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Thursday, June 14, 2012

'Everything's good' for Mercado

Jeff Dahn        
Photo: Perfect Game

MINNEAPOLIS - As a sometimes torrential rain pounded down on the fabric roof of the Metrodome Thursday morning, top shortstop prospect Oscar Mercado took a look around the artificial playing surface and proudly took account of the company he had surrounded himself with.

"There's a lot of talent out here," Mercado said with a smile. "Everything's good. I like it a lot. It means a lot to be competing with the top baseball players in the country."

Mercado will be here the next several days with more than 300 of the country's other top prospects in the class of 2013 for the 2012 Perfect Game National Showcase. It's an event that has evolved into the most prestigious one of its kind in all of amateur baseball since its creation in 2001.

Every year, an extraordinary number of prospects that attend the PG National are selected in the early rounds of the following year's MLB amateur draft, and Mercado is certain to be in the discussion as a possible first-round selection in 2013.

A 6-foot-2, 175-pound senior-to-be at Gathier High School in Tampa, Fla., Mercado came into the PG National as the nation's No. 3-ranked overall prospect and the No. 1-ranked shortstop in the high school class of 2013.

"I'm just coming here to do the best I can," Mercado said when asked if he came into the event with certain expectations.  "There are obviously going to be some mistakes that are going to be (made), but I'm not a robot; I'm just going to try my best."

An interesting analogy, considering Mercado sometimes plays with robot-like efficiency. In Thursday morning's workout portion of the showcase - which included about 160 players from six of the 12 teams that will eventually be here over the next days - Mercado threw 89 mph across the infield and ran a very fine 6.61 60-yard dash. He also went through a batting practice session.

He played last summer for top travel ball organization Marucci Elite with head coach Chad Raley. Marucci Elite won both the 2011 PG WWBA Underclass World Championship (in Fort Myers, Fla.)and 2011 PG WWBA World Championship (Jupiter, Fla.) titles last year. Mercado was one of only four prospects who played with both championship teams.

"Oscar has been an absolute joy to coach," Raley said Thursday. "He's extremely humble; he doesn't look at the rankings - he doesn't care about that - he just wants to play and have fun."

This is the 10th Perfect Game event Mercado has attended since he first played with the Tampa Bay Warriors Black in the 2010 16u PG BCS Finals in Fort Myers. His last big showcase was the 2011 PG National Games - Class of 2013 in San Diego, an event held in the days right before the Perfect Game All-American Classic is staged each year.

At the PG National Games, a PG scout seemed most impressed with Mercado's defensive skills, writing that Mercado showed "smooth and easy defensive actions, moves through the ball very well, loose and flexible, soft hands; has all the shortstop tools."

Raley had no argument with that report.

"The game comes extremely easy to him," Raley said. "Defensively, he's as good as I've ever coached. He learns well and he can see it and be able to do it. I've seen him see something in BP or at the plate and he's doing something with his hands, and I'm thinking 'He just saw it and now he's able to do it.' That's something special."

The highlights of Mercado's summer of 2011 were the WWBA World and WWBA Underclass World championships Marucci Elite won. By doing so Marucci became the first organization to win both WWBA World tournaments in the same year (it was also the organization's second straight WWBA Underclass World title).

The real thrill came when Marucci Elite won the upper class WWBA PG World Championship title while hundreds of professional scouts and college recruiters took in the five-day tournament in Jupiter. Mercado had a picked up a ring two weeks previous while helping Marucci win the Underclass World and was now getting fitted for a second one.

"It was a tough tournament with a lot of good competition and a lot of hard work," he said. "It was also a lot of long days ... but in the end we won it all and that's all that matters."

Mercado got this summer started by playing with the FTB Pride at the PG WWBA East Memorial Day Classic in Fort Myers, an early season tournament the Pride won. Mercado was named to the All-Tournament Team after going 11-for-24 (.458) with two doubles, two triples, four RBIs and eight runs scored.

"There was a lot of good competition down there and we won it all," Mercado said. "I thought it was a real good tournament."

Oscar Mercado Sr., a native of Columbia, was at the Metrodome on Thursday to watch his son perform, and seemed genuinely appreciative of the fact that he was able to attend.

"I'm very excited and very happy to be here," Mercado Sr. said in halting but serviceable English. "I am very grateful to Perfect Game to invite Oscar and I'm very happy with that. I'm happy that I'm able to spend the time to be with him because my son Oscar plays hard. I'm so happy to be with him and this is the best time to follow him and I will be with him always."

The stage Mercado was performing on Thursday was as big as it gets for high school-aged prospects, but he will be playing at a different level next summer. He'll either be contemplating a professional career after studying the final results of the 2013 MLB amateur draft or he'll be heading to Tallahassee, Fla., to play for head coach Mike Martin and the Florida State Seminoles. The Seminoles are in Omaha this weekend preparing to play in the NCAA Division I College World Series.

"I took my visit there and I really liked it a lot," said Mercado, who boasts an eye-popping 4.6 GPA. "I was a really big fan of Florida State before I even visited and  I liked (assistant coach) Mike Martin Jr. a lot'; he was the one I talked to the most. It's a great program and you see where they are right now. I didn't hesitate one bit."

Kind of like the way he plays the game. No hesitation whatsoever.

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