Tournaments : : Story
Friday, November 22, 2013

NY righty out to rid 'Red X'

Jeff Dahn        
Photo: Perfect Game

Under the “Colleges Interested In” category in the “College Recruiting” section on his Perfect Game Player Profile page, top New York right-handed pitching prospect Scott Blewett names several of the usual targets.

Listed are highly acclaimed universities with front-line baseball programs, warm-weather schools like Florida State, Arizona, South Carolina and Virginia Tech. South Carolina and Arizona have won three of the last four NCAA Division I College World Series championships, and the Gamecocks were the runners-up to the Wildcats when Arizona won in 2012.

But when it came time to choose a school, Blewett decided there was no reason to yank up his deep geographical roots in the Northeast, and committed to (and last week signed with) nationally prominent St. John’s in New York City. It’s a school with 34 appearances in the NCAA Division I Tournament and six trips to Omaha for the College World Series, and it offered everything a native New Yorker could possibly want.

“As soon as I walked on campus I thought, ‘This is the place for me,’” Blewett told PG during a recent telephone conversation. “It’s in New York City and there’s a lot to do. … And it’s close (to home), so my parents can come watch me if they want to once in awhile.”

“Close to home” is relative, of course, but it was something that was obviously important to Blewett when he made his college choice. He is a 6-foot-6, 235-pound hard-throwing right-hander that is New York State’s No. 1-ranked prospect in the high school class of 2014 and, perhaps most importantly, is a native Northeasterner with a point to prove.

“One of my lifelong goals is to make a name for the Northeast kids because there seems to be a ‘Red X’ on them,” Blewett said. “I kind of feel like I have something to prove that the Northeast kids should not have a ‘Red X’ on them; they're just as good and they can perform just as well as the kids from the south.”

Blewett is a senior at Charles W. Baker High School in Baldwinsville, N.Y., an Upstate New York village occupied by about 7,500 baseball loving souls that is considered part of the Syracuse Metropolitan Area. Baldwinsville is only about a 100-mile drive from baseball’s Mecca, Cooperstown, N.Y.

While performing on four of amateur baseball’s biggest stages from coast-to-coast this past summer and into the fall, Blewett certainly made a strong case for the relevance of the “Northeast kids.”

He was at the Perfect Game National Showcase in Minneapolis in June; the East Coast Professional Showcase in nearby Syracuse and at the Area Code Games in Long Beach, Calif., both in August; and finally at the PG WWBA World Championship in Jupiter, Fla., in late October. Those are four of the most heavily scouted events on the high school-aged showcase and tournament schedules each year.

Blewett’s progress, at least in terms of the velocity on his fastball, was almost perfectly sequential. It topped out at 91 mph at the PG National, 93 at the East Coast Pro, 92 at the Area Code Games and, finally, at a gun-stopping 95 at the PG WWBA World Championship while pitching for Syracuse Sports Zone and head coach Dickie Woodridge.

“When he first started pitching for us, he was a mid-80s guy,” Woodridge told PG last week. “But the kid is a real hard worker and he has a real good offseason program, and it paid off for him this year. His progression has been really steady – he won a game for us in Jupiter last year (2012) – he just wasn’t doing it at 95 miles an hour, he was doing it at 87-88. He really burst upon the scene last year when he did well in the WWBA events … and this year in Jupiter it was just ridiculous.”

Blewett made only one start at the PG WWBA World and took the loss in a 3-1 setback to East Cobb Baseball. He wasn’t at his best despite the 95 mph fastball, working five innings and giving up three earned runs on four hits with three strikeouts, two walks and hit batsmen. Hundreds of scouts were on hand to watch Blewett face an East Cobb lineup that included 2015 No. 1-ranked Daz Cameron and 2014 No. 36-ranked Kel Johnson.

“It was late in the season and I wanted to show velocity,” Blewett said of his outing. “I was relaxed … and I wanted to go out there and give 100 percent in front of all the scouts. Obviously, all the scouts coming out to watch is pretty cool. And then, you’re playing against all of the best teams … and it’s pretty cool because all the people come out to watch … and they’re all there to see you.”

Throwing in front of thousands of scouts over the course of four or five months tends to steel-up a 17-year-old pitcher’s nerves.

“The first time (in front of the large contingent of scouts) your nerves are going and your adrenaline is pumping,” Blewett said. “It’s still going to be the same thing (the next time) but you’ve been in that situation before so it’s definitely where the more experience that you have the easier it gets.”

He has pitched in seven PG WWBA events with Syracuse Sports Zone the last two years, including the 2012 and 2013 PG WWBA World Championships. Woodridge has gotten to know the young right-hander very well and enjoyed watching the progression of his skills.

“It’s been exciting, especially knowing how hard the kid works,” Woodridge said. “His parents are really good people and to see this happen to the kid is special. Hopefully it happens for him even more next year, and he gets drafted where I think he should get drafted and has the choice of whether to sign (professionally) or go to St. John’s.”

Woodridge – a San Diego Padres farmhand from 1993 through 1995 and whose father, Dick Woodridge Sr., founded Syracuse Sports Zone in 1992 – has watched many fine pitchers come through the Sports Zone Baseball Academy through the years, and ranks Blewett among the best. Keep in mind that Arizona Diamondbacks left-handed starter Pat Corbin is a Syracuse Sports Zone alumnus.

