FORT MYERS, Fla. – Pembroke Pines, Fla., 2017 shortstop and third baseman Mark Vientos comes across as a humble young man, an elite talent who certainly desires to become the best of the best but one who is also eager to share the spotlight and the headlines with his teammates.
This spring Vientos will be a junior member of the baseball team at Charles W. Flanagan High School in Pembroke Pines, and this weekend he is here at the Perfect Game WWBA Underclass World Championship playing with the stellar Pembroke Pines-based Elite Squad Underclass Prime. He is the undisputed star on both teams, even if he would be the last one to talk about it that way.
But college coaches and professional scouts have taken notice of his talents and, in fact, the University of Miami recruit has risen to the No. 4 spot in PG’s class of 2017 national rankings; he is the highest ranked 2017 prospect at the WWBA Under World (No. 1 Alejandro Toral, an Elite Squad Prime teammate of Vientos, isn’t here ahead of the PG WWBA World Championship in two weeks; Nos. 2 and 3, Hagen Danner and Hans Crouse, are California right-handed pitchers who also are not in attendance.)
Many of the top prospects claim they do not pay attention to the prospect rankings, which brings us back to the original conversation about Vientos and his humility. The athletic, 6-foot-3, 175-pound Vientos, who both throws and bats right-handed and showed all of his tools at the PG Junior National Showcase in June, embraces the rankings, which is really quite a refreshing twist.
“I do pay attention to them and I love it,” Vientos said Saturday morning from historic Terry Park where the Elite Squad Underclass Prime were preparing to play their second of three pool-play games at the 246-team mega-event. “It’s always been my dream to be ranked at the top of my class.”
He was actually there once, and not all that long ago. After debuting in the class of 2017 rankings on Sept. 10, 2014, at No. 8, he dropped to Nos. 12 and 13 in two subsequent releases before coming in at No. 1 in the rankings released on July 2, 2015. He dropped to No. 4 in the most recent rankings released on Sept. 4.
That is certainly nothing to be alarmed about, and if Vientos is concerned it certainly didn’t show Saturday morning. He was in his element at Terry Park, meaning he was getting ready to take the field at Terry Park with his Elite Squad Prime teammates and play the game he loves.
“(This team) has all the top players from around my area and everybody is a great player; it’s fun playing with these guys,” he said. “Everybody plays up to their best potential because they want to be at the top of their game with everybody else.”
This is definitely another strong underclass team Elite Squad founder/director/coach Richie Palmer and Underclass Prime head coach Scott Morrison have put together. The roster boasts five 2017s ranked in the top-307 nationally, including Vientos, and seven team members have committed to NCAA Division-I schools.
The top-ranked guys in order after Vientos are corner-infielder Joseph Perez from Pembroke Pines (No. 51, a South Florida commit); corner-infielder Brandon Dorsey from Mount Airy, Md. (No. 136, North Carolina); outfielder/first baseman Aden Fernandez from Miramar, Fla. (No. 206, uncommitted); and right-hander/corner-infielder Alex Wiederhold from Orlando (No. 307, uncommitted).
The team’s other prospects with college commitments are outfielder/left-hander Dylan Cloonan (Miami), shortstop/third baseman Jeter Downs (Central Florida), right-hander/corner-infielder Ian Evans (Dallas Baptist), and left-hander/outfielder Elijah Gill (Central Florida).
“There are a lot of talented kids in this group,” Perez said with a tone of respect. “When you have a group like this it’s easier to play up to your capabilities because when you’re playing with people that aren’t as talented you can kind of play down to their level.”
It’s easy not to blame Coach Morrison for feeling good about the group under his direction this weekend: “For the first time maybe all summer we’ve got all of our guys in one place at one time for the most part,” he said. “It really starts with Mark (Vientos) and then we have all the others guys around him. And, we’ve been able to pick up a few new guys, too.”
Morrison said that being around most of this group all summer has been a “fantastic” experience, and he especially likes the way the guys have built friendships and how everyone is playing for the same goal: winning championships.
The Underclass Prime won their first two pool-play games of the tournament which set up a contest with the South Jersey Sand Sharks out of Galloway, N.J. – also 2-0-0 – late Saturday afternoon. The winner is the pool champion and advances to the playoffs, which begin Sunday.
“We want to win, and we try to block everything out and make all the plays that you can,” Perez said. “There are times you’re going to make errors – that’s a part of the game – but you have to have all-out effort.”
The PG WWBA Underclass World Championship has grown into a must-do destination visit for the country’s college coaches and recruiters looking to pad their commitment lists. But it is also recognized as an event that is equally important for the prospects that have already committed to a school.
“My coach told me about this tournament a couple of weeks ago and I was excited to play in it,” Vientos said Saturday. “… It’s important to be here because you get even more looks and you get more A-B’s in, and I’m just trying to get ready (for what lies ahead).”
Added Perez: “Just because you’re committed doesn’t mean you’re not going to play as good as you can – you always have to play as hard as you can – and you still have to put out the effort. With every tournament, it seems like the competition gets better and better and when you can come out here and do good it makes you feel even better.”
As Morrison is well aware, winning brings attention to the program and that attention can, in turn, pay dividends with college scholarship offers. “Playing in all these Perfect Game events really gives them a great opportunity to have success and have an opportunity to play at the next level,” he said.
Morrison also knows the value of having a top-5 national prospect like Vientos on board, simply because the other players on the field benefit by the attention he receives. And even more remarkably, all of this attention is coming Vientos’ and the Elite Squad Underclass Prime’s way a year earlier than maybe it should be.
Vientos won’t turn 16-years-old until early December of this year, which means he could very realistically be in the class of 2018. Looking at it another way, he will still be six months away from his 18th birthday when the 2017 MLB June Amateur Draft is held.
That has done nothing to temper speculation regarding the draft. Most media outlets, including Perfect Game, project Vientos to be among the first 10 high school players selected, and Fangraphs.com projected him as the No. 1 prep taken in a list it released in April.
“He’s got all the makeup of a major-leaguer from the body to the power; he’s got all five tools,” Morrison said. “Most importantly, he’s a great kid. That’s what’s important for us and our organization is to be great ballplayers and also be great young men off the field, as well.”
Vientos’ teammates certainly appreciate his presence: “Just playing out there with one of the top infielders in the nation is amazing. It’s just fun to go out there and play with each other,” Perez said.
This is the 13th Perfect Game tournament Vientos has played in with the Elite Squad since May 2014, and he is expected to be with the upperclass Elite Squad Prime for the PG WWBA World Championship in a couple of weeks. Both sides agree his association with the program has been mutually beneficially.
“It’s made me the player I am today,” Vientos said. “I’ve known all the coaches since I was little and it’s been great. I’ve been working really hard, and my high school coach (Ray Evans) has helped me and my (Elite Squad) coaches have helped me, and it’s made my game better.”
And that improvement has led to a top-four national ranking, and that ranking is something that Vientos takes pride in, and you know what? There is absolutely nothing wrong with that. The only thing left for him to do now is wrap himself around the moment.
“I’m definitely enjoying myself,” he concluded. “This is all the best players at one tournament – this is probably the best tournament for underclassmen – and am really enjoying myself playing baseball.”