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Thursday, June 14, 2018

Abrams relaxed, having a ball

Jeff Dahn        
Photo: CJ Abrams (Perfect Game)

ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. – The scouts were out in full-force at Tropicana Field on Thursday, arriving early and staying late on what was opening day at the 2018 Perfect Game National Showcase. Their attention was fixed upon and their scrutiny was applied to the first two teams that walked out onto The Trop’s turf field early morning, and the players all knew it was time to get down to business.

Among those top class-of-2019 prospects playing catch on the field and waiting for the start of their workout session was CJ Abrams, a 6-foot-2, 182-pound shortstop from Alpharetta, Ga., and an all-state caliber player at Blessed Trinity High School in Roswell, Ga.

Abrams, an Alabama commit PG ranks as the No. 7 overall national prospect in his class (No. 1 Georgia), plays with a grit and a toughness typical of Georgia high school players, but he also plays under control and with what seems to be a constant smile on his face. His approach to the game is simple but sure-fire: just relax and have as much fun as you possibly can.

“This is a great opportunity to display your abilities to the scouts along with all of these great players,” Abrams told PG Thursday morning, speaking from just outside The Trop’s first base dugout. “You can come out here and have fun and relax and just do your thing. … Being relaxed is the key; you’re out here for a reason and you’ve just got to play relaxed and have fun with it.”

Abrams has played more than 30 PG WWBA, BCS and Super25 tournaments since 2015 and was at PG Park-LakePoint with his Blessed Trinity HS teammates in both 2017 and ’18; the Titans were one of two champs at this year’s Showdown, which was played in April.

He’s been named to an event’s all-tournament team 18 times playing mostly with the Georgia Jackets and DRB Elite. That’s a lot of accolades based on his performances during tournament play, but the PG National represents his first appearance at a showcase event. He came in ready to go.

“I’m just going to come out here and do ‘me’ and just show everybody what I’ve got,” Abrams said.

“He tends to focus a little bit more when the guy on the mound is kind of bearing down on him, and he likes that confrontation,” his dad, Chris Abrams told PG on Thursday. “He’s played a lot of different sports and he’s been on big stages many times with football and basketball, but baseball has always been his passion.”

It was Chris who got CJ started with the game, putting a bat in his hand when he was no more than knee-high to the proverbial grasshopper. He and CJ’s mom, Ruth, have helped their son with everything baseball-related every step along the way.

“This is a very cool experience,” Chris said. “When he started out as a youngster – and you never want to look too far down the road – we thought that it’d be awfully nice to have something like this toward the end of his school (career) where hopefully he would be good enough to experience something of this magnitude.

“To be here at Tropicana – an MLB baseball field – and hit some BP, take some ground balls, I wish I could have done something like this as a kid; this is fantastic.”

Chris Abrams was one of CJ’s coaches during his youth baseball days but he defers all the credit for his son’s development to the others, saying CJ has always been surrounded by good coaches, including some who played college ball at SEC schools.

“They’re guys who are familiar with what it takes to be a ballplayer and how you do things the right way and don’t take shortcuts,” Chris said. “Whenever I used to go out with him that was one of the things that we’d talk about – if you sacrifice a little success now that’s going to pay off later so do it the right way.”

Basketball and football were a part of Abrams’ athletic life before he got to high school but he left those behind once it became evident that the baseball path was the one he should follow. He not only finds the game enjoyable but relishes the challenges it can present.

“There’s always something you can better at with baseball; there’s a lot to it,” he said. “I don’t know, it’s fun, it’s just a real fun game. … And every day you can learn something new with baseball that will help you get better at the game. You’ve just got to be ready to come out here and compete every single day.”

Blessed Trinity has emerged a Georgia high school power, having won back-to-back state championships in 2014-15. With the help of Abrams potent bat, the Titans reached the semifinal round of the Class AAAA state tournament this spring and finished 34-5. Abrams hit .404 with 11 extra-base hits (three home runs) and 22 RBI and 37 runs scored in 36 games.

Chris told PG that he and Ruth have spent a lot of tine watching CJ play but they’ve never put any pressure on their son. The outcome of a particular game is never discussed once the game is over, and when CJ gets home he just goes back to being a typical teenager, albeit one that is an elite baseball prospect.

“He puts pressure on himself and of course he pushes himself, but we just like to watch him get out there and see him smile,” Chris said. “I told him on the drive down here, just make sure that you’re having fun and everything else will take care of itself.”

The family considers CJ’s commitment to the Crimson Tide a true blessing, and they would welcome sending CJ to Tuscaloosa to play for head coach Brad Bohannon if the 2019 MLB June Amateur Draft doesn’t play-out to their liking. Abrams announced his commitment to Alabama while at the PG High School Showdown in April.

“That’s all we can ask for to start with,” Chris said. “The (2019 MLB) Draft is an enigma within itself and we’ll let somebody else worry about that, so at this point just focus on going to Alabama and trying to win a national championship for our buddy Coach Bo; he’s a big Coach Bo fan.”

But first things first. The vast majority of the 50 prospects who will be invited to play in this summer’s PG All-American Classic in San Diego on Aug. 12 will be selected from this event, and that isn’t lost on Abrams. Based on his No. 7 national ranking alone, it seems likely that he will be a member of the East team, which would be a dream come true for the 17-year-old (he turns 18 in early October).

“I’d love to be a part of that; it would be a great experience,” he said. “I don’t really pay too much attention (to the rankings). I just strive to be the best that I can be personally and the (high) rankings will come with it, I guess. I just want to learn as much as I can. I want to have fun out here and play relaxed and just do what I do.”

Stay relaxed and have fun. That’s CJ Abrams baseball world and he loves living in it. The PG National Showcase was just one more important and enjoyable stop in his baseball journey with many more to come.

“I want him to take away the experience of meeting new players and being out there on the field with a bunch talented guys and having fun,” Chris said. “The big part of this is the experience that you have with teammates that are new and just enjoy the game and enjoy the competition. I’m sure he’ll play hard and hopefully it will go his way, but if not it’s OK, it’s baseball; it’s just baseball.”

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