It would of have been easy for a somewhat nondescript prospect to have blended into the crowd if the Gold squad at the 2011 Perfect Game National Showcase had ever decided to gather for a team photo.
Chuluota, Fla., right-hander Zach Eflin most likely would have stood in the back row if such a photo op had presented itself in mid-June. He probably would have been found peeking out from behind more highly regarded prospects like right-handers Ty Hensley and Clate Schmidt, catcher/outfielder Stryker Trahan, outfielder Jesse Winker and shortstop Gavin Cecchini.
In the months since that team was assembled to play three games at City of Palms Park in Fort Myers, Fla., Eflin has stepped to the forefront. He was not a top-100 national prospect before the PG National - eight of his Gold squad teammates were - and is now ranked No. 19. A 6-foot-5, 200-pound senior at Hagerty High School in Oviedo, Eflin is now considered a solid first round selection in June’s MLB First-Year Player Draft.
Perfect Game National Director of Scouting David Rawnsley, in his first mock draft, projects Eflin to be taken by the Toronto Blue Jays with the No. 22 overall pick. In comparison to those PG National Gold squad teammates mentioned previously, Rawnsley tabs only Cecchini (No. 17, Blue Jays) to be chosen ahead of Eflin.
Eflin’s draft stock wasn’t nearly as high last June. He didn’t throw particularly well at the PG National when his fastball topped-out at 89 mph, but the summer was just getting started and Eflin was excited about being at City of Palms.
“It was a great experience,” Eflin said in an April 17 telephone interview with PG. “Even though it was a rough outing for me I still had a great time just being around that many talented players. It’s really a cool thing.”
In Eflin’s mind, he was beginning the final leg in his quest to move on to the next level of his baseball career. He had already committed to the University of Central Florida in Orlando and felt like he had already come a long way from a trying stretch almost two years earlier.
Eflin went through what he referred to as a “little phase” in the fall of his sophomore year in high school. He was going through fall workouts with his Hagerty High teammates, when just up and quit the team. His absence lasted about a week.
“I just missed it so much I had to come back,” he said. “Ever since that day when I came back, I just feel like I’ve been a different person. I’m so much more passionate; I don’t take anything for granted. I just think that definitely motivates me.”
Eflin also knew that based on his performance at the PG National, he had to take some major strides. He turned to Hagerty head coach Jered Goodwin – also the head coach at FTB Mizuno, the elite travel ball team Eflin is a part of – and Hagerty pitching coach Derek Griffith for some extra work. There was a flaw in his mechanics that needed to be addressed and corrected.
“I used to fall off to the first base side (of the mound) a lot; I would drive my arm and that caused me to lose velocity,” Eflin said. “Me and Coach Griffith, we woke up at 8 o’clock every morning for about three weeks over the summer, and we went out and worked on mechanics, long toss, went in the weight room – we did a bunch of stuff that would help with my velocity.”
After the PG National, Eflin competed in PG WWBA and PG BCS Finals tournaments with FTB Mizuno’s elite squad, and then went to the East Coast Professional Showcase in Lakeland, Fla., and the Area Code Games in Long Beach, Calif. He then played in the PG WWBA Florida Qualifier in Fort Myers with FTB Mizuno 17u and finished up the 2011 season pitching for Goodwin’s elite Cardinals Scout Team/FTB Mizuno in the PG WWBA World Championship in Jupiter, Fla.
After topping out at 89 mph at the PG National, Eflin’s velocity continued to increase in the ensuing months. By early summer, according to Goodwin, his fastball sat pretty consistently in 91-93 range and he started hitting 94 in the fall. Pitching for his high school team this spring, he reached 95.
“This summer he really worked hard; he was coming out every day and … doing all the extra work that it takes,” Goodwin said. “With Zach, he’s obviously got a good body – he’s a very athletic kid – and he’s just willing to do the extra work.”
Goodwin has developed a much-deserved reputation as one of the country’s top high school and travel ball coaches, and his FTB Mizuno teams consistently challenge for Perfect Game national championships. Eflin cherishes the relationship he’s built with his coach and his association with the FTB Mizuno organization.
“He’s a father figure to me. I’m so blessed to have him as a coach for travel ball and my for my high school team. I wouldn’t have it any other way,” Eflin said. “Just the talent on that (FTB) team is unbelievable. Jared does a great job of not only getting talent but getting good kids who work together.”
Eflin suffered a bit of setback this spring when he suffered a slight strain in his triceps that has caused him to miss a little time. He’s just about ready to jump back in.
“I’m feeling a ton better,” Eflin said Tuesday. “I’ve been seeing a trainer every day and going to rehab and I’ve been feeling a lot better. I should be back really, really soon.”
Through the first few days of this week, Hagerty High stood 19-5 playing in Florida Class 8A District 2. The success the team is having as the season rolls toward its conclusion has enabled Eflin to maintain a singular focus.
“I think every high school player has that one goal and dream, and that’s to win a state championship and a district title,” he said. “I’ve been playing with all these kids on this team for 12 straight years now and our biggest goal is to win a state championship just like everybody else.”
Eflin said he made his decision to sign with UCF based on the proximity of the school’s Orlando campus to his family members, including parents, grandparents and a sister. Of course, it’s starting to look more and more like Eflin won’t step foot on that campus – at least not as a student in the fall 2012 – based solely on the way his draft stock has skyrocketed.
Goodwin, who has coached his share of high-round draft picks, said Eflin’s prospects are legitimate.
“I’ve never seen the combination of projection along with present stuff that he has,” Goodwin said. “Over the years we’ve had really good arms, really good guys … and he still has plenty of room to go. He’s not a particularly strong kid yet, and to have command of three pitches – I’ve just never seen such a good blend of projection versus present stuff that he has.
“A lot of our guys that have been really high picks were already very physically mature where Zack still has a lot of room to grow.”
For his part, Eflin is staying grounded and trying not to consider events out of his control.
“Right now (the draft) is not really on my mind because we’re still in our high school season and we want to win the state championship,” he said. “But if it happens, it happens, and if not I have a great opportunity to play baseball at UCF. It’s definitely a win-win for me.”
But did Eflin ever imagine his name being mentioned as a first-rounder right out of Hagerty High?
“Honestly, I can say ‘no.’ Straight-up,” he said. “I always dreamed as a little kid of being a major-leaguer – I think everybody has that dream – but I never saw this coming.”