Image credit: Cubs all-star Javier Baez grew up in Puerto Rico before moving to Jacksonville in 2005, when he was 12.
For years, California has been seen as the gold standard when it comes to producing baseball players in the U.S. Year after year, California has the most players drafted and the state has had a high school player picked in the first round every year since 2006.
But the Golden State is helped in such comparisons by the fact that with nearly 40 million people, it is easily the largest state in the country by population. When you factor in how many people live there, it is Florida (population 21 million) that produces more players on a per capita basis than any other state. Florida also has an even more impressive first-round streak, with at least one prep first-round pick every year since 1996. There are a number of reasons why Florida is the place to be for young players.
IT’S THE WEATHER
Florida is a big state, and comparing the weather of Gainesville (where the average low during the winter hovers in the 40s) and Miami (where any night where the temperature drops into 50s is rare) is a little tricky. But throughout the state it rarely gets too cold to play outside, and the infields are never covered in snow (even if the evening thunderstorms do roll through regularly). While that can lead to players who are overworked at a young age, it also helps players refine their skills at a faster rate than is possible in colder-weather states.
HIGH SCHOOL POWERS WITH EXCELLENT FACILITIES
Success breeds further success and it also leads to outstanding facilities. Between Southwest Ranches’ Archbishop McCarthy High, Miami’s Monsignor Pace, Jacksonville’s Bolles High, Tampa’s Plant High, Plantation’s America Heritage and many others, there are a large number of well-coached, well-funded high school teams (and travel teams) that help players develop quickly.
OPPORTUNITIES TO STAY, PLAY
Florida is packed with college baseball powers in Division I, Division II, NAIA and the junior college ranks. That means there are plenty of opportunities for high school players to continue to grow and develop, even if they aren’t top prospects coming out of high school.
STEADY STREAM OF NEW PLAYERS
Over the past two decades, Florida has received significant migra- tion from Puerto Rico and Cuba. Yonder Alonso, Jose Fernandez, Javier Baez and Francisco Lindor are just a few of the players born elsewhere who ended up starring at Florida high schools.
THERE’S NO STATE INCOME TAX
This may seem like a stretch, but it’s one scouts cite. Many pro baseball players end up living in Florida because it’s where they train and play in spring training and because there is no state income tax, so financially it makes sense. When those players retire, they stick around. And then their kids become the next wave of well-coached, physically talented baseball players. Some examples of second-generation Floridians include Nick and Dee Gordon, Casey Kelly, Prince Fielder and Lance McCullers Jr.