TAMPA — Corey Thomas has always drawn a crowd, even dating to his youth league days on the Yellow Jacket League fields of West Tampa.
Back then, he played with the likes of Michael Burgess and Nevin Griffith, both of whom were selected in the early rounds of last year's major-league draft and followed their dreams into professional baseball.
In June, Thomas, a senior at Middleton who has signed to play at USF, could join them. Thomas, a pitcher/shortstop, is expected to be chosen in the first five rounds of this year's draft.
For now, everyone's still watching. Major-league scouts — sometimes up to 20 — crowd the stands at Middleton games with radar guns in hand to