High School : : General
Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Regional HS Preview: Florida

Frankie Piliere        
Photo: Perfect Game

2013 Perfect Game High School Baseball Preview Index

Catchers, Underclassmen Dominate Conversation in Florida

It’s shaping up to be the year of the catcher in high school baseball around the country, as it could be one of the deepest classes of backstops in recent memory. The state of Florida has quite a bit to do with all that depth, as they can boast elite draft talents like Zack Collins, Brian Navarreto, Chris Okey, and Ronnie Healy. Each of those catchers are featured in Perfect Game’s 2013 top 100 high school prospects’ list.

Having these catchers around, coupled with the presence of some elite pitchers in the 2014 graduating class, should make for some outstanding high school matchups throughout the spring. Many of those matchups will center around American Heritage, Perfect Game’s preseason No. 1 high school team in the nation.

All eyes will be American Heritage’s star catcher and Perfect Game All-American, Zack Collins, but when you look up and down their roster, it’s no surprise how highly they are thought of. They have five players featured in the top 500 high prospects list for the 2013 class, and they will have some high profile matchups against similarly loaded teams throughout the spring.

One matchup to watch particularly close will be when American Heritage locks horns with the No. 25 ranked player in the 2013 class, Brian Navaretto and Arlington Country Day. That matchup will happen on April 16th. This could arguably be a battle between two catchers who will be vying for first round draft status all spring. Bernardo Bonifacio and his blazing speed will also be something to keep a close eye on for Arlington Country Day.

It should also be noted that American Heritage recently scored a major early season victory against Archbishop McCarthy, which obviously makes a highly significant early season statement against one of the state’s perennial powerhouse teams.

Another very clear theme as we head into the spring in Florida is the presence of advanced and dynamic underclassmen. Florida is of course a seemingly never ending pipeline of baseball talent, but the 2014 graduating class is shaping up to be particularly fantastic, and many of these players are already making their presence known on some of the state’s best teams.

There are three names that come to mind immediately: Touki Toussaint, Nick Gordon, and Thomas Szapucki. All three have performed admirably on a national stage and have become well known commodities at very young ages. All three are also centerpiece players for potent high school programs. So, not only are we seeing younger players make contributions, but they are contributing in enormous ways for immensely talented teams.

Of course, Florida being what it is, it will still be a haven for scouts looking for high profile prospect showdowns concerning this year’s draft. Perhaps most notable will be when Oscar Mercado’s Gaither High School takes on Brett Morales’ King High School on February 15th. It will give evaluators something they are constantly seeking - seeing how two elite prospects fair against elite competition. It will answer questions about Mercado’s offensive ability more than anything else.

Moving into late February, also worth keeping a close eye on is a showdown between arguably the two best pure hitters in the state. Cord Sandberg and Manatee High School will be hosted by Nick Longhi and Venice High School on February 26th. This will be yet another scouting bonanza. This game will not just be about these two high profile stars though. This will be a major matchup between the two schools who finished first and second in the 7A District 11 standings last spring. And, it certainly doesn’t hurt that Venice enters the season as the No. 6 team in Perfect Game’s preseason top 50 rankings.

Florida High School Dream Team

Based on present tools and position played for high school team

C - Zack Collins, Sr. American Heritage
It’s an outstanding year around the nation for high school catchers, particularly in the state of Florida. Collins’ easy left-handed power edges out Brian Navarreto and Chris Okey, who are equally deserving on defensive and offensive abilities. All three will be candidates to go as high as the first round of the June draft. Navaretto and Okey are better long term bets to stick and thrive at the position, but on present ability Collins’ offensive talent puts him over the top.

1B - Nick Longhi, Sr. Venice Senior
Longhi’s athleticism and arm strength make him a fantastic defender at first base, and he could find himself elsewhere on the diamond as a professional given his vast array of skills. His consistent hitting ability should allow him to make steady rise up many draft boards this spring.

MIF - Oscar Mercado, Sr. Gaither
Mercado is no stranger to this list and has been on the scene in Florida for quite some time now. His smooth infield actions and quick bat have put him high on the follow lists of every scout in the region, and another strong spring could put him squarely in the first round picture in June.

