FORT MYERS, Fla. – Over the last three or four years, Deland, Fla., class of 2015 catcher Nick Fortes has established himself as one of the nation’s top prospects in his high school graduating class. He has excelled in every Perfect Game tournament he has played in with the Altamonte Springs, Fla.-based Scorpions Baseball organization, and further made a name for himself at several elite PG showcase events.
Fortes is a 6-foot, 200-pound, rock-solid catcher who in the fall will begin his senior year at Deland High School. He is as unassuming as his impressive baseball and classroom resume is long, and is in Southwest Florida this week continuing his four-year career with the Scorpions in pursuit of yet another Perfect Game national championship.
The tournament this time is the 2014 17u PG BCS Finals and the uniform Fortes is wearing is a familiar one, that of the Scorpions 2015 Prime. Fortes may be described by many within the Scorpions’ program as a quiet leader – and he certainly comes across that way in casual conversation – but he minces no words when asked what he and his teammates hope to accomplish at this week’s 17u PG BCS Finals.
“We have one of the best teams in the country and once we start putting it all together we can definitely do some really good things and win some tournaments,” Fortes said Monday afternoon during a lightning delay at the JetBlue Park Player Development Complex. “This is a fun group of guys and with playing with them as fun as it is, and with us being as good as we are it’s made it a real enjoyable summer.”
The Scorpions 2015 Prime are an elite 17u team from the Orlando, Fla., area that boasts a roster complete with many of top national prospects from the high school graduating class of 2015. Anytime Scorpions owner and head coach Matt Gerber can get this group together for a Perfect Game tournament, good times are sure to follow.
It is, after all, a team that features 13 class of 2013 prospects ranked in the top 279 nationally, and 15 that have committed to NCAA Division I schools, including six to Florida State. It is a team with a core group that won 2013 Perfect Game tournament championships at the 17u PG WWBA National Championship, the 16u Perfect Game World Series and the PG WWBA Underclass World Championship.
The Prime didn’t fare as well as they had hoped at the 17u PG WWBA National Championship in Emerson, Ga., earlier this month, losing unexpectedly in the early rounds of the playoffs. Gerber talked to the team and they decided they would put everything they had left in this BCS basket and attempt to leave Southwest Florida with a national championship ring.
“There is a lot of talent but we also have interesting characters on this team,” he said Monday. “We have really good leaders with Nick and Brendan (Rodgers) in the middle of our lineup and in the middle of the field at catcher and shortstop. A lot of our guys follow them and when they play well the team plays well.
“They’ve both been a part of the program for four years and they just know how to do things and having those guys out there kind of sets the tone for the rest of the team.”
Fortes and Rodgers are the two most highly ranked and highly regarded prospects on the Scorpions 2015 Prime roster although Rodgers has captured the larger share of the headlines; he is ranked No. 2 nationally and is one of the six FSU commits. Fortes is ranked the nation’s No. 47 overall prospect (No. 2 catching prospect) and along with Scorpions Prime 2015 middle-infielder Ramon Alejo (No. 82 nationally) has committed to Ole Miss.
Some of the other more highly ranked 2015 Prime prospects include right-hander Cole Sands (No. 72, Florida State), catcher/outfielder Jackson Lueck (No. 171, Florida State) and right-hander Bowden Francis (No. 185, Chipola College). Top 2016 left-hander Drew Parrish (uncommitted) is ranked No. 142 in his class.
“Everybody’s unique; everybody has their own personality, so it’s very entertaining to watch some of the characters on this team,” said Fortes, who has played with many of these same guys for the past three or four years. “We all play at such a high level and we compete with each other and we try to be the best that we can … and that just brings out the best in everybody.”
Fortes has risen quietly and steadily within the Scorpions organization to a position of prominence on 2015 Prime roster. Gerber, having welcomed many a top prospect into his program over the last several years, certainly recognizes what he has in Fortes but isn’t sure enough others do.
“I still think Nick is one of the most underrated players in the country,” he said. “His success speaks for itself … and I think the more people get to know him over the next year the more you’ll hear about his name. I think from a draft standpoint, he’s one of the best catchers in the country.”
