Florida Regional Feature: Florida's new Prince of Pop
This is the first of a ten-part series previewing all ten regions of the United States. The schedule is as follows:
1. McCarthy Looks to Repeat
Archbishop McCarthy proved to be the best team in the state and country last year, going 29-3 en route to a Florida 4A and Perfect Game National Title. The team loses a talented group of seniors like 2B/RHP Alex Fernandez, 3B/RHP Jose Brizuela, and C Garrett Kennedy, but return a slew of talent on the mound and at the plate. They open the season at #11 nationally but are still the team to beat in the Miami area.
2. Move from 6 to 8 classes
What affect this will have is not certain yet, but it will take away some former playoff rivalries such as Archbishop McCarthy and Tampa Jesuit who met in last year’s 4A title. This year Mccarthy makes a two class jump to 6A, while Jesuit moves up one to 5A.
3. Olympia Star Power
Olympia finished just in 6A District 5 despite a roster that included RHP Walker Weickel, OF Jesse Winker, and OF Connor Lien. This year the expectations are even bigger for the Titans as highly ranked sophomore SS/RHP Nick Gordon figures to star at the plate and on the mound in his sophomore year. They are the early favorite in the Orlando area with West Orange, Deland, Lake Brantley, Eustis, and a host of others right behind them.
4. Baseball Academies
A trend in the last few years has been the rise in college prep academies all over the country. Now these academies are also focusing on sports with Florida being a natural selection for any anything outdoor. IMG was the first in the 1980s, first focusing on tennis and golf and gradually building up its other athletic programs with this year’s baseball squad looking like the school’s best ever, debuting at #31 in the PG Pre-Season Top 50. Arlington Country Day and Montverde Academy, basketball powerhouses, have ramped up their baseball programs, producing top ten picks Fransisco Lindor (Montverde) and Javier Baez (ACD) in 2010. Bucky Dent Baseball School in Delray Beach is another school that has thrown themselves into the mix. What affects these schools will have on the recruiting process and high school baseball in general is a hot topic for 2012 and the future of high school baseball.
5. Westminster Christian OF David Thompson
The outfielder became the most prodigious homerun hitter in Florida state history midway thru his junior season in 2011. PG’s Jeff Dahn profiles the slugger here.
February 24 Archbishop McCarthy @ Columbus
In a game that will be the first HS Game of the week for the 2012 season, McCarthy will face their first big test of their 2011 PG National Title defense against perennial power Columbus. The game could feature a top pitching matchup with McCarthy boasting LHP Andre Martinez and RHP Nick Travieso and Columbus with RHPs Mike Vinson and Yency Almonte.
February 27 Olympia @ Montverde Academy
Olympia has high level 2012 talent in RHP Walker Weickel and OFs Jesse Winker and Connor Lien not to mention top 2014 SS/RHP Nick Gordon, Montverde will be a tough matchup with a young team of athletes led by OF Alexis Rivera.
March 3 West Orange @ American Heritage
West Orange was a surprise team in the Orlando area last year, but the target is on their back in 2012. LHP Antony Seise is their top arm and will look to shut down one of the best teams in the state in Heritage in an Orlando vs. Miami battle.
March 16 Pace (FL) vs. Memphis University (TN)
Interstate matchups are always fun, and this one is very interesting. Pace has top 2012 SS Addison Russell as well as OF Patrick Maddox and will make the trek northwest to Memphis to take on a very talented University roster led by SS Dalton Dulin.
March 17 Gulliver Prep @ Jesuit
In the matchup of preseason #1 and #4 teams stars will be aplenty all over the field. Gulliver edged RHP Lance McCullers and Jesuit 7-6 in a game last year played on the campus of the Univeristy of Miami. This year even more will be at stake with a #1 ranking and National Title well within each team’s sights.
Florida High School Dream Team
*Based on present tools and position played for high school team
C Zack Collins, Jr. American Heritage
One of the toughest positions to choose; Collins impact bat made him the pick over the defensive prowess of Chris Okey, and the total package of a trio of 2012 grads: Chris Chinea, Bryan De La Rosa, and Phildrick Llewellyn.
