Tournaments : : Story
Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Wall climbs up and over the top

Jeff Dahn        
Photo: Perfect Game

Contrary to what a handful of uninformed outside observers might have wrongly believed, talented Florida middle-infielder/outfielder Forrest Wall didn’t just sit down at the top-prospect party table for the first time this summer.

That notion became fashionable after Wall’s Perfect Game national class of 2014 prospect ranking rose to No. 27 from No. 99 following a solid performance playing for the Cardinals Scout Team/FTB Chandler at last month’s PG WWBA World Championship in Jupiter, Fla.

But those who have been around Wall and watched him play over the last three-plus years, like FTB Chandler head coach Jered Goodwin, feel like Wall probably should have been at No. 27 all along; his considerable talents have long been on display at PG tournaments and on Florida’s high school fields.

“Forrest is an absolute table-setter, a run-producer; he’s got a little bit of everything,” Goodwin told PG in a telephone interview late last week. “He can really, really run, he hits for average and has a real good two-strike approach. He’s got surprising power and he’s just really a mature, advanced kid in the batter’s box for his age.”

Goodwin called Wall “very dynamic defensively” and a prospect that is capable of playing multiple positions in both the infield and the outfield.

Wall is, in fact, a 6-foot, 170-pound primary shortstop from Winter Park, Fla., and a senior at Orangewood Christian School in Maitland, Fla. He played summer ball in 2010-11 with the Orlando Baseball Academy and has been with Goodwin and FTB the last two summers and falls.

“I’ve been very blessed to have first-rate coaches around me, and I think they want to help me develop to become the player that I am,” Wall said via telephone from his Winter Park home early this week. “I feel like I can always keep improving and overall I feel pretty good about how I’ve developed over the years.”

Scouts and college recruiters that closely follow the Florida high school baseball scene have been familiar with Wall since he was a starter and leadoff hitter as a freshman for the 2011 Orangewood Christian team that finished 33-2 and advanced to the Florida Class 2A championship game.

That team featured top prospects like Dante Bichette Jr., a supplemental first round pick of the New York Yankees in 2011 and now a Yankees farmhand; Vincente Conde, now the starting shortstop at Vanderbilt; Tomas Nido, an eighth round pick of the New York Mets in 2012 who is playing in the Mets’ farm system; and Joe Swinarski, a class of 2014 prospect who has already enrolled early at Mississippi State.

“He was in a lineup that was really crazy good … and I knew how good he was going to be back when he was 14 or 15 (years old),” Goodwin said.

Wall has played at 16 Perfect Game events since the spring of 2010, and was also at last summer’s East Coast Professional Showcase in Syracuse, N.Y. It was his performances at the East Coast Pro in August and at the PG WWBA World Championship in October that seemed to put him over the top.

At the East Coast Pro, where he ran a 6.58-second 60-yard dash, Wall certainly did enough to catch the eye of PG vice president of player personnel David Rawnsley, who wrote in his report:

“Wall was the single most dominant offensive player in Syracuse, making hard contact virtually every trip to the plate with a short, powerful left-handed swing. He’s also a 6.58 runner. Scouts will figure out his defense and future position in the spring.”

Perfect Game scouting supervisor/director of high school coverage Todd Gold left Jupiter, Fla., equally impressed, naming Wall one of just five “Impact Players” among all position players. It's important to remember that Wall played on a Cardinals Scout Team/FTB Chandler squad that also included highly ranked middle-infield prospects Nick Gordon and Milton Ramos on its roster. Gold wrote:

“Wall showed a high level hit tool and present plus speed. His quickness and athleticism suggest he has the capability to be a quality defender up the middle, whether at second base or centerfield. Regardless of his future defensive home, he has the combination of hitability and speed to be a valuable asset to an organization. … Wall showed good judgment at the plate (and) showed a good approach, took his walks and showed a willingness to go with pitches, hitting hard line drives to every part of the yard.”

“It was a great experience,” Wall said of the days he spent in Jupiter. “It was my first time going down there and everything about it was great. It was great competition; I wish we could have made it further (into the playoffs) but I had a great time and I guess I used the time well to show my skill set.”

