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Showcase | Story | 12/28/2014

A Miami state of mind

Jeff Dahn        
Photo: Perfect Game

FORT MYERS, Fla. – Top high school class of 2016 catching prospect Herbert Iser was born in December 1997 to Cuban parents – father Alfredo Iser and mother Maria Olivero – while the family was living in Jamaica. They moved to Miami when Herbert was 3 years old, and he has called Miami-Dade County, Fla., his home for the last 14 years.

Anyone eavesdropping on a Sunday morning conversation Iser had with Perfect Game after he had completed the catcher’s workout session at the PG National Underclass Showcase-Main Event, may not have been able to guess that Iser’s veins are flowing with Caribbean blood. The University of Miami commit sure sounded a lot like a California kid who might be on his way to UCLA in the fall of 2016 and not The U.

There is an explanation, of course. During the first week of August last summer, the 17-year-old junior at Miami’s Killian High School had the opportunity to visit the West Coast, first to take part in the Area Code Games in Long Beach, Calif., and then to participate in the Perfect Game Underclass All-American Games showcase in San Diego.

The kid who calls the southeastern Atlantic Coast home suddenly became enamored with the southwestern Pacific Coast.

“That was the best experience that I’ve ever had; the field was beautiful,” Iser said of the PG Underclass All-American Games, which were held at the University of San Diego. “I also played in the Area Codes and those were by far the best experiences that I’ve ever had. I’m not going to lie, I liked it better it out there (than here). .. It was so tranquil and I really liked it.”

Tranquility aside, Iser certainly looked comfortable Sunday morning at the JetBlue Park Player Development Complex, the Grapefruit League spring training home of the Boston Red Sox that sits on the Florida Gulf Coast about 140 miles west of Miami.

A warm Southwest Florida sun quickly burned-off a heavy Sunday morning fog which allowed the more than 500 young prospects in attendance at the PG National Underclass Showcase-Main Event to enjoy a perfect day for baseball on the complex’s immaculately prepared fields.

“This is my (fourth PG showcase) that I’ve been to … and I’m excited to be here with all these good players; I want to see how I stack up against all of them,” Iser said. “I enjoy these a lot because I get to see kids I don’t normally see, and they’re really good people. I enjoy seeing how I stack up against them, as well.”

This is the 14th Perfect Game event Iser has attended since June 2013 and, as he noted, his fourth PG showcase. He raised not only eyebrows but expectations at each of his three previous showcase appearances, with each performance topping the one that preceded it.

During Sunday morning's catcher workout session, he showed his arm strength when he set an event record with 86 mph throw from home plate to second base; his 1.76-second Pop time was just a few ticks off the event record of 1.73-seconds.

Iser was at this event a year ago where he was named the No. 6 overall class of 2016 prospect in attendance. Next up was this year’s PG Junior National Showcase held in early June right here at JetBlue, where he again earned a spot on the Top Prospect List, this time as the No. 4 overall 2016 prospect.

Two months later Iser was out west doing all that California dreamin’ and showing so much promise that he was named the No. 1 overall prospect in his class at the PG Underclass All-American Games. PG scouts at the event noted that Iser “has firmly established himself as one of the top prospects in the country this summer and perhaps the best overall position prospect. His combination of defensive tools and left-handed power/bat speed is outstanding.”

The travel, the exposure and the accolades has created a bit of a whirlwind surrounding everyone in the family.

“If it was not for Perfect Game, Herbie is not who he is now,” Alfredo said Sunday morning, speaking in heavily accented English. “Perfect Game gave him the chance to show his talent everywhere, so that is the reason we are here today.”

A combination of his high level of play at PG showcase events and at PG WWBA tournaments the last summers, including this year with FTB Chandler, has enabled Iser to climb to No. 5 in PG’s class of 2016 national prospect rankings.

He played third base through middle school and made the switch to catcher when he was in ninth grade. He loves the feeling of being involved in every play that catching provides and in just two full seasons behind the plate has developed into the nation’s No. 1-ranked catching prospect in his class.

“I do pay attention to that. That is how I scale myself to see how I’m really doing against other kids,” Iser said in reference to the PG rankings. “It’s important to me because me staying in the top shows that I can play with all these good kids.”

Iser’s association with FTB has been a positive one, and he especially enjoyed playing at the PG WWBA World Championship in Jupiter, Fla., with the Cardinals Scout Team/FTB Chandler in late October. He is here with several other FTB players and FTB head coach Jered Goodwin is helping coach the showcase team he is on at the event.

“Coach Jered brought me in last year in the fall, and they’re all like a family,” Iser said. “They brought me in with open arms and I loved it. It was the best experience. I learned a lot about baseball smarts and all that because it was the first year I really played heavy travel ball.”

Iser has an older brother, Alfredo Jr., a class of 2014 third baseman who participated in 14 PG events between 2010 and 2014; he is now playing at Broward (Fla.) Community College. Iser’s brother and father have both impacted his career.

“I’m a Cuban and when you’re a Cuban you play baseball,” Alfredo Sr. said Sunday with a smile. “I help with his training, him practicing BP, I try to help him with everything. He has a brother and we use to come to Perfect Game (events) with him, too, so we know the way to put Herbie where he needs to go. Now we want to be focusing on high school and then we’ll again focus on Perfect Game (next summer).”

Iser is at Killian High School for the first time this school year after spending his freshman and sophomore years at a different school. He’s excited about the high school season that lies ahead, especially since he’ll be reunited with teammates he played alongside when he was in seventh and eighth grade. “They’re all good kids, they’re awesome, so I hope to do good things with them this year,” he said.

For the first time in his still blossoming career, Iser spent some time this winter doing weight training, mostly to strengthen his legs and shoulders. He also did some hands-on baseball training – hitting and throwing in preparation for this event.

“I want to play well with all these good kids and I want to see how I stack up to them, but I also want to see how much I’ve improved since last year, also,” Iser said. “I came here last year as a sophomore, so I want to see that improvement, too.

“This is very beneficial. It shows me how much I’ve improved and with Perfect Game you can see the video and it shows me how I can improve my game – swinging, catching, everything.”

“It’s been really amazing to see how he’s progressed (at every event),” his father, Alfredo, added. “Perfect Game gave him that chance, so we are here and I’m enjoying seeing the way he is (representing) himself out on the field.

Young Herbert Iser was given the opportunity to travel to the West Coast in August and took an immediate liking to the California lifestyle. But it is important to remember this is a Miami kid through-and-through, a top-end talent with Cuban genes who started attending Miami Hurricanes games when he was a youngster and was elated when his “dream school” offered him a scholarship.

“The baseball culture in Miami is basically like the Cuban culture,” Iser said, his face aglow with pride. “It’s all talking, playing the game hyped-up, quick-thinking and all that stuff. You have to have a strong mind to play baseball in Miami.”

Better luck next time, UCLA.

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