Showcase | Story | 6/18/2016

P.R. SS looks to carry torch

Jeff Dahn        
Photo: Joy Absalon

Also see: D.L. Hall feature

FORT MYERS, Fla. – There were at least 15 top prospects from the island of Puerto Rico on hand for at least one day during the Perfect Game National Showcase’s six-day run at steamy jetBlue Park June 15-20. Most of the 15 were placed on the PG Green Team roster and it was an especially diverse group, with left-handed and right-handed pitchers, outfielders, catchers and, of course, shortstops.

Young Puerto Rican players have been gravitating to the shortstop position in recent years, and it’s easy to understand why when looking at some of the shortstops that were first-round selections in recent editions of the MLB First-Year Player Draft.

Current Cleveland Indians shortstop Francisco Lindor was the eighth overall pick of the first-round in the 2011 MLB Draft; Houston Astros 2015 American League Rookie of the Year Carlos Correa went first overall in 2012, and recently signed St. Louis Cardinals farmhand Delvin Perez was the No. 23 overall pick in the 2016 draft earlier this month. Not coincidentally, all three of the young Puerto Rican standouts are alumni of the PG National Showcase.

Leading the Puerto Rican parade of shortstop/middle-infielder prospects into Southwest Florida this week was Ricardo De La Torre from Juana Diaz who is the island’s No. 1-ranked overall prospect in the class of 2017; he has risen to No. 12 in Perfect Game’s national prospect rankings (United States, Canada, Puerto Rico). De La Torre is a 6-foot-2, 175-pound, strong-armed, fleet-footed athlete who came here looking to make the most of what the PG National can offer young Puerto Rican players like the aforementioned Lindor, Correa and Perez.

“This has been an awesome experience,” De La Torre said late Saturday morning, sometimes speaking in his own halting English and sometimes speaking through a translator. “I’ve got a lot of friends here and I like the competition. It’s perfect; I like it and I feel really relaxed here. I feel real comfortable and I like where my game is at.”

De La Torre said he started playing baseball when he was 3 years old and grew into the game enough that he was accepted into the Puerto Rico Baseball Academy – the same school that Correa attended and put on the map – where he has thrived. He plays some summer and fall ball for Edwin Rodriguez and Team Mizuno Elite Puerto Rico and has excelled there, as well.

His coming out party was at the 2014 Caribbean Underclass Showcase in Juncos, P.R., where he first earned Top Prospect List recognition. He was on the TPL again at the 2015 PG Junior National Showcase here at jetBlue after running a 6.82 60-yard dash and throwing 92 across the infield and made it 3-for-3 in TPLs at the 2015 Caribbean Underclass with a 60 effort of 6.75 and a 95 mph throw across the infield. He ran a 6.73 60 and threw an event-best 94 mph across the infield at this event.

“De La Torre is a very mature player,” PG Vice President of Player Personnel David Rawnsley said Saturday. “A lot of times we think of the Puerto Rican athletes – the young Latin athletes – as being physically immature and they’re going to grow into their bodies, but he’s a mature athlete who carries himself that way on the field. He’s played a lot of baseball and he knows how to play the game.”

Showing that he knows how to play the game is De La Torre’s main reason for being at the PG National. He tries his best to feed off the other talented shortstops in attendance – there is a plethora of them here this year, and they came from all across the country – and he tries to see how each one goes about making a play under difficult circumstances.

“He has a very strong arm, a shortstop’s arm, although he has the athleticism to play anywhere on the field, really,” Rawnsley said. “But I think he’s the kind of guy who can stay at shortstop for the long run.”

At the plate, Rawnsley noted, he’s the type of player who can show intriguing power, but in his team’s first game Saturday morning he drove a pair of line drives right up the middle of the field. He’s shown the ability to hit under control, square-up the ball and flash that power every now and again.

“In BP the last two times I’ve seen him, he’s hit line-drive, line-drive, line-drive and then on the 10th pitch he’s hit a home run,” Rawnsley said. “He has control of his swing, he knows situations and he’s a polished player in that sense.”

Rawnsley said he thinks it is only natural for interested observers to play the comp game with this newest class of Puerto Rican shortstop that De La Torre leads. Everyone wants to be the first to identify the next Correa or Lindor or even Perez, despite how unrealistic that is. In Rawnsley’s view it’s one of those apples and oranges because each player is different.

“The Carlos Correas don’t come along very often,” Rawnsley said, “and Franciso Lindor, who is a completely different athlete than Carlos Correa, they don’t come along very often either. I’m not going to put De La Torre into any category. In a way he’s more like what you’d find in a polished shortstop from Florida or Southern California in the way he carries himself and the way he plays the game.”

De La Torres’ maturity is another positive trait that will only help him when MLB front offices begin breaking down the 2017 draft, Rawnsley believes. “He’s the kind of kid who will advance quickly because there’s less that he needs to learn and get repetitions on at this point,” he said.

De La Torre is the son of Jose De La Torre Sanchez and Guadalupe Rivera Nadal, both of whom are graduates of Pontificia Universidad Catolica in Ponce, P.R. Jose works for the Puerto Rico Department of Education and Guadalupe is a Spanish teacher. “My parents have made a lot of sacrifices for me to play at this level. Thanks to the Lord I have been doing really good up to this point,” De La Torre said.

