FORT MYERS, Fla. -- In the fleeting seconds before he steps into the batter's box, Daniel Reyes extends his arms in front of him -- bat in hand -- stares at the bat's barrel, takes a deep breath and audibly exhales. He repeats the ritual before each pitch of the at-bat is delivered.
It's indicative of a singular focus, an intense desire to but the bat firmly on the pitched ball, with as much authority as the physics of the situation allow; in reality, there aren't many other prospects in the high school class of 2015 who perform with the authority of Reyes.
Daniel Reyes is a 6-foot, 2-inch, 200-pound center fielder and hitting wonder who will be a junior this fall at Mater Academy Charter School in Hialeah Gardens, Fla. Reyes calls Miami Springs, Fla., home and is on Florida's west coast this weekend playing for the South Florida Elite Squad-Louisville Slugger 16u at the 16u PG BCS Finals national championship, which began its six-day run Friday morning.
"I'm excited to play against good competition, and it's a great tournament with a bunch of really good guys," Reyes said Friday from the former Boston Red Sox Player Development 5-Plex near downtown Fort Meyers. "I'm expecting the best about everything here. I've already been pretty busy with all these Perfect Game tournaments but it's a great thing for the summer. I've been playing good, thank God, and everything's going good."
Reyes is playing his first summer with the SF Elite Squad and founder and head coach Richie Palmer after playing previously with the All American Prospects. He played for Palmer at last month's Perfect Game 16u PG WWBA East Memorial Day Classic and spent most of the month of June working out and playing games with Palmer and his Elite Squad-Louisville Slugger 16u teammates. He's made an impression.
"His talent is through the roof; he has the potential to be a five-tool guy," Palmer said Friday. "He's physical -- you can see, he's 6-2, (200) pounds -- he runs, he hits, he hits for power, he sprays the ball around the yard; he's a very gifted athlete and even more so he's a better kid.
"His work ethic is second to none. He's a guy when we're not practicing or we don't have a tournament, he's working out -- he's working on his feet, he's working on his arm strength."
This is the ninth Perfect Game tournament Reyes has played in since debuting at the 2011 15u PG BCS Finals as a 14-year-old. He always seemed to stand out among his age-group peers, but made his first real big impression at the PG WWBA World Championship in Jupiter, Fla., playing with the All American Prospects in October of his sophomore year in high school.
Reyes was selected not only to the event's all-tournament team, but was also the only 2015 named to the Louisville Slugger MLB Prime Nine, an elite nine member honor squad that recognizes the event's top nine offensive producers. Reyes was 6-for-11 (.545) in four games with two triples, a home run, three RBI, four runs scored and a whopping 1.727 OPS.
Just this spring he was named to the all-tournament teams at both the Perfect Game High School Showdown, at which Mater Academy participated, and the 16u PG WWBA East Memorial Day Classic, at which South Florida Elite Squad-Louisville Slugger 16u finished as runner-up.
"I've been working hard and my game has progressed," Reyes said. "Now I'm hoping for it to keep on progressing."
Palmer certainly recognizes Reyes' progression -- and contributions:
"In terms of a leader, you couldn't ask for anything more. He's intense, he never takes a play off. He carries a lot of responsibility for us hitting third and playing center field, but he's a kid that can do that and he has the character to do that -- not only at this level but at the next level, too. He's got a chance to be very special.
Palmer continued: "He's an unbelievable teammate and just a team guy. He knows when to say, 'Hey, let's go guys, let's get it going' and he knows when to kind of gear back -- he's got a good pulse of the team, when to kind of get 'em going and when to kind of say 'all right' and let them do it on their own. I couldn't ask any more from him."
South Florida Elite Squad-Louisville Slugger 16u -- led by Florida commit Reyes, Duke commit Zack Kone (2015, Boca Raton, Fla.) and Miami commits Roman Gonzalez (2015, Hialeah, Fla.) and Anthony Molina (2016, Pembroke Pines, Fla.) -- is among the favorites to win this event based on reputation alone. They opened tournament play Friday with a 4-2 win over Lobos Baseball at the 5-Plex.
"We made a nice run at the (East) Memorial Day (Classic) and I think we accomplished what we wanted to," Palmer said. "I know we lost in the championship game but that weekend wasn't about that. That weekend was about getting to know each other in the limited time that we have together because we have so many kids attending showcases -- things that we support."
This team has got involved in other tournaments since the 16u PG WWBA East Memorial Day Classic but never at full strength. South Florida Elite Squad-Louisville Slugger 16u had several players attend the PG Junior National Showcase a couple of weeks ago and others had other commitments.
"It's what I tell my coaches, that having some high profile kids you're not going to have the majority of the roster every tournament," Palmer said. "You have to mix and match, and those guys have done great. We've had guys step up and fill in and we've done great in the other tournaments. I'm very pleased with how the summer has progressed with this group."
The South Florida Elite Squad has never won a BCS Finals national championship and would like to accomplish that in the days ahead. Palmer likes the event because it takes place about two weeks before the PG WWBA 16u National Championship up in Marietta, Ga. (commonly referred to as East Cobb for the complex which serves as official host of the event) and provides excellent preparation for that event.
"It's great because it's right before East Cobb and it gives us an idea of where we stack up and also an idea of where we need to improve," Palmer said. "This is obviously one we want to win -- we're not going to come in here and say, 'Hey, if we lose, no big deal.' We're going to play to win, but it also sets the tone for East Cobb to know what you've got to work on and what you've got to get better at."
Reyes has enjoyed his short time playing with Palmer and his Elite Team-Louisville Slugger teammates. He hopes it's a partnership that lasts at least through the summer and fall of 2014 before he graduates from high school -- and become eligible for the MLB amateur draft -- in the spring of 2015,
"It's been a great relationship," Reyes said. "They've helped me with everything and it's a great program. I can't ask for anything more and I'm proud to play for the South Florida Elite."
Reyes has already committed to Florida and coach Kevin O'Sullivan after considering schools closer to his parent's Miami Springs home. He ultimately decided to get a little farther away from home, way up north in Gainesville.
"I thought that would be a better decision for me, to go away from home," he said. "I thought I could grow up and become more of a man; it was just a great fit and I love Florida, and that was my decision for me and my family."
The South Florida Elite Squad organization has had some elite prospects pass through its doors since Palmer got it up and running in 2006: more than 150 have signed with or committed to colleges just since 2010. Twenty-one players who wore an Elite Squad jersey just in the last two years alone were selected in the MLB amateur draft, including 2012 first-rounders Nick Travieso and Lewis Brinson.
Palmer is of the mind that Reyes could surpass them all.
"If he continues to develop he has a chance to be best player our program has had," he said. "I don't want to jinx it by saying that, and he's still got work to do, don't get wrong. But you see at 16 years old, not many kids have possessed that in our program.
"We've had some good players come through here and he's got the ability if he continues to improve -- and I think he will because the work ethic is there -- to be one of the best players we've ever had if not the best. The sky's the limit for him."