CARY, N.C.--Like many freshman getting their first taste of high school baseball, Connor Scott endured a period in his first season at Plant (Fla.) High where he struggled at the plate. He was making good contact with the ball, but he wasn't finding any holes.
He was frustrated, and it showed. His teammate, Kyle Tucker, who was just months away from being selected fifth overall by the Astros in the 2015 MLB Draft, pulled Scott aside and dished him some advice.
Scott took the advice in stride. He wrote down the message from Tucker in his notebook. He looked at it every day. He kept it under his hat--anywhere he could see it. Whenever there were two strikes on him, he'd step out of the batter's box and repeat the phrase over in his head.
It was simple, but it was all Scott needed to hear to turn things around: You're better than them, and they can't beat you.
"I was like, 'Realize you're in high school right now, these guys aren't that good. Go up there and expect to do some damage up there,'" Tucker said. "'Go up there and know that you're going to get a hit and do the absolute most with that.''"
It's been two years since Scott and Tucker played their lone season of high school ball on the same team. Tucker is tearing his way through the Astros' minor league system and is set to represent the U.S. Team in the Futures Game on Sunday. Scott, now a senior, heeded Tucker's advice and has continued to play like he's the best player on the field.
But playing at the 2017 Tournament of Stars, Scott doesn't want to be compared to Tucker. He just wants to be himself.
Scott's talent was shown immediately when he came to Plant as a freshman. In his first season, he joined elite company, and became one of five freshmen to make the varsity team, along with Tucker, his older brother Preston Tucker (now playing for the Astros), Mychal Givens (now pitching for the Orioles) and Jake Woodford (in the Cardinals organization).
All Scott wanted to do was fit in with the team, but he couldn't help but be astonished by the size of the future MLB draft picks he'd be sharing the field with.
"My first week there I was super intimidated by how big Jake and Kyle were," Scott said. "But they were really nice to me, they helped me improve all the time. It was easy to look up to them, they're really good leaders."
But now it's Scott, a 6-foot-4 lefthanded hitter and pitcher, who has younger players staring up to him. He's developed into an attractive prospect who hit .364 as a junior, and posted a 1.28 ERA in 15 pitching appearances. He's got speed (a sub-4.00 run time down the first base line at TOS), a fluid swing from the left side of the plate, and a strong arm which hits up to 91 miles per hour when he's on the mound.
Most of the credit for that belongs to Scott, who dropped his other two sports--golf and swimming--to focus on baseball. Some of the credit belongs to Plant baseball coach Dennis Braun, who has a track record of producing pro players.
But Tucker had a hand in Scott's development as well. In the outfield during batting practice prior to games, Tucker worked with Scott on tracking fly balls--something the Florida commit cites as one of his biggest strengths. At the plate, Tucker helped Scott hit the ball out front.
Since he's started playing professionally, Tucker has made an effort to stay rooted at Plant. He works with the team each spring in a coaching role, and has the chance to see the first few weeks of each season prior to leaving for Spring Training. Scott's development has stood out to him.
"I've seen how he’s matured and grown up since I was playing with him," Tucker said. "He's developed a lot, he knows pretty much what he's doing at the plate and in the field now. He has a good sense of what to do in certain situations. It's really helped him out."
The two remain close to this day. Scott will often shoot Tucker a text here and there when he's playing well, and they'll chat on the phone from time to time. But despite the close relationship with Tucker, Braun urges Scott to play his own game.
"Every scout will come up to me from now until the next year, and want to know who he reminds me of," Braun said. "And I say it all the time: he reminds me of Connor Scott. I don't want him to be Kyle Tucker, I don't want him to be Preston Tucker.
"I think that's very important that you don't get caught up in that, that you know your strengths, you work on your weaknesses, and you go out there and you play the game and you have fun, because that's how he got here, and I think it's very important that you don't lose sight of it."
"Be yourself," is a mantra that Braun has successfully ingrained into minds of all of his players. It's something that helped Tucker early on when everyone wanted to compare him to his older brother, and he's been quick to preach the message to Scott.
"I was just like, 'Hey, you don't have to hit .600 every year just because people are comparing you to someone else, just go out and do your own thing, and you'll be just fine.'"
Rows of scouts watch and notice the finest of details about Scott's game--the way he holds the bat, if he has topspin or backspin on balls he hits, how fast he runs down the line, and so on. Other players might lose focus under those circumstances. But fifty-plus strangers taking notes after each plate appearance isn't anything new to Scott-he's been dealing with that since the first week of his high school career.
"I've never really noticed it," he said. "I kind of just play my own game, I don't really think about it. I just be myself."