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Sunday, January 06, 2013

Top Puerto Ricans shine at World

Jeff Dahn        
Photo: Perfect Game

FORT MYERS, Fla. -- It's very unlikely that the second native Puerto Rican to ever be selected with the No. 1 overall pick in the MLB amateur draft was at this weekend's 2013 Perfect Game World Showcase, like the first one was a year ago.

The second coming of Carlos Correa may not have shown his face at Terry Park over the last two days, but In terms of sheer numbers, the turnout of talented Puerto Ricans was unprecedented.

Nearly 60 young Puerto Ricans were on hand for the PG World Showcase, by far the most in the 16 year history of the long-running event. Just more than 30 others attended the 2013 PG National Underclass Showcase-Session 3 and the PG World Uncommitted Showcase, two events that ran simultaneously with the World Showcase, bringing the total number near 90. Well more than 400 prospects were at the three events combined.

"We were laughing with one of the (PG) guys here, and we were saying that we ought to rename it to the World Latin Showcase," Edwin Rodriguez, the club director and manager for Team Mizuno of Puerto Rico, said from Terry Park Sunday morning. "We have a lot of (prospects) from Puerto Rico here this year, which I think is great. They get the opportunity to get seen by the scouts -- all 30 (MLB) organizations are here -- and it gives them the opportunity to play against some of the (top) players from the U.S."

At least 50 scouts were crowded in behind the chain-link backstop at George Brett Field Saturday night to watch 2013 right-hander Joe Alexander Jimenez pitch for the World's PG 3-Dark Green team. That squad also included top-ranked Puerto Ricans like shortstop Jan Alexis Hernandez, catcher Carlos Diaz, shortstop Roy Morales Rivera, and shortstop/outfielder Johneshwy Fargas.

Jimenez, who has committed to Florida International University, is a 6-foot-3, 220-pound fire-baller whose fastball sat at 88-92 mph and touched 93 during his outing. A PG scout noted that "he has a big strong build and works downhill well."

"This has been a very good experience for me and it's an excellent opportunity, not only for me but for all of the Puerto Ricans that are here this weekend," Jimenez said on Sunday with Rodriguez translating his Spanish responses. "This is something great for all of them. But I always want to come in and show scouts that I've been improving and I do the job that I need to be doing."

Jimenez is Puerto Rico's No. 3-ranked prospect behind Hernandez and Diaz and had already impressed scouts at seven previous PG events. He also continues to impress Rodriguez.

"Joe has the physical body and the pitcher's type of body, and he's going to get stronger and he's going to throw harder, and he can spin it pretty good," Rodriguez said. "I think Joe is the top arm in Puerto Rico currently and is one of the top arms to come out of Puerto Rico in the last few years."

The premier Puerto Rican prospect here this week that the scouts have had ample opportunity to study in showcase events over the last 12 months was Hernandez, the island's No. 1-ranked prospect in the class of 2013 (No. 18 nationally). He has replaced Correa as Puerto Rico's most recent hot prospect and is widely projected to be a first-round pick in June's MLB First-Year Player Draft in June.

"Carlos was my teammate and he's a good friend," Hernandez said Sunday morning without the aid of an interpreter, while also deflecting any comparisons to the young man the Houston Astros made the No. 1 overall pick in last year's draft. "He tells me (everyday), Jan keep working, keep working hard. That's it -- just keep working hard."

Correa turned in an unprecedented performance at the 2012 World Showcase. Hernandez was just looking to enjoy yet another opportunity to showcase his skills.

"This is a great experience for all my (3-Dark Green) teammates and all the guys here," he said. "It's an opportunity for the scouts to see us, so it's a good experience. We're all here to play in this prestigious (showcase) and, you know, we all have ability and we're all top-ranked, so it's a good experience, yes."

Hernandez started a busy 2012 showcase schedule right here at this event last January. He followed that appearance with others at the Perfect Game National Showcase in Minneapolis in mid-June; the East Coast Professional Showcase in Syracuse, N.Y., in early August; the Perfect Game All-American Classic presented by Rawlings in San Diego in mid-August; and the inaugural Caribbean Showcase in Carolina, P.R., in mid-November.

He enjoyed everything about being selected to play in the All-American Classic, an all-star event for the country's best incoming high school seniors. During the Awards Banquet the weekend of the Classic, he received the coveted PG Nick Adenhart Award that recognizes a players' character.

"The All-American Classic was the best experience of my life," Hernandez said. "The (Rady) Children's Hospital, the Nick Adenhart (Award); playing in the ballpark of the (San Diego) Padres. It was awesome."

Rodriguez believes the success young players like Hernandez this year, Correa last year and many others in previous years have experienced will continue to draw young Puerto Ricans to Perfect Game events.

He said there are still people on the island that are skeptical of PG and the benefits its showcases and tournaments can provide the young prospects. The way he counters that skepticism is by naming just a handful of the many former big-league players that make sure their sons are participating in PG events.

"(In 2012) you had Roger Clemens' son, you had Craig Biggio's son, you had Manny Ramirez's son," Rodriguez points out. "Saying that a Perfect Game event is not necessary, then why would those guys need to have their kids in the Perfect Game events?"

There is no indication the influx of Puerto Rican talent to PG events is on the decline, and the inaugural PG Caribbean Showcase should only continue to enhance interest.

"In the past years you've been seeing more good players coming out of Puerto Rico and it's starting to grow again," Rodriguez said. "In three or four years you're going to see a crop of young Puerto Rican players in the big leagues -- a combination of players right out of Puerto Rico, and Puerto Ricans who came out of (the United States); guys like Francisco Lindor and Javier Baez that are Puerto Ricans who moved to the (U.S. to complete high school)."

The young talent will keep coming through the pipeline, and dozens of those players were here this weekend at one of the three PG showcases.

"They're going to follow the Carlos Correa's and the Jan Hernandez's," Rodriguez said. "They've seen the success those players have had, and Jan this year did so many showcases ... it shows that you've got to be able to get out there and showcase your abilities and play in these events. Jan just did the same thing Carlos Correa was doing, and the young guys will do the same thing with Jan."

Jan Hernandez doesn't expect to hear this name called with the first pick of the 2013 draft, but he expects to hear his name at some point.

"I'm excited for that day," he said. "I keep working hard every day and, you know, I'll wait until June."

Joe Alexander Jimenez is also patiently waiting for June and the start of a professional baseball career he has long dreamed of.

"I'm always thinking about the draft," he said. "That's something that's always on my mind and it's something that I'm working hard for, and I hope that I will be drafted."

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