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Showcase | Story | 12/31/2020

Cuban roots help drive Tejeda Jr.

Jeff Dahn        
Photo: Yoel Tejeda Jr. (Perfect Game)

FORT MYERS, Fla. – Like so many of his elite-level class of 2022 peers that call South Florida home, Yoel Tejeda Jr. is driven.

Pushed by an upbringing that emphasized hard work and overcoming obstacles, Tejeda Jr. – a tall and lanky first baseman/righthanded pitcher from Davie who attends North Broward Prep in Coconut Creek – is driven to succeed and driven to make the most of every opportunity that comes his way.

Of course, the same thing can be said about the majority of the 800-plus prospects who were in attendance at the Perfect Game National Underclass Showcase-Main Event the last three days, but Tejeda Jr. seems to take that drive and really run with it.

He was, in fact, at the PG National Under-Main in 2018 where he earned Top Prospect List recognition but did not return in 2019. After careful consideration, he just felt like it was important that he come back for a final appearance at the year-ending event.

“Now I’m a junior, I’m getting older and the (2022 MLB) Draft is coming up; I’m just trying to get myself out there as much as possible,” Tejeda Jr. told PG during a brief break in this week’s action. “I want (PG) to see everything I have and how good I can be. I just want to show myself and be out there, you know?”

Yeah, PG knows. It’s an attitude that’s fairly typical amongst athletes that arrive from Broward County, Fla., and who grace PG showcases and tournaments with their talents each and every year.

Tejeda Jr. is right there at the top, too, having risen to the No. 58 overall position (No. 2 first baseman) in PG’s national class of 2022 prospect rankings (Nos. 7/1 in Florida) after being rostered at 53 events over the past four years.

But while there are aspects of his story that appear to be typical, others are more distinctive.

Yoel Tejeda Jr., a Florida commit, is the son of Yoel Tejeda Sr. and Maria C. Pereira, both Cuban-educated medical doctors who, according to Tejeda Sr., practice at a clinic in Broward County (Maria is involved in human resources) while continuing to operate a clinic in their native Cuba. They came to the United States in 1999 and have been working together here for more than 20 years.

The journey was a challenge, a tough row to hoe, if you will. But the parents persevered and young Yoel Jr. learned mightily from that perseverance.

“They obviously came here from a very hard spot to live in, and they always kept fighting to be better; they always taught me that,” Tejeda Jr. said. “So that’s just what I’m doing here, trying to be better for myself, always fighting for something good in life. I’ll just do what I love and always put my best effort out there.”

Dr. Yoel Tejeda Sr. was on hand at the Terry Park complex near downtown Fort Myers Wednesday morning and spoke with PG briefly about his talented son.

“Yoel is a good kid; he’s worked every day at the house practicing,” he said pridefully. “He started working (for the Under-Main) maybe two months ago...and I think he’s ready for the (spring and summer). He’s doing well and every year he’s growing physically.”

His son is up to 6-foot-7 while weighing in at a wiry 205 pounds these days. Tejeda Sr. recalled that Yoel Jr., first started out playing third base, first base and right field and didn’t start to pitch until he got older. He works hard at it and the elder Tejeda said it’s going to be interesting to see how things work out as Yoel Jr. advances his career.

A junior at North Broward Prep, Tejeda Jr. has fit seamlessly into the winning culture Head Coach Brian Campbell has cultivated there for the last 18 years. The Eagles have been a regular competitor at the PG High School Showdown through the years and Tejeda Jr. has been at that event each of the last two years, earning all-tournament recognition in 2019.

“Ever since I stepped on that campus my freshman year I’ve loved the place,” he said of NBP. “The coaches are amazing and everybody there just really treats you right to try to make you better. They know what they’re doing, they’re always serious people and I love being there.”

Tejeda Jr. played with several travel ball programs during his inaugural PG season in 2017 before settling in with Richie Palmer’s Elite Squad in 2018; he was a two-time all-tournament selection while playing with the Elite Squad 14u National in 2017-18.

It was also in 2018 when he began to play with X Team 2021, a team assembled by North Broward’s Campbell and members of his staff, which includes Brandon Cooney, Zac Edmiston and Kevin Fagan.

All-tournament team recognition came Tejeda Jr.’s way three more times with the X Team 2021: at the 2019 PG 16u World Series, the 2020 PG WWBA 17u National Championship and at the 2020 PG WWBA Florida Qualifier where the X Team 2021 finished as runner-up.

2021 middle infielder Kobe Benson (t-500, Coastal Carolina), 2021 catcher/corner-infielder Joshua Steidl (t-500, Jacksonville), 2022 righthander/catcher Shane Huntsberger (t-500, Western Carolina) and 2023 lefthander/outfielder Jacob Gomberg (No. 190, Florida) were among Tejeda Jr.’s North Broward Prep teammates who joined him on the X Team 2021 roster at the WWBA Florida Q.

