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Monday, May 13, 2013

NY kid makes Florida move work

Jeff Dahn        
Photo: Perfect Game

CEDAR RAPIDS, Iowa -- The decision 2013 top shortstop prospect Stephen Alemais made to leave the comfort of his parents' home in New York City and the friends and familiarity he enjoyed at All Hallows High School wasn't made lightly. New York was home to the 18-year-old Alemais, who Perfect Game ranks as the No. 89 national prospect in his class (the No. 4 shortstop) and the No. 1 overall prospect in the state of New York.

Everything had to be perfect for Alemais and his parents -- father Ernies Alemais and mother Joan Salcedo -- to decide to enroll Stephen at the prestigious Elev8 Sports Institute in Delray Beach, Fla. And in the end, the situation he found in Delray Beach was nothing short of perfect.

Alemais was at the Perfect Game Pre-Draft Showcase at Perfect Game Field-Veterans Memorial Stadium here on Monday, eager to show the dozens of scouts in attendance -- and presumably dozens more watching the live-stream of the event on the Internet -- how he had benefitted from the months he's spent training and attending school in Florida.

He does have something to prove, after all. Alemais underwent labrum surgery on his left (non-throwing) shoulder in August and spent the fall and winter rehabbing. He was unable to play at the PG WWBA World Championship in Jupiter, Fla., in October and also missed the Perfect Game World Showcase in Fort Myers, Fla., in January. Those absences made his presence at Perfect Game Field on Monday all the more necessary.

"I'm just trying to showcase myself," Alemais said. "I wasn't able to attend Jupiter and I wasn't able to attend the World (Showcase), so I needed to come back and show (the scouts) that I'm 100 percent healthy and that I'm ready. The surgery went well ... and I felt it was really good to be here and show everybody that I'm back and I'm 100 percent."

Ernies Alemais, who owns and operates a Bronx training facility complete with batting cages called the Uptown Sports Complex, met up with his son here on Monday. He backed up Stephen in stating that they came to eastern Iowa with the single-minded purpose of bumping up his stock in June's MLB First-Year Player Draft.

"This will hopefully better his chances of getting drafted," Ernies said. "I think it's important that he's here. He came off an injury over the summer, and everybody's very sure and positive about his defense but we felt like now being healthy he needs to come here and show a little bit of offense."

Alemais was impressive in his BP session Monday morning -- "(Alemais) has a nice easy swing from the right side with good bat speed, and gets good extension," a PG scout blogged -- and also during his infield workout in which he threw 91 mph from short to first. He has long been considered one of the top shortstop prospects in the PG Northeast Region.

That, to his way of thinking, was all the more reason to head to Florida's southeast Atlantic coast where prospects can basically play baseball the year-around. That's especially true for a private academy like Elev8, which is not a member of the Florida High School Athletic Association and can play an unlimited number of games against any competition. Alemais was eager to see how his talents stacked up against his contemporaries from one of the country's true high school baseball hotbeds.

"That was a great move for me," Alemais said. "In New York, they didn't start baseball until mid-April and I was able to start in January (at Elev8). I was able to get in shape and get my shoulder right, and I started swinging earlier, started throwing earlier and got my arm stronger. It was a great experience; it was just the right move at the right time. It got me out on the field and got me started a lot earlier than if I would have stayed in New York City."

Luis Alecia, a former major-leaguer who spent 13 years in the big leagues, is the executive director at the Elev8 Sports Institute and works closely with all the players. The head coach is Gabe Johnson and the infield coach is Rafi Rodriguez, both of whom Alemais credits for his steady progression into a top-notch draft prospect.

 "I don't think you should ever settle down to where you are happy; there's always room for improvement," Alemais said. "I feel like I've matured a lot, especially coming down to Florida. I've learned a lot with the coaches down at Elev8; there are a lot of things I didn't know about the game that I learned these last few months, and I'm sure there is a lot more to be learned.

"I feel like I've gotten smarter about the game and just coming from New York to Florida was just a big change. The competition is a little stronger, so I feel like that elevated my game a little bit."

"We came together as a family (and made the decision) to try to get him down in the hot weather for his repetitions and his possibilities," Ernies added. "Also, coming back from his rehab, it gave him a little bit of a jump-start from the health perspective, overall. We wanted to get him up to par as quickly as possible to potentially be a high candidate in the 2013 draft."

In an interview with the New York Daily News published on April 20, Alecia said of Alemais: "On the field he's a gem; he's a very talented kid.  You look at him in a uniform and he has a little resemblance to a Derek Jeter, when you see his body. Athletically he's very gifted. ... It's like the game comes easy to him sometimes. He's got a future ahead of him."

As things stand right now, the future may find him in New Orleans. Alemais has signed with Tulane University, a solid academic school that is looking to rebuild its baseball program's prestige. That appealed Alemais.

"It was just the environment; they were obviously the most interested," he said. "They followed me since my first Perfect Game (event) at the Junior National Showcase in Florida. ... I wanted to go somewhere and help turn the program around and that's what we're doing at Tulane."

The PG Pre-Draft Showcase was the 10th PG event at which Alemais has performed, a list that includes that 2011 PG Junior National Showcase in Fort Myers, Fla., and the 2012 PG National Showcase in Minneapolis.

"I believe they got me my scholarship to Tulane," Alemais said of his involvement with the PG showcases. "A lot of people in New York don't really know about Perfect Game, but it's starting to build up; my dad's spreading the word out there. I just think it really benefitted me to expose yourself to colleges and to scouts."

His father concurred: "If the kids there in northern New York City don't get out and do these Perfect Game events, they don't get the same kind of exposure," Ernies said. "I feel like all these events are very crucial to an athlete's career for the exposure."

Alemais played in several PG WWBA tournaments with the South Florida Bandits, the Bucky Dent Bandits and PG Crimson Bandits. He also performed at the East Coast Professional Showcase in Syracuse, N.Y., and at the Area Code Games in Long Beach, Calif.

"I don't think it's about the pressure anymore," Alemais said. "I just come out here and try to have as much fun as I can with all the players that are good ballplayers and you get to meet a lot of good people."

Perfect Game ranks Alemais as the No. 42 prospect with Florida ties that is draft eligible in June. That might not sound very impressive at first blush, but it's important to keep in mind that this is talent-rich Florida that's in the conversation. That number still translates into being selected anywhere from the fourth to the 10th round, according to PG's ranking system.

In the report, PG Vice President of Player of Personnel David Rawnsley called Alemais an "outstanding defensive shortstop ... with 6.8 speed and big league arm strength. ... He's shown scouts this spring that he's healthy and has the right-handed bat speed to be a potential top-10 draft pick."

Alemais isn't shy about his desire to play professionally, perhaps as early as this summer.

"(The draft is) something that always crosses your mind and it's hard to hide," he said Monday. "It's something you think about -- every kid wants to play professional baseball. I'm just letting the time go by and see what happens and just playing 110 percent every day and let my playing do the talking and see where it goes from there."

His father is certain everything will work out in the end, just like the decision to have Stephen leave All Hallows in New York and head for the Elev8 Sports Institute in Florida.

"As a father I know I have great gratitude to even have my son in a position to be ranked and to be a top 100 in the country and number one in the state of New York; I feel very blessed," Ernies said. "It's a great thing that he's on a full scholarship to Tulane University, so if things don't happen (with the draft) the way we would like for them to, then we have Tulane.

"That's just as good, we feel, because then he would have three years to get bigger, faster and stronger and potentially go in the 2016 draft."

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