LAKELAND, Fla.—The Florida Diamond Club, established in 1972 by a group of scouts, began its annual showcase on Friday featuring the best high school players in the Sunshine State. The history of Florida Diamond Club participants is rich and storied. More than 200 participants were selected over the last five drafts. Since 2001, more than 60 future big leaguers played in the event, including Prince Fielder, Manny Machado and Jose Fernandez.
Players receive an invitation from scouts to play on one of the four regional teams at the event, which is held at Joker Marchant Stadium, home of the high Class A Lakeland Tigers of the Florida State League.
After a below-average group of Florida prep players last year, early indications are that Florida will likely be much stronger for the 2014 draft. Pitching is the strength of the state, and its depth of power arms was on display Friday, when nine of the 11 pitchers to take the hill touched 90 mph or better while the southern and western squads squared off. The event format calls for each pitcher to throw two innings.
• Righthander Keith Weisenberg (Osceola HS, Seminole, Fla.) started for the West and faced the minimum of six hitters in his two innings. The tall, projectable 6-foot-5, 195-pound Stanford commit sat 91-93 mph with above-average fastball movement from an easy delivery. He primarily pitched off his fastball and went to an 83-84 mph changeup. His 79-82 mph slider was inconsistent but he did throw a few with late-breaking three-quarters tilt to righthanded hitters.
• Arguably the most impressive outing of the day belonged to righthander Erik Manoah Jr. (South Dade HS, Homestead, Fla.), who struck out four of the seven hitters he faced, allowing one single. The strongly built 6-foot, 220-pound Florida International commit with a powerful lower half sat 90-92 mph, touching 93 from a high three-quarters slot. He pounded the strike zone and threw 75 percent of his pitches for strikes. His best offering was a mid-70s curveball with good shape that flashed above-average potential.
"Tonight was the best outing I had the all summer or fall," Manoah said. "In the first inning, I was just switching up the fastball and the curveball. I was toying with the hitters' minds. All my pitches were on today."
Manoah had good command of the offering, and six of his eight curveballs went for strikes, and hitters looked uneasy in the box against his bender, as multiple hitters flinched badly on called strikes.
After establishing his fastball and curveball, Manoah began sprinkling in a high-70s changeup with some arm-side fade.
"In the second inning, I didn't want to throw the curveball too much because they were expecting it, so I mixed in some changeups and then froze them up with the fastball." Manoah said. "But the changeup is mostly a setup pitch for me."
Manoah threw at Tournament of Stars in June, changed his hands in the windup and got better direction to the plate Friday.
He will pitch next weekend at the World Wood Bat Championships in Jupiter, Fla., for the Blue Jays' scout team.
• Righthander Weston Davis (Manatee HS, Bradenton, Fla.) struck out three. Davis, a lean, long-limbed 6-foot-3, 180-pound Florida commit, sat 90-91 from a slot a tick above sidearm. Although Davis is longer in the back, some scouts compared his delivery and arm action to former reliever Jeff Nelson.
"That has always been my natural arm slot," Davis said. "People have tried to change it and I have always kept it there. It's my thing. Peopled tried to change it when I was young but then people realized as I got older that was where I need to be."
Davis showed good feel for a high-70s changeup, his favored secondary offering, and mixed in some mid-70s sliders.
• A pair of Venezuelan righthanders from Faith Baptist High, Brandon, Fla., Maiko Mora and Ronny Orta, each threw an inning. Mora, a lean 6-foot-2, 175-pounder with a loose arm and athleticism in his delivery, touched 90 and sat in the upper 80s. He sparingly used his upper-70s slider. Orta, a solidly built 5-foot-11, 175 pounds, struck out two, although his control wavered, and allowed a single. He sat in the upper 80s and touched 91, and mixed in a low-70s breaking ball.
• Shortstop Milton Ramos (American Heritage HS, Planation, Fla.), one of the premier defenders in the class with incredibly soft hands, excellent body control and fluidity to his actions, went 2 for 5 with two loud singles back up the middle, one of which he squared up a 92 mph fastball. Although Ramos, who ran the 60-yard dash in 6.6 seconds, struck out twice as well, he showed more gap power in batting practice than at previous showcase events.
• Catcher J.J. Schwarz was a batting practice standout Friday. Schwarz, a key piece of the World Cup-winning squad for Team USA, is a strong 6-foot-1, 193-pound backstop from Palm Beach Gardens (Fla.) High. He has good bat speed, made consistent loud contact and drove the ball to the gaps with authority. His natural strength gives him the opportunity for average or better power. Schwarz, a bottom-of-the-scale runner, has an above-average arm. His father, Jeff, played in the majors and is a pitching coach in the Marlins organization.