Tournaments | Story | 7/18/2017

Banditos benefit from playing up

Steven Walters        
Photo: Perfect Game

EMERSON, Ga. – Although it is a different WWBA age group, a look at the 15u Banditos Scout Team roster would pay some resemblance to that of the 16u Banditos Scout Team roster, the team that won the 16u WWBA National Championship on Friday. Four players on the 15u roster played on the championship team including two top 2020 players Albert Hernandez and Aaron Nixon.

“We don’t really believe in classes and age, if the kid can play, he can play, so basically for young kids to get experience with older guys, it plays heavily on they come down here and think they can dominate, and that’s what it’s about,” said head coach Ray DeLeon.

Nixon came up big in the 16u event, starting two games and going at least five no-run innings in both. The 6-foot, 190-pound righty finished the tournament going 2-0, allowing only three hits in 10 1/3 innings, while striking out eight. While that is impressive in its own right, the week before he threw a six-inning shutout against the Florida Burn in the 17u WWBA for the Banditos Black. Playing in both of those tournaments allowed the righthander to learn a few things about what it takes to win at a higher level.

“It’s a lot of fun. It’s a lot of competition. I think it’s about the same as 15s. Played with a great team last week and we just came out on top,” Nixon said. “It’s never over. We were down 1-0 in the last inning [of the 16u championship game], we came back. It’s never over.”

Hernandez pitched in that championship game, coming in to get two big outs to stop the damage at one run in the bottom of the sixth. The Davie, Fla. native has touched 91 mph with his fastball, which played well at the 16-year-old level. He was on the mound again for the Banditos on Monday, giving up one run and three hits over 5 1/3 innings, while fanning five hitters.

“Albert’s a stud. He played with me with the 16-year-olds and got a big save there. Albert’s just a competitor, he’s just a man-child,” DeLeon said. “He’s always been a kid that’s just bigger and stronger than everyone else and just a big strong kid with a blessed arm and he throws the ball well. He’s got a bright future in pitching for sure.”

Hernandez is ranked as the No. 13 overall player in the class of 2020, and also plays third and outfield. The calling card is his arm though, the exact reason that Miami has already committed the 6-foot-1, 190-pound righty, continuing the trend of locking down homegrown talent. He is just one of nine players on the Banditos roster to be committed to Miami.

“It’s fun because you never know. Once we all pass high school and graduate, you know you’re going to get to play with your teammates that you’ve been with since you were about 12 years old, so it’s just fun because that chemistry keeps building up into a brotherhood,” Hernandez said. “It just keeps getting better and better.”

One of the teammates that has the opportunity to play with Hernandez at Miami is righty Victor Mederos, the No. 1 player in the class of 2020. Mederos is a very projectable pitcher and is listed at 6-foot-2, 190-pounds, though he seems even bigger. That size allows him to throw in the low- to mid-90s consistently, having topped out at 94 mph.

“He thinks he’s good, he knows he’s good. He throws 94-95 mph. When you throw 94 mph you’re going to be good, I don’t care if you’re Jheremy Brown [PG’s scout who was standing next to the dugout at the time], if you throw 94 mph, you’re going to throw 94 mph at 15 years old, so you’re going to dominate regardless of who you are or where you come from, so he’s a [good] competitor, he’s a cocky kid. He believes he’ll throw 100 mph, and I wouldn’t put it past him,” DeLeon said.

That mentality has developed over the years after being around more experienced players for years. The Cuban-born righty only started playing baseball at 8 years old, but has thrived with under DeLeon and the Banditos organization, enhancing his skills each year because of the talent that he is able to be around on a daily basis.

“I started really, really working hard pitching when I was nine, so I’ve always trained with people that were either twice my age because my pitching coach has trained people that would come down for Spring Training, so I’ve always been with older people, so now when I come down to my age, I do what I could do,” Mederos said. “I try my best to throw the ball in the zone and see if I could hit it.”

Another player who has performed against higher competition is outfielder Maurice Hampton, who played in the 17u and 16u WWBA tournaments with the Dulins Dodgers. Although a sophomore this last year, Hampton is young for his age, yet to turn 16 years old. That has allowed him to play in the 15u event with the Banditos and excited to get back at it with the many talented players on the Banditos.

“It just humbles you because you play with guys that are as good as you and maybe better than you, and if you’re not playing well that day, somebody will pick you up, so it helps me a little bit and at the same time it helps me get better too,” Hampton said.

The 6-foot-1, 195-pound Hampton shows well with the bat and also possesses tremendous speed, running a 6.46, 40-yard dash in June. The toolsy outfielder is the No. 23 ranked player in the class of 2019, and is currently committed to LSU, where he will play not only baseball, but football, too.

“I love the coaches down there, I love the atmosphere, the fan base, and as far as football and baseball go, there’s not better place to play two sports than LSU,” Hampton said.

Competition in the 15u WWBA has been no problem for the four, all of whom are no stranger to playing in top-tier Perfect Game events, as they all participated in the 14u PG Select Festival in the fall. The event, held in Fort Myers, Fla., at JetBlue Park, is a nationally televised event that showcases the top 40, 14-year-old players in the country. All of them said that that experience was one that provided them another opportunity to learn from others around them.

“It was just fun getting to experience all of that, getting to play with all these guys from around the country, because that was an event with the 40 best in the nation, so getting to be around all those guys made me better, so that was a fun experience,” Hernandez said.

“It was really fun,” Mederos said. “I got to meet a lot of new people, I played with awesome players. All the things they gave us, it was so nice. They treated everybody so well, we got a lot of meetings in, I learned a lot from other people, I asked a lot of questions.”

The four have used their experience from the event and their experience playing against older competition to lead the Tomball, Texas-based Banditos to a 5-0 start in the 15u WWBA, having scored 30 runs, while surrendering only four. Nixon pushed them to their fifth win on Tuesday afternoon, throwing two scoreless innings, while also helping himself on the mound by hitting a three-run homer to left field to open the scoring in the first inning. The Banditos would win the game 7-1 and are in a position to follow in the footsteps of the 16u team last week.

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