FORT MYERS, Fla. -- A chilly morning greeted the more than 400 top high school junior, sophomore and freshman prospects that gathered at the jetBlue Player Development Complex at first light on Friday. The chill proved to be nothing a series of fielding workouts, batting practice sessions and a brisk 60-yard dash couldn't chase away.
The reason for the large turnout of underclass talent was the 11th annual Perfect Game National Underclass Showcase-Main Event, the end of the year event that is the highest attended showcase on PG's annual calendar. Many of the top guys from all over the country -- along with Puerto Rico and Canada -- are here for the Underclass-Main Event's three-day run, including some younger guys that are making their PG showcase debuts.
Standout middle-infield prospect Brendan Rodgers is among that group of first-timers, although he's as familiar with the PG logo as any birthmark he might possess. The 16-year-old, 6-foot, 170-pounder from Longwood, Fla., who is midway through his sophomore year at St. Mary High School is a veteran of 10 Perfect Game tournaments, including seven in 2012, all while playing with the Orlando Scorpions.
"I want to get more looks and (gain more) composure and hopefully get to be the best player I can be," Rodgers said of the decision to attend his first showcase. "I like being at these things; you get a lot of looks and I just enjoy it. You get to show off your talents one-on-one really, and you get to hit off some of the top pitchers from across the nation."
Rodgers is here with his parents, Greg and Julie, and Greg said he began to become aware of the value of attending showcase events as Brendan's status began to rise in the eyes of the college and professional scouting communities. After watching Rodgers perform in 10 tournaments over the last two-plus years, Perfect Game scouts and evaluators elevated Rodgers to No. 8 in the class of 2015 national rankings.
"We know he needs to be recognized at the Perfect Game (events)," Greg Rodgers said Friday. "We know this is a national showcase type of thing and we want to get him involved in working his way up and getting scouted and looked at and all that stuff. We just want to be a part of it."
Rodgers played in three PG tournaments in 2010-11 with the Florida Flash, and then hit the ground running when he began to play with Matt Gerber and the Orlando Scorpions in 2012.
He played in seven tournaments between the end of May and the end of October, including both the PG WWBA 16u and 17u National Championships in Marietta, Ga., in July; the inaugural 16u PG World Series in Marietta in early August; the PG WWBA Underclass World Championship here in Fort Myers in early October; and the unequaled PG WWBA World Championship in Jupiter, Fla., in late October.
Rodgers' best performance was at the WWBA 16u National Championship where he hit .480 (12-for-25) with two home runs, three doubles, nine RBI and seven runs scored and was named to the all-tournament team. He hit .308 (4-for-13) with two home runs, a double and four RBI at the WWBA Underclass World.
He played with some variation of the Orlando Scorpions Purple squad in each one of those tournaments.
"It was amazing," Rodgers said of the Scorpions experience. "I enjoyed my teammates, my coaches (and) all the tournaments were great. We made it pretty far in all the tournaments and we showcased pretty good. I liked it a lot."
"It's been a great experience," Greg Rodgers echoed. "(The Scorpions) draw a lot of attention. A lot of scouts come to their facilities and all the Perfect Game activities we do; they're everywhere. The (college) coaches come to watch these guys play and they come to watch the Scorpions a lot."
Rodgers was placed on a PG Purple roster at this showcase that consists entirely of fellow Orlando Scorpions. They include 2014s Jesse Lepore, a right-hander and University of Miami commit from Beverly Hills, Fla., who is ranked 80th nationally in his class and Jonah Girand, an uncommitted catcher/third baseman from Maitland, Fla., who is ranked 93rd.
Other top Scorpions on the PG Purple roster include Ramon Alejo (2015, Orlando), an Ole Miss commit; Billy Cooke (2014, Maitland, Fla.), a Coastal Carolina recruit; and Shelton Schimming (2014, DeLand, Fla.), a Stetson commit.
Rodgers has not committed to a college but sights Clemson, Florida, Florida State, Miami and Mississippi as among those he's considering. College is a long ways off, however; he still has three full high school spring seasons in front of him.
"I just want to get to the college level and see how everything goes from there," he said. "If I would happen to get drafted, that would be amazing, but I'm in high school and I just want to get to the college level and move on from there.
"I feel like I've improved a lot the last few years," he added. "I'm bigger, stronger, faster, and that's really what I'm going after."
One thing Rodgers said he doesn't pay a lot of attention to is the national prospect rankings. He said a friend of his who was perusing the PG website recently told him he had moved up to the No. 8 spot, and Rodgers said he was "shocked" by the news.
"I guess I played that good this summer to get moved up that high," he said.
The college coaching and professional scouting communities will have plenty of opportunities to watch Rodgers perform over the next two summers and falls with the Scorpions; it also seems certain this won't be his last showcase event.
It's almost scary to contemplate that he has another full calendar year of underclass eligibility remaining before moving to nothing but upper class events in 2014. He's already a veteran of the most prestigious upper class event of them all, the PG WWBA World Championship.
"He works really hard at his training and he just loves the game of baseball; he's been playing it since he was 5 years old," his father Greg said. "He's been a top player at just about every age (group) he's played, and he played up with the Scorpions, too."