His success does speak volumes. He was named to the all-tournament team at six events in 2012 and 2013 and was the Most Valuable Player at the 2013 16u Perfect Game World Series and the 2013 PG WWBA Underclass World Championship. But, according to Gerber, the all-tournament selections and MVP Awards don’t necessarily mean Fortes rises to the occasion only on the biggest stages.
“He’s just very even-keeled,” Gerber said. “It doesn’t matter if we’re playing the worst team or the best team, he’s the same guy. … He just takes so much pride in what he does I don’t think it’s necessarily him stepping up, I just think it’s him delivering all the time.”
To his own way of thinking, Fortes simply believes that each PG tournament experience should be accepted for what it is – a learning experience – and it’s a wasted opportunity if you don’t play at your highest level every time out.
“You take a little bit away from each (tournament) that you play,” he said. “You make adjustments and you learn from each at-bat and each game, so every single tournament has helped me become a better player because you get to see more and more good pitchers and good teams.”
Fortes has always been a baseball guy though and through, and claims to have never even dabbled in any other sport simply because he never wanted to do anything else. It was his dad, Alfredo, who introduced him to the game, and although Alfredo never played above the high school level he’s been able to impact his son in a big way.
“He’s been the one to help coach me throughout my whole entire life; I’ve never had a hitting instructor it’s just always been my dad,” Fortes said. “He knows the game and he’s followed it for a long time and he knows what he’s talking about, so he’s helped me to become the player that I am.”
His progression into one of the country’s top catching prospects in the 2015 MLB First-Year Player Draft has been steady and smooth. Perhaps even too smooth, as Gerber said there has never been a big “Hallelujah!” moment in his development would have caused anyone to stop and take immediate notice.
“He’s gotten better but he’s always been one of the best guys,” Gerber said. “We said when he was 14, ‘This guy is going to be one of the best players in our program’; you could just tell at a young age. Obviously, he’s gotten stronger and more physical and that’s helped him to be able to drive the ball a little more.
“But from the first time we had him we said that guy is going to be the best catcher in the state and if you’re the best catcher in the state of Florida that makes you pretty good on the national scene, too.”
Fortes is full of praise for the Scorpions organization as much, if not more, than the organization praises him. He calls it the best in the country, one with great coaches and great players that can only add up to unparalleled success on the field. He is gracious in his praise for his teammates who he credits with helping him raise the level of his game and he praises the skill level of his opponents, as well.
“When you’re playing with this level of talent at this age, you get a little bit of a taste of what it’s going to be like at the next level and that’s what you’re going to be facing every single game, every single day,” Fortes said. “You face a couple of good teams or a couple of good arms every now and then (in high school) and this gives you a little taste of what it’s going to be like every single day at the next level.”
As a young player only looking to better himself on a daily basis, it would be easy to assume that Fortes might try to pattern his style of play after a current big-leaguer – or a successful college player or maybe even a former Scorpions player that left an impact.
He insists that’s not the case, choosing instead to pick up little bits and pieces from a variety of established players. He also expresses a strong desire to stay behind the plate at where ever the next level may take him.
“This is what I love to do so I can’t see myself doing anything else,” Fortes said of manning the catcher’s position. “You’re in control of the game and everybody looks up to you and they feed off of your energy. You pretty much are the leader and the captain of the entire field and I just like being in charge.”
Gerber, for one, likes having his reliable backstop in charge.
“Nick is more of your ‘quiet leader’ type of guy, and I think that’s good especially behind the plate,” he said. “Everybody watches him play – just the way he handles our pitching staff, from blocking, receiving, throwing people out – and everybody on the field sees everything that he does and when he’s back there and he plays at such a high level, it’s kind of understood that it’s expected from everybody else.”
The Scorpions 2015 Prime were one of the fortunate 17u PG BCS Finals teams that got all three of their first round pool-play games completed by Monday night, with rain and lightning delaying many games across several venues.
The Prime couldn’t have asked for anything more in their first three games, winning them all by a combined score of 25-0. Fortes did his part with three singles, a double and two RBI in nine trips to the plate (.444) while handling a pitching staff that didn’t allow a run on six hits and striking out 24 in 16 innings. The outcomes are of no surprise to the quiet leader Fortes.
“When we go out each game we know that we can beat anybody,” he said. “If we go out there and play to the best of our abilities we just know we can beat anybody in this tournament.”