See also: 2006 High School All-American Team
At first glance, Adrian Cardenas spent the fall and winter months leading up to his senior season in similar fashion to most high school players. He took hack after hack in the batting cage, exercised, lifted weights, fielded ground balls ad infinitum, fine-tuned his swing and practiced practically every other physical aspect of the game imaginable.
It was how Cardenas prepared himself off the field that, in his estimation, made the difference.
He entered the season as a top-100 prospect, but not in consideration as a high-round draft choice. He wasn’t even considered the best player on his high school team.
After the dust settled, he had set school, state and Dade County records, led his team to a state championship, been drafted in the supplemental first round, and been named Baseball America’s High School Player of the Year.
“Oh my God, it’s been unbelievable, and now with the draft it has all been amazing,” he said. “This has truly been a Cinderella season.”
Cardenas’ unlikely tale can be traced to his evenings at his suburban Miami home prior to his senior season at Monsignor Pace High. With an intellect as remarkable as his athleticism, Cardenas, who graduated in the top 10 percent of his class, decided sharpening the mental side of his game was the step necessary to maximize his potential as a player.
From prose on Ted Williams to Derek Jeter’s autobiography to Terry Orlick’s Pursuit of Excellence, Cardenas began ingesting all kinds of reading material on the analytical approach to playing.
“I love to analyze things,” he said. “I basically wanted to carry the team on my back, and there was no time to be doubting or second-guessing yourself. I became so zeroed in on the game that day that I guess you have no option but to succeed.”
And with that, Cardenas embarked on an otherworldly season. He homered seven times in his first eight games and was 28-for-34 without a strikeout a month into the season.
Posited in the Spartans’ three-hole in front of cleanup hitter Chris Marrero, Cardenas was getting pitches to hit, and punishing them with his strong, quick, lefthanded swing.
“It was like, ‘Is this guy ever going to make an out,’ ” said Spartans coach Tom Duffin, who, like Cardenas, started at shortstop at Monsignor Pace back in 1985, the last time the school claimed the state championship.
The hits kept coming for Cardenas, who obliterated Duffin’s school record for batting average, hitting .647 (75-for-116). He set a new Dade County home run mark with 18 and capped the season with a 5-for-5 performance in Monsignor Pace’s championship game victory in Sarasota. He drove in 65 runs, scored another 52, hit 18 doubles, three triples and stole 14 bases.
At the season’s outset, all the attention was on Marrero, whom Cardenas credits for inspiring him. Cardenas knew his friend was more talented and ranked higher as a pro prospect, and he was determined to show the nation that he not only could complement Marrero, but he was capable of outperforming him, as well.
“I love proving people wrong, and I knew the scouts were all there in the beginning to see Marrero,” Cardenas said. “I wanted them to go there to see me just as much as Marrero.”
Cardenas’ declarations come with conviction, as Duffin and scouts alike will attest. He possesses a focus and outlook uncanny among players his age, instilled in part by his parents. A physical therapist and nurse, Cardenas’ father and mother are the antithesis of the prototypical parents of a competitive, high-profile high school player. Cuban descendants, Juan and Aida Cardenas pointed their son in a completely different direction than the one that has become his livelihood.
Adrian began taking piano lessons as a three-year-old and performed in formal recitals up to the time he was a junior in high school. At a party to celebrate his selection in the draft, he entertained his friends and family by performing some of his favorite pieces by composers such as George Gershwin and Franz Liszt.
Cardenas points out that his parents’ influence precipitated his mature, cerebral approach to the game, and he takes pride and satisfaction in knowing the path he has pursued–to play baseball professionally–was one he embraced with their encouragement, rather than their insistence.
“They don’t know much about baseball, they just kind of follow it through me,” Cardenas said with a laugh. “In some cases it might be the father or the mother pushing their son. With me, I haven’t become the hitter that I am or the player I am because my father tells me to go take groundballs or hit. I became the player I am because I wanted to work at it and get to that level of being one of the best. That’s very reassuring.”
As the 37th overall pick (by the Phillies in the supplemental first round), he has the opportunity to follow his chosen path. His game isn’t without its deficiencies–some scouts say he’ll have to move off shortstop, possibly to left field, second base or catcher, and he’s not a blazing runner–which he acknowledges.
His performance this spring, built on his hard work in the offseason and his solid foundation away from the game, makes it easy to believe in Cardenas’ confident outlook.
“I know it’s going to take a couple of years to develop, and I know I’m not going to hit no .647 when I get to the minors,” he said. “But with time . . . I know I can rise to the occasion in the minor leagues and hopefully in the major leagues.”