With a future so bright, it would be easy for Robbie Merced to look past his final season of high school baseball and think about playing for Missouri State University.
“A lot of people think that, but I’m just having fun in the moment right now,” Merced said.
The Kickapoo (4-0) senior shortstop with a fast glove and pop in his bat wants to help the Chiefs surpass his sophomore season of 2015, when they finished in third place in the Class 5 state tournament. He still recalls in detail a 5-2 loss to Nixa in the 2016 Class 5 District 11 championship that cut the Kickapoo season short at 24-8.
“We want to go far. Last year we were upset in the district finals, we definitely want to get back there,” Merced said.
Merced bats third in the Kickapoo order and leads the team in RBI. He is rated as the No. 38 baseball prospect in Missouri according to Prep Baseball Report. Merced signed a national letter of intent to play for Missouri State in November during the NCAA’s early signing window for baseball players.
Missouri State assistant coach and recruiting coordinator Nate Thompson likes Merced’s chances to prosper for the Bears.
“Obviously Robbie is a local product with great bloodlines. He has a great frame, and he’s been in our camps quite a bit, so we’ve seen him develop. He’s going to continue to grow into his frame and he has a bright future as a middle infielder,” Thompson said.
It’s hard to bring up Merced in a baseball conversation without mentioning his pedigree.
Merced’s father, Puerto Rican-born Orlando Merced, played 13 seasons of Major League Baseball for seven different teams from 1990 to 2003. Orlando Merced resides in Puerto Rico, where he is a coach, while Robbie Merced lives in Springfield with his mother.
Merced is also the great-grandson of Springfield resident Bill Virdon, who won the National League Rookie of the Year Award in 1955 with the St. Louis Cardinals. The 1962 Gold Glove-winning center fielder played 10 years in the majors with St. Louis and Pittsburgh. He immediately moved into coaching and worked his way up to spending 13 seasons as a Major League manager.
Merced showed off his range and quick fielding and throwing skills with six assists in a chilly 5-3, 11-inning marathon win over Ozark on Tuesday night at U.S. Baseball Park in Ozark.
Kickapoo coach Jason Howser commended Merced for his work ethic.
“Robbie is a tremendous athlete and a very good, obviously, shortstop. He’s really blossomed over the last year and a half and he just continues to get better and better,” Howser said.
Merced isn’t flashy or boisterous, he lets his play on the diamond speak for him. It adds up to some peace of mind for his coach.
“It’s nice when the ball is hit to the No. 6 hole that we know the majority of the time he’s got the range, the mobility and the arm to finish the play on the other end of it,” Howser said.
Ozark coach Mike Essick, who found himself on the losing end of Tuesday’s three and a half hour affair, also complimented Merced’s fielding. Essick is excited to see Merced move on to Missouri State, albeit for some pro-Ozark reasons.
“There’s no doubt about it, Robbie is a nice player,” Essick said. “He’s rangy, he’s quick. They’ve got a nice club, and they have had. Kickapoo, I don’t care, in all sports—they’re in a good run of talent right now. They have been for about three years now, so I hope the well goes dry after this year.”
Merced specialized in baseball for his first two years of high school, but made a return to football as a junior as a wide receiver. As a senior, he led the Chiefs in receiving with 47 receptions for 805 yards and seven touchdowns.