MIF - John Sternagel, Sr. Rockledge
Few hitters have been as impressive from an offensive standpoint in the state of Florida over the last year than John Sternagel. He may be slowly outgrowing the middle infield at 6-foot-4, 200 pounds, but his speed has still been impressive, as has his overall athleticism. It’s a solid year for middle infielders in Florida, but you’d be hard pressed to find a more polished right-handed bat in the state.

3B - Ian Hagenmiller, Sr. Palm Beach Central
Hagenmiller’s strong arm and power potential make him a natural for a third base profile. His bat speed and defensive upside could make him a very attractive, rising draft prospect this spring.

OF - Cord Sandberg, Sr. Manatee
Sandberg’s athleticism jumps off the page at you, and his power potential isn’t that far behind. He’s a two-sport athlete with tremendous upside as a defensive player as well. This is a player that scouts expect to continue getting better with more repetition.

OF - Willie Abreu, Sr. Mater Academy Charter
Abreu is a well rounded talent. He’s flashed power potential, speed on the bases and in the outfield, as well as a very strong throwing arm. Aside from being a high level draft talent, he’s the type of player with the refined skills to perform right now.

OF - Justin Smith, Jr. Bartram Trail
Smith is very young and his skills are still raw. Because of that, he’s somewhat of a gamble to put on this list. But, there are evaluators in Florida that expect him to erupt this spring.

UT - Nick Gordon, Jr. Olympia
Gordon could make this team as a shortstop or as a pitcher, but this is the spot that does him justice. He’s proven time and again that he’s dynamic on both sides of the ball, and he continues to be build his case as an elite 2014 draft prospect.

P - Tyler Danish, Sr. Durant
Danish has established himself not only as an intriguing draft prospect, but one of the reliable big game arms in the state of Florida. He’s pitched an succeeded at the highest levels of tournament play, and he figures to continue putting up dominant numbers at the high level level. He’ll pitch at 90-93 mph with big life, but it’s his polish that has impressed professional scouts again and again.

P - Brett Morales, Sr. King
Early reports have had Morales living at 90-94 mph with his fastball and showcasing solid command. He’s already one of the better established pitching talents in the state and should continue to be a force moving forward.

P - Touki Toussaint, Jr. Coral Springs Christian
Toussaint’s arsenal is as electric as any pitcher in the state. His 97 mph fastball and knockout downer curveball should have him primed for a dominant junior season.

P - Thomas Szapucki, So. William T. Dwyer
It’s a rarity to place a junior on one of these teams, let alone a sophomore, but Szapucki is about as deserving a candidate as you’ll find. Playing for Dwyer, Perfect Game’s preseason No. 48 ranked team in the nation, he has thrived and made himself one of the elite pitchers in the nation before even his second year in high school. The 6-foot-1, 180-pound southpaw has already shown he can consistent reach 90 mph, pitching between 87-89 with regularity. It’s been his feel for pitching, though, that has put him right near the top of the 2015 draft rankings. His mid-70s curveball is already very sharp, as is his location. Regardless of age and experience, Szapucki is going to be one the most difficult pitchers to contend with this spring in Florida.

P - Ian McKinney, Sr. Boone
Not that McKinney’s raw stuff is anything to sneeze at, but what sets him apart is his advanced feel for his deep arsenal and ability to throw strikes with his off-speed pitches.  He’s the type of pitcher that is ready to be successful at a high level right now.

Florida Region Best Tools

Best Hitter For Average: Nick Longhi, Sr., Venice Senior
There are many candidates for this title, but Longhi’s track record of hitting against top flight competition put him just above the likes of Zack Collins, John Sternagel and Cord Sandberg. It’s a very talented group of pure hitters in Florida to watch this spring, and it’s quite possible someone else could grab this title before it’s all said and done.

Best Hitter For Power: Zack Collins, Sr., American Heritage
Scouts rave consistently about Collins’ strong frame and easy power potential. And, as good as Collins has been, the future power is more intriguing than what he can do right now. He has a buggy whip action in his load, and the thought is that once he gets his timing down he’s going to be a lethal left-handed power threat. As he hits against more and more top notch competition, we could expect to see a barrage of home run power this spring.

