In January, I posted here about the similarities between baseball showcases and 2-year-olds in training sales. They have evolved over the years to become important sources for prospects — one for the college baseball arena, the other for the racetrack. This wasn’t always the case, though. Not that long ago, the yearling sales were the primary venue for owners and trainers in search of runners, and high school and legion games were the hunting grounds for college coaches. But the ability now in baseball and horse racing to evaluate talent as close as possible to the “finished” product, while noting the developments of athletes over the years and projecting forward — for horses, in many cases from weanlings to yearlings to 2-year-olds; for ballplayers, from freshmen to sophomores to juniors — has fined tuned the selection process in both fields to such an extent that some of the best athletes in baseball and horse racing have come out of showcases and juvenile sales in recent years.
As some of you are aware, I’ve been on the showcase trail this year with a baseball prospect. I’ve also consigned horses to Fasig-Tipton sales. I can, therefore, unequivocally say that the similarities of getting baseball players and horses ready for showcases and sales are fraught with the same attendant dramas and anxieties.
In the post referenced above, we hit the January showcase at Northeastern University with a 15-year-old colt by Sid Fernando out of Cynthia Colt, named Johnny Fernando, a middle infielder. After his spring high school season as a varsity player, we prepped for the two big summer-time underclass showcases in the northeast, one in Massachusetts, the other, in Connecticut, both three days apart in August and a few weeks after the end of his summer league season and his 16th birthday.
The day of the Massachusetts showcase, everything that could go wrong did: He was congested from allergies and had slept the wrong way on his throwing arm, inhibiting his range of motion. Now, underclass showcases aren’t the main event — the big ones come at the end of junior year, in the summer before senior year. But the underclass showcases do serve as an important link in the developmental process, so performing well is important.
The format for showcases is simple: middle infielders take 5 balls from shortstop and throw to 1st. Two balls are hit directly at the player, one is up the middle, one is in the hole to backhand, and one is a slow roller. Players are also timed in a 60-yard dash, and they are given about 8 balls in batting practice to evaluate swing mechanics. Then, players are placed on teams to play a controlled game — to evaluate all skills in competition.
Just as at a horse sale, you hope for the best. In Massachusetts, Johnny was flawless in the field, but his throws were weak — just as expected. He did run decently — 7.38 for the 60. But he inexplicably bombed in batting practice, using a wooden bat that had lost all pop. It happens. He was the 2-year-old colt who didn’t warm up sound, and it showed in the work.
Three days later in Connecticut, however, the arm was back and strong — he threw 78 mph from short to 1st, which was one of the strongest readings at the event. However, his bat still wasn’t in sync — not close to the swing he’d had at the prestigious World Wood Bat 17U National Championships in Marietta, Ga., in July, when he batted .375 against high-caliber pitching.
You can view his performance at the Connecticut showcase below:
And this was the official evaluation by the scouts:
D1 prospect. Lean athletic build, room to fill out and add strength, line-drive hitting approach, uses the whole field, centers the ball, good swing plane, short to the ball, soft hands in the field, good footwork and range, athletic, accurate arm, fields out front.
It’s a decent enough evaluation, but he’ll need a better one by next summer if he’s to get more lookers: the arm needs to move into the 82-84 mph range, foot speed needs to be at least 7.00 to 7.20 for the 60, and the bat will have to show more pop and bat speed.
We’ve got a year to prepare.