an A.J. Puk or a Trey Ball or a Travis Demerrite, to mention three 2012 PG All-Americans, in Puerto Rico. The top prospects; Hernandez, Fargas, Cordero and Edwin Diaz, all players with easy plus arms, don’t pitch. Some of the next level of position prospects; Roy Morales, Angel Perez, Josh Santos-Torres, Alexander De La Cruz, are actually the best pitching prospects in the class but they are strictly secondary pitchers at this point. In general, only when you reach the third tier of baseball athlete do you find players who are actually primary pitchers.

Miscellaneous Notes

Rodriguez, who wears virtually every type of hat as a “Mr. Baseball” personality in Puerto Rico, has been a fixture at Perfect Game events for years with his Team Mizuno players. He was instrumental in helping organize the showcase, although I think he was a bit surprised by the intensity with which PG goes about its business behind the scenes. He put together a team of event workers in coaches John Burgos, Bert Pena and J.C. Melendez, trainer Yanira Fernandez and his son Edwin Jr. that was as good of group as I’ve ever seen at a PG showcase.

The most famous former MLB player at Roberto Clemente Stadium was 3-time All-Star Carlos Baerga, whose son Carlos Jr. participated in the showcase. Carlos Jr. is a left-handed hitting outfielder with a very good hit tool and swung the bat especially well in games.

Roberto Clemente Stadium is a big park with standard MLB dimensions. But the reason why only one ball was hit out of the park in both batting practice and games was that there is so much water in the air it should be weighed by pound weight instead of humidity. Plus, it gets worse by the hour during the day and into the evening. It was no coincidence that the only home run was hit by Johneshwy Fargas as the leadoff hitter at the 8:00 am game on Sunday. Edwin Diaz hit a monster bomb to straight away centerfield on Saturday night that would have easily gone 440 feet on an Arizona afternoon. It was caught just short of the warning track in front of the 404 sign. A 17-year old can’t hit a ball much harder than Diaz hit that ball.

Fargas, by the way, may be the best baseball player in history named “Johneshwy”. No professional player, according to Baseball-Reference.com, has ever had that name. Baring unfortunate circumstances, Fargas will definitely play professional baseball.

The way baseball at the high school age level in Puerto Rico works is very complicated and not necessarily positive for development of players. The public high schools do not play baseball, despite it being arguably the island’s most popular sport. The only schools that play baseball are the private academies (Carlos Beltan Academy, Puerto Rican Baseball Academy, Caguas Military and Sports Academy, International Baseball Academy, etc.). But these academies, for a myriad of reasons, mostly political, do not play each other except for in one tournament a year and just train players without outside competition. The competition on the island is provided by a group of club teams such as Rodriguez’ Team Mizuno that play mostly on weekends. It is a disjointed system that is closer to what is the reality in the Dominican Republic than the United States.

I didn’t have many conversations about the thoughts in Puerto Rico among the baseball community as to where it will be included if an International Draft is established in 2014. According to Rodriguez, the feeling in Puerto Rico is 50/50 whether Puerto Rico is best served by staying in the June Draft with the players from the United States and Canada or being grouped with the rest of the world (i.e. the Dominican Republic, Venezuela, Mexico, Europe, etc.) in an International Draft. My personal opinion is that the players would be best served, should such a scenario happen, by being included in the US/Canada portion of the draft.

The number of professional scouts at the event was also a pleasant surprise, as it probably numbered in the 50-60 range and included many international scouting directors, U.S. based cross-checkers and at least one Scouting Director, the Reds’ Chris Buckley. There were also a number of junior college coaches in attendance. NCAA Division I coaches are in a dead period where they are not allowed on the road and one of the goals next year is to schedule the event at a time when they can attend the event as well.



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