DAVIE, Fla. – They say a picture is worth a thousand words, but the photo above – in terms of potential signing bonuses from Major League Baseball teams – could be worth many millions of dollars in less than two months.
Just before the inaugural “Big 12” high school tournament kicked off on Monday night, several of the nation’s top baseball draft prospects gathered for batting practice at Nova Southeastern University as about 50 major-league scouts watched.
The aforementioned photo captured five stars from teams in Miami-Dade and Broward counties. In order of their Baseball America ranking, here’s who struck a pose.
RELATED: 2017 ALL-USA Preseason Baseball Team
Archbishop McCarthy shortstop Mark Vientos is ranked No. 20. Part of what makes him such a hot commodity is that he is very projectable. He won’t turn 18 for eight months, and he’s tall at 6-foot-3, with plenty of room to get stronger.
Westminster Christian catcher M.J. Melendez, ranked No. 32, is an FIU recruit which makes sense since his father, Mervyl, is the coach there. (The other four players on this list are all University of Miami recruits.)
What makes M.J. so attractive to scouts is that he plays a position of need, catcher, he has lefty power, and he has a strong arm with a quick release on defense.
Melendez, who has a lanky built at 6-1 and 175 pounds, is hitting .423 with five homers.
“My hitting has been alright,” said Melendez, who will turn 19 in eight months. “I know I can do better. But as long as my team is winning, that’s what matters the most.
“The draft is coming up. That’s always in the back of my mind. But I just want to win a state championship in my senior season.”
Archbishop McCarthy right-hander Joe Perez, ranked No. 42, is flying up the draft boards after some scouts have clocked him throwing 97 mph.
Perez is four months away from turning 18. He is batting .519 and showed a good stroke with some lift during Monday’s BP. But with that kind of velocity, it will be hard take him off the mound. He is 3-0 with a 2.06 ERA.
Archbishop McCarthy first baseman Alex Toral is ranked No. 55. Toral, 18, is batting .354, but that’s considered underachieving considering his immense talent.
Toral, a lefty hitter, is getting pitched around repeatedly. He has drawn 17 walks in 20 games and has been able to get only 48 at-bats. Toral, at 6-2 and 220 pounds, may have more power than any other kid in the state, scouts say.
“They don’t pitch to him a lot,” said Perez, who bats cleanup, one spot behind Toral. “Being one of the best hitters in the country, he wants to hit. When they don’t give him the opportunity, of course it’s frustrating.”
Toral said he got walked a lot as a junior, too.
“I’ve learned to live with it,” he said. “At times, it’s a little frustrating. But you have to learn to make adjustments in baseball.”
Monsignor Pace shortstop Jeter Downs, ranked No. 76, turns 19 in four months.
The 6-0,180-pounder is an intriguing prospect who was born in Colombia. He is hitting .388 with four doubles, four triples, seven homers and 24 steals. His on-base percentage is .494.
Lazaro Llanes, a former Miami Marlins scout, is the director of this event, and he said there’s great depth in Miami-Dade and Broward this year, even beyond the five players listed above.
“It’s a pretty good year,” Llanes said. “In the first 10 rounds, you might see 10 guys drafted from this group.”
The Miami-Dade/Broward area is well known for sending dozens of standouts to the majors, most notably Hall of Fame pitcher Steve Carlton (his career spanned from 1965 to 1988); Hall of Fame outfielder Andre Dawson (1976 to 1996); and retired superstar Alex Rodriguez (1994 to 2016).
Since there has been at least one of those stars in the majors every year since 1965, the next era may be defined by Miami-Dade native Manny Machado, who is already a three-time All-Star and a two-time Gold Glove-winner at age 24.
Or maybe it will be defined by Eric Hosmer, 27, a Broward native who is a three-time Gold Glove winner. He won a World Series with the Kansas City Royals in 2015, was named an All-Star in 2016 and won a World Baseball Classic with Team USA in 2017.
Gio Gonzalez, a two-time All-Star from Miami, is probably the best pitcher from this area currently in the majors.
But there’s also a wave of under-25 talent that is either in the majors (pitcher Carlos Rodon, center fielder Albert Almora) or on track to be there soon (catchers Zack Collins and Aramis Garcia, infielder Luis Guillorme, outfielder Willie Abreu, and pitchers Touki Toussaint and Andrew Suarez, among others).
The five top-100 prospects who gathered for that photo on Monday hope to be in that conversation soon.
“It’s an honor to be out here with so many great players,” Melendez said. “It just shows how much talent we have in south Florida baseball. It’s unbelievable because we’re not talking about the whole state, just this one small area.”
Perez said he’s enjoying his senior year.
“There’s no pressure because, either way (college or pro), I have two great options,” he said. “Either way, I’ll be really happy.”
For all five of these players, college seems like a legit option. Melendez has a 3.7 grade-point average and is interested in studying physiology. Downs has a 3.3 GPA that is 4.2 weighted, and he wants to be an entrepreneur. Vientos has a 3.2 GPA and wants to study sports management or business administration. Perez has a 4.0 GPA and wants to study business. Toral has a 4.2 GPA with designs on a career in business or accounting.
Toral summed it up for the group when asked about the college option.
“I’m going to take advantage of it and get my education if I go to college,” Toral said. “I’ll make the best of it.”