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Sunday, May 18, 2014

Pre-Draft fits boys from The Bronx

Jeff Dahn        
Photo: Perfect Game

CEDAR RAPIDS, Iowa – The mere mention of “The Bronx” and “baseball” evokes memories and kick-starts conversations about iconic Yankee Stadium and fabled names like Ruth, Gehrig, DiMaggio, Mantle, Berra, Ford, Jackson and Jeter.

The New York Yankees and The Bronx are synonymous, and that wasn’t lost on a pair of high school seniors who call The Bronx home and on Sunday were at Perfect Game Field-Veterans Memorial Stadium for the 18th annual Perfect Game National Pre-Draft Showcase.

But you can pardon top 2014 middle-infielder/outfielder prospect Tristan Rojas if he’s not paying all that much attention to the Yankees these days, even if the Bombers play their home game right in his neighborhood.

“Not so much,” Rojas said Sunday when asked if it’s all-Yankees, all-the-time back in the storied New York City borough. “We just think about playing our own game and we just try to play our best trying to get there someday.”

Rojas was joined at the National Pre-Draft by top 2014 shortstop prospect Christian Pimentel who also calls The Bronx home and admitted to being a big Derek Jeter fan. The two standouts do not attend the same high schools, however: Rojas is a senior at James Monroe Campus High School in The Bronx while Pimentel is a senior at Iona Preparatory School in New Rochelle, N.Y.

Rojas and Pimentel have gotten to know one another through their offseason work at Bronx Baseball Dreams, a non-profit organization and facility located in Yonkers, N.Y.

“There are a lot of good players there. That is probably where most of the good high school players come from,” Rojas said. “You don’t really get the competition (in New York City) that you do down south, but you get a few players here and there that are very good. You’ve just to go out and play with what you’ve got.”

“There are a lot of people who think we don’t play as much back (in New York), but we work really hard,” Pimentel said Sunday. “We just try to show people that we can play out there because we really can. You see a little bit of it in high school but most guys are not as in to (baseball). Over here (at the PG National Pre-Draft), everyone is trying to go to college and trying to play pro ball and it’s really nice.”

The two boys from The Bronx were among the 45 prospects that gathered Sunday at Perfect Game Field on a picture-perfect spring day to perform in front of the more than 50 scouts in attendance. In speaking with them, it was apparent here was no place else they would have rather been.

“I just want to compete against all the best guys and this is the spot where it is,” Pimentel told PG shortly before running the 60-yard dash during the morning workout session. “It’s a good time to come out and showcase your talent and there are a lot of scouts here, so I wanted to be here. Perfect Game, they bring a lot of talent to the table and I always feel like I’m facing the best guys.”

Both players performed well during the workout session with both running the 60-yard-dash and taking part in the infield throw drill. Rojas, ranked No. 153 nationally in the 2014 high school class, was especially impressive, running a 6.46-second 60 and throwing 88 miles-per-hour across the infield (both personal bests). A right-handed hitter, he also hit a couple of long home runs over the left field fence during his batting practice session.

“I just started playing some infield so I just wanted to show what I can do (at that position),” Rojas said, adding that he is working at shortstop and second base after competing as a primary outfielder up to this point. “I also wanted to show what I can do with the bat.”

Pimentel, a top-500 national prospect, ran a 6.93-second 60-yard dash (also a personal best) and threw 84 mph across the infield. (Note: Caleb Ratzman, a 2014 outfielder from Winneconne, Wis., set an event record with a 6.24-second 60).

“Baseball is Christian’s passion and this is a great opportunity for him to show his skills,” his mother, Luisa Pimentel, said while sitting next to her husband and Christian’s father, Jose Pimentel, in a couple of box seats behind the first base dugout. “It’s important for him to be surrounded by top players and see how he can show his skills. This is a good place for him to be for baseball.

“I wanted him to see who is out there and who he’s competing against and how he stands (compared to) the other players,” she continued. “It gives him more or less an idea of what he needs to work on and where he’s at.”

The 2014 National Pre-Draft Showcase was Christian Pimentel's 14th PG event.

Rojas and Pimentel are accomplished veterans of a combined 32 Perfect Game tournament and showcase events. Sunday’s National Pre-Draft was the 18th for Rojas – he was at the 2012 PG Junior National Showcase and the 2013 PG National Showcase – and he has excelled at every one.

Playing primarily with Team Citius, Rojas has been named to the all-tournament team at total of five PG WWBA National Championship and PG BCS Finals national championship tournaments – including at the 2013 PG WWBA World Championship in Jupiter, Fla., while playing for the Royals Scout Team. He has also been named to the Top Prospect List at three showcase events, including the 2014 PG World Showcase in Fort Myers, Fla., in January.

“It’s probably been the best experience that I’ve had,” Rojas said of his involvement with PG.

This was Pimentel’s 14th PG event since late 2011, most of them PG WWBA and PG BCS tournaments playing with the South Florida Bandits, the World Yacht Club Clippers and Baseball U (he was with the Bandits at the 2013 PG WWBA World Championship). He joined Rojas on the Top Prospect List at the 2013 PG Sunshine Northeast Showcase last June in West Windsor, N.J.

Rojas stands 5-feet-11 and weighs 175 pounds and has been best known for both his foot and bat speed throughout his Perfect Game career. He has signed a letter of intent with national junior college power Grayson County College in Denison, Texas. He sounds ready to get down to the Lone Star State to show people what a kid from The Bronx can do.

 “Down south with the heat, that’s where you find the best baseball, they say,” Rojas said. “The school, I really liked it, and I liked how the baseball was being played down there. They ran it very smoothly and it seemed like (the players) were developing very nicely.”

Pimentel, 6-foot-1 and 185-pounds, will also be leaving New York for college as he has signed with Ave Maria University, an NAIA Division II school located in the newly established Southwest Florida town of Ave Maria.

Both players seem perfectly content with furthering their baseball careers at the collegiate level, but there is a reason why they were in Eastern Iowa on Sunday at an event called the National Pre-Draft Showcase. The 2014 MLB June Amateur First-Year Player Draft is less than three weeks in the offing and the two boys from The Bronx are hoping to hear their names called.

“It’s my dream, and with all the hard work I’ve put in I can honestly say that I feel like I have a pretty good shot,” Pimentel said.

“The draft is a good opportunity,” his mother Luisa added. “We talk about it as a possibility but it’s not something that we can control; it is something that is up to whatever (and) whoever. His college is already set up for whatever happens, but every player wants to be a part of the draft.”

Rojas is the more likely of the two to hear his named called in the draft’s earlier rounds. Perfect Game projects him to be selected somewhere between the fourth and 10th rounds, and if that indeed proves to be the case he may never arrive in Denison, Texas. But rest assured this particular Bronx Bomber is going to be happy no matter where he lands.

“I am very pleased with everything that has gone on with my baseball,” Rojas said. “I think about the draft here and there but I don’t really put too much mind into it. I’m kind of interested into going to college right now but if an offer comes (from an MLB team) I’ll definitely think about it. It is something I have been working hard for.”

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