Tournaments | Story | 10/24/2015

1st-rnd Scorps return to Jupiter

Jeff Dahn        
Photo: Perfect Game

JUPITER, Fla. – Old Orlando Scorpions don’t ever just silently crawl under a rock never to be heard from again after ending their official association with the Altamonte Springs, Fla., powerhouse travel ball organization. Sometimes, as has been the case for a couple of them this weekend, they return home to roost and spend a little time at the Roger Dean Stadium Complex in the waning days of October.

The Mets Scout Team/Scorpions and organization owner/general manager/head coach Matt Gerber have restocked their arsenal with some of the most promising national prospects from the classes of 2016, 2017 and 2018. They are at Roger Dean this weekend looking to claim the title at the national tournament and scouting bonanza known as the PG WWBA World Championship.

The then-named Orlando Scorpions/Mets Scout Team made a run all the way to the championship game at last year’s WWBA World where they lost to the EvoShield Canes. Five prospects from that 2014 roster are back with this year’s team, including 2015 Perfect Game All-Americans Tyler Baum, Carlos A. Cortes and Drew Mendoza.

There is a lot of magic swirling around this Mets/Scorps team, and things got even more magical at the outset of the tournament on Thursday when a couple of former Scorpions/PG All-Americans and 2015 first-round MLB Draft picks returned to Jupiter and the Scorpions’ dugout. Welcome home, Brendan Rodgers and Carson Fulmer.

“It’s awesome; it’s why I do it,” Gerber said Saturday when asked his feelings about the return of two of the top players to ever wear a Scorpions uniform at the PG WWBA World. “I tell people all the time the most rewarding thing for me is when guys come back, and it’s their way of paying forward and saying thank you to us as a coaching staff. It really means a lot.”

Fulmer wasn’t on site or available for comment late Saturday morning but his presence was still felt. He came down to Roger Dean on Thursday and returned home for his mother’s birthday on Friday, but was planning on returning to Jupiter at some point on Saturday to rejoin the team for the remainder of its stay.

Rodgers was here for the Mets/Scorpions’ third of four pool-play games late Saturday morning and looked right at home crouching in the first-base coaching box.

“I just kind of wanted to live up the coaching experience, to be honest with you,” Rodgers replied when asked what brought him back to this neck of the woods. “I know 95 percent of these kids and I like being around all of them; I almost feel like I’m playing back here again.

“Obviously, I can’t play, but coaching during the games is a blast and I like getting these kids going; hopefully they can get another ring.”

The Mets Scout Team/Scorpions didn’t create a whole lot of lightning and thunder during their 2-0-1 start to pool play, beating the Upstate Mavericks from Lyman, S.C., 2-1, and Team Citius out of Dallas Thursday and Friday before settling for a 1-1 tie with the Midlothian-based Virginia Cardinals on Saturday.

This is a team that features five PG All-Americans, with Luis A. Curbelo and Cole Ragans joining Baum, Cortes and Mendoza. Baum and Ragans are primary pitchers, as are 11 other prospects on the roster who are ranked in the top-500 nationally in either the 2016 or 2017 class.

“I feel really good about the pitching depth with these group,” Gerber said. “I think we have around 13 guys that we would feel real comfortable with putting them out on the mound, but we’re facing a really good team again today and it could go either way.”

The task at hand for every team at this tournament is to get through pool-play and into the playoffs, and Gerber feels like if this team can reach the round of 16 it should have enough quality arms to make a deep run.

Gerber and his staff added one pitcher from outside the program to bolster the staff, along with five of his top 2017s – four are ranked in the top-285 nationally – and a couple of 2018s, including outfielder/third baseman Elijah Cabell, the nation’s No. 5-ranked 2018 prospect from Winter Park, Fla.

“That’s one good thing about this group is that for the most part it guys that we know, they know the way we do things and they play together as a team,” Gerber said.

Quite a few of these players were on the Orlando Scorpions Prime team that won the prestigious 17u Perfect Game World Series PG national championship in the Phoenix area in late July, so they know how to win on the biggest of stages.

In fact, there are seven players here that were named to the all-tournament team at the 17u PGWS, including Cortes, the event’s Most Valuable Player. (The Scorpions 2016 Prime were co-champs at the PG WWBA Florida Qualifier earlier this month and Cortes, a both-hander, was named the MVPitcher.

“it’s knowing how to win, knowing how not to get too up or too down,” Gerber said. “It’s understanding that if you have a bad inning you need to come back, and that’s very important. We talk about that a lot.”

