One of the benefits of living in the 'Sunshine State' other then the great year round weather, minus the nervous few months of hurricane season, is that high school baseball gets cranked up early. With the third Monday of January as the uniform state date for Florida high schools to start baseball practice, many teams and players are well into form the first week of February. One of those players which I have had a chance to watch so far this year is Cardinal Mooney RHP Michael Heller. Michael is one of the best two way players in the nation and has signed with the University of Florida. Looking at the number of scouts that have been attending his outings so far this year on the mound, the thought of him ever stepping foot on the Gator campus, is getting smaller and smaller.
Through three starts on the hill this year, Heller has shown more 'pitchablility' then in the past. In his first start, a pre-season game against a strong Mariner High School (Cape Coral, FL) squad, Heller didn't disappoint the more then 40 scouts that were in attendance, as his first pitch was a fastball that registered at 94mph. Through out his three innings he continued to pitch at 93-94 while topping at 97mph. What was more interesting then in the past was that Heller was able to maintain his velocity on all his pitches, including a slider that showed better pace and greater depth.
His second start was against another strong team from the Pendleton Academy (Bradenton, FL). If you are not familiar with Pendleton, you need to be, as they run a first class operation that can be intimidating to a point. Their players, all good prospects led by Miami bound J.R. Murphy and UNC-Wilmington signee Blaze Tart, resemble a minor league team in both appearance and ability. Although not as sharp as his first outing, Heller was able to top at 95mph and stuck out 8 in 4 innings. More importantly then the mound performance was the fact that he injured his knee sliding head first into home with the tying run in the top of the 6th.
The knee injury, although minor, kept Heller off the field for 2 1/2 weeks. Yesterday he was able to re-take the hill against St.Pete Catholic. Heller worked that last three innings after another highly rated Cardinal Mooney prospect, Ryan Heuler-'10 who has committed to UNC. With the college season under way, there were only about 25 scouts in attendance, all interested to see how he would perform after his 'time off'. Once again Heller showed what he has been showing so far this year, a plus fastball that topped yesterday at 95mph and a late, hard slider. Through his three innings of work, Heller allowed one hit and struck out 5 as he was getting a feel for being back on the hill.
In a year were velocity seems to be a little light, Heller's ability to maintain his 'pitching' speed in the 93-95mph range has forced him up the board a little bit in many organizations draft boards. Next week should be an interesting match up as Heller will be facing off against another top rated 2009 player, Bobby Borchering of Bishop Verot High School (Ft.Myers, FL). Power versus power.