Best Baserunner: Nick Gordon, Jr., Olympia
Nick Gordon is a contender in at least four of these tools categories, and could find himself atop many of these lists next year. As impressive as he is on the mound, in the field, and at the plate, he’s also an excellent base runner. His plus raw speed is obvious (6.69 60 yard dash time), but he knows what he’s doing on the base paths and is impressive going from first to third.

Best Defensive Catcher: Chris Okey, Sr., Eustis
As we’ve already touched on, it is indeed the year of the catcher, especially in Florida. In a tight race with Brian Navarreto, however, it’s Okey that appears to be the elite defensive catcher in the state. His receiving skills have drawn rave reviews from scouts in the region and his arm strength has also been well documented. He’s one of the best pure backstops in the country, not just in Florida.

Best Defensive Infielder: Oscar Mercado, Sr., Gaither
Scouts like to throw around phrases like “pure shortstop” when it comes to Oscar Mercado. He has the electric arm across the diamond, the smooth actions, and above average range to be an elite defensive presence at the next level. He’s one of the few amateurs out there that scouts can live comfortably with the idea of transitioning quite easily defensively at the professional level.

Best Defensive Outfielder: Bernardo Bonifacio, Sr., Arlington Country Day
Bonifacio’s blistering speed make him a fairly obvious candidate for this title, although it is a crowded field of outfielders that includes Josh Greene. Bonifacio ran a 6.52 60 yard dash at the Perfect Game National Showcase and shows outstanding range in center field. His above average arm strength should also help him to continue to profile in center field as he presumably advances to the professional ranks.

Best Infield Arm: Spencer Trayner, Sr., Jesuit
It’s difficult to argue with putting Trayner here, considering his 95 mph velocity across in the field at the Perfect Game National Showcase. He’s also shown upside on the mound, but this type of arm across the diamond is exceptionally rare and he’s shown the other physical aspects of the game to go with it.

Best Outfield Arm: Justin Smith, Jr., Bartram Trail
Smith may very well be the toolsiest players in the 2014 draft class, and his arm stands out among them. Willie Abreu also could stake a claim to this title, but right now Smith has the arm that looks like it could be weapon for him at the next level.

Best Fastball: Touki Toussaint, RHP, Jr., Coral Springs Christian
Touki Toussaint’s arm would stand out in just about any class you placed him in, past or future. And, his 97 mph fastball is the clear standout in the state of Florida as we head into the spring. Brett Morales and Tyler Danish from the senior class are not far behind, and neither is Nick Gordon from the junior class, but for now Touki is the clear winner with his very consistent mid-90s velocity.

Best Off-speed Stuff: Touki Toussaint, RHP, Jr., Coral Springs Christian
As it turns out, Touki sits at the top of the heap when it comes to off-speed pitches as well. And, that is mostly on the strength of his knockout, 12-to-6 curveball. The 6-foot-2, 185-pound righty displays ones of the sharpest true curveballs in the last couple years in the high school ranks, and that alone puts him over the top in this category. The depth of other pitchers’ arsenals like Ian McKinney’s and Tyler Danish make them contenders here, but Toussaint may have a true plus pro offering on his hands in his curveball.

Best Command: Tyler Danish, RHP, Sr., Durant

Most scouts who have seen Danish liken him to a college level pitcher. He works around the plate very consistently with both his fastball and off-speed pitches, and repeats his delivery exceptionally well. With the type of life he generates, being able to locate the way he does makes him a fascinating commodity.

Best Pitchability: Ian McKinney, LHP, Sr., Boone
There’s a number of pitchers in the state with an advanced feel for pitching, including the aforementioned Tyler Danish. It’s an advanced group of pitchers, and McKinney’s four pitch mix stands out even among pitchers like Danish, Sean Brady and others. He works at 87-90 mph with his fastball, but what stands out about his game is his feel for his curveball, slider, and changeup. He mixes his pitches very well, using his changeup effectively against right-handed batters and flashing a sharp, late breaking slider at 79 mph. This is a young pitcher with a full fledged arsenal that could be downright dominant this spring.

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