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TAMPA — Shane Rowland wanted to prove he was worthy of the All-America tag placed on him. And he wanted to give the professional scouts who had watched him since he was a scrawny 130-pound sophomore something to remember.
But status often leads to struggle. And it was no different for Tampa Catholic’s starting catcher in the first half of his senior season.
His second-half turnaround, however, makes Rowland one of the bay area’s most intriguing prospects heading into next week’s Major League Baseball first-year player draft.
Last summer, he played in the AFLAC All-American Game. He flourished in a summer wood bat league, hitting well while handling a staff full of pro prospects as they went to the Connie Mack World Series. He also committed to play at Miami.
But once the high school season began, he saw few pitches to hit. In his first game, Rowland said he saw 12 curveballs in three at-bats. His eyes bulged at the sight of a fastball, and he often over-swung. Frustration set in and he struggled to hit .200.
“I was trying to break out of it with one swing every time,” Rowland said. “I wanted to show people that everything everyone was saying about me was true. Mentally, I just had to relax and just worry about myself.”
Since April 1, including summer ball and a Crusaders run to the Class 3A state tournament, Rowland is hitting .550.
“I feel more confident than I ever have,” he said.
Rowland’s defensive tools are evident. He threw out 81 percent of base runners this season, and his throwing time to second hits 1.82.
Despite his size (just under 5-11, 180 pounds) PnR Scouting rates Rowland the draft class’ best defensive catcher and 14th-best catching prospect (ninth best out of high school) overall. Scouting site Baseball Beginnings said he has potential to be a Gold Glove winner in the majors.
Since Rowland was a sophomore, scouts told him that he makes the catch and throw look easy. And Rowland has called his own games since he moved from shortstop to catcher at age 13.
When scouting high school prospects, major-league scouts often spend the early season in Florida because the weather is nice, then move north. So it’s unclear if they saw Rowland’s sizzling second half.
Rowland’s father, Donny, has been in major-league scouting three decades. The Yankees’ director of international scouting said his son’s growth over the past two months would be attractive to some teams.
“I think it’s been an incredible maturing process,” Donny Rowland said. “It’s all how a team looks at it, but you want to see how a kid deals with adversity.”
Having someone so close to baseball like his father helped Rowland develop as a catcher. He has never had a formal catching coach or lesson. When his son took up catching, Donny simply told him the little things scouts look for.
Though he is likely to be drafted, this might not be his time to turn pro. He could play early at Miami — starting Hurricanes catcher Yasmani Grandal is projected by Baseball America to be the 13th overall pick — which opens the possibility of being a starter for three years for one of college baseball’s top programs.
“It’s whatever comes first,” Rowland said. “If the pros come first, that’s great. It’s always been a dream. But passing up three years at Miami would be hard to do.”
Top of the Crop
Hillsborough County annually produces some of the bay area’s top high school baseball talent. Here is a look at some of the seniors who could get drafted in next week’s Major League Baseball Draft, in order of projected selection.
Daniel Gibson, LHP, Jesuit: Latest in long line of power arms to come out of Jesuit, the Florida recruit is ranked the highest bay area prospect by Baseball America (148th nationally).
Shane Rowland, C, Tampa Catholic: Miami recruit is ranked the state’s 28th-best prospect by Baseball America; he has some of the best catching tools in the country and knows the game well.
Roderick Shoulders, C/1B, Brandon: One of the top power bats in the bay area, ranked 50th in the state by Baseball America. Can play catcher or first, but projects to be a 1B.
Jadamion “J.D.” Williams, SS, Brooks-DeBartolo: Son of former major-leaguer Reggier Williams Sr. has speed and power. Has signed with Maryland, where he would play second and hit leadoff.
Zack Powers, SS/RHP, Armwood: Blossomed on the mound this spring, but scouts project him more as a power-hitting third baseman because of his size.
Thomas Dorminy, LHP, Alonso: Has overpowering stuff but control struggles might have hurt this USF recruit, who was the top pitcher in the area last year.
Drew Doty, CF, Gaither: SPC recruit has smooth swing, gap power and speed. His numbers were down from last season’s POY junior year, but was impressive in FACA All-Star Game.
James Ramsay, CF, Brandon: A natural hitter, he overcame a knee injury that cost him his junior season. He’s likely headed for USF, but might be too good to pass up.
Stan Rowe, 1B, Plant: Power-hitting corner infielder has a nice college scholarship from Georgetown, but could get selected in later rounds after MVP showing at FACA game.