The Scorpions’ top underclass team advanced to the championship game at the PG WWBA Underclass World Championship in Fort Myers a couple of weeks ago, only to fall to an equally talented team from the FTB organization.

“We reminded those guys that they had never been there before and now they know what it takes to get there,” Gerber said. “Now they have to learn how to get over the top, but at least they know what it takes to get there.”

Rodgers, a gold-glove caliber shortstop who performed very well at both the 2014 PG National Showcase and PG All-American Classic, was a guy who learned early what it takes to get over the top and get the job done. He played with the Scorpions organization at three PG WWBA World Championships with a very high rate of success.

As a sophomore in 2012, the Orlando Scorpions Purple finished 2-1-1; in 2013, the Orlando Scorpions/Mets Scout Team finished 5-2-0 after a loss in the semifinals and Rodgers was named to the all-tournament team; last year resulted in a 7-1-0 finish following the loss to the Canes in the championship game, and Rodgers was again named all-tournament.

In early June, the Colorado Rockies selected Rodgers with the third pick of the first-round in the MLB First-Year Player Draft. Later that month, he signed with the Rockies after agreeing to a $5.5 million signing bonus, and spent the rest of the summer with Grand Junction in the Rookie-level Pioneer League where he hit .273 with eight doubles, two triples, three home runs, 20 RBI, 22 runs scored and four stolen bases in 37 games.

“It’s been a roller-coaster, obviously,” Rodgers said of his budding professional career. “Pro ball is definitely way more than you expect it to be and I expected a lot. It’s just a grind, but you’ve got to do what you want to do and this is definitely what I want to do.

“You just have to be able to take care of your body and be able to play every day, and those are the two biggest parts of it,” he continued. “It’s just being able to get out there and do the same things over and over and over again every single day.”

Fulmer, a strong-armed right-hander, took a different route after his Perfect Game playing days. He was at both the 2011 PG National Showcase and PG All-American Classic and, like Rodgers, was in Jupiter for three straight years (2009-11) although only one with the Scorpions.

He was here in 2009 with MVP Baseball out of Santa Barbara, Calif.; returned in 2010 playing with the Midland Redskins/Royals Scout Team and then landed with the Orlando Scorpions in 2011. The teams Fulmer pitched for during his three Jupiter appearances finished with a combined record of 2-6-4.

Fulmer was a 15th-round pick of the Boston Red Sox out of high school but didn’t sign, and went on to enjoy an All-American three-year career at Vanderbilt. This past spring, he was named Perfect Game’s Collegiate Pitcher of the Year after finishing 14-2 with a 1.83 ERA and 164 strikeouts in 127 2/3 innings.

The Chicago White Sox snatched up Fulmer with the No. 8 overall pick in June’s MLB Amateur Draft, just five slots behind Rodgers. Fulmer agreed to a 3.47 million signing bonus from the White Sox on July 3, and spent the summer at the Rookie-level and High-A, making nine starts without a decision while compiling a 1.96 ERA in 23 innings pitched.

That’s a boatload of riches for a couple of young men who were wearing Orlando Scorpions uniforms not all that long ago, especially for Rodgers, who was playing on the Roger Dean fields just one year ago this week.

When speaking with Rodgers or watching the way interacts with his former teammates in the Mets/Scorpions dugout, it’s easy to forget he’s a millionaire and remember him as the humble young man – and baseball fan – that he remains to this day.

“It still gets me going when we get some runs,” Rodgers said with his low-key smile crossing his face. “We were down a couple of runs the other day and we came back in one of the later innings and got the ‘W’, and I was pretty energetic and got the team going. I think it’s probably going to be the same way from here on out.”

That’s not a celebrity talking. That’s the voice of a 19-year-old living the dream while keeping a foot firmly planted in the only world he knew up until four months ago.

“I think I’ve seen the respect around the ballpark a lot more for Brendan, but a lot of these guys played with him and to them he’s just Brendan,” Gerber said with a laugh. “It’s not that they don’t respect him – they respect him and think he’s a great player – but he’s still just their teammate. He’s been stopped by who knows how many autograph (seekers) but for these guys he’s just a teammate and a friend.”

When asked what sort of advice he might have for any of the current Scorpions that might be going through the same thing next summer that he just experienced this past summer, Rodgers talked about playing the game with your head up and playing the game with highest level of energy you can muster.

“Just focus game by game, pitch by pitch, at-bat by at-bat; just play hard and things will work out,” Rodgers said. “If the next level is where you want to succeed at, whether It’s pro ball or whether it’s college. We have a bunch of guys who have the chance to do both and they just have to continue to play the game hard and play the game the right way.”

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