FORT MYERS, Fla. – Maybe it’s that whole “Boston Strong” mentality, a New England spirit that doesn’t cut corners and definitely cuts to the chase. Whatever it is, it’s not in short supply when Springfield, Mass., 2014 shortstop prospect Isan Diaz is doing the talking.
Diaz is at this weekend’s two-day 2014 Perfect Game World Showcase at Terry Park, trying to stand out in a world full of pushes and shoves where many of the country’s top senior prospects are hoping to get noticed by the more than 100 professional scouts that endured a steady light rain on Saturday.
The kid from New England has knowingly included himself in a group with many of the top shortstop prospects in the country and is more than confident he can hold his own.
“A lot of the scouts I talked to thought I had the potential to come out here and put together a nice showcase,” Diaz told PG Saturday morning. “I believe that this showcase is also going to help me. This showcase brings out a lot of the players and their skills that you sometimes don’t normally see in a game. But it’s fun to be here and I’m happy to be here and we’ll see what happens.”
When asked what he hopes to take away from his first Perfect Game showcase event when he and his father Raul Diaz leave Southwest Florida for snowy and cold New England Sunday night, Isan again didn’t mince words.
“I hope I have accomplished the fact and that all the scouts know that I’m ready to play professional baseball,” he said confidently. “I feel in my heart that with my game right now that I could play at that next level. That’s been my dream since I was 3 years old and I won’t stop fighting until that day comes.”
Isan Diaz’s stock has enjoyed a steady rise over the last several months following 2013 appearances at the PG WWBA 17u National Championship in Marietta, Ga., in early July playing with the New England Ruffnecks; the East Coast Professional Showcase in Syracuse, N.Y., in early August; the Area Code Games in Long Beach, Calif., in mid-August; and the PG WWBA World Championship in Jupiter, Fla., in late October playing with the Syracuse Sports Zone.
Raul Diaz felt it was important for Isan to get back on the Perfect Game stage with the draft approaching in about six months.
“Once we found out that we were going to get this opportunity to come down to Florida and showcase our ability and what we know how to do on the field, I thought it was advantage for him,” Raul said Saturday. “It’s another look and you never know when you’re going to catch an eye and that’s just the way it goes. We thought it was something we should do, so we’re here.
“What brings us down here is the opportunity to be a part of an incredible showcase that Perfect Game puts together. For me and for Isan it’s our first time down here and the entire experience and the process, it’s been an amazing ride.”
Isan Diaz was born in Puerto Rico but moved to Springfield, Mass., with his family when he was 4 years old. He’s been living in the home of the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame ever since.
“Since he was born it’s always been a mighty thing for the game; we put it (in his) hands when he was 3 and it’s took off from there,” Raul said. “It’s been his life, basically.”
Even if it is a slightly different kind of life, living up in New England as he does.
“The baseball there is not as (popular); the people mostly dwell on the basketball and the football up there,” Diaz said. “I will tell you that there is talent up there but the weather (keeps us) in the (indoor) facility, and it’s better to get out on the field and do work just like the kids down south do.”
Because of his travels this past summer and fall, he has gotten to know many of those top players from the South and Southeast, and has tried to emulate them. As his game has progressed, he’s simply trying to soak up as much knowledge as he can while conceding to no one.
From that standpoint, this is a good place for Diaz to be this weekend. Many of the top shortstop prospects in the country are here, including 2014 No. 1-ranked Nick Gordon (he is ranked No. 2 nationally overall) and 2014 No. 7 shortstop prospect (No. 31 overall) Milton Ramos. Nicholas Shumpert, the No. 3-ranked shortstop (No. 8 nationally overall) in the class of 2015 is a teammate of Diaz’s at the event on the PG Red team.
There are also several highly regarded Puerto Rican shortstop prospects in attendance, including rocket-armed 2014s Louis Alvarado and Alexis Pantojas. Gordon and Alvarado both threw 94 mph across the infield in Saturday morning’s workout session and Pantojas was at 91.
“It’s good to be here just to see them and to see how far they’ve come,” Diaz said of the other top guys. “I played with a bunch of them this past summer and to see the development and how much better they got just in a couple of months, it’s good to see. I also try to catch on a little bit to what they’re doing and try to implement that into my play as well. That’s why I think it’s good to visually see how they have progressed.
“They’re all good guys and they’re all very respectful,” he continued. “You make friends easily, especially with this game. Everyone loves this game around here so it’s an ongoing thing where you just see and meet new people every time you come to things like this.”
Diaz seemed to particularly enjoy the Jupiter experience, something young players from every corner of North American have come to appreciate. The event draws close to 1,000 scouts and college recruiters and provides as much exposure as any in the country.
Diaz said the main reason he wanted to attend the PG WWBA World Championship in Jupiter was to show the scouting community that he is intent on being a shortstop at the next level and not a second baseman, as some had suggested. He is listed at a solid 6-foot, 180-pounds and is ranked 103rd nationally in the 2014 class and No. 2 in the state of Massachusetts. He is listed as the nation’s No. 17 shortstop prospect, a very, very respectable number.
All four of his 2013 stops led to those impressive places in the national rankings.
“It’s put me where I am today,” Diaz said. “Without those showcases or without those tournaments and those games and what we’ve gone through over the last summer, I feel like I wouldn’t be here today. I’d still be up north in the cold weather with all the snow.
“I’ve accomplished a lot of things, my family is happy for me and I’m happy to be here, and I’m going to keep striving and keep working hard and not give up. Just to come out here and do what I can, I’m not expecting that much, but I am expecting to play with everything I have.”
The thing that pleases Diaz the most has been the steady progression of his game. He feels good about how he has improved from one year to the next and he has tape to prove it.
“Me and my dad, from my sophomore year we have talked about improvement in every part of the game, whether it’s with the glove, the bat or whatever,” he said. “Now it’s my senior year and from looking back at the video it’s amazing how much better I’ve gotten.”
Diaz has verbally committed to Southeastern Conference and academic power Vanderbilt and plans on signing his letter of intent in February. The offer came from Commodores’ head coach Tim Corbin shortly after Diaz returned home to Massachusetts from Jupiter, Fla., and the PG WWBA World Championship in October.
“Coach Corbin called me and said, ‘Hey, we’ve heard a lot about you and the grades are coming in and we’ll see how you do with the SAT scores, and he made me an offer,” Diaz said.
“It was great to see that commitment go through and for him to get that kind of opportunity,” Raul added. “We give a lot of thanks and appreciation to the organization we play with back home – the New England Ruffnecks – that gave him the opportunity to be able to travel and give him that kind of exposure.”
That exposure has led to talk in regard to the draft, but it’s hard to gauge just where Diaz would fall if the draft were held today. PG ranks him in the top 200 on the overall draft prospect list – the No. 200 pick has typically been taken in the sixth round the last several years. But it is worth discussing, Raul said:
“We talk about it every now and then. We throw back and forth a few words but we’re still learning and going through the process. We’ve had a lot of home visits and all that stuff that the process brings and a lot of it has to do with staying humble and understanding that you have to be patient and not rush into the whole situation, but it’s been awesome.”
Raul Diaz had the opportunity to play at the junior college level at Wallace State College in Alabama but never reached the level his 17 year old son has already achieved.
“It’s been more than great,” Raul said. “It’s more overwhelming to watch your child and see his progression to another level. As a father you see your son and you see that he’s actually a lot better than you ever were – and of course you don’t want to tell him that. But he’s done me greatly and I’m proud of him. He’s a great kid.”