FORT MYERS, Fla. – A couple of hours before he was scheduled to start one of the first games at the 2012 Perfect Game World Showcase, Puerto Rican right-hander Edwin Diaz was spotted walking around Terry Park with an ice bag applied to one side of his face.
Diaz had gotten beaned with an errant throw while waiting for his Puerto Rican teammate, PG All-American Carlos Correa, to participate in Saturday morning’s infield throw portion of the showcase’s workout session.
One errant throw in the morning wasn’t about to knock down Diaz in the afternoon, however. He made his start for PG Kelly Green in the main stadium at Terry Park, and calmly watched his first fastballs of the outing reach 93 mph on the radar gun.
His efforts under the bright Florida sunshine on a 75-degree day seemed as flawless as the weather, and dozens of scouts in attendance certainly took notice.
“The reason I came here is because I want to keep showcasing myself and give scouts an opportunity to see me again,” Diaz, who speaks little or no English, said through Edwin Rodriguez, the general manager of Team Mizuno of Puerto Rico. “My expectations are just to be the best pitcher throwing here this weekend.”
Diaz, a 6-foot-3, 175-pound senior at Caguas Military Academy in Puerto Rico, has climbed the national rankings since first appearing at the 16u BCS Finals here at Terry Park in July of 2010. He joined Rodriguez and Team Mizuno of Puerto Rico for the 2010 WWBA Underclass World Championship here that fall and really burst upon the scene with his appearance at the 2011 Perfect Game National Showcase at City of Palms Park last June. He most recently pitched at the PG WWBA World Championship last October over in Jupiter, Fla.
He entered this weekend’s World Showcase ranked No. 66 nationally – No. 21 at his position – and No. 3 among Puerto Rico’s top prospects regardless of position.
“I got Edwin (in 2010) and since day-one he’s been an extremely hard worker,” Rodriguez said Saturday morning. “He had the opportunity to play side-by-side with Jorge Lopez, so that helped him a lot in terms of getting the feel of what’s going on, and he understands a lot.”
Lopez was Rodriguez’s first big pitching sensation, a right-hander in the class of 2011 who was drafted in the second round by the Milwaukee Brewers in last year’s MLB First-Year Player Draft. Rodriguez sees some similarities between the two Puerto Rican hurlers.
“Jorge was more of a fall guy – he didn’t play in the summer – and nobody knew about him until basically Jupiter,” Rodriguez said. “In Edwin’s case, people started seeing him last year when he was at the National and the East Coast (Pro) Showcase and all these other events that were in the summer and the fall. He’s been able to showcase himself, and at the different showcases and events he’s been at, he’s a guy that was pitching 93, 94 and topping out at 95.”
Rodriguez said he, personally, had never seen that kind of velocity from a Puerto Rican pitcher before, not even from Lopez.
“I’ve had scouts ask me, ‘Well, who’s better between them?’ and when the question was asked in the fall, I told them, ‘Jorge’s fastball wasn’t that hard but Jorge’s curveball, his secondary pitch, was a lot better,’” Rodriguez said. “So Edwin’s been working hard on his secondary pitches (curveball and changeup) and hopefully today he can show all the hard work he’s put into that.”
Diaz has been working a lot with Team Mizuno-PR pitching coach John Burgos, a former professional pitcher who coached with the Texas Rangers organization in the DSL.
“Burgos has been working on (Diaz’s) control, his command and his mechanics, and he’s improved a lot,” Rodriguez said. “He was very, very wild, which is normal for a fastball pitcher whose mechanics have never been worked on. When you’re a youth, it’s just take the ball and throw hard. He’s learned how to control his body … and his command and control have improved a lot.”
Diaz certainly looked in control during his first inning of work Saturday afternoon.
“I’ve had so much experience already I no longer feel any nervousness in front of scouts,” he said. “The Perfect Game showcases have helped me a lot and it’s helped me get exposure in front of the scouts.”
Rodriguez brought along several other top-notch arms to compete this weekend, including right-handers Edgar Burgos and Richard Mendoza, two 19-year-old free agents. Rodriguez said he’s noticed a rise in pitching talent on the island in recent years.
“Usually when you’re talking about Puerto Rico you’re always talking about catchers and pitching wasn’t looked at that much. In the past few years you’ve seen pitchers developing more and more,” he said. “I’ve always thought that the issue with the pitchers was that they didn’t throw enough, and I’m not saying ‘pitched’ enough, I’m saying ‘throw’ enough.
“There’s a huge difference between throwing and pitching, and over the years they’ve become more accustomed to throwing every day – long toss, short toss, bullpen sessions – and not just pitch, and I think that’s helped a lot,” he continued. “We’re seeing stronger arms, better arms and I’ve always said that in order to get a stronger arm, you have to throw.”
Rodriguez also included a couple of top catching prospects among the players he brought here this weekend, including Wifredo Rodriguez and Cristian Munoz. Both are top-nine ranked prospects in Puerto Rico.
The star of the group, though, is unquestionably Correa. The nation’s No. 9-ranked prospect – No.1-ranked shortstop prospect – that is expected to become Puerto Rico’s highest overall draft pick this June, Correa broke his own event record with an infield throw of 97 mph in Saturday morning’s workout session. Good thing that wasn’t the throw that beaned Diaz.
“I think it’s a very, very good group. You basically have all the top prospects here, and this is an excellent opportunity for all the scouts to be able to have an extra opportunity to have a look at them,” Rodriguez said. “You don’t have high school baseball in Puerto Rico so anytime scouts can an additional look at the players it’s a lot better.
“This is the time the player has been to all the other workouts, he knows what to expect, there’s no jitters in his stomach, so this should be the time when you should be able to showcase your improvement from the fall to the spring.”
While most of the top Puerto Rican prospects were put together on the PG Kelly Green team at the World Showcase, there are eight others on the PG Navy squad. Almost the entire PG Maroon roster at the PG National Underclass Showcase-Session 3 is made up of PR kids and 14 others are included on other National Underclass-3 and World Open Uncommitted Showcase rosters. Those latter two events are running simultaneously with the World Showcase this weekend, also at Terry Park.
“I brought the kids for the Underclass last year, also, so I’m trying to do the same this year,” Rodriguez said. “I like bringing the top underclass kids to start getting a feel on them to see which are going to be the guys that should get invited to the National (Showcase) and which are the guys that will be playing for Mizuno.”
At this time, at this showcase, it just might be Diaz’s time to shine. He has not made a college commitment and definitely has his eye on the draft. Major League Baseball scouting departments will determine what Diaz will be doing this summer.
“It’s all going to depend on where I’m drafted,” he said. “If I like where I’m picked, I’ll sign a professional contract and if not then I’ll go to school.”