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Thursday, January 05, 2012

Top Puerto Ricans to be at PG World

Jeff Dahn        
Photo: Perfect Game
The most elite high school-aged prospects from the island of Puerto Rico will be in Fort Myers, Fla., the next two days to perform in front of dozens of MLB scouts and front office personnel at the 2012 Perfect Game World Showcase.

The World Showcase, first staged by Perfect Game in 1997, is recognized as the top off-season event of its kind, and in the past has welcomed prospects from every U.S. state, Canada, Latin America, Japan and Europe.

The 2012 PG World Showcase, scheduled for Jan. 7-8 at the Terry Park complex in Fort Myers, will be highlighted by the appearance of many of the top Puerto Rican prospects in the high school class of 2012. The young Puerto Ricans will complement nicely the large contingent of mainlanders who will also be in attendance.

The 2012 National Underclass Showcase-Session 3 and 2012 World Open Uncommitted Showcase run concurrently with the World Showcase over the same two dates.

Edwin Rodriguez, the director and coach of Team Mizuno of Puerto Rico, will bring most of the Puerto Ricans to the World Showcase. The group will include top 2012 national prospects shortstop Carlos Correa, right-hander Edwin Diaz, catcher Wilfredo Rodriguez, catcher Bryan De La Rosa and first baseman Kristian Brito.

Luis Castro, the head coach at the International Baseball Academy & High School in Toa Baja, will bring top Puerto Rican right-handed pitching prospects Malcom Diaz and Roberto Garcia, as well as catcher/first baseman Cristan Munoz.

“I think this is the best Puerto Rican draft class in decades,” Perfect Game President Jerry Ford said. Puerto Rican players were mandated to enter the draft in 1989.

It is likely this will be the last time any of these prospects – all ranked in the top-15 in Puerto Rico – will be performing on the mainland before the 2012 draft.

“The top prospects in Puerto Rico are going to be there,” Edwin Rodriguez said in a telephone interview. “And besides those guys, you’re going to have a group of guys that are going to be in the (National) Underclass, guys that I think are going to be very, very high next year.”

Another prospect Rodriguez will bring stateside is right-hander Richard Mendoza, a 19-year-old who was drafted by the St. Louis Cardinals in the 25
th round of the 2010 amateur draft, was signed and subsequently released.

The PG World Showcase offers individual opportunities to every player in attendance.

It has different importance to different guys,” Rodriguez said. “For the 2012 guys, it gives the (MLB) teams the opportunity to see these players running the 60 yards (dash), doing infield, taking BP and getting some games under their belt – and you can see them in one place.”

As an example, Rodriguez pointed to Correa, the nation’s No. 9-ranked prospect – No. 1 in Puerto Rico – who is a veteran of eight Perfect Game events, including the 2011 Perfect Game All-American Classic presented by Rawlings, the 2011 PG National Showcase and the 2011 PG World Showcase.

All 30 (MLB) teams want to see him but it’s very hard for him to do a private workout,” Rodriguez said. “You can go out and just see him in this atmosphere and get a look at what’s going with him. It’s the same with Edwin Diaz.”

Correa – a University of Miami recruit – and Diaz (ranked No. 66 nationally and No. 3 in PR) are both considered high-round draft picks possibilities in June’s MLB First-Year Player Draft. There is also speculation that Correa could be an early first-rounder and quite possibly go earlier than any other Puerto Rican high school player in history. That distinction currently belongs to catcher Ramon Castro, the No. 17 overall pick of the Chicago White Sox in the 1994 draft.

Edwin Diaz, Wilfredo Rodriguez, Munoz, De La Rosa, Brito and Malcom Diaz all joined Correa at the 2011 PG National Showcase, which was also in Fort Myers.

Edwin Rodriguez believes the experience the Puerto Rican players gain by being invited to these prestigious showcase events is invaluable.

It’s important for the (scouts) because they get to see them playing with other kids they’re looking at,” Rodriguez said. “They can compare him (to the other players) and the kids from Puerto Rico can compare themselves to those players at the same time.

It happens a lot in Puerto Rico where the parents will come up to me and say, ‘Oh, my kid’s the best second baseman on the island. Why aren’t they looking at him?’ Well, because there are 200 second basemen in the United States, and these are events where they can go in and say, ‘I am good in Puerto Rico but there are other guys that are better than me.’”

As is usually the case, many of the top prospects from the mainland will be attendance, including right-hander Mitchell Traver from Sugar Land, Texas; left-hander Max Foody from Ponte Vedra, Fla.; catcher/middle-infielder Wyatt Mathisen from Corpus Christi, Texas, and catcher/first baseman Nelson Rodriguez and outfielder Fernelys Sanchez, both from New York City. All are top-60 national prospects.

Many other top prospects are still finalizing their plans, including some who are not yet seniors in high school.

For the younger guys, this is where it all starts,” Edwin Rodriguez said. “The World Showcase is it where it starts for them and (Perfect Game) can see players they might want to invite to the National (Showcase). And from there they go to the East Coast (Pro) Showcase and the All-American Game and all the other events that are going on during the summer and the fall."

All of the players in attendance at the 2012 PG World Showcase will hope to join a prestigious alumni list that includes 31 participants who went on to become first round MLB draft picks. Eighteen of those first-rounders have already made it to the big leagues, including 2009 AL Cy Young Award winner Zach Greinke, who attended the World Showcase in 2000 and 2001.

Arizona Diamondbacks right fielder and two-time All-Star Justin Upton (2004), Baltimore Orioles All-Star Adam Jones (2003), Boston Red Sox lefty Andrew Miller (2003), Cleveland Indians right-hander and All-Star Chris Perez (2001, ’02, ’03) and Boston Red Sox catcher Jarrod Saltalamacchia (2001) are other notable World Showcase alumni who were first round picks and are now in the major leagues.

Another 25 World Showcase alumni became second round draft picks, including Red Sox outfielder and four-time All-Star Carl Crawford (1998) and Red Sox outfielder Ryan Sweeney (2003).

In all, 71 World Showcase alumni have gone on to play in the major leagues.

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