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Thursday, June 12, 2014

Coachable Mountcastle excels

Jeff Dahn        
Photo: Perfect Game

FORT MYERS, Fla. – When it comes to dealing with prized 2015 shortstop prospect Ryan Mountcastle, Jered Goodwin isn’t the least bit reluctant to show his selfish side. And if he seems a bit on the possessive as well, consider that Goodwin has the opportunity to coach and mentor Mountcastle the year-around as the head coach at Hagerty High School in Oviedo, Fla., and also for the summer ball team, FTB Chandler.

Under Goodwin’s tutelage, Mountcastle – he calls Winter Springs, Fla., home – has developed not only into one of Florida’s top high school baseball players but one of the country’s top prospects, as well. He’s a sweet-swinging shortstop who’s listed at 6-foot, 3-inches, and 180-pounds, and is still growing. Goodwin is positioned nicely to witness that growth from dugouts and third base coaching boxes near and far.

“I think it’s tremendously beneficial to be able to do that, and he’s a kid that’s really bought into all the work that we do,” Goodwin said Thursday morning at JetBlue Park. “Between tournaments in the summer, every day we’re in the weight room and on the field doing old-school stuff … and there’s never a (complaint), there’s never a time he’s late. He shows up and does his stuff and gets after.

“For me, selfishly, being able to be so hands-on is something that I really want to do.”

Mountcastle and Goodwin were both at JetBlue Park on Thursday for the opening day of this year’s Perfect Game National Showcase – Mountcastle as one of more than 300 high school class of 2015 prospects who will perform here over the PG National’s five-day run and Goodwin as one of the event’s coaches. It’s just another opportunity for coach and athlete to work together, this time at the highest possible level.

“Coach (Goodwin) has had a great influence on my life,” Mountcastle said Thursday morning. “Playing high school (baseball) with him, he teaches me a lot; it’s been good.” As for his association with FTB during the summer and fall, he said, “It’s got me a lot more exposure with colleges and major league scouts.”

Mountcastle said he’s been a baseball guy “since I came out of the womb.” He credits his parents, Steve Mountcastle and Michelle Lindstrom, with having the most influence on his life and keeping him grounded.

On Thursday, with his two-way head coach next to him, the 17-year-old Mountcastle walked out onto amateur baseball’s biggest stage with hundreds of eyes assessing his every move.

 “I can’t wait to compete against all these kids, this top-level competition,” he said. “It’s an honor to compete with all these kids and also to be considered one of those kids; it’s awesome. I’ll just go out and have fun and whatever happens, happens. I’ll be myself and do whatever I have to do.”

There is no reason to look any further than Mountcastle’s Perfect Game national rankings to get an indication of how top-heavy the 2015 class is with elite shortstop prospects. He is ranked the No. 12 national overall prospect and the No. 4 shortstop prospect, and the three guys ranked ahead of him – Brendan Rodgers (Longwood, Fla.), John Aiello (Landsdale, Pa.) and Nicholas Shumpert (Lone Tree, Colo.) – will also perform here.

“We’re all good friends and we talk about it,” Mountcastle said. “It’s nothing too crazy, but it’s a lot of fun to play with them. Every event is fun, and I’m having fun with all the kids that I know and play with. I know a bunch of these guys from playing against them or with them, whichever one it is.”

Mountcastle spent Thursday morning taking part in the first of three workout sessions  at this year’s PG National, which for him consisted of running the 60-yard dash, throwing across the infield and taking batting practice. He ran a personal-best 6.77-second 60 and threw across the infield at 89 miles-per-hour (his previous best at a PG event was 81 mph), a throw that tied for the third best effort of the morning.

“I’ve been very pleased (with my improvement) and all the hard work is starting to pay off with all these events; hopefully it shows,” he said. “Just through all the hard work and determination that I’ve had (to put forth) to get better, I’m very pleased with how I’m doing.”

It is with a bat in his hand that Mountcastle can do the most damage, according to the man who coaches him spring, summer and fall.

“The hit tool is the biggest thing. His ability to put the barrel on the baseball is what separates him a lot of times from other people,” Goodwin said. “Even from a young age, he’s been able to make consistent, hard contact – singles, doubles, home runs, whatever it is – but you can even take the power out of it. Just the hit tool has been very good with him.”

Goodwin believes that Mountcastle is likely to grow another inch or two and eventually support a playing weight of between 215 and 220 pounds. With the added bulk, he predicts Mountcastle will eventually be moved from shortstop to third base where it’s likely he will continue to excel.

“Hands-wise, glove-wise, he could play anywhere in the infield, it’s just going to be, ‘Is he going to get too big?’ (to stay at shortstop). That’s going to be the determining factor, I think,” Goodwin said. “He’s done a tremendous job working; he’s obviously a kid that struggles to put on weight so that makes him ‘projectable.’ He’s just done a really good job of working his tail off in the weight room and defensively, to make sure those different things are starting to develop as much as the hit tool.”

Goodwin struggled to come up with a true comparison for Mountcastle with anyone else he has coached with the FTB organization.

“I think he’s right there with the best bat speed we’ve ever had which is, in my opinion, saying a ton,” Goodwin said. “Coming out, you’re like, ‘Can he stay in the infield, can he not?’ and then he’s just a baseball player who has proved he can play where ever. That’s what he’s been able to do, and the one thing he’s always done … is hit.”

Like so many talented young prospects from recent high school graduating classes, Mountcastle has committed to head coach Terry Rooney and the University of Central Florida in Orlando. At least five other prospects at the PG National have also committed to the Knights’ program, including left-hander Juan Hillman from Haines City, Fla., the nation’s No. 18-ranked overall prospect that also plays for Goodwin and FTB.

“Especially with all the upcoming recruits that could possibly go there, it’s going to be a lot of fun,” Mountcastle said when asked if he was excited about his commitment. It’s about a year away, of course, and speculation is especially idle 11 months out, but Mountcastle should also get some heavy consideration in the 2015 MLB amateur draft if he continues to improve and progress at his current rate.

“I’ll give (the draft) a lot of consideration; it just depends on what happens and we’ll see where it goes from there,” he said. “I know I have to keep working hard, and whatever happens, happens. Whether the scouts like me or not, I’m going to keep being myself. I’m going to be out (on the field) all the time during the summer, and it’s a lot of fun, doing the sport I love.”

Goodwin will have another 11 months to work with Mountcastle, another 335 days to watch the kid hit, field, throw and run. There is no doubt in the coach’s mind that his young protégé will flourish at the next level, no matter where that is.

 “Whether he goes to college or goes to pro ball, I think he’s going to hit in the middle of the order the first year out; he’s got that type of hand-eye coordination,” Goodwin said. “Talking to scouts or talking to evaluators – and not specifically about (Mountcastle) – that’s always my most important thing: Is that hand-eye coordination there to be able to consistently hit the barrel; everything else is going to come from there if you can consistently do that.

“I don’t think there’s any question that he’s going to be very successful whether he chooses to go to college or gets the opportunity to play pro ball.”

There’s nothing selfish about that notion.

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