Tournaments : : Story
Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Orlando Scorpions showcase top talent

Jeff Dahn        

If Matt Gerber has lived his life under a single proclamation, it could easily be “Once a Scorpion, always a Scorpion.”

Orlando Scorpions Baseball was founded by Sal Lombardo 16 years ago and has evolved into one of the most respected and successful travel team organizations in the country. Lombardo started with a team of 12-year-olds who would grow up to be members of the high school graduating class of 2001.

Gerber was a member of that first team.

“We played together from the time we were 12 until the end of high school,” Gerber said.

He explained that back in the late 90s and very early ‘00s, a lot of the Major League teams would put together area scout teams. In central Florida, there was a team called the East Central Scout Team.

When that first group of Scorpions became high school age, the Scorpions and ECST merged into one group that took the Scorpions name.

“That year, 2000, is when (Scorpions Baseball) became more of a scout ball, showcase team and a regular travel team,” said Gerber, who today is the head coach for the elite Orlando Scorpions Purple and is head of the program’s recruiting and player development. He is also an associate scout for the Florida Marlins.

This “showcase” program has certainly grown accustomed to the big stage.

The Scorpions finished second at the Perfect Game 17U BCS Finals in Fort Myers, Fla., in July after reaching the semifinals of the PG 18U WWBA National Championship at Marietta, Ga., in late June.

Orlando Scorpions Baseball sent three teams to the Perfect Game WWBA World Underclass Championship in Fort Myers Oct. 8-11, and its top team, Orlando Scorpions Underclass Purple, finished 3-1 after a loss to the eventual tournament runner-up East Cobb Braves in the first round of the playoffs.

The Scorpions’ 18U team finished No. 5 in Perfect Game’s final 2010 national rankings and their 17U team finished No. 6.

Next up for the Scorpions, like every other top travel team in the country, is the Perfect Game WWBA World Championship Oct. 21-26 in Jupiter, Fla. Last year’s Scorpions squad finished third at the tournament.

“These last two groups … have kind of been our most successful groups in our program,” Gerber said. “This group that we’re taking down (to Jupiter) won the (World) Underclass last year and finished second at the BCS (17U Finals).

“I don’t know that we’ve got all the top names – we’ve got a lot of Division I commits, obviously, to good Division I schools – but they just play the game the right way. I hearken back to something David Rawnsley wrote about us last year that said ‘The Scorpions might not have the biggest names, but their whole is always bigger than the sum of their parts.’”

There have been a lot of terrific players pass through the organization and there are more terrific players who will be wearing Scorpions purple in Jupiter. Hundreds of Orlando Scorpions alumni have gone on to play college baseball and dozens have been drafted professionally.

Five former Scorpions became first-round picks in the Major League Draft: Lastings Milledge was taken 12th overall by the Mets in 2003; Max Sapp 23rd overall by the Athletics in ’06; Jemile Weeks 12th overall by the A’s in ’08; Nick Franklin 27th by the Mariners in ’09; and Chris Sale 13th by the White Sox last spring (’10).

The Scorpions had three of their current members from the class of 2011 selected to play in the Aflac All-American Classic in August. They are right-hander Michael Kelly (Boynton Beach, Fla.), shortstop Austin Slater (Jacksonville, Fla.) and third baseman Sean Trent (Maitland, Fla.).

Kelly, a 6-5, 195-pounder whose fastball has reached 95 mph, is Perfect Game’s No. 9-ranked national prospect (No. 2 in Florida) and has verbally committed to Florida. Slater is ranked 39th nationally and No. 8 in Florida and has committed to Stanford, and Trent is ranked 48-11 and committed to Florida.

When Gerber first joined the Scorpions’ staff five years ago, the program had one 18U team and one 16U team. Scorpions Baseball had five teams this past summer – two 16U, two 17U and one 18U – but has fielded as many as nine in a season.

“I don’t think the number of kids wanting to play for us has really increased, we just decided to expand to doing more teams because we feel like there’s a whole lot of good talent in Florida, and we started to draw from more than just Orlando,” Gerber said.

Twenty-six Scorpions who are high school seniors have made their college commitments and Gerber expects that number to grow. Four players from the class of 2012 have committed, including right-hander Walker Weickel (Orlando) who is ranked ninth nationally in his class (No. 4 in Florida) by Perfect Game and has committed to Miami.

 “We really pride ourselves on the last kid in the program being just as important as the first kid in the program, and trying to find a school for everybody,” Gerber said. “There are a lot of college programs out there, and if you work hard enough you can find a spot for everyone.”

Orlando Scorpions Baseball also takes pride in its close relationship with Perfect Game, and Gerber said the program tries to send its teams to as many PG events as possible. Like every other travel organization in the country, Scorpions Baseball wants to put its players on display in front of the most influential eyes.

But Gerber also appreciates Perfect Game’s personal touch.

“I think the one thing that is overlooked … is if I’ve got a kid that I’m having trouble getting placed – and I’m sure they do this for everyone – I can send them an email … and they’ll make a few phone calls for us,” he said.

Now the train that is the Orlando Scorpions has its headlight pointed toward Jupiter. There’s a WWBA World Championship to be won.

 “I know all of our guys are excited, and most of them are already committed (to colleges) but it gives them an opportunity to play in front of the pro guys and the atmosphere there is a lot of fun.

“We’re modest, but we’re there to try to get out there and win it. That’s what we’ll tell our guys. We’re going there to win it and not just to play four games and get out of there.”

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