Tournaments : : Story
Friday, May 23, 2014

Out to prove himself

Matt Rodriguez        
FORT MYERS, Fla. – With just two weeks before the Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft scouts are frantically meeting with fellow executives and developing a plan of attack, while eligible high school ballplayers are either wrapping up their high school seasons or anxiously waiting to hear their name called by MLB commissioner Bud Selig. Well, at least that’s what most players up to, anyway. Not Howe, Texas native Garrett Fulenchek, however.

The 6-foot-3 right-handed hurler decided to take advantage of Perfect Game’s just-before-the-draft WWBA East Memorial Day Classic this weekend in southwest Florida as a member of the ABD (Amateur Baseball Development) organization, who’s past history includes MLB players Allen Craig, Anthony Rizzo, Nolan Arenado, Kolten Wong, and Christian Yelich, to name a few.

“It’s one last chance to play with all my friends before the draft,” said Fulenchek. “I consider it as one more chance to show what I can do before the draft.”

This time last year, the native to the small Texas town with a population equivalent to many of our nation’s high schools was relatively off the map of Major League Baseball talent-seekers. Word spread about a small town Texan high schooler throwing a fastball up to 94 mph (miles per hour) with devastating secondary pitches.

Scouts began attending Fulenchek’s game in large numbers; completely turning his world and what he thought it could be around.

“The first time a lot of scouts showed up it was a little nerve-wrecking,” Fulenchek said. “Starting off last year I was just thinking I would be lucky if I get to go to college and play. That’s what I was looking forward to last year and things just exploded over the summer.”

Now, Fulenchek is projected by many sources to be taken by the second round of the upcoming draft; something that once seemed like an improbable dream. Perfect Game has Fulenchek taken with the 52nd pick, saying Fulenchek will be grouped with a long and varied list of prep hurlers who qualify as late first to late second round picks. His strong athletic build, consistent performances this spring and the presence of a nasty second pitch in his slider, to go with his 91-94 mph fastball, will tempt many teams early.

On Friday night at the Terry Park Stadium in Fort Myers, Fla. Fulenchek once again caught the attention of every scout in attendance. The righty earned the win over Five Tools Baseball Academy, throwing five innings and giving up just one unearned run while collecting eight strikeouts on the way to an 8-1 ABD Texas win. His fastball turned heads, flashing 94 mph on radar guns, while he displayed what Perfect Game considers one of the best sliders a high school pitcher in the 2014 class has. Not to mention, he pleased scouts with a potential plus-cutter and good feel for a changeup.

“I thought I threw pretty well,” Fulenchek said about the game. “I had a rough start, walking the first kid, but after that first inning I settled in”

Fulenchek wasn’t phased by the radar guns popping up prior to the delivery of every pitch he threw. He’s gotten quite used to the spotlight he’s drawn over the last 12 months.

“I don’t even see them now. I can just block them out,” said Fulenchek. “I’m not really focused on trying to light up the radar guns. I’m working on more pitchability and location; adjustments.”

Fulenchek was able to keep hitters off-balance the entire game with a variety of off-speed pitches while attacking with his fastball, which he said is the pitch he is most comfortable throwing. When he has hitters in a two-strike count he prefers to throw either a fastball in or a slider away. Both attack strategies worked successfully.

“He relies heavily on his slider, and his ability to locate it makes him a little different from most high school pitchers,” Perfect Game scout Frankie Piliere said. “There’s sense that there’s more velocity for him down the road, and if that’s the case he has the potential for two plus big league offerings.”

The hard-throwing righty models his game after Pittsburgh Pirates right-handed thrower Gerrit Cole, not because they both have the same first name only spelled differently. Fulenchek likes the competitiveness Cole displays on the mound.

The Texas native certainly emulated that competitiveness Friday night to go along with his advanced skill set. Now whatever happens next is out of his hands. In just two weeks the Dallas Baptist University commit will learn what his next step in baseball is.

“If it was the right opportunity I would take it,” said Fulenchek when asked if he would choose the MLB over his commitment to DBU. His draft day plans only involve being at home with his parents, waiting for good news.

If the pitcher does decide to forgo his college commitment and head straight to professional baseball, he could someday be pitching in front of crowds much larger than his entire hometown. He laughed to the image of that in his head, with disbelief in his tone.

“It’ll be a big difference at first. It will take some getting used to.”

For at least another week, however, Fulenchek will continue to put on the same uniform as some of his closest friends and enjoy competitive unpaid baseball as he has done his entire life.

“I love the excitement for the game,” he said.

Having only been a part of the ABD program for a year now, Fulenchek said he is very close to his teammates.

“We have grown as a family,” said Fulenchek. “We’re all close and always hanging out together. It’s more of a family than a team to me.”

Fulenchek and his team will try to win the 18u WWBA East Memorial Day Classic which concludes this Monday at jetBlue Stadium, the home of the defending World Series champion Boston Red Sox. What a way to cap off the end of his amateur baseball story that would be.

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