Showcase | Story | 6/15/2013

Bellinger builds on 'strong point'

Jeff Dahn        
Photo: Perfect Game

MINNEAPOLIS -- As a youngster growing up in the Boston metropolitan area suburb of Weston, Mass., Justin Bellinger was exposed to a wide variety of sports. He wrestled and played soccer before reaching high school; his father, David, was a football player at Northeastern University in Boston; his mother, Lisa, also a Northeastern U. grad, was a runner.

Bellinger wasn't tempted by those other low hanging fruits on the tree. He was destined to spend his teenage years on ball fields from coast to coast while developing into one of the top baseball prospects in the high school class of 2014.

"Baseball, since I was young, has always been my strong point," Bellinger said Friday afternoon. "I thought about (continuing on with) wrestling, but the injuries that can happen with that is not so good for baseball, so I stopped doing that. Baseball has always been my strong point."

Bellinger was at the Metrodome Thursday through Saturday performing in front of at least 400 scouts and college coaches at this year's Perfect Game National Showcase, an elite event that this week is showcasing more than 300 of the country's most outstanding prospects in the 2014 class. There is no question Bellinger deserved to be here.

He came into this week ranked the nation's No. 13 overall prospect and No. 1-ranked first baseman (he is ranked 1-1 in the state of Massachusetts). Bellinger has a prototypical big-league first baseman's build in the mold of the Twins' Justin Morneau -- 6-foot-5, 237 pounds with a sweet and powerful left-handed swing.

Bellinger showed off that left-handed swing during the National's first BP session early Thursday afternoon. On three of his first swings he deposited balls neatly in the Metrodome's upper deck in right field, bombs that would have made Morneau proud.

"This has been awesome; it's been a lot of fun," Bellinger said. "After coming to the (PG) Junior National (Showcase) last year and the National this year, it's just a lot of fun. It's always good to play with the top kids and it's pretty awesome. The competition that you play against is what sets (the PG National) apart. You're playing against the top (prospects) and it's like the very best (showcase) you can go to."

Perhaps incredibly, Bellinger is already a veteran of 27 Perfect Game events with another summer of play still in front of him. He is an alumnus of both the 2011 and 2012 PG Junior National Showcase and has played in nearly 20 PG WWBA tournaments. He was also at the 17u Perfect Game World Series with the EvoShield Canes and the 16u PG World Series with the So Cal National Travel Team last year.

"I enjoy playing in all the tournaments; it's always fun because most of the tournaments I've been in with Perfect Game it seems like we always make it to the final four, or something around there," Bellinger said. "It's always a lot of fun trying to win the championship; it's always fun just trying to win something. I'm really looking forward to this summer playing in the 17u (PG WWBA) and the (PG WBBA) World Championship in Jupiter."

Bellinger will play this summer with the EvoShield Canes 17u National Team, a national powerhouse under the direction of Jeff Petty. He played with the Canes in last year's PG WWBA 16u National Championship in Marietta, Ga.; 17u Perfect Game World Series in Goodyear, Ariz.; and at the PG WWBA World Championship in Jupiter, Fla.

"They're really, really good to play with," Bellinger said. "They take care of their players and the coaches are really good coaches and they're a very good organization."

It's been a long but satisfying journey as Bellinger -- usually accompanied by his father, David -- has criss-crossed the country to attend showcases and play in tournaments in front of the national scouting community. David Bellinger has enjoyed the education he's received on the road.

"I'm a football player and he's a baseball player," David said. "It's been very interesting learning another sport to the detail and to the degree that he plays; there's a lot of stuff we've learned together. It's been amazing watching him turn into the player that he is. He works very hard -- one of the rules we have in the house is that he has to work three times as hard as every other player in the country because he's from the Northeast -- and it's been amazing meeting a lot of the people, a lot of the coaches, a lot of the scouts. It's been amazing learning what they know ... so, yeah, it's been a pretty amazing ride."

