The Rawlings Home Run Challenge at the 2011 Perfect Game 18u BCS Finals was held Monday night, July 18, at City of Palms Park on the edge of downtown Fort Myers, Fla.
City of Palms serves as the spring training home for the Boston Red Sox and its dimensions reflect the fact it hosts MLB spring training games during the months of February and March – 330 feet down the lines in left and right fields and 410 feet to straightaway center.
For whatever reason, the outfield wall didn’t look all that distant to power-hitting infielder Tyler Mautner when the Home Run Challenge got under way.
Mautner, then a recent graduate of Vernon Verona-Sherrill High School in Sherrill, N.Y., was the first competitor to step to the plate on that steamy night in southwest Florida. In a telephone conversation with Perfect Game earlier this week, he admitted to some unexpected butterflies.
“I was the first guy to go and I was really nervous. I had actually participated the previous year and I only hit one home run, so I was like, ‘I probably won’t hit very many this time either,’” Mautner said. “I just got the right pitches and I had a good swing that night, and the ball just kind of flew out of the park. It was a really fun experience.”
By the time the Challenge was in the books, Mautner had slugged 16 home runs – 10 in the first round and six more in the second – to easily win the competition.
Mautner was at the PG 18u BCS Finals as a member of the Syracuse Sports Zone Chiefs; an elite travel ball team managed by Michael Pirro and ranked No. 12 in PG’s 18u National Travel Team Rankings. Pirro, an associate scout with the Houston Astros, also served as Mautner’s hitting instructor and after working so closely with the young prospect over the past year, Pirro knew what he was capable of.
“Tyler’s performance at the home run derby contest came as no surprise to me,” Pirro said in an e-mail to Perfect Game earlier this week. “Tyler and I worked on his hitting during the past winter and the changes we made to his hand position, load and elbows allowed him to hit through the ball more consistently and with more power.”
Pirro was also the one throwing to Mautner during the Home Run Challenge.
“He set the tone right away by blasting 10 home runs in Round 1 and at one point I believe he hit five or six in a row,” Pirro recalled. And some of those bombs were monster shots – Pirro recalls a couple reaching the infield of the auxiliary field that lies beyond left field of COP’s main stadium.
“I was very comfortable, and my coach – who I hit with all winter long – knows where I like the pitches and he kept grooving the pitches right where I wanted them,” Mautner said.
It was a good Syracuse Sports Zone squad Pirro assembled for the 44-team PG 18u BCS Finals. The Chiefs zipped through the two rounds of pool-play with a 5-1 record and entered the playoffs as the No. 9 seed in the 16-team bracket.
Once there, they beat No. 8 seed Mizuno Edge, 10-2, in the first round and stunned top-seeded FTB Mizuno, 9-7, in the quarterfinals. The run ended with an 8-0 loss to 13th-seeded Bullets Baseball in the semifinals.
“We knew we were a good team, so we had high expectations for ourselves to win a lot of ballgames and make the playoffs, and see how far we could go from there,” Mautner said.
Mautner smacked a grand slam in the extra inning win over FTB Mizuno, and finished that game 2-for-3 with four RBI and three runs scored. Afterwards, a Perfect Game blogger noted that Mautner “has a live bat with big power and excellent bat speed. He takes a great approach to the plate with runners in scoring position, making him a great middle of the order run producer the Chiefs love to have at the plate in pressure situations.”
Mautner was a second team All-State selection and named Tri-Valley Player of the Year after his senior season at Vernon Verona-Sherrill when he hit .500 with 11 doubles, 24 RBI and 45 runs scored. He was also a standout quarterback in high school and earned All-State honors in football as well.
When Mautner was with the Chiefs at the 18u BCS Finals he was officially listed as “uncommitted” although he had offers from SUNY-Buffalo and Canisius College, which is also in Buffalo. Not long after the 18u BCS Finals, he signed his letter-of-intent with the Buffalo Bulls.
“I had the two offers … and Buffalo made me a really good offer that I couldn’t really refuse,” Mautner said. “I liked the campus when I walked out on it and I liked the facilities, so I just chose Buffalo.”
The Bulls most prominent player is junior catcher Tom Murphy, the reigning Mid-American Conference (MAC) Player of the Year and a member of the 2011 USA National Collegiate Team. Perfect Game ranks Murphy as the No. 95 prospect in the 2012 MLB draft.
Pirro thinks Mautner can have an immediate impact at Buffalo.
“Tyler will be a great asset to this program,” he said. “Playing either first or third base, Tyler will bring a powerful bat to that lineup and I’m sure he will contribute right away.”
The most high-profile member of the Chiefs’ 2011 18u BCS Finals roster was 6-5, 210-pound right-hander Rookie Davis out of Sneads Ferry, N.C. The New York Yankees selected Davis in the 14th round of the 2011 First-Year Player Draft and he signed a professional contract on Aug. 15. Davis had originally planned to enroll at East Carolina.
Five other members of the Syracuse Sports Zone Chiefs joined Mautner in signing with Division I programs and wound up on campus: SS/RHP Zach Lauricella (St. John’s); RHP/3B Joey Maher (Northeastern); RHP/OF James Murray (Siena); RHP/3B Matt Pirro (Wake Forest); and RHP Reid Van Woert (Monmouth).
RHP/1B Ryan Clark (UNC-Greensboro) and MIF Kenneth Hostrander (Eastern Kentucky) from the class of 2012 had already made commitments to D-I schools. All of those players are New Yorkers except for Maher, who is from Bedford, N.H.
Mautner will next be draft-eligible in 2014, and he hasn’t lost sight of his ultimate goal.
“I’m just going to try to work hard and see if I can get to the next level,” Mautner said.
Speaking from his position as an MLB scout, Pirro thinks Mautner has the moxie to make it to that next level.
“I truly believe that Tyler will be drafted in 2014 or 2015,” Pirro said. “Tyler possesses a professional bat right now (and) just seeing how the ball jumps off the wood when he hits is amazing to watch.”
The 2011 18u BCS Finals was Mautner’s fifth and final PG event. His performance in the Rawlings Home Run Challenge and at the tournament in general left a lasting impression.
“I definitely thought it was beneficial,” Mautner said. “(Perfect Game events) have great talent and the teams are really good, and it was good to face southern competition. The competition (in the north) isn’t always as good as down south so it was good to get the experience.”