“(Blewett) brings a steady confidence,” Woodridge said. “With top pitchers you don’t know whether you’re winning or losing. He’s got a real fluid delivery and his approach to the game is phenomenal with his pre-game workouts. Everything you look for in an elite player, he’s it. He works hard, he’s smart, he has a real good approach to the game, he has a plan for what he’s trying to do when he pitches and he doesn’t get rattled.”

Blewett said he was only about 3-years-old when he and his dad, Kevin, would go out in the front yard and throw a tennis ball around. He then moved on to T-ball and different levels of youth baseball competition.

“One of the first years that kids could pitch, the coach told my dad, ‘He’s got a good arm, can he pitch?’ and then he said, ‘He’s got a good arm but he’s a little wild’, like most kids are,” Blewett recalled with a laugh. “I’ve always played ‘up’ since then right up into high school.”

He has never worked specifically with a pitching coach – “I kind of taught myself,” he said – but has gotten some good advice along the way. He credits his coaches at Charles W. Baker, including head coach Dave Penafeather, and those at the Sports Zone have helped with the mental side of pitching and have always been very supportive.

“Dickie Woodridge has done a lot for me,” Blewett said. “I had never really played travel ball so we talked to Dickie and he set me up with a few tournament and I started playing for him, and that’s when I got looks from St. John’s and the other colleges. … I think he’s definitely one of the best in the Syracuse area and Sports Zone is a good organization.”

Blewett also gives a lot of credit to his father, Kevin: “It’s a tough love thing; he’s not going to sweeten anything up. He’s always pushing me to get better, and when I was little we always threw and I think that’s part of the reason I am where I am now.”

Where he is now is a pretty special place. When Perfect Game released its updated class of 2014 National Prospect Rankings shortly after the conclusion of the PG WWBA World Championship, Blewett had climbed from No. 73 all the way up to No. 15. Incredibly, there are seven other right-handed pitchers in the top-14, all of whom pitched in the 2013 Perfect Game All-American Classic.

“Being ranked 15th in the nation is an honor,” Blewett said. “There’s always room to improve and I don’t think anybody has seen what I can really do yet. Yeah, my velocity was up (in Jupiter) but it’s also late in the year. If people could see me in the spring and how I throw and the consistency that I’ll show, I think it will show a lot more of who I really am as a pitcher.

“The rankings are cool, but you can’t get caught up in them. You just have to know that you can always get better.”

It was while pitching for Syracuse Sports Zone in the summer of 2012 – on the heels of his sophomore high school season and in front of his junior year at Charles W. Backer – that Blewett first entered the rankings at all. That was also when the college recruiters really started paying attention.

The Perfect Game tournament experience also provided the young prospect with his first opportunities to come face-to-face with other top prospects from all over the country, most of them from much warmer temperature zones than the one offered in Upstate New York. Blewett looked upon those tournaments as personal challenges.

“It’s interesting playing up here; obviously you don’t get to play as many games as the kids do down south,” he said. “I think it makes a better name for you because (it shows) you can compete with kids that have double the games played and double the experience that you have. If you can compete with them, I think that shows that when you are on the same stage you can prove that the Northeast kids are pretty good, too.”

The college coaches started approaching Blewett and before long he had made visits to Maryland, Boston College and St. John’s, with St. John’s being the first. His initial impression of the St. John’s campus was enough to make his decision an easy one, but he also talked to as many people as he could. He was greatly influenced by a former Syracuse Sports Zone teammate, Alex Caruso, a 2012 graduate of Liverpool (N.Y.) High School who is now a sophomore at St. John’s.

“I know Alex pretty well and I asked him about it and he said he loved it,” Blewett said. “He said it would be cool if we could be there and have somebody that you know that’s on the baseball team. And (playing in) the Northeast doesn’t really bother me and throwing in the cold doesn’t really bother me; I’ve done it my whole life.”

His love of living and pitching in the Northeast should be looked upon with interest by the general managers and scouting departments of the Yankees, Mets and Red Sox when they finalize their plans of attack for the 2014 MLB First-Year Player Draft.

Perfect Game ranks Blewett as the No. 34 overall prospect (college, junior college, high school) in the draft, a designation that could translate into a late first round selection. MLB personnel are starting to get up close and personal and they’re allowing thoughts of the draft to enter his mind.

“There are scouts that want to come in and they want to talk to you and meet your family and get to know you, and do all the stuff they need to do with the questionnaires and so on; obviously I’ve been thinking about from that standpoint,” Blewett said. “But as of right now the goal is to just get better as a person, a baseball player, a pitcher and just enjoy my senior year.”

Come June, Blewett will certainly have a decision to make, one that dozens of the top-prospect high school grads make every year. And when push comes to shove the first week of June, it might end up not being that difficult of a decision for him to make after all.

 “Everybody that I’ve talked to has Scotty in the first or second round; it’s just a matter of what he wants to do. … Either way, he has a real good choice,” Woodridge said. “And honestly, if it weren’t for Perfect Game I don’t know if he would have had the opportunity to do this. Every event that he pitches at for Perfect Game, it’s just ridiculous with the number of scouts that we have.”

The kid from the Northeast has succeeded in making a nice name for himself, and perhaps removed a big “Red X” in the process.

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