1B Keon Barnum, Sr. Tampa King
Barnum’s power bat is one of the best in the class. The PG All-American has a big, strong frame and excellent power potential and bat speed and is also a good athlete for his size. Tomas Nido is a player with the same tools as Barnum from the right side with big time power.
2B Spencer Trayner, Jr. Tampa Jesuit
It is tough to find a high profile second baseman as the top infield prospect for most teams plays on the other side of the bag. Trayner plays SS when Lance McCullers is on the mound or DHing and is a top two-way player himself. Other 2B that play the position exclusively are Brett Lashley, Brandon Diaz, and Jason Morozowski.
SS Addison Russell, Sr. Pace
Russell profiles at 3B at the next level but for now his athleticism and arm strength allows him to play a very good high school SS. His bat is one of the best in the class. Florida is loaded with SS this year including Oscar Mercado, Avery Romero, Richie Martin, and Brandon Lopez.
3B Eric Neitzel, Sr. Gulliver Prep
Neitzel is one of the steadiest players in the state. He has a power right-handed bat to go with good hands and arm strength at 3B. He is one of the leaders of a senior class at Gulliver which very big things are expected of.
OF Jesse Winker, Sr. Olympia (two-time Florida Dream Team selection)
OF Albert Almora, Sr. Mater Academy (two-time Florida Dream Team selection)
OF Lewis Brinson, Sr. Coral Springs
A star-studded outfielder featuring two PG All-American’s in Winker and Almora. The trio offers a little bit of everything with the polished, power bat of Winker, the athleticism and top of the order CF skills of Almora, and the huge athletic potential of the long, athletic Brinson. A bevy of other choices were available including speedster Jamal Martin, fast rising Connor Lien, and HR champ David Thompson.
UTIL Lance McCullers, Sr. Tampa Jesuit (two-time Florida Dream Team selection)
McCullers profiles as a pitcher at the next level and has a chance to be a Top 10 overall pick. He doubles as one of the best SS and hitters in the state for #1 Tampa Jesuit and will play two ways on the Florida Dream Team. He has tons of power from the left side of the plate and was clocked at an astounding 97 mph across the infield at 2011 PG National. A few young two-way players to watch are 2013 Brett Hanewich and 2014 Touki Touissant.
P Walker Weickel, Sr. Olympia
P Carson Fulmer, Sr. All Saints Academy
P Zach Eflin, Sr. Hagerty
P Nick Travieso, Sr. Archbishop McCarthy
P Robert Whalen, Sr. Haines City
An impressive group of hard throwers. Weickel is the most highly touted with high athleticism, 6’6 205 pound frame and a fastball that has reached 94. He played in the PG All-American Game in August as did Fulmer, who has been clocked as high as 95. Eflin is one of the fastest risers in the 2012 class and has been up to 95 this spring. Travieso helped McCarthy win the 2011 PG National Championship and will be leaned on more heavily in his senior year. Whalen is an underrated arm who has consistently stood out at PG events and has been up to 93 mph. Other pithchers that deserve recognition are righties Hayden Hurst, Jake Fossick, Jon Sandfort and lefties Max Foody, John Kilichowski, and Alex Hagner.
Florida Region Best Tools
Best Hitter For Average Addison Russell, Sr. SS Pace
Russell was an easy choice for the category. He has as much strength and bat speed as any players in the state and swings on a line drive plane, ripping line drives all over the field. He also has a knack to square up almost every pitch he swings at and there is very little swing/miss in his game.
Best Hitter For Power Jesse Winker, Sr. OF Olympia
Winker and Keon Barnum are the best two power hitters in the state and the choice of Winker comes down to power potential vs. usable power. Barnum is big, strong and projects to hit a lot of longballs in his day. Winker is not as big and strong but has huge power and has shown it at top level events like PG National, 17u WWBA, and at the WWBA World Championship. Tomas Nido is another name in the discussion with big time raw power and bat speed.
