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Friday, June 15, 2018

Hinds embraces PG National

Jeff Dahn        
Photo: Rece Hinds (Perfect Game)

ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. – The landscape of Florida high school baseball is as diverse as the state’s citizenry, and it does seem that more often than not the large metropolitan areas of Miami-Fort Lauderdale, Tampa-St. Petersburg and Orlando-Kissimmee-Sanford are historically producing many of the top prospects not just in Florida but in the nation.

Rece Hinds represents the ying to that yang, emerging out of the Florida Panhandle city of Niceville, which sits near Florida’s northern Gulf Coast. The Panhandle just may have more in common with the Gulf Coast communities of Alabama and Mississippi than the huge population centers in South Florida.

For the last two days, Hinds has been in another world, one located in the same state as his hometown but still a five-hour drive to the southeast. Hinds, a 6-foot-4, 210-pound shortstop and a Louisiana State commit, was in attendance at the Perfect Game National Showcase Thursday and Friday.

He made himself right at home performing in front of hundreds of scouts and right alongside most of the top prospects from the national class of 2019.

“It’s awesome to be in here, playing against the best of the best; being in an MLB stadium, it’s always a blessing,” Hinds said of getting the opportunity to play in the home of the Tampa Bay Rays. “If you can stay around good competition and face good competition, it just keeps you young; it keeps you a competitive person. It keeps you wanting to play the game because it’s fun.”

A 17½-year-old really doesn’t need any assistance feeling young, but that comment can slide for now. The fact is Hinds, the No, 4-ranked national prospect in the class, was a must-see for the scouts in attendance and he didn’t disappoint.

Right off the bat, during Friday’s workouts, Hinds threw 98 mph across the infield, coming up just short of the event record of 99 mph recorded by Blaze Alexander just last year. He was also impressive at the plate during both batting practice and game action, prompting PG scouts to blog:

“Hinds took one of the louder rounds of batting practice and generated one of the louder pieces of contact as he jumped on a curveball and barreled it hard into the left-center field gap that bounced off the wall …

“He has huge raw pop to both his pull side and the opposite field. With outstanding hand quickness, strength through contact and great barrel skills, Hinds has a recipe for making very hard contact repeatedly.”

That’s music to the ears of a young man who has already accomplished quite a bit during his high school years and aspires to be a Perfect Game All-American. Like every other prospect here this weekend, Hinds knows the recipe for success: “I just come in here and play it by ear, really,” he said. “Having fun is the main thing; you can’t press.”

After playing in nearly two dozen PG WWBA and PG BCS tournaments, Hinds finally experienced his first PG showcase when he was invited to last year’s Junior National Showcase in Fort Myers, Fla. The experience might have been new to him but he responded with a Top Prospect List performance, and no one in the know was the least bit surprised. His scouting report from the event read, in part:

“(Hinds has an) excellent physical frame with strength throughout and room to add more to the build – outstanding athlete. A primary shortstop with excellent arm strength across the diamond. … Right-handed hitter with quick hands and easy, explosive bat speed. … High end offensive talent with a strong set of tools. … Excellent student.”

“I don’t put any extra pressure on myself (at a showcase) because honestly the first thing I think of is always having fun,” he said Friday. “You can’t keep playing this game if you’re not having fun.”

Hinds’ travel ball experiences have resulted in him being named to 11 PG all-tournament teams, playing with the likes of Team Elite, Chain Baseball and 5 Star National, programs all based in Georgia.

He also had the opportunity to take part in the USA Baseball 17u National Team Development Program, and experience Hinds said was nothing short of amazing. “Being able to play with USA across your chest, it’s crazy,” he added.

The swing and the pop in the bat that Hinds showed here on Thursday and Friday all of sudden went missing in late 2017 but has obviously reappeared. For whatever reason, he was struggling with that gold-plated swing.

“I started not being able to go oppo at all, nothing whatsoever,” he said Friday. “I worked on it a lot this fall and now that I’ve worked on it so much I’ve been able to keep my swing more compact and go to all fields.”

Hinds said that his stepfather, Barry Drake, has had a huge impact on his baseball career. He got the Rece started with the game as a toddler and things took off from there. Hinds played some football when he was younger but soon decided it was on a ballfield and not a gridiron where he could best excel.

The Niceville High school baseball program was the subject of Perfect Game High School preseason feature piece profiling the PG HS Florida Region. There were high hopes in the Eagles’ camp that the school might win its first Florida state baseball championship but after winning its first 15 games and 24 of its first 26, Niceville stumbled in the first round of the FHSAA state playoffs.

The junior Hinds led the team in just about every offensive category according to stats on MaxPreps, hitting .494 (41-for-83) with 25 extra-base hits (13 home runs), 53 RBI and 45 RBI in 27 games.

Like many of the top prospects performing at the PG National, Hines’ next stop this summer will be at the USA Baseball Tournament of Stars in Cary, N.C., and then he’ll join No. 1-ranked 2019 Bobby Witt Jr. as a member of the East Coast Sox Select roster at the PG WWBA 17u National Championship in Emerson, Ga.

Other spots on that roster will be filled by Colton Bowman (No. 41-ranked, Oklahoma St. commit), Eric Brown (No. 372), Harrison Dorsett (No. 268, Ole Miss), Hayden Dunhurst (No. 70, Ole Miss), Ryan Hawks (No. 47, Louisville) and Jake Holland (No. 18, Miami), each of whom joined Hinds at this week’s PG National.

After that there are a couple of other important stops, including the East Coast Pro Showcase in Hoover, Ala., while he waits for an invitation to the PG All-American Classic – played at Petco Park in San Diego – to arrive. His No. 4 national ranking seems to assure that invite is already in the mail.

“Ever since I started watching (the PGAAC) on the MLB Network, that’s been a goal of mine; I want to be there,” Hinds said. “I want to be in that PG uniform, play with the best of the best, make friends with the best of the best and go to (Rady’s Children Hospital); it sounds awesome.”

So as he left the Trop and headed back home to Niceville on Friday, Hinds knew he had just taken part in one of the most satisfying experiences of his burgeoning prep baseball career. He also knew whatever might lay ahead of him this summer will eventually fall neatly into place.

“I just hope when I leave here I know that I did my best to try to make the (PG All-American Classic roster),” Hinds said. “And just seeing all these players – it’s been awesome.”

Cary, N.C., Hoover, Ala., Emerson, Ga., and then San Diego, Calif.? Don’t ever try to put anything past this impressive young prospect from the Florida Panhandle.

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