Diamond Club Pitching Dominates Morning, Afternoon Sees Offense

LAKELAND, Fla.—Taylor Blatch of Jensen Beach (Fla.) High set the tone for the morning contest between the Florida Diamond Club's South and East teams. Blatch, tabbed as the South's starting pitcher, worked around an early error to strike out the side in the top of the first.

Then, the 5-foot-11, 175-pound righthander struck out the side again in his second of inning of work. And while it looked as if the Florida State commit could continue to carve the East lineup, the nature of the showcase forced an early exit.

Nonetheless, the East lineup did not fare much better against any of the South pitchers. Shaun Anderson (American Heritage HS, Plantation, Fla.), Alec Byrd (St. Thomas Aquinas HS, Ft. Lauderdale, Fla.), and Bryan Garcia (Columbus HS, Miami) all chipped in with two hitless innings apiece.

"It was great," Blatch said. "I mean these are some of the top players in the country and for all of us to go out and limit them offensively was amazing."

The East roster, stocked with highly regarded position players like catcher Chris Okey (Eustis HS), shortstop Nick Gordon (Olympia HS), outfielder Eugene Vasquez (Timber Creek HS, Orlando), and infielder Ben DeLuzio (The First Academy) did not manage a hit until the top of the 10th inning (all games are 10 innings for pitching purposes). Outfielder Ryan Larson's single, the East's only hit of the day, drove in Okey who had previously walked and tied the game at 1-1.

While the South’s pitching was busy dominating, their East counterparts were experiencing similar success of their own.

Lefthander Scott Moss (DeLand HS), righthander Taylor Cockrell (Lake Wales HS), lefthander Alex Hagner (Eustis HS), righthander David McKay (Viera HS, Melbourne, Fla.), and lefthander Vinnie Rosace (Lake Mary HS) all pitched effectively, allowing just one run over a combined ten innings. Hagner was the guilty party, as the 6-foot, 175-pound lefthander surrendered a solo home run to Zach Collins.

"You know that first pitch of the at-bat (from Alex Hagner) was the breaking ball that went behind me," said Collins. "It caught me off guard and I was a little out of whack, but luckily I got the 3-2 pitch and was able to drive it."

Collins, a 6-foot-3, 215-pound catcher from American Heritage High, is no stranger to the showcase circuit. He, like many other showcase veterans, expressed that he tries to stay true to himself during such high-pressure situations.

"I try not to do too much," Collins said. "I try to use the entire field and stay within my game."

Offensive Outburst

The afternoon contest was far different from the preceding game, as the North team (playing in their first game of the showcase) and the West squad combined for 17 runs.

Shortstop Oscar Mercado (Gaither HS, Tampa) and catcher Michael Mann (Seminole HS, Sanford, Fla.) helped the West edge the North team 9-8.  Mercado, widely regarded as one of the premier position players in the 2013 draft class, led off the game with a single, stole second base (his third of the weekend), and later scored on a groundout to the first baseman.

"It is part of my game," Mercado said. "I'm not a big guy so I'm not going to go up there and try to hit home runs.  I like to get on base whether it is a walk or a base hit and I like to run and try to produce runs."

For the second straight day, Mercado did his part to produce runs, as the Tampa native finished 3-for-4 with a double and a walk. Interestingly, Mercado spent the majority of the game in center field, a position that he does not usually call home.

"It was the first time I played center field in a while," said Mercado. "I've always been at shortstop so hopefully that is where I end up. But I will play center field if they put me out there. It is a fun position but I wish I could've got some more chances to make some plays out there."

While Mercado gave the West an early 1-0 lead, it was a seesaw type of game, as the North squad did not back down from their competition.  Catcher Brian Navaretto and outfielder Iramis Olivecia, both of Arlington Country Day in Jacksonville, particularly stood out.  Navaretto went 2-for-4 with a triple, three RBIs, and a walk while Olivecia was 1-for-4 with a towering two-run home run to left-center field.

However, the West prevailed in part thanks to the efforts of Mann, who nearly had a home run of his own, as he hit a mammoth shot that landed just outside the left field foul pole.  The 6-foot-1, 204-pound catcher only had one bat in last night's contest, but the South Florida commit finished Saturday evening 2-for-4 with two doubles and three RBIs (and a hard hit lineout to center field).

"Last night I was amped up for my first at bat when I came in during the eighth inning," Mann said. "So (tonight) I was just trying to stay calm and let my hands do the work."

Diamond Dandies

• McKay struck out three batters in his two innings of work. The righthander featured an 86-89 mph fastball and a late-breaking slider in the high 70s.

• The 6-foot-2, 170-pound Cockrell featured an 87-90 mph fastball, high-70s slider, and mid-70s curveball.

• Anderson struck out three over two innings. The 6-foot-4, 232-pound Florida commit utilized a fastball that ranged from 86-91 mph and a breaking ball between 76-79.

• Outfielder/first baseman Nick Longhi (Venice HS), a Louisiana State commit, went 2-for-4 with a double and two RBIs. The 6-foot-2, 212-pounder also went 2-for-4 on Friday night.

• Righthander Nick Eicholtz (Cambridge Christian School, Tampa), an Alabama signee, allowed four runs in his two innings of work, but he utilized an 87-92 mph fastball with armside run and a mid-70s breaking ball and struck out the side in the first inning

• Righthander Alex McGathey (Seminole HS) threw two scoreless innings and consistently pitched in the low 90s, hitting 93 on a couple of different occasions. He stands at 6 feet, 180 pounds.

• Infielder Blake Hennessey (Arlington Country Day) was not a big force offensively (0-for-3, one RBI), but stood out in the field. The Oklahoma State commit made two nice relay throws, gunning down runners trying to score on doubles in the gap.

• Outfielder Josh Greene (Forest HS, Ocala, Fla.) was 2-for-4 with a double and stolen base.