Florida's best HS players flock to Pirates' Spring Training facility

More than 40 players attend third Prospect Development Pipeline event

Florida's best HS players flock to Pirates' Spring Training facility

BRADENTON, Fla. -- The batting practice cage came down at McKechnie Field shortly before 12:30 p.m. on Saturday but the day wasn't done at the latest stop for the Prospect Development Pipeline. An hour later, dozens of the best high school players in Florida were on the field together for the first time.

Beneath cloudy skies, the more than 40 players who had come from across Florida to participate in the Bradenton, Fla., edition of the Prospect Development Pipeline took to McKechnie for an eight-inning game.

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"I'm excited about the game," Jack Leftwich, who committed to play baseball at the University of Florida, said before the scrimmage. "Because as a pitcher that's really all you do, so I'm just excited to face these hitters and go after them."

After stops in Houston and Atlanta, the Prospect Development Pipeline (PDP) added a wrinkle to Saturday's event. After a few hours of drills in the morning, each of the 16 pitchers got a chance to throw one inning against some of the best high school players at the Pirates' Spring Training home. There was no official score kept, but the live action was something the hurlers don't usually have a chance to simulate at other camps.

It's why someone like Leftwich, a right-handed pitcher for TNXL Academy in Longwood, Fla., found so much to like about the PDP camp. James Marinan, a right-hander from Park Vista Community High School in Lake Worth, Fla., wouldn't have been able to make the impression he did without throwing to live hitters.

Marinan opened the game on the mound in top of the first inning. The first batter reached on an error and then the Maitland, Fla., native clamped down. He struck out the next three batters, including two looking with his breaking ball. His performance wasn't something that could be measured from a typical drill or bullpen session.

"The addition of the game to this event really kind of wraps it up nicely because you get a lot of assessments in, you get a lot of development time, a lot of time on the field," Larry Broadway, Pittsburgh's director of minor league operations, said. "But then to wrap this whole thing up with a game, and let the guys play and have some fun at the end really makes a difference."

But the drills at PDP left an impression, too. Some of them are familiar -- sprints, stretching, agility tests, batting practice. Some drills, however, are unlike what most camps provide.

The 40-plus players were broken into seven groups, who cycled through a number of stations, including a stop for a head shot and brief on-camera interview. Before each prospect sat down, they lined up for an eye test.

Another nearby stop set them up in front of four small monitors, lit up with LED lights. When certain ones blinked, they would rush to wave their hands in front of it to test perception and reaction time.

"You run, you get more physically testing, but stuff like mental or visual is something you really don't do," said Logan Allen, a left-handed pitcher from University High School in Orlando.

Even the more traditional exercises stand out at an event like PDP, where MLB scouts flock to one spot to see some of the best high schoolers in Florida.

PDP is a joint venture between Major League Baseball and USA Baseball designed to generate exposure for players who may not be able to travel hundreds of miles away from home for a camp.

"The game has gone to a point where really your resources that you have kind of depend on the exposure you get, so how many showcases you can fly to," Broadway said. "To get that exposure, it's expensive and this really allows it to level the playing field."

The invite-only camp is entirely paid for by MLB and USA Baseball. There will be events across the South during the winter and then more events up North once it warms up. Bradenton will host a second camp for underclassmen when the high school season ends.

With scouts flocking to one central location to see a wealth of players, PDP provides a breakthrough opportunity for some of the best players in the state.

"It's very important, just like all the pro scouts here just get to see you play in one area is pretty important," said Brady Smith, a catcher and third baseman for TNXL who drove in a run during the scrimmage. "Them getting to know you as a player really helps."

David Wilson is a contributor to MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.