“It’s just like my high school team and I love playing with them,” Tejeda Jr. said. “I have a lot of confidence (in them) – they always try to help me out – and it’s a good team; we just want to go out there and compete...

“We’ve always been like a family and we’ve always been together,” he added. “We love to play and we love to play hard; that’s just what we do.”

Tejeda Jr. has also maintained a constant presence on the PG showcase circuit, as well, with appearances at PG Series Challenges in 2017-18 and twice at the PG Junior National in 2019-20. He’s been included on the Top Prospect List at the 2018 Fall Top Prospect National, 2018 National Under-Main and the 2019 Underclass All-American Games showcases.

One aspect of Tejeda Jr.’s development that’s worth noting is how well he’s been able to adjust to a growth spurt that saw him sprout from 6-foot-2, 140 pounds in early 2018 to his current height and weight (6-7, 205).

“I have to work hard on it because it’s very hard for me to gain weight, being so long,” he said. “I have to work to be stable with my own body since I’m so (tall). But I always try to do the best that I can.”

Tejeda Jr., who carries a 3.9 GPA at North Broward Prep, feels like he’s really coming into his own as both a ballplayer and a young man while also recognizing that he is a 17-year-old junior in high school with a long road left to travel.

He’s been pleased with the way he’s been playing and developing while he works through the demands he puts on himself. A switch-hitter, Tejeda Jr. is very much a two-way prospect and he has plenty of room to increase his strength and become even more dominant both on the mound and at the plate.

This is a kid, after all, who’s produced a 92 mph fastball, throws in the low-90s across the infield and is equipped with a low-90s exit velo off the bat. It’s really all there presently with a lot more to come.

Consider this paragraph pieced together from published reports from the first two days of play at the PG National Under-Main:

“(Tejeda) has a large projectable frame that will be scary at the plate once he fills out … highly projectable athlete who makes the game look easy … profiles as a middle-of-the-order bat that can change the game with one swing … incorporated long levers and excellent weight shift into contact to produce loud contact throughout his round.”

“I love to hit; hitting is one of my main things always,” Tejeda Jr. said. “Pitching, I know I’ll always have it there but I love hitting. It would be very hard to take that away from me.”

His decision to accept a scholarship offer from the Gators and head coach Kevin O’Sullivan was probably viewed as a foregone conclusion to many, although Tejeda Jr. admitted that when he was very young he entertained childhood thoughts of heading out of state. As he got a little older, he came to realize there really is no place like home.

“Florida is actually one of the best programs (there is),” he told PG. “When I visited there I fell in love with the place; it’s always been one of my top dream schools. The culture there and the environment there is very amazing and I just loved it.”

He hopes to major in engineering because, he said, he loves being creative and building things.

Added Dr. Tejeda: “When he was 10 or 11 years old he told me, 'Pop, I want to go to Florida; I like Florida.' We received a lot of invitations from different universities but he said, 'no, I want to go to Florida.'”

Once Tejeda Jr. gets to Gainesville – and that’s assuming the 2022 MLB Draft doesn’t interfere – he’ll be walking through the door along with some pretty elite company.

North Carolina first baseman Xavier Isaac (No. 23-ranked), Florida catcher Luke Heyman (No. 25), Florida righthander Sullivan Brackin (No. 77), Florida first baseman Blaydon Plain (No. 83) and Florida righthander William Ross (No. 99) join the 58th-ranked Tejeda as many of the jewels in O’Sullivan’s 2022 recruiting class.

Tejeda Sr. was a ballplayer himself in Cuba as a first baseman and his wife Maria was a water polo world champion while in Cuba.

“I could hit it, too,” Dr. Tejeda said with a laugh, “but Yoel is much, much better than me.”

“Ever since I was little, my dad always pushed me to play baseball,” Tejeda Jr. said. “So this has always been kind of the thing.”

There are still family members in Cuba, including Tejeda Jr.’s grandmother, and he is able to visit there. It's not something young Yoel takes for granted.

“At the end of the day...they always have a really good family culture; they always like to be together,” he said. “I’ve learned from that a lot and it’s made me the person that I am today.”

It is family-first for Yoel Tejeda Jr., and that will never change. He’ll remain driven as he continues down life’s path and his second family – the one that has sprung from his baseball experiences – will grow larger and larger with each passing day, even as a New Year rings in on Friday.

“Every time I’m out there and I hear about someone I always know who they are,” he said. “It’s good to always make new friends out there and to know the people you see. It’s always fun meeting new people and learning about them and seeing who you’re around all the time.

“I just want this to be the start of the big year we’re going to have here. I want to start now getting out there and keep showing myself and be better and better every time I get out there.”

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