The whole "growing up in the Northeast" issue is one Bellinger seems slightly conflicted about. He attends St. Sebastians High School in Weston and said his baseball experience there with head coach Mike Schell has been a good one. He also admits that he doesn't face the day-to-day, high-level competition that his brethren in the warm-weather states face, but also points out that he has gone against 2010 PG All-American and Vanderbilt right-hander Tyler Beede from Auburn, Mass. ( a first-round pick of the Toronto Blue Jays in 2011 who didn't sign) and left-handed Princeton recruit Keelan Smithers from Framingham, Mass.

"Everybody always says, 'In the Northeast, you don't get to play as much, you don't get to do as much' but every day of the week I'm practicing for four hours after school just doing everything I need to do," Bellinger said. "We've got plenty of indoor places to do the same stuff as everybody else. ... I'm not missing out on anything; I've played just as much as everybody else."

Former St. Louis Cardinals farmhand Oliver Marmol serves as Bellinger's hitting instructor during the offseason, and he has had an impact on the young prospect. Marmol is currently the field manager for the State College (Pa.) Spikes, the Cardinals affiliate in the Class A Short-Season New York-Penn League.

"My practices in the offseason -- what I do is top-notch," Bellinger said. "Working with (Marmol) and my training in the offseason is so good that I feel like when I come to these (PG events) I'm just ready to go and it's always like, over the years, I'm just constantly getting ready for the next big thing."

David Bellinger said that when Justin was playing as a first-grader he was already exhibiting a knack for the game that escaped most 6-year-olds. Other parents -- at the time more knowledgeable about baseball than David -- who were watching their own children play approached David and told him, referring to Justin, "You've got something here that's very special."

David took those words to heart and decided it was time to offer some guidance to his young son.

"(I worked with him) by taking some of the experiences that I had playing football and using those with him in baseball, and getting the right coaches to see him and the right coaches to train with him," David Bellinger said. "He works with Ollie Marmol, and (Marmol) teaches him his hitting and the eye-vision training program that he does. It's been interesting to make sure that he's had the best coaching he needs for him to develop."

One coach who has watched Bellinger's development since the eighth grade is Schell, the head coach at St. Sebastians. Like everyone else who has come into contact with Bellinger, Schell is most impressed with his drive and determination.

"He just works to get better," Schell told boston.com (a website operated by the Boston Globe) in April. "It's in the classroom, in his community, he's a good teammate. He just gets it. It's an overall approach that you have to have. It's not just in one area of life ... he's just been great in all regards, and he continues to get better."

Bellinger has always been a little tall for his age, and his dad said he is just now starting fill out. He actually struggled slightly against kids who were smaller but had already grown into their bodies.

"They were able to do a little of this, a little of that and they were a little faster here, a little faster there, but he kept working," David Bellinger said. "He works all year long and doesn't take time off in the offseason. It's been very gratifying to see someone who spends the time to perfect his skill be able to get to the level he's at now."

Bellinger, who carries a 4.0 GPA, has committed to head coach Tim Corbin and the elite NCAA Division I Vanderbilt Commodores program, and even the story of that commitment involves Bellinger showing great promise at a young age.

As an eighth-grader, he was playing for a team that was up against one of Canes Baseball's many youth teams, and he smacked a home run off the Canes pitcher. As Bellinger relates the story, that was when the Canes' Petty first began his pursuit of Bellinger -- although he didn't play his first game for the Canes until last summer -- and there was also a side benefit of that home run: coaches from Vanderbilt were in attendance at that particular game.

"That really started the whole process with them," Bellinger said. "After visiting their school and talking with their coaches -- Coach Corbin is one of the best coaches in all of college baseball and I really, really like him -- it was just a perfect match for me.

"And the academics are there -- (Vanderbilt is) one of the top schools and that's a no-brainer -- but the coaches were the main thing for me. They're awesome."

Baseball has long been Bellinger's strong point, to use his words, with wrestling, soccer and dad's beloved football buried well into his past. His immediate future will involve nothing but books and baseball.

"I'm just going to keep training the same way with Ollie (Marmol) and my coaches, just training as hard as I can getting ready for the (2104) draft, and play the high school season and enjoy that," he said. "I'll have fun and get ready for the years to come."

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