Perfect Game released its updated class of 2014 national prospect rankings in the weeks right after the PG WWBA World Championship and Wall had climbed 72 spots to No. 27 from No. 99. It was the biggest jump of any of the top prospects in the rankings.

“(Forrest) doesn’t get caught up in all of that; he just puts his head down and works and works some more,” his mother, Jeanne Wall, said this week. “He’s excited about the opportunity to continue to play baseball where ever he’s given that opportunity. It is the love of his life – he would rather be on a field training than doing just about anything else.

“We love him and he’s just a great kid – I know every mama says that – but he’s got this big heart and he’s just a solid kid,” she continued. “It’s a privilege and we’re just enjoying the process and we just want whatever the good Lord has for Forrest; we’re excited to see that path.”

Wall played football and basketball on his school teams before deciding to concentrate strictly on baseball when he reached high school.

“He has had an athletic ability since he was very small,” Jeanne said. “Whatever it was he wanted to do – tennis, golf, basketball, football – and up until high school he just played every sport that there was and he loved it. He’s a competitor and he just gets focused … and when it was baseball that was his single focus he was given an amazing privilege working with some of the best coaches.”

Wall praises many people when it comes to indentifying the folks who have helped with his development as a ballplayer. They include Goodwin, his coaches at Orangewood Christian School – Scott Hilinski, Matt Allegra, Kevin Davidson and Kevin Gallagher – and perhaps more than anyone, his father, Roger Wall.

“My father has always had a huge influence on me, like getting me extra work in the (batting) cages,” he said. “He really taught me what hard work looks like and if it weren’t for him I wouldn’t be blessed to go to all these showcases and stuff like that.”

One of the byproducts of Wall’s involvement with Perfect Game and FTB is a baseball scholarship from the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill. He signed his national letter of intent with head coach Mike Fox and the nationally prominent Tar Heels program last week.

“It came down to a few schools, and our family and I, we took our time,” Wall said of his college decision. “We just felt like everything about UNC fit right for me. The coaching staff is amazing and we know how UNC is viewed by most people – just everything about it – and I couldn’t be any happier about being a Tar Heel.”

He said his association with the people at FTB is what made it happen: “I have to give them all the credit with my college scholarship. (FTB is) more than just getting kids together; they really care about you, they care about developing you and it’s incredible. I can’t really put into words how awesome (Goodwin) is and the whole organization.”

His association with FTB and PG will put another consideration on his plate this spring, of course. Perfect Game director of cross-checker Allan Simpson last week released his updated Top 250 Prospects list for the 2014 MLB First-Year Player Draft, a list that includes all college and high school draft-eligible players.

Wall is listed at No. 71 (No. 29 among all high school eligible prospects), a ranking that would most likely slot him in the late second or early third rounds.

 “I could see Forrest going in the first round. He’s just that type of kid,” FTB’s Goodwin said. “We had these guys before … you just kind of got a gut feeling (about). It’s a kid with tremendous tools and they match with his really high character, and that spring they go out and just do what they’ve been doing and (the MLB) teams love it.”

The Wall family will keep their minds open and discuss and consider all their options.

 “Right now we are thrilled with our UNC-Chapel Hill (commitment),” Jeanne said. “It’s just a wonderful opportunity and it is so ‘Forrest’. He looked at a lot of places, he was offered (by) a lot of places and UNC and Carolina Blue is very exciting. That right now is the only opportunity that we have before us and we’re grateful and were humble and we’re very excited.

“If another opportunity presents itself we will absolutely look at that and consider what the best thing for Forrest and our family.”

Forrest Wall didn’t just burst on the baseball scene this summer. His climb into the top-30 in the national class of 2014 rankings may have surprised some, but certainly not the young prospect himself.

“I wouldn’t say I’m surprised; I feel more humbled,” he said. “I feel like my hard work is paying off and I just love the opportunities that Perfect Game has given me and I love to work hard and win and play the game of baseball.”

And as for this talk about being an early round draft pick? Wall takes it all in stride.

 “It mainly just motivates me because I want to be the best player that I can be and play the game the right way and work hard every single day to get better,” he said.

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