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Saturday, December 29, 2012

He's got Gators in his dreams

Jeff Dahn        
Photo: Perfect Game

FORT MYERS, Fla. -- University of Florida head coach Kevin O'Sullivan and his staff take pride in securing commitments from as many Florida high school top prospects as possible. He's good at what he does, but he's also got his work cut out for him, to say the least.

Powerhouse national programs at Florida State and the University of Miami will fight O'Sullivan tooth over nail for every top kid. At least a half a dozen other emerging NCAA Division I programs sprinkled across the state are also making their presences known.

But sometimes, albeit rarely, back-breaking work on the recruiting trail isn't necessary to land that big fish. Coral Springs, Fla., top 2015 shortstop prospect Jonathan India stands as a case in point as one of those recruits that didn't require a whole lot of heavy lifting.

"He's been a Gator ever since he was old enough to realize what the Gators were," Jonathan's father, John India, said with a laugh. "Getting (an offer from) Florida was a dream come true for (Jonathan)."

Jonathan and John India are at the jetBlue Player Development Complex this weekend for the 11th annual Perfect Game National Underclass Showcase-Main Event, an event that this year includes more than 400 of the top prospects in the high school classes of 2014, 2015 and 2016.

Since these are juniors, sophomores and in some cases freshmen in high school, very few have already made their college selections. Most of the top-ranked juniors have verbally committed to D-I schools, but those commitments are rare among the sophomores. Jonathan India is an exception.

India is a 5-foot-10, 175-pound shortstop who is midway through his sophomore year at American Heritage (Fla.) High School. He began to emerge as a top college recruit only in the last year or two, and there was never any doubt in his mind where he would end up if college turned out to be his destination.

John India actually went to Gainesville to play baseball "back in the day", but things didn't work out on the field. He stayed at the university to get his degree, however, and called his UF experience "a great, great time." It's a devotion that was passed on to his son.

Jonathan India said it's his understanding that the University of Florida coaching staff first spotted him at a Perfect Game tournament and soon started reaching out to him. He went to Coach O'Sullivan's camp and, to use his own word, did "awesome"; he was offered a scholarship.

"It's been my dream school," India said. "I thought about some other schools but this is my dream school so I committed here."

India's imminent arrival in Gainesville is a long ways in the future -- it would be the summer of 2015 at the earliest. And the facts being what they are, if young Jonathan (he turned 16 on Dec. 15) continues to develop his game at the rapid pace he's been on since making is Perfect Game tournament debut at the 14u PG BCS Finals in July, 2011, he should be a top prospect in the 2015 MLB amateur draft.

It is toward that end that Jonathan and John India are at the National Underclass-Main Event this weekend. Jonathan is already No. 31 in the PG 2015 national rankings and the Indias think he can go higher.

"I just came in this weekend because I wanted to improve my rankings with Perfect Game," Jonathan said.

"This is our first Perfect Game showcase, but Jonathan has done some Perfect Game tournaments and his ranking is just based on his tournament play," John said. "We wanted to get him a showcase atmosphere, and that's why we're here.

"He hasn't been exposed to this type of format before, so down the line if we do anymore showcases he'll know what to expect and how to prepare himself better for the various evaluation parts of it. I think this will definitely be beneficial to him."

Any scouts in search of a shortstop who is still at least a year away from college should be at the Underclass-Main this weekend. There are six primary shortstops in attendance that are ranked in the top-28 at the position in the classes of 2014 and 2015, including Nos. 1 Nicholas Gordon (2014) and Brendan Rodgers (2015). Jonathan India is ranked No. 6 in the 2015 class.

John India said he and his wife (Jonathan's mother), Elizabeth, weren't aware that Perfect Game published prospect rankings until it was brought to their attention by another player's parents back home in Coral Springs.

"Since then we've been monitoring it and in fact that's another reason we did this showcase, just to see if he can raise his ranking," John said. "It's been a pleasure to watch (him develop) and hopefully he stays healthy and proceeds on the right path."

All of Jonathan's previous PG tournament experiences came while playing with Coach Scott Luke and the So Cal National Travel Team, a truly national organization whose rosters are filled with prospects from all over the country.

Just this past summer while playing with So Cal NTT, India put on a fine performance at the 16u Perfect Game World Series in Marietta, Ga., the first week of August, hitting 7-for-21 (.333) with four doubles, a triple, a home run, four RBI and seven runs scored. Earlier in the summer he went 4-for-13 (.308) with a double and two triples while playing for So Cal NTT at the 16u PG BCS Finals here in Fort Myers.

"It was awesome playing with them," India said of So Cal NTT. "Coach Scott Luke, he's a great coach and he knows everyone. It was a great experience and we won a lot of tournaments together. I've gotten many notices from colleges from going to (PG tournaments) and they've helped me out a lot. It was good stuff."

But India decided to play in 2013 closer to home. He has joined Coach Richie Palmer and the South Florida Elite Squad, a powerhouse organization based in Miami.

"They've always been a good team in my area -- I live in South Florida -- so I thought why not just go and try out with them," he said. "I've known Richie before and I know he's a great coach."

India was placed on the PG 6-Red team at the Underclass-Main Event, a squad that includes six other South Florida Elite Squad prospects. Catcher/third baseman/outfielder Dominic DiCaprio -- another 2015 who like India is from Coral Springs but attends a different high school -- is the most notable among them, ranked No. 63 in the 2015 national class.

Jonathan India will continue to work on his game with three more spring seasons of high school ball and two more summer and fall seasons of Perfect Game events in front of him. He believes the strength of his game at this point lies at the plate but also knows there is plenty of room for improvement in all facets.

One aspect that doesn't need improvement is Jonathan's passion for the game. That has been there since day one, and will still be there if he ever does realize his dream and ends up in Gainesville.

 "He's had the same love, the same passion for the game that he has now since he  was about 5 years old," John said. "That's not even a concern of ours."

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