No. 4 Gulliver Prep Raiders (Miami, Fla.)
State Association/League: Florida High School Athletic Association Class 4A/District 16
Head Coach: Javy Rodriguez (4th year head coach)
2011 Results: 25-6 overall record; District 16 champion (6-0); lost in FHSAA Class 4A Regional Final
Key Losses: LHP Christian Diaz (Miami), LF Colby Auerbach
Top Returning Players: Sr. C Chris Chinea (LSU), Sr. 3B Eric Neitzel (Miami), Sr. LHP Ivan Pelaez (Miami), Sr. SS Adrian Marin (Miami), Sr. CF Ricky Eusebio (Miami)
Notable Matchups: Feb. 15, 17-18 vs. Coral Springs Christian, Jackson, Venice @ Florida Christian Tournament; March 17 @ Tampa Jesuit; March 24 @ American Heritage; March 29-31 @ USA NHSI Tournament @ Cary, N.C.
The future has finally arrived for the Miami Gulliver Prep baseball program. This is the season Gulliver Prep head coach Javy Rodriguez has had his sights on ever since the spring of 2009 when an ultra-talented group of ninth-graders showed up for their first varsity practice sessions.
A couple more talented players in the class of 2012 came on board a year later, and the Raiders advanced all the way to the FHSAA Class 3A state championship game. Last season, now playing in Class 4A and with the group of 2012s in their junior year, Gulliver had its season end in a 4A regional final.
So, is this the year? With nine returning starters – including five seniors with NCAA Division I commitments and a sixth who is expected to sign soon – Rodriguez feels his Raiders should be considered the favorite to win the FHSAA Class 4A State Championship.
“My core group has been playing together since they were freshmen and they’ve been starting since they were freshmen,” Rodriguez told Perfect Game last week. “They’re more together than ever this year in everything they do – they take extra batting practice, extra ground balls – and they want it more than ever this year. They know this is it; they won’t have any more chances.”
Today, Miami Gulliver Prep debuts in the No. 4 spot in the Perfect Game 2012 Preseason National High School Rankings. Gulliver was last year’s preseason No. 1 and finished No. 44 in the final rankings (No. 8 in the Florida Regional) after a 25-6 campaign.
This year’s group is a year older and a year wiser, and, Rodriguez feels, more driven than ever.
“It’s amazing how much they’ve matured in one year and how much bigger and stronger they’ve gotten,” Rodriguez said. “My biggest thing this season is we’ve been doing conditioning at 5 a.m. in the swimming pool, and then they go after practice to (players’) houses to have a team dinner. There’s so much more of ‘team’ this year than ever, which is a great thing.”
The 2012 Raiders will likely go only as far as their seniors carry them.
A good place to start is with senior catcher Chris Chinea, Perfect Game’s 64th-ranked national prospect in his class (No. 12 in Florida and No. 7 at his position) who has committed to LSU and is ranked as the 451st top prospect in this year’s MLB Draft. He is a veteran of 20 PG events since 2007 and attended the 2011 PG National Showcase in Fort Myers, Fla.
Chinea (5-11, 205 pounds) hit an even .500 last season, with seven home runs, 34 RBI, 24 runs scored and 12 stolen bases, just for good measure.
A talented foursome of senior University of Miami recruits will walk in lockstep with Chinea. Third baseman Eric Neitzel (6-2, 215) – ranked 82nd nationally (No. 14 in Florida, No. 7 third base) – is coming off a junior season in which he hit .368 with five home runs, 22 RBI, 29 runs and 11 stolen bases. He is a veteran of eight PG events and also attended the 2011 PG National Showcase.
The other three senior Miami recruits are shortstop Adrian Marin, centerfielder Ricky Eusebio and left-hander Ivan Pelaez. Marin (5-11, 180) hit .469 with two home runs, 17 RBI, 36 runs and 37 stolen bases and Pelaez (5-11, 175) is the Raiders’ top returning starter after going 5-0 with a 1.95 ERA in 2011. He struck out 55 and walked only seven in 43 2/3 innings. Eusebio (5-11, 180) sat out most of the 2011 season with an unspecified injury from which he has now fully recovered.
Gulliver will also rely on uncommitted senior first baseman/right-hander Chris Santisteban, junior right fielder Henry Hernandez, junior left-hander Javier Lopez and sophomore second baseman Joe Dunand. Santisteban hit .442 with 16 RBI and 23 runs scored last season. Dunand, a nephew of Yankees superstar Alex Rodriguez, saw limited varsity action as a freshman.
Javy Rodriguez is a Gulliver grad and was a freshman on the 1995 team that advanced to an FHSAA Regional for the first time in school history. That got the ball rolling, and the Raiders have now won nine straight district championships, advanced to the state tournament seven times between 2000 and 2010, and won a Class 4A State Championship in 2004.
“Kids just love to play for Gulliver; I guess it’s like a good college,” Rodriguez said. “Kids find you, and if you’re from Miami there are only two or three schools you want to go to. They see all these (Gulliver) kids going to major colleges and they say, ‘Hey, I want to go to a major college,’ so they end up going to Gulliver.”
Rodriguez was an All-American at the U of Miami and enjoys a great relationship with Hurricanes head coach Jim Morris. In a January, 2011 interview with Perfect Game, Morris said he wants to “control Dade and Broward counties” in terms of recruiting. “We’ve got a lot of advantages (starting with) the fact that we have really, really good players within 30 minutes (of campus),” Morris said.
Rodriguez, for his part, said he doesn’t steer the Gulliver prospects toward Coral Gables.
“They’re great players and they’re two miles away from the University of Miami baseball field,” he said. “They grew up watching that and it’s a dream come true to play there. Now my catcher, Chris Chinea, he took his visit to LSU and fell in love with it, and I don’t blame him. It’s a great school and a great place to play at.”
Gulliver Prep is scheduled to open its 2012 season today (Feb. 15) against Coral Springs Christian as part of a three-game tournament at Florida Christian. Its regular season includes games against highly regarded Tampa Jesuit and American Heritage and a trip to Cary, N.C. in late March to play in the USA NHSI Tournament.
The FHSAA Class 4A postseason begins April 24, and everyone should know by then if this was a team worthy of top-five preseason ranking.
“At the end of the day, (national) rankings are always going to be a mythical thing, and it’s very hard to get them right – I do think (Perfect Game) does a great job of it though,” Rodriguez said. “I do feel like we have the talent to be up there. There’s no doubt – we have guys who could be drafted.”