JUPITER, Fla.--The son of a former minor league pitcher, Blaze Alexander has always had an affinity for at least two things when it came to sports--the game of baseball and a natural ability to throw hard.
And up to this point, the long-lasting affections are paying major dividends for Blaze, a highly-touted 2018 shortstop from Bishop Verot HS in Fort Myers, Fla. who broke a Perfect Game National record with a 99 mph throw across the infield earlier this summer.
"I know that's a big reason why my name got out there as much as it did and I thought it was awesome," Blaze said. "I threw 99 and I think then everyone wanted to come see me play. That's when they realized I had other tools--more than just my arm--and it blew up for me from there."
Blaze's father, Chuck Alexander, pitched in the Indians organization from 1988-1991, making it all the way to the California League with a fastball that reached the mid-90s from the left side.
And although Blaze is unlike his dad in the sense that he plays in the field and throws from the right side, the youngest Alexander is trying to follow in his father's footsteps by one day playing professional baseball--at least in part--because of an uncanny arm strength
"Obviously I get to use more momentum because I'm an infielder, but I think we all know that if I ever stepped on the mound that I would be able to beat him with the (velocity) there, too," Blaze said with a laugh.
Chuck is more than willing to take a good-natured ribbing from his son, who entered this weekend's World Wood Bat Association (WWBA) Perfect Game World Championship ranked as the 37th-best high school prospect in the 2018 class.
"As a parent, you always want your kids to be better than you were--a lot better, really. So, in a sense, I was always kind of asking for this," Chuck said. "But you know what, we're a baseball family and this is what we do.”
Blaze’s older brother, C.J., was the No. 2 prospect in the South Florida Collegiate League this summer, and is an interesting draft-eligible prospect in his own right. For now though, Blaze is getting most of the hype.
“Blaze has deserved all of the attention and everything he's received because he's been working hard, not only on his arm strength but the rest of his all-around game for a long time now and it's really starting to show."
As his dad alluded, Blaze has showed off more than just plus arm strength through two games at the WWBA World Championship. An athletic 6-foot-1 and 175 pounds, Blaze has shown above-average range to both his left and right, as well as a pair of quick hands that has made for smooth transfers in the field.
Overall, Blaze, who has been committed to South Carolina for nearly two years, is one of the best defensive shortstops in his class and still has plenty of projection left in his frame, leaving room for him to continue to make strides as he matures.
"I just love playing defense," Blaze said. "Especially on the tough plays, like a backhand in the hole when no one thinks you have a chance to throw the guy out at first. I know a lot of guys like to focus on hitting first, but for me my defense is just as important."
Playing with the Houston Astros Scout Team/Elite Squad for the first time this weekend, Blaze has made a positive first impression on head coach Richie Palmer, whose team already included other top 2018 infielders such as Triston Cases and Cory Acton. Palmer said the decision to add Blaze to his Jupiter roster was an obvious one.
"I haven't coached him but two games, but I absolutely love the kid," Palmer said. "He's a great kid, great competitor and I think anyone that watches him can see the talent right away because it's loud.”
"I think more than anything it's just really fun to watch him play shortstop. He can cover a lot of ground and then, on top of that, he makes a lot of plays that other shortstops can't make because of his arm strength. He's definitely the best arm we've ever had at that position and I don't think there's any doubt about that. He has a chance to be really special in this game."
Unfortunately for Palmer, Blaze and the rest of the Houston Astros Scout Team/Elite Squad, it's been the hitting--not the defense--that has been an issue through the first three days of the WWBA World Championship. Through two games, the Astros have mustered just three hits and no runs in 14 innings, leading to a pair of disappointing losses for a team that entered with high expectations and an abundance of talent.
Blaze finished the first two games a combined 0-for-3, but led the team with three walks and reached base four times in six plate appearances. A right-handed hitter, Blaze has consistently shown an advanced and patient approach throughout the tournament while also having the bat speed necessary to catch up to high-end velocity. He has also recently tweaked his approach at the plate, attempting to simplify his load and quiet his hands.
"It's obviously frustrating when we aren't hitting as well as we're capable as a team, but in the end you just have to go out and play defense because there's still two sides of the game," Blaze said. “This is only my second event of the fall because I took some time off, so my focus is trying to get the bat back to being more consistent and that just comes as you get more reps.”
“But it's still been an awesome experience to come here and be bombarded with scouts watching you play."