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Baseball Showcase Proves Territory Has Major-League Talent

Jan. 30, 2007 — In an effort to gain exposure for baseball players throughout the Caribbean, one local sports organization made history on Tuesday, giving scouts from about 15 different Major League Baseball teams the opportunity to come to the territory and watch a "showcase" of regional talent at St. Thomas' Lionel Roberts Stadium.
Players from the territory joined prospects from neighboring islands and various U.S. states on the field for a one-day-only clinic hosted by V.I. Future Stars, a St. Thomas-based organization geared toward building well-rounded student athletes.
"This is the first time we're having a showcase like this," said Future Stars Director Darren Canton. "And I think we have an excellent turnout — we have about 15 Major League Baseball teams and about 20 different scouts down here, and they love it. They're already talking about extending it to two days next time. And I think the talent level is good, as well. We have coaches coming in from all over — we have a coach from New York, for example, and one of my guys who's playing professional baseball came in to help us out."
Other coaches came from neighboring islands, such as Tortola and Aruba, hoping that their players would arouse the scouts' interest. "In Aruba, we play baseball all year round, so it's a very important sport for us," said Milton Croes, coach of the Aruban national baseball team. "But the scouts' visits are scattered — they come every month or so to watch us play. But here, there are 15-20 scouts all in one day. It's a great opportunity for the players."
Croes brought along three players with him on Tuesday, among them 16-year-old Kenny Hart, who said his "dream" is to be become a professional baseball player. "I started playing when I was eight years old," he said. "And I really love it."
Teams such as the San Diego Padres, Kansas City Royals, New York Mets and the Boston Red Sox were among the organizations represented on Tuesday. Scouts scattered throughout the stands could be seen jotting down notes and conferring with other team representatives when watching players run drills and conduct scrimmages on the field.
According to Johnny Ramos, area supervisor for the Kansas City Royals, local showcases are "important" because they afford scouts working within the region the opportunity to evaluate multiple prospects in one venue. "Now we can compare players from these islands against players from Florida or Puerto Rico," he said.
Ramos, who is based in Puerto Rico, added that he was impressed by the turnout on Tuesday. "This is the first time I've visited St. Thomas to attend a showcase like this," he said. "And I'm glad I had the opportunity to see the players — a few of them are looking very good, especially the pitchers. They have some of the skills we are looking for. We're always looking for players to have two or three tools — like arm, run, hitting or fielding — so that we can report them and follow them to see whether they can be drafted."
In addition to the visiting scouts and coaches, there were also agents in the stands, looking for new clients to represent. "My job is a bit different from the scouts," said Charisse Espinosa, president of Draft Pix Sports Agency in Jersey City, N.J. "I look for a lot of different things — talent, evaluating players on the five key tools, and developing the player so I can take them into tryouts and get them into the minor leagues."
Espinosa, like many other spectators at the field on Tuesday, had her eye on one player in particular– 17-year-old Kellen St. Luce, a senior at All Saints Cathedral School on St. Thomas. During a live batting drill, St. Luce took the mound and struck out the first three hitters, with a combination of fastballs and hard-breaking curveballs.
"I basically just come out everyday and play ball — run, throw, bat, whatever I can," St. Luce said. "But this is the first time I've ever seen a Caribbean showcase like this. There's really a lot of talent — I didn't know we have so much talent in the Caribbean. I'm really impressed."
St. Luce, who said he has been playing baseball since he was nine, added that he plans on attending college before turning to a professional baseball career. "I mean, if I was offered a deal that I absolutely couldn't pass up, then I would take it. But if not, then I definitely want to go to college first," he said.
A combined focus on academics and athletics is instilled in every V.I. Future Stars player, said Alvis Christian Jr., the organization's online administrator. "Outside the baseball aspect of what we do, there's the educational aspect," he explained. "Once this event is over, they'll be sent emails about SAT prep classes, which will be held on St. Thomas, and lessons on history and culture that I'm going to be sending."
Christian added that the organization hopes to begin working with two or three local banks, teaching students about the financial aspects of being a professional baseball player. "They need to learn about the savings, accounting and mathematical aspect of it all. Because if they make it out there, they're going to have to know about the mathematics, and if they don't, they're going to have to know how to budget," he said.
Canton said that he hopes next year's event can be extended to two days. The location is yet to be determined.
V.I. Future Stars is open to students 18 years and under. For more information or to sign up, visit its website.
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