FORT MYERS, Fla. – Sturdy Salisbury (Conn.) Prep School right-hander Austin DeCarr sat by himself inside the covered, screened-in pavilion at the Player Development 5-Plex here Thursday afternoon, ear bugs in, presumably listening to his favorite tunes and, basically, just keeping cool and chilling out.
It was less than two hours before the 6-foot-4, 220-pound DeCarr would trot out to the mound to make the start for the Crimson Knights in their opener at the Perfect Game High School Showdown-Academies against SBO Storm Puerto Rico. DeCarr, a 19-year-old senior at the highly respected all-male prep school, was simply taking everything in.
“There are a lot of good teams down here and we’ve been working pretty hard,” DeCarr told PG before sitting down for some personal contemplation. “It’s obviously a lot better being here than up north in the cold; we’ve been looking forward to it for awhile and I can’t wait to get out there.”
Salisbury Prep is the No. 33-ranked team in the Perfect Game National High School Top 50 Rankings, and the only nationally ranked school in the nine-team PG HS Showdown-Academies field. DeCarr is the No. 114-ranked overall national prospect in the class of 2014 (No. 3 Massachusetts), but that is a ranking that could rise as the spring season progresses.
The Crimson Knights downed SBO Storm Puerto Rico 10-0 in six innings Thursday, and it was a win that rested easily on DeCarr’s broad shoulders. While more than two dozen radar gun-wielding scouts looked on, DeCarr worked six scoreless, two-hit innings, striking out 13 and walking one while also plunking one unfortunate SBO Storm batter. His fastball sat 90-92 mph and topped out at 94 while his curve peaked at 77 and his changeup at 84.
“He’s got a terrific work ethic, first and foremost,” Salisbury Prep head coach John Toffey said of his ace before his big right-hander’s outing. “He’s such a great athlete … and his arm works really easy. He’s a guy that has played multiple sports – he was one of the top quarterbacks in all of the Northeast and this year he just kind of focused on baseball.
“He had a great strength and conditioning program that he was following and he really kind of focused on baseball for quite a few months in a row, and I think he’s starting to see the payoff from that.”
Toffey, the rest of the Crimson Knights’ coaching staff and 33 players were here in Florida for 10 days last month during the school’s spring break, basically running a tryout camp. From that tryout, Toffey and his staff decided on their 23-man varsity roster that is the group here this week.
“We just picked the team about two weeks ago and we’ve been practicing inside for the past 10 days,” Toffey said. “This will be the first time that our team is outside, playing as a team.”
He also said there has been noticeable change in the effectiveness of DeCarr’s pitches. Not only has his curveball and changeup gotten better, but the velocity on his fastball keeps rising.
“His first outing in Florida, he was 93-95 (miles per hour) and his second outing he was 94-96,” Toffey said. “We’re still working on building up his pitch count and he’s probably not quite as far along as some of the pitchers here that have played more games.”
This is DeCarr’s first year at Salisbury Prep after previously attending Xavierian Brothers High School in Foxboro, Mass. He has slid seamlessly into the Salisbury culture, which is quite different from a typical high school and academy environment. It is a boarding school and students not only attend class and play sports together, but they live in dormitories and enjoy communal dining most nights.
“It’s been a really good fit,” DeCarr said. “I get my school work done and I can focus on improving every day and stuff like that. I really do like it a lot and it’s a great place to focus on your game.”
The school’s appeal is certainly enhanced by the fact that the Knights have such a talented ballclub this year. DeCarr has signed with Clemson, as has senior right-hander Paul Campbell, a top-500 prospect from Revere, Mass. Top 500 senior shortstop prospect Will Toffey from Barnstable, Mass. – the coach’s younger brother – has signed with Vanderbilt.
Other “high follow” prospects on the roster include senior right-handers Scott Hovey (UMass) and William Montgomerie (UConn); senior catcher Kyle Adams (Richmond) and senior outfielder Andrew Murnane (Pennsylvania).
