Tampa Bay's rich tradition of elite high school baseball prospects stretched all the way to Brooksville on Thursday night.
Hernando shortstop Christian Arroyo became the first high school player in Hernando County history to be drafted in the first round when the San Francisco Giants picked him 25th overall in the amateur draft.
Arroyo was the state's only first-rounder drafted directly from high school Thursday, and he became the highest drafted player from Hernando County since Bronson Arroyo (no relation) was chosen by the Pirates in the third round of the 1995 draft.
"It was the most exhilarating moment of my life," Arroyo said. "It was crazy."
The moments leading up to it were tense.
Rumors had been circulating in Brooksville for weeks about the Giants snagging Arroyo in the first round. But when San Francisco came up at No. 25, Arroyo's phone didn't ring, even though the draft had fallen his way with three middle infielders already off the board. Arroyo and his family started thinking about the next possible landing spot.
Instead, MLB commissioner Bud Selig stepped to the podium and called Arroyo's name.
"You work your whole life for a moment like this," Arroyo said. "I can't ask for anything more right now."
Although the pick didn't surprise Arroyo, it shocked some analysts.
Baseball America ranked him as the draft's No. 102 overall prospect, and called the pick "a bit of a reach" for an "undersized grinder." He was the first player chosen who didn't crack MLB's top 100 prospects list, and ESPN ranked him at No. 99 overall. The MLB Network's telecast called it "a shocking pick," not because of his potential but because of his hard-to-project position.
Arroyo's credentials are strong. He signed with the Gators after committing during his junior season. He not only represented the United States in the under-18 world championships in Korea last September — he was the tournament MVP, guided the United States to gold with a .387 average and appeared in Sports Illustrated.
And this week, the Florida Dairy Farmers named Arroyo their Class 5A player of the year and a finalist for the state's Mr. Baseball award. As a senior, he batted .524 with 35 RBIs and ranked among the state's leaders with 11 home runs.
Despite his production, some scouts feared his 6-foot-1, 185-pound frame and below-average speed might project better at catcher or second base than shortstop, though the Giants said they plan to try him at shortstop.
Arroyo said this week that he wants to stay at shortstop initially but isn't opposed to moving positions if shortstop doesn't work out.
"If I don't have to do it as soon as my career begins, I don't want to," he said. "I want to stay a shortstop as long as possible."
Thursday was the culmination of a whirlwind week for the 18-year-old Arroyo. He graduated high school Monday and gave his school's salutatorian speech. Three days later, he realized a lifelong dream, heard his name on national television and made North Suncoast history.
The coming weeks could get even crazier as he faces the biggest decision of his life. Arroyo carried a 4.4 GPA at Hernando and would like to study engineering at Florida if baseball doesn't work out. But a pro contract — slotted at $1,866,500, according to Baseball America — might keep him out of Gainesville.
Arroyo said he'll spend the summer in negotiations with a club that's won the World Series twice in the last four seasons.
"It was an exhilarating moment," Arroyo said. "Words just can't explain it."
Also going on Day 1, Durant right-handed pitcher Tyler Danish and Gaither shortstop Oscar Mercado.
The Chicago White Sox selected Danish with the 55th overall pick, late in the second round. Danish just completed one of the most dominant seasons in recent memory, going 15-1 with a 0.00 ERA and 156 strikeouts over 94 innings — all numbers that ranked him among the nation's top five high school pitchers.
But his draft stock was in flux because of a funky sidearm delivery and his less-than-optimal size (6-0, 180 pounds).
Mercado slid out of the first round but remained a first-day selection. The St. Louis Cardinals chose him in the second round (No. 57 overall). Mercado's stock dipped this spring after batting .286 with 14 RBIs. Before his senior season, he was regarded as one of the draft's top high school prospects.