Tournaments : : Story
Friday, October 21, 2011

Puerto Rico likes its prospects

Jeff Dahn        
Photo: Perfect Game

JUPITER, Fla. – Managers Carlos Berroa from the Puerto Rico Baseball Academy High School (PRBAHS) and Edwin Rodriguez from Team Mizuno of Puerto Rico (TMPR) share a driving desire to get the young prospects they coach the attention they deserve.

Berroa and Rodriguez have brought full squads of home-grown Puerto Rican talent here this week to showcase their talent in front of hundreds of scouts and college coaches at the Perfect Game WWBA World Championship.

Those scouts and college coaches are seeing an improved brand of baseball from the Puerto Rican youngsters, six of whom are listed in PG’s top 100 in the class of 2012 national rankings.

Getting the prospects in front of as many different sets of eyes is the reason for being here.

 “(The WWBA World Championship) is recognized as one of the best tournaments in the country, so this is good exposure for them – not only at the pro level with the professional scouts, but with colleges as well,” Berroa said Friday morning from one of the fields at the Roger Dean Complex.

Rodriguez agreed:

“In my case, with the players I’ve had drafted in the previous years – last year I had seven players drafted from Team Mizuno, the previous year eight players – and it all starts in Perfect Game,” he said. “It all starts with Jupiter (and) the World Showcase and from there on the players get to be known. … There’s no other showcase or tournament that has the amount of scouts that you have here in Jupiter right now.”

Not all of the top Puerto Rican prospects are playing with PRBAHS or TMPR. A few have filled in roster spots with other teams based in the states.

Rodriguez is encouraged by the number of top-notch Puerto Rican pitching prospects that are here this weekend, including right-handers Edwin Diaz on Team Mizuno Puerto Rico and Jose Orlando Berrios on the Florida Legends Scout Team.

Middle infielders Carlos Correa (PRBAHS) and Jesmuel Valentin Diaz (PRBAHS) and catchers Tomas Nido (Cardinal Scout Team/FTB Mizuno) and Wilfredo Rodriguez (PRBAHS) are the top-ranked position players.

Correa stands a rung ahead of the rest. A student at PRBAHS, the primary shortstop is ranked the nation’s No. 7 overall prospect and No. 1 at his position. He has entertained collegiate offers from Miami, Florida State, Liberty and Vanderbilt, among others, but is yet to verbally commit.

It seems certain he will be a first round draft pick. Outfielder Reymond Fuentes was the last player selected in the first round of the draft to come straight out of a Puerto Rico high school when he was taken 28th overall by the Red Sox in 2009.

Berrios (ranked No. 67 nationally); Diaz (No. 71), Nido (No. 82) and Wilfredo Rodriguez (No. 93) could also be selected in the early rounds.

One thing that is notable is that more and more Puerto Rican prospects are starting to commit to colleges in case the draft doesn’t go as planned. Of the top six prospects here, only Valentin has committed (to LSU), but TMPR’s roster has eight D-I commits, five of whom have committed to Alabama State University.

“The culture is starting to change, slowly but surely,” Berroa said. “We’re getting more kids committed earlier and parents are starting to realize it’s a very important part of their kids’ future. We’re doing our part with the academy, trying to promote that and tell the parents that this is the way to go. That it’s important to have the school and also have the choice of playing pro ball.”

Rodriguez views it as more cyclical.

“It’s something that has happened in the past, and it will change and then it will go back, and then it will change again,” Rodriguez said. “It’s a trend, and it will change from year to another but, yes, now you’re getting more players that want to go to school.”

That’s not to say the draft doesn’t loom large in the eyes of the young Puerto Rican players, just as it does with their counterparts in the states. Life in the major leagues can be rewarding, but the elite prospects playing at the WWBA World seem to realize it’s important not to shut any doors prematurely.

“It’s the dream of every kid to be drafted and play for a big league club,” Berroa said, “but these kids are smart. These kids are educated and … they have good heads on their shoulders. They know this is a business and they know what’s at stake. They’re going to play their cards – if (the offer) is what they expect they’ll take it, and if not, they’ll go to college. The option is always there.”

Berroa and Rodriguez are competitors on the field but make a point of working together in an effort to achieve what’s in the best interest of the young player. PRBAHS only brings prospects from its academy to an event like the WWBA World Championship, while Team Mizuno of Puerto Rico brings in kids from several other high schools and academies.

“It’s a friendly competition, if you want to say it, but (Rodriguez is) doing his thing and we’re doing our thing, and so far so good,” Berroa said.

“We’ve had an agreement for years that if I have a player from Team Mizuno that goes to the Puerto Rico Baseball Academy, that player will play for him and I’ll pick up somebody else for that player that I lost,” Rodriguez said. Correa and Valentin had played with TMPR all summer, but are playing for PRBAHS at the WWBA World Championship.

“This year has been more significant because of the talent those two players have, but in the past the same thing has happened,” Rodriguez said.

The focal point is exposure, which comes by the truckload at the WWBA World Championship. That’s why Rodriguez and Berroa will continue to work together to make sure the talent level of the young Puerto Ricans continues its upward climb.

“This is a great place to be,” Rodriguez said. “We have excellent weather right now (in which) to play baseball and the scouts are pretty excited (about the Puerto Rican players). Not only because they’re able to see two players like Carlos Correa and Jesmuel Valentin, but you’ve got a pitcher like Edwin Diaz that is going to be throwing. The scouts are going crazy with Edwin.”

“A lot of kids get lost in the shuffle,” Berroa said. “It’s a small island but if you don’t get the right exposure you might get lost. Our program is geared towards preparing them for the next level and what they’re going to face at the next level.”


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