High School : : General
Tuesday, February 22, 2005


David Rawnsley        
Key West (FL) High School assistant baseball coach Chris Valdez doesn't mince any words when you ask him what he thinks of his team's chances this year.

"With the team we have right now, we not only think we are going to win Key West's 11th state championship, we Know we are going to do it. And we're not going to pull a Pat Riley and cover our mouth and pretend we didn't say it, either."

As if to emphasize the point, Valdez, talking on his cell phone just after finishing a practice, walks around to the other side of his field's backstop and starts reading off the state title years..."1953, 1955, 1956, 1958, 1959, 1969, 1984, 1995, 1996, 1998........"

The reasons for Valdez, who has been at Key West as a player or coach for 23 of the past 25 years, to be so optimistic are numerous, but none so strong as the quality and depth of his pitching staff. He returns three senior right handers, Daryl Lewis, Chas Spottswood and Bobby Hernandez, plus a junior right hander, Santi Arencibia, who all rank among the top pitching prospects nationally in their respective classes.

Key West (which is classified as a 3A school in the six-tier Florida system) is ranked #5 in the pre-season Baseball America National High School Rankings. Only one Florida team, #3 Monsignor Pace HS, is ranked higher than Key West. Like Key West, Monsignor Pace boasts a top notch pitching staff with seniors Thomas Mendoza and Anthony Perez and sophomore Chris Hernandez. But Key West and Pace, although heated emotional rivals during the regular season, are in different classifications during the state playoffs.

Two recent pitching staffs in Texas come immediately to mind when considering great high school staffs. Ironically, neither school ended up even winning their regional championship.

In 1995, Kingwood HS featured three future first round picks in seniors Andrew Yount (1995, Boston), Jeff Austin (1998, Kansas City after 3 years at Stanford) and sophomore Mark Mangum (1997, Colorado).

Two Cypress Falls HS pitchers, right hander Clint Everts (Montreal) and left hander Scott Kazmir (New York Mets) were picked among the top 15 players in the 2002 draft.

No one is portraying any of the Key West pitchers as a potential first round draft pick this year, but then the Key West pitching staff goes deeper than either of those Texas schools, as well.

"Don't forget that we also have a pretty good catcher to work with this staff, too," adds Valdez, stating the obvious. Key West's catcher is AFLAC All-American Ralphie Henriquez, an Oklahoma State signee who could be a high draft choice this June. Henriquez's father, Ralph, is the Key West head coach and also a catching instructor with the Florida Marlins.

Here is a summary of each of the four aces.

Chas Spottswood: 6-4, 180, R/R. Ranked #103 in the 2005 class by Perfect Game. Signed with Florida.

(Valdez) Chas has been 86-89 so far with just a nasty 12/6 hammer curveball in low 70's. He looks ready to go right now. The Perfect Game scouts think that he's going to be throwing low 90's this spring and I can't argue with them.

Daryl Lewis: 5-10, 165, R/R. Ranked #168 in the 2005 class. Signed with South Florida.

(Valdez) Daryl is such a great athlete. He was the football quarterback and now he's averaging 18 point a game as the school's point guard. He's also the only one of our pitchers who will play a position for us, even though Spottswood and Hernandez are very good hitters, too. Daryl has been throwing bullpens until basketball is over and has been up to 93 mph.

Bobby Hernandez: 6-2, 205, R/R. Ranked #309 in the 2005 class. Signed with Barry University.

(Valdez) Bobby has been solid this spring. He's a workhorse with his strength and command. He's been 86-88 mph in practice with a nice change up and curveball.

Santi Arencibia: 5-10, 160, R/R. Ranked #223 in the 2006 Class. Struck out 11 out of 13 hitters at the recent Perfect Game World Underclass Showcase.

(Valdez) Santi has been our most improved player so far this spring. He's really coming on and challenging the three seniors for innings. His arm is very loose and he's been 86-89 mph consistently, a big step up just in the last month, and he has excellent control.

Valdez points to three key parts of the season before the State Tournament that the team is focusing on.

"We know that Gulliver Prep (Coral Gables) is our rival in 3A baseball in Florida and that's always a huge match up. We're having our Key West Tournament here starting February 28 and bringing in some top schools from around the state for that. And then we're traveling up to Atlanta in late March for the Centennial HS tournament there and I'm sure that Coach Nicholson at Centennial is going to have some great teams there."

Valdez's mention of Gulliver Prep is appropriate. Gulliver holds down the #10 spot in the Baseball America pre-season rankings, bolstered by the transfers of senior 3B Chris Dominguez (ironically from Monsignor Pace) and junior SS Ryan Jackson. Returning junior infielder Gabby Saade is one of the most talented middle infielders in the country and combines with Jackson to form arguably the top double play combo in the country.

The level of baseball talent in south Florida has been on the rise for a some time and it could be peaking over the next couple of years from the players that the Perfect Game staff has seen. We know that we will be closely following Key West, Monsignor Pace, Gulliver Prep and many other top schools in the Greater Miami Area this spring.

Best of luck to all the talented players!
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