For now, De La Torre is going to allow himself to go into dream mode and make his comps, the devil be damned. The two big-league shortstops that finished first and second in last year’s AL Rookie of the Year balloting are his idols and he’s not ashamed to admit that he hopes to emulate their every move.

“I watch a lot of videos of Carlos Correa and Francisco Lindor every day; I just want to be like them,” he said. I think about (the 2017 MLB Amateur Draft) all day. Ever since I was 3 years old I’ve only wanted to be a major league player and an All-Star shortstop in the majors.”

National Showcase Day 4 Standouts

Here are a few of the players that stood out on Day 4 of the 2016 PG National Showcase. To view the workout results and read more about the participating players in the scout blogs please click on the links supplied below.

Workout Results | Scout Blogs | Day 1 Standouts | Day 2 Standouts | Day 3 Standouts

Oraj Anu continued his impressive run at the National Showcase with yet another two-hit performance. He roped a loud double down the left field line and an RBI single through the right side. The Alabama State commit showed good bat speed and strength continuously at the plate with barrel control. He continues to create good leverage and has shown the ability to recognize spin and wait for his pitch.

Lefthander Jack Leftwich, a Wake Forrest commit, showed good arm speed and downhill action on the mound with extension. His fastball worked impressively at 91-93 mph, touching 94, with sinking action. He also showed some feel for both his changeup and a downward breaking slider.

Another standout in batting practice delivered in game as Notre Dame commit Cash Case launched a thrree-run home run down the line in right field that landed 361 feet from the plate. He continued to make loud contact in his next at-bat as well with a single that left at 96 mph. The bat speed for Case is hardly in question with barrel feel and strength to drive the ball.

BYU commit Seth Corry is a lefthander with lots of projection and a long and loose arm action from a three-quarters arm slot. Corry was very deceptive with a quick arm towards the plate and command that helped him spot it to both sides. His fastball worked at 90-93 mph with true action but the ability to miss bats. Corry also relied on a curveball with slurvy shape and bite that continued to improve as his outing went on.

An all-around standout on Saturday was Puerto Rican shortstop Jose Marcano, who showed off his talents at the plate and in the field. Marcano displayed impressive footwork and range up the middle to make a nice play and then showed off the arm strength that was up to 91 mph in drills. He also turned around on an 88 mph fastball in game for a single with good bat speed and a simple approach.

Caleb Sloan jumped onto the National radar in a big way on Saturday, as the strong yet still projectable righthanded pitcher showed an explosive two-pitch mix in his two innings. He worked at 90-94 mph with his fastball, generating steep downhill plane, and mixed in a sharp downer slider in the low- to mid-80s that projects to potentially be a plus pitch.

Kevin Abel has intrigued we at Perfect Game for a few years now, and especially popped up at the 2015 Sunshine West Showcase in San Diego. Fast forward almost a year to the date – a year filled with excellent performances and a verbal commitment to Oregon State – and Abel appeared at the National Showcase with a dominant performance once again. With a highly projectable, slender frame reminiscent of Kevin Gowdy, Abel's arm works extremely well and is very fast, and his velocity has been on a steady upwards trajectory since we first laid eyes on him. Working at 89-91 mph in his outing on Saturday, the pitch features good plane to the plate, but the real story lies with his secondary stuff. His curveball feel was a bit inconsistent, but when right, it's a very sharp 12-to-6 breaker with great spin, and has the makings of a future plus pitch. Add to that a Bugs Bunny changeup with silly fade (it's closer to a screwball in terms of action than a traditional changeup) and a developing cutter, and Abel looks the part of a potentially huge-upside prospect.

Never one to shy away from high-upside two-way players, Florida coach Kevin O'Sullivan has another one committed in Christian Robinson, a super twitchy, strong athlete who projects well both with the bat and on the mound. He was in the mid-80s on the mound with good feel for his breaking ball from the left side, but with the bat is where he really shined on Saturday, lacing a loud triple off the wall, 96 mph off the bat. He took a very loud batting practice session the previous day, driving balls deep to all parts of JetBlue Stadium, and absolutely looks the part of a future impact bat in the Gators lineup.

One prospect who has had a very loud week, both in terms of the workout testing and game play, has been Drew Waters. The outfielder has been absolute dynamite throughout his time at National, and has definitely caught the eye of the evaluators in attendance. He continued his torrid pace with the bat today in game, not only recording an exit velocity of 103 mph in game but doing it twice. He has dynamic bat speed and hand speed, taking the barrel to the ball exceedingly quickly and with big time strength at contact, projecting to be a high-level hitter at the next level in terms of both batting average and gap-to-gap power. He also showed a pair of well above average tools in both his speed and throwing arm, giving him a well-rounded toolset.

In an event loaded with dynamic hard throwers and potential high draft picks, Logan Allen may be the best pure pitcher in attendance, and the lefthander put that on display on Saturday. With a deceptive delivery and an arm that works well, Allen mixed and matched four pitches with impeccable command, cruising through his two innings with ease. His fastball worked at 87-90 mph with good angle to the plate, his curveball had 2-to-8 shape with tight spin and good depth, the slider flashed sharp tilt down in the zone and his changeup looks exactly like his fastball out of his hand until the last second when it fades away from righthanded hitters. He may have the most complete arsenal and command combination of any pitcher in attendance, and while not overpowering, posts just as good (or better) results as any other amateur pitcher in the country right now.

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