It didn't take long for Mater Academy (Hialeah Gardens, Fla.) head coach Eddie Gorriz to realize Willie Abreu was not normal.
Back when he was a rising junior outfielder at Miami Springs High, Abreu was in the process of transferring to Mater Academy, which already featured star outfielder Albert Almora—a six-time USA Baseball alumni who would become the sixth overall selection in the draft by the Cubs in 2012.
A year ago, Abreu got his first taste of USA Baseball with the 16-and-under National Team that took home a gold medal for the sixth straight year at the IBAF 16U World Youth Championships in Mexico. He hit .423 (11-for-26) in seven games and said the experience was the most memorable of his career.
The idea of patrolling the same outfield as Almora would create more exposure for Abreu while also playing for a better program and against stronger competition.
"(Almora) was max-effort in everything he did, on and off the field," Abreu said. "I try to approach everything the same way.
"He's a phenomenal defender. Anyone that's ever played with him could learn something just by watching him shag fly balls."
Before Gorriz ever saw Abreu step onto a baseball field, he said his conditioning, training and work ethic were "out of this world.” Even after having seen him play this past season after transferring to Mater Academy, Abreu continues to impress Gorriz with his athleticism.
"One thing I love having my kids do is weighted pull-ups, and if there's a weight Willie can't get over the bar, he'll go after it three or four more times while everyone else is cleaning up and getting ready to leave. He'll be like, 'Coach, one more, one more. I can get this.’ He's that kind of kid, you know?" Gorriz said.
A 6-foot-3, 205-pound outfielder committed to play college ball at Miami, Abreu is a "freak athlete,” according to Gorriz—not just for his size, but for anyone. Gorriz claims he's seen Abreu jump flat footed off the ground onto a box that stands five feet high.
One time, Abreu was matched with two soccer players at Mater Academy and was tied together at the waists by a bungee cord and a ring holding the three together in the middle, with all three lines going in different directions. Gorriz said even though the soccer players were strong kids, Abreu dragged both of them on the ground, snapped the cord and had whip marks on his back from where it snapped the other two lines and hit him.
"When you're good and you know you're good, you have nothing to prove to people," Gorriz said. "But, it allows him to be humble and he's very positive and a tremendous teammate as well. And, it's not just on the baseball field. It translates into the classroom as well. He's a good student that works hard and has a bright future in whatever he chooses to do."
Upon first glance, one wouldn't expect Abreu to be a plus runner as well due to his strong and mature frame. Gorriz said Abreu has turned in several 60-yard dash times at 6.7 seconds, which is at least 0.2 seconds faster than he was at a year ago thanks to improvement with his stride.
Abreu was born and raised in Miami and comes from a family that has instilled a perfectionist mentality that was not only evident to Gorriz, but to the Team Dixie coaches he played for during the Tournament of Stars this summer. Abreu went on to play for Team USA and was recently named to the 18-and-under squad after they announced their final cuts. They will compete in the IBAF 18U World Championships in Seoul, South Korea, beginning Aug. 30.
"There's nothing that I feel like I don't need to improve on to help my team win games," Abreu said. "It's an honor to be invited to all of these great events, but now is not the time to relax. It's a long journey, so I'm trying my best so there's nothing anybody can point out and say that is my weakness."
Gorriz said he tells his players all the time that he wants high school baseball to be a stepping stone for where they want to be someday—not only as players, but human beings as well. Even though Abreu has a bright future ahead in baseball, he said his parents still expect him to earn a college degree someday.