FORT MYERS, Fla. – Team Mizuno of Puerto Rico is at the Perfect Game 18u BCS Finals with a roster that includes a right-handed pitcher who was drafted in the second round of June’s MLB First-Year Player Draft and a slick shortstop who has been chosen for next month’s Perfect Game All-American Classic presented by Rawlings.
And that’s just for starters.
Team manager/director Edwin Rodriguez has assembled a top-notch group of native Puerto Rican prospects that includes right-hander Jorge Perez, taken by the Milwaukee Brewers in the second round of the draft with the 70th overall pick, and shortstop Carlos Correa, who has been selected to play in the PG All-American Classic presented by Rawlings.
Perfect Game ranked Lopez the 83rd top national prospect in the class of 2011, while Correa is ranked 11th nationally in the class of 2012.
Lopez hasn’t signed with the Brewers yet, but the Brewers haven’t signed either one of their first round picks yet either.
“Jorge is a special kid. He’s very different,” Rodriguez said before TMPR played its fifth pool-play game at the 18u BCS Finals late Tuesday. “Normally the Puerto Rican kids who get drafted sign quickly, but Jorge has established his own goals and what he wants to do. If he doesn’t think this is the correct opportunity, then he’ll go to school. Hopefully, he’ll sign. I think a second-rounder should sign, so hopefully that’s what he’ll do.”
Correa is the first Puerto Rican prospect selected to play in the All-American Classic, which makes his selection even more special for everyone involved with TMPR.
“Being the first Puerto Rican chosen has been a very, very humbling experience for him,” Rodriguez said. “He feels very excited and he thinks he’s ready to show what he can do at the All-American Classic.”
Although Correa will be a senior at Puerto Rico Baseball Academy in the fall, he won’t celebrate his 17th birthday until September. At 16 years old, he is still very early in his development as a ballplayer despite the talent he already displays.
“Carlos is working on other minor aspects of the game,” Rodriguez said. “He has the tools and now he needs to showcase those tools in terms of having the mental aspect of the game and the knowledge of the game, and showing that he is a special player. Not only does he have those tools but he can bring other things like leadership to the game and knowledge of what’s going-on on the field.”
Participating in Perfect Game events has been beneficial to the young Puerto Rican players. Both Perez and Correa were at the 2011 PG World Showcase and Correa was also at the 2011 PG National Showcase (both events were here in Fort Myers).
“In Puerto Rico there is a high level of baseball, but when we come here we see the pitchers throw harder and the hitters drive the ball longer,” Correa said while attending the PG National. “That’s the difference between Puerto Rico and here – there is more talent here because it’s a bigger country.”
There is considerable talent surrounding Perez and Correa on TMPR. Right-hander Edwin Diaz is ranked 63rd among the top prospects in the class of 2012, catcher Cristian Munoz is ranked No. 199 and left-hander Victor Vazquez is a “high follow.”
TMPR didn’t get into Fort Myers until around 3 a.m. Sunday and had to play its first game at the 18u BCS Finals a little later that morning. It lost that game to Next Level Baseball, 5-1, than rattled-off four straight wins to right the ship heading in Wednesday’s final pool-play game.
“We were kind of flat, the pitching was wild and we didn’t swing the bat well” in the opener, Rodriguez said. “After that, our pitching has been good and we’ve been throwing strikes. The most important thing is to throw strikes – you can’t be walking players.”
TMPR pitchers allowed only five runs in the team’s four straight wins. Lopez pitched three innings of no-hit ball with six strikeouts in a rain-delayed, 1-0 win over Mizuno Edge later in the day Sunday, and Vazquez allowed only one hit and struck out three in four innings of work in a 9-1 win over the Delco Diamonds on Tuesday.
The bats really came alive against the Diamonds, as well. Estaban Tresgallo was 3-for-3 with a double, four RBI and two runs scored; Munoz was 2-for-3 with a home run and three RBI, and Roberto Martinez was 2-for-2 with a home run, an RBI and three runs.
With its fourth win, TMPR seemed to have secured a spot in the 16-team playoffs even before it played its final pool-play game Wednesday afternoon. TMPR has never won a Perfect Game tournament.
“It’s not just our goal to get into the playoffs, our goal right now is to win it,” Rodriguez said. “It’s tough, and as you play more games it gets tougher on the kids in terms of the pitching. They get tired playing six games in four days. Then after that you’ve got to win four more (in the playoffs) so it’s pretty tough.
“But that’s our goal, to try to be able to win one of these tournaments,” he continued. “We’ve done pretty well in the past years but now we want it all.”