February 16, 2011

Top players square off as baseball begins

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Dallas Jackson is the Senior Analyst for RivalsHigh. Email him your question, comment or story ideas to DallasJ@Yahoo-Inc.com and follow him on Twitter.

As the calendar rolls into mid-February, baseball fields throughout Florida will be ripe with activity.

But while most have their attention turned toward the Big Leaguers and spring training, scouts and talent evaluators will be headed over to the high school fields for the first pitch.

The first stop for many will be about 40 miles outside of Orlando as Montverde (Fla.) Montverde Academy will face off with Jacksonville (Fla.) Arlington Country Day on Thursday as the first big game of the new season.

"I would expect a handful of us (scouts) to be there," an American League scout who covers Florida said.

It is industry standard for scouts to remain anonymous to keep from tipping the hand of the teams that they are working for and the players they are evaluating.

"Between the two schools, there are at least three guys who could be early draft picks," he said.

While the anonymity of the scout is protected, the list of players many will be there to watch is certainly well known.

Javier Baez, a shortstop/third-base prospect from Arlington Country Day and Francisco Lindor, also a shortstop and a Florida State commitment, will be the featured players.

Both could be first-round picks with Lindor garnering early talk as one of the first high school position players to come off the board in June.

The two have twice been teammates and made up the left side of the infield this past summer at the AFLAC All-American game where Baez started at third and Lindor at shortstop. The duo was again paired in October as the left side of the infield for the FTB Mizuno/Cardinals Scout Team which finished third at the WWBA World Championships.

Baez, who is not committed to college, hit .463 last year with 13 home runs and 42 RBI. He is expected to be a late first-round pick but could slide into the second round.

Lindor's stock rose dramatically with his performance at the AFLAC game. He is a switch-hitter who batted a respectable .354 last season but has many scouts excited about his defense.

"He is effortless," one National League scout said. "He reminds me of a young Omar Vizquel with the range and fluidity of his motion."

While those are the two main players in the game, scouts will also get a chance to evaluate Austin Marzolph, the first baseman from Arlington, and Roberto Rodriguez, the catcher for Montverde.

Neither team finished the 2010 season in the RivalsHigh 100, but with the removal of travel restrictions by switching to an independent schedule, Arlington Country Day will be playing a much more ambitious schedule and could fight its way into the national rankings.

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