Best Baserunner Albert Almora, Sr. OF Mater Academy
Almora may not have the pure speed of some of the players in the state but is a terror on the basepaths. He gets on base as much as any player and his instincts and quick first step allow him to steal bases almost at will and take extra bases at every opportunity.
Best Defensive Catcher Chris Okey, Jr. C Eustis
Okey has lots of experience catching high level arms as he has been teammates with top 2013 Alex Hagner for a number of years as well as catching for 16u Team USA and for FTB Mizuno during the summer/fall. He has top of the scale receiving and blocking skills and is a leader behind the plate. He is quick with his feet and popped at 1.80 at 2011 PG Junior National. Bryan De La Rosa and Phildrick Llewellyn were standouts at 2012 PG World Showcase in January and are also very talented defensive backstops.
Best Defensive Infielder Oscar Mercado, Jr. SS, Gaither
In one of the tougher categories to choose, Mercado barely beats out a pair of 2012 standouts, Richie Martin and Brandon Lopez. Mercado is a long, smooth athlete with very good footwork and easy arm strength. Mercado may not be as flashy as those two upperclassman but is extremely smooth and easy with all his actions, showing off his tools at the WWBA World Championship in October.
Best Defensive Outfielder Albert Almora, Sr. OF, Mater Academy
As smooth and easy Mercado is on the infield, Almora is his equal in the outfield. He seems to glide effortlessly to the ball, taking great routes. His athleticism and footwork allow him to get to balls quickly and get rid of them and his 89 mph arm strength is an asset as well. Almora’s tools project as an above average CF, something not a lot of players can boast.
Best Infield Arm Brandon Lopez, Sr. SS, American Heritage
If McCullers was a full time SS he would take this category as he was up to 97 across the diamond at 2011 PG National. Lopez is a primary SS and projects to play the position at the next level. He has quick feet, smooth actions and a great arm that allows him to make plays that others wouldn't have a shot at. He has also been up to 91 on the mound.
Best Outfield Arm Brett Phillips, Sr. OF, Seminole
An NC State commit, Phillips was viewed as a high D1 prospect by PG scouts during his tournament play other the last three years but had a breakout performance at 2012 World Showcase where he wowed scouts with 96 mph velo from the outfield. It is usable arm strength as well with online carry and good accuracy.
Best Fastball Lance McCullers, RHP, Sr. Tampa Jesuit
McCullers was clocked at 87 when he as a 5’11 140 pound 14 year old at the 2008 PG BCS Florida Qualifier and has continued to progress from there throwing 95 at the 2010 PG Junior National at 100 mph at 2011 East Coast Pro.
Best Offspeed Stuff Lance McCullers, RHP, Sr. Tampa Jesuit
When a player has enough arm strength to throw 100 mph, he also has the arm speed to throw offspeed pitches very hard and with tight spin. McCullers has excellent hand speed on a curveball at 83-84 with sharp two plane break and hard spin. He also throws a changeup with very good arm speed at 82-83. Command is the issue with the off-speed offerings but the quality of the offerings have no peer.
Best Command Walker Weickel, RHP, Sr. Olympia
Weickel doesn’t have a knockout off speed pitch like McCullers but consistently pounds the zone with a sinking fastball that usually sits 91-93. He also mixes in a curveball and changeup, each of which he can throw for strikes. Weickel’s stuff might not be as swing and miss and some other 2012 arms but he repeats, throws strikes and has very good command of his fastball inside the strike zone.
Best Pitchability Dylan Silva, LHP, American Heritage-Delray
Silva isn’t exactly a soft-tosser, running his fastball to 90 at times, but is the epitome of pitchability. Nothing he throws is straight, and he changes speeds, hits spots with three pitches and genrally makes life very hard on any hitter facing him. Silva has stood out on two occasions against top level competition, striking out seven in two innings of work including McCullers, Jameis Winston (AL), Addison Russell, and Joey Gallo (NV) in succession at 2011 PG National, and throwing three shutout innings against East Cobb Baseball on the marquee opening night game of the 2011 PG WWBA World Championship.
Follow us on Facebook and Twitter @highschoolPG, @bcollmanPG