Campbell is scheduled to start Friday’s PG HS Showdown-Academies game against Arlington Country Day (Fla.) and Montgomerie will go on Saturday against Future Stars Baseball (Virgin Islands). The Crimson Knights will get a fourth game on Saturday but it has not been determined if it will be in the championship game, the third-place game or the consolation round.
“We’ve got a lot of talent on this team and we’ve got a lot of good players, but at the end of the day it all comes down to if we can put it together on the field, and we think we can,” DeCarr said. “Obviously, we haven’t been on the field as much as some of these southern teams the teams from the (Caribbean) Islands but we’re going to be coming out and competing just as hard as anybody else and see what happens.”
The PG HS Showdown-Academies tournament couldn’t have gotten off to any better start for the Crimson Knights. In addition to DeCarr’s fine outing on the mound, Will Toffey doubled, tripled, scored three runs and drove in one and Hovey had a pair of singles and drive in two.
“This is great. The weather is fantastic, the fields are beautiful, so we’re looking forward just to be outside,” Coach Toffey said. “We’ve been stuck inside the past 10 days up in the Northeast so this is really exciting for us. We’re definitely excited. We have a lot of new faces with us this year, but our pitching should be a strength, and we’re working on our defense and playing well defensively. Clearly, our pitching staff is a strength of our ballclub.”
It’s a staff that is anchored by DeCarr.
This is the 14th Perfect Game event DeCarr has attended since his debut at the 2009 PG WWBA 14u National Championship as a 14-year-old playing with the New England Roughnecks; he was listed at 5-foot-5, 120-pounds on the Roughnecks’ roster five years ago. Most of his PG WWBA tournament play over the last couple of years has come as a member of the Northeast Baseball Rays.
“I’ve never been a big showcase guy, but my teams have gone to a lot of the (PG) tournaments,” DeCarr said. “Perfect Game does a great job; they’re very organized and they’re very good at scheduling all the game and getting everything put together.
DeCarr may not have been much of a “showcase guy” but he was invited to and did attend the 2013 Perfect Game National Showcase in Minneapolis after his junior year at Xavierian Brothers High School in Foxboro, Mass. He found the experience exhilarating.
“That was a real, real good event,” he said. “That was right up there with (the Area Code Games) and East Coast Pro (Showcase) as one of my favorite ones, as far as the great, great talent. Some of the things at some of these showcases some people put on are watered down, but (the PG National) was really good with a lot of talent and, obviously, hundreds of scouts there. So it was really good.”
More scouts are bound to keep turning out to watch Toffey throw as the spring turns to summer and Toffey is sure they won’t be disappointed.
“Austin is a special kid; he really is – you just don’t see kids with his natural ability coupled with his work ethic and his desire,” he said. “When you mix all those different things together you obviously get a very special player. And the scary thing about Austin is that he’s just scratching the surface of the player that he can become.
“He’s nowhere near his full potential so we’re really looking forward to working with him this year and helping him to develop into being the best pitcher that he can be.”
PG ranks DeCarr as the 185th overall (college, junior college, high school) prospect in June’s MLB amateur draft but if he keeps delivering mid-90s fastballs and shows improved command, that number could be much lower by the first week in June.
In the meantime, DeCarr will continue to sit quietly by himself before performing in front of the scouts, as he did Thursday, content to let the dice come up boxcars, snake-eyes or maybe lucky 7s.
“I’ve thought about (the draft), but that stuff is all going to take care of itself,” he said Thursday. “I’m just focusing on the season right now and trying to control what I can control – just going out and competing every day and let the chips fall where they will. I love the coaching staff at Clemson and I love everything about Clemson so we’ll just see what happens.
“I’ve talked about it with (several teammates) and this is kind of a day-by-day thing,” DeCarr concluded. “Nothing is going to happen today so why worry about it. The bottom line is you’ve got to come out and show people what you’ve got going and the only way to do that is by working hard every day and developing more and more every time out; don’t get caught up in all the outside distractions.”