AFLAC Preview: Florida Righthander Proves To Be Scouts' Main Man

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When the phone rings these days at Dirk and Brenda Main's Central Florida home, there's a reasonably good chance on the other end someone wants to inquire about the third of their four sons, 17-year-old Michael.

He received his driver's license less than a year ago, still has a curfew and occasionally has to be reminded to make his bed, but Michael Main isn't quite the typical teenager.

Earlier this summer, a local TV station did a story on Michael and his family, and he was also featured in Sports Illustrated's Faces In the Crowd. In 2004, Baseball America named him the best 15-year-old player in the country. He played on national champion AAU teams as a 9-, 10-, 11- and 14-year-old and was throwing as hard as 91 mph about the same time most teenagers were first cracking open their first Ernest Hemingway novel for English class.

Main's list of accolades and accomplishments is long and distinguished, with the latest being his selection to the Aflac All-American Classic, complete with a national broadcast on Fox SportsNet Aug. 12.

And it's not that he's unfazed by all the hype surrounding him and his talent, it's just that he's heard it for so long, already he's accustomed to being the center of attention.

"When he's getting interviewed, he's not real verbose," Dirk Main said. "He keeps his answers short. That's kind of his personality. He's not a real boisterous type of person, he gets to the point of things, says what he has to say and that's about it."

That would make Main's approach to P.R. similar to the one he deploys on the mound.

Bound For The First Round

As the summer wound down, Main found himself in the mix of the best amateur players in the country. With a lightning-quick arm that generates 97-98 mph fastballs and a fearless brand of pitching, Main might be rehearsing those acceptance speeches and congratulatory interviews for years to come.

"He's an athletic, wiry-strong kid with one of the quickest arms I've seen," said a Florida-based scout. "If he stays healthy and maintains that velocity, he has a chance to go in the first round."

Main's health hasn't always been as good as his resume. Early last summer he came down with an arm injury that shelved him for more than six months. He sought multiple opinions before a doctor referred him to a specialized athletic training center north of Orlando in Winter Park. His injury was diagnosed as tendinitis in his right rotator cuff, and he spent most of the winter and spring of his junior year at De Land High rehabbing his arm.

After a series of bullpen sessions, Main made his return to the mound late in his junior season. He threw just seven regular season innings, but by the time the postseason arrived, his velocity already had returned to the mid-90s. "Actually, like I hadn't missed a beat," Main said of his strong return to the mound.

He carried a no-hitter into the seventh inning against Spruce Creek High in his first playoff appearance, beat Fletcher High 1-0 in a one-hitter, and then spun a complete-game four-hitter against Oviedo High in a 2-0 victory that earned De Land a trip to Florida's Class 6-A semifinals in Sarasota.

"Having him out there was probably one of the big reasons we made it," De Land coach Ric Sterling said. "He was dominating in the postseason."

Main's dominance continued against Sarasota High in the semifinals. De Land lost the game when Sarasota rallied to snap a scoreless tie, but Main's showing was well received by many of the thousands of fans in attendance. Facing a team that was ranked nationally, playing on its home field, one win away from a shot at a state championship, Main acquitted himself admirably.

"He blew them away for the first two or three innings," said a scout in attendance. "There must have been 7,000 people there, a real tough environment, but it didn't seem to fluster him. He just kind of went about his business."

Main struck out 13 with two walks in 6 1/3 innings, surrendering five hits and five earned runs as De Land's unlikely postseason run came to an end. He went 3-1, 1.44, walking seven with 62 strikeouts in 31 innings overall, and it was evident that Main was back to form. The long layoff had been frustrating, but his diligence during rehab was paying off, and the stage was set for his summer.

Planning It Out

Michael and his father sat down and plotted their summer, highlighting a handful of major events in which he would appear. His first stop was Fayetteville, Ark., for Perfect Game's national showcase. Dozens of the class' top arms climbed atop the mound at the University of Arkansas' Baum Stadium. The throng of scouts and recruiters assembled behind home plate watched intently as one pitcher after another lit up radar guns.

But none was as impressive as Main. During one sequence he delivered fastballs at 97 mph, 97, 96, 96, 94, 96, 94 and 95. When he showed some feel for his 79 mph changeup and 74-77 mph breaking ball, there was little question who had claimed the title as the top rising senior pitching prospect.

The following week, Main headed to Joplin, Mo., for USA Baseball's junior national team tryouts. He again performed well, earning an invitation to the junior national team trials in Atlanta in September, with a chance to play in the World Junior Championship in September in Cuba if he makes the final cut. Another test had been completed successfully.

Things were taking shape for Main, and his dream of becoming a first-round pick suddenly seemed attainable. If he made the junior national team, it would be Main's second stint with Team USA, and he's seen firsthand how many of his peers have gone on to play professionally after good showings at many of the same events he was attending. He played for the youth national team in 2004 when it won a silver medal at the Pan-Am Championship in Mexico. Main was one of a handful or sophomores on that team, and already several of his teammates have become instant millionaires in the 2006 draft. Colton Willems, Chris Marrero, Max Sapp and Hank Conger were all first-round picks off that youth squad, and Chris Huseby signed with the Cubs for $1.3 million in the 11th round.

"It's impossible not to think about what could happen, with everyone that has gone (high in the draft) before us," Dirk Main said. "The key we focused on was to take care of business now, and everything else will take care of itself later."

Michael's summer report card featured satisfactory checkmarks in each box entering his August appointments at the East Coast Showcase in Wilmington, N.C., and the Aflac All-America game. However, as past drafts have indicated, the summer is the preliminary scouting season, the placement test before the final exam--the senior spring--preceding June's draft.

A year ago, Texas fireballer Jordan Walden sat atop prep follow lists as the summer concluded. A mediocre spring sent his stock into a tailspin, and he wasn't drafted until the 12th round. Righthanders Andy Gale and Iain Sebastian are among other pitchers recently who wound up in college when their names weren't called as quickly on draft day as they had anticipated just a few months earlier. Of course, they all could go on to successful professional careers, and Main has committed to Florida State should a similar scenario unfold, but he also knows there is work to be done.

"I still have to show I have the stuff I had this summer next spring," he said, adding that he was planning on assuming a pitching regimen next spring similar to the one he was forced to implement as a junior. "I'll probably do the closer role and have a few starts (in the regular season), and just turn it on in the postseason. That's what we're leaning toward."

Tempering his workload is certainly a prudent decision, but how Main's durability is perceived could be paramount in his final draft status. He's extremely athletic--he also hit .402 with 10 doubles and 26 stolen bases as a junior--and his feel for pitching is advanced for his age. But at 6-foot-2, 175 pounds, Main will fight the same bias against undersized high school righthanders so many before him have faced.

"The concerns are going to be the size and durability issues, especially since last year he missed a big portion of the year," a scout said. "He's going to have to show he can last the full spring without going down with some kind of injury.

"But tendinitis is a common thing, and there are a lot of things he has working in his favor."

The newspaper clippings and magazine articles attest to that long list of favorable attributes. He doesn't spend much time rehashing them, and leaves most of the studying of rankings and message boards to his friends and family. But whether or not he likes the limelight, Michael might be the main attraction for a long time to come.