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Sunday, January 7, 2018

Pavolony is out of this World

Jeff Dahn        
Photo: Perfect Game

FORT MYERS, Fla. – Connor Pavolony is a Georgia kid through-and-through, just another highly regarded prep prospect in the class of 2018 trying to keep his head above water in a pond stocked with so many other elite Peach State 2018s it’s difficult to keep track of them all.

There is Ethan Hankins (ranked No. 1 nationally), Kumar Rocker (No. 4), Will Banfield (No. 6), Anthony Seigler (No. 13), Kendall Logan Simmons (No. 14), Luke Bartnicki (No. 19), Cole Wilcox (No. 20), Parker Meadows (No. 42) and Cabera Weaver (No. 62), and those are just the Perfect Game All-Americans.

Ranked No. 127 nationally (No. 13 Georgia), Pavolony, a senior at Woodstock River Ridge High School and a Tennessee signee, is obviously no slouch .And he’s become accustomed to being surrounded by some of the best teenaged talent in the country, hoping he doesn’t slip through the cracks. It doesn’t appear that he has.

“Georgia, obviously, is just a really talent-rich state with the way the 2018 class fell,” said Pavolony, who calls the city of Woodstock home. “The amount of talent in Georgia and Florida and places like that, it’s fun to play against (them).

“When you grew up in Georgia and you get to play against those guys your whole life; I grew up with them and I got to see them develop,” he said. “It’s been a lot of fun and it’s going to be fun to hear their names get called (at the MLB Draft) in June.”

A 6-foot, 185-pound catcher who is ranked 16th nationally at the position, Pavolony was speaking on Sunday from the Terry Park Sports Complex where he’s spent the last two days showing MLB scouts that he just might have been the top prospect in attendance at the 21st annual Perfect Game World Showcase.

During Saturday morning’s workout session, Pavolony recorded the event’s top Pop Time (1.78-seconds) and the top catchers’ arm velocity (85 mph), while also running a top-20 60-yard dash (6.97-seconds). After watching him take BP, a PG scout reported:

“(Pavolony) will get plenty of attention from pro scouts this spring in the talent-rich state of Georgia. He has lots of right-handed bat speed and the ability to drive the ball hard and a long way.”

“The draft is coming up in June, so I wanted to come out here and show people that I’m a lot better than I was six months ago,” he said Sunday. “Especially going into the high school season starting in February, this is kind of like a warm-up for high school ball.”

While this might have seemed like just another PG event for the veteran Pavolony, in many important ways it was a completely new experience. The PG World is truly an international showcase, and this year the event opened its arms to 30 Puerto Rican prospects who have been unable to play baseball at home this fall and early winter after a pair of hurricanes ravaged the island in September.

Pavolony was thrilled to have the opportunity to play alongside some of the best players from the States, of course, but he was equally excited about getting to play alongside and against a whole new group of athletes he hadn’t been around before.”

“I talk to them all the time and the first question I ask them is how they’re doing,” Pavolony said of the Puerto Rican prospects. “What happened to them is terrible, but they’re out here with a smile on their face and they’re playing hard. … I have a lot of respect for those guys from that aspect, and they’re all good ballplayers. They’re fun guys and I enjoy being around them.”

A melting pot, that’s what the PG World Showcase is. Francois Castillo is 6-foot-1, 220-pound 2018 right-hander/infielder who lives in Chicago with his mother and is originally from the Dominican Republic.

It might not appear at first glance that a catcher from Georgia (Pavolony) and a pitcher from Chicago by way of the DR (Castillo) would have a lot in common, but when brought together at an event like this one, they’re practically one in the same.

“The first thing I like to do is have fun, and I’m having a good time already meeting a lot of great kids, making new friends,” Castillo said Saturday when asked what he hoped to accomplish over the weekend. “The baseball part, I just want to go out there and do the best I can.”

Castillo has signed with Eastern Illinois University but like every other high school senior in attendance at the PG World – including Pavolony – this is all about the MLB draft.

“Ever since I was a little kid it’s always been a dream of mine to become a professional baseball player,” he said. “Me and my mom are taking the steps and she’s helping me a whole lot to see what I can do to get there, and I feel like Perfect Game will help me out a lot, too. Getting the opportunity to pitch in front of a lot of scouts can maybe help me with my goal of getting drafted eventually.”

Pavolony couldn’t have said it any better. He is in the early stages of preparing for this senior season River Ridge HS, and while the draft is on his mind, he and his fellow River Ridge seniors are going into it feeling like they have some unfinished business.

The Knights came up short in their bid for a Class 6A state championship after losing to eventual state champ Pope, 2-0, in the semifinals; they finished the season 29-10. Even though Pavolony has every reason to be excited about his commitment to Tennessee and his prospects in the MLB June Amateur Draft, his main focus over the next several months is high school ball.

“I’m going to report early to Tennessee and go to summer school if the draft doesn’t work out, so I have a great situation,” he said. “I’ll cross that bridge when I get to it, but right now it’s easy to focus on winning a state championship.”

Pavolony credits his parents, Mike Pavolony and Barbara Sullivan, and his coaches at River Ridge, Scott Bradley and Jeff Runion, for helping him the most as he’s grown into both an exceptional baseball player and young man.

“They’ve influenced me just as much if not more as a man off the field than they have on the field,” he said. “I’m a lot better (all-around) than I was my freshman year, and that says something. They teach me how to be a man and how to respect yourself and respect others off the field just as much as they teach me how to be a better ballplayer.”

This is the 30th Perfect Game Pavolony has been a part of, but only the third showcase after appearances at the 2014 PG Southeast Underclass and the 2017 PG National.

Most of his accolades have come from playing in PG WWBA tournaments with three different East Cobb Baseball squads, Titans Baseball and, most recently, the Upstate Mavericks. He played with the East Cobb Colt 45s all summer before joining Upstate for events in the fall, and earned all-tournament recognition at three of the four; he has 11 all-tournament citations overall.

“Coach (Chris) Nall is a great guy,” Pavolony said of the Upstate Mavericks head honcho. “He called me last summer and asked me to play with him in the fall, and there were a lot of guys that I played with during the summer with (East Cobb) Colt .45’s also went to play for Upstate this fall.

“It was a no-brainer, and we all wanted to get after it, and we ended up having a pretty good fall. It was a really relaxed atmosphere and rally fun. I love Upstate; it’s a good organization.”

He played at the PG WWBA World Championship in Jupiter, Fla., twice, suiting up for the East Cobb Astros in 2016 and for the Braves Scout Team/East Cobb this past October; he was named all-tournament at the one held a little more than two weeks ago.

“Jupiter is kind of like showcases – everybody there is just as good as you and even better than you,” Pavolony said. “I played with the Braves Scout Team this year which was awesome; those guys there are some of the best in the country. But Jupiter is a place you can go, and you get to see draft talent everywhere. It’s the best tournament in the country.”

The PG WWBA World Championship is the most heavily scouted amateur baseball tournament in the world, and Pavolony’s experiences in Jupiter and at the PG National Showcase have made him feel at ease performing when there are literally hundreds of eyes focused on his every move.

There was a very large contingent of scouts on hand this weekend and Pavolony certainly did his best to impress each-and-every last one of them. They were able to watch one of the top senior catchers in the country ply his trade, interact with other great ballplayers from the U.S. and points elsewhere, and have a lot of fun in the process. No, he wasn’t in Georgia anymore, but the fit was just fine.

“I think I came down here and made a statement,” Pavolony said. “I came down here to show people that I’m better than I was in the summer and I’m better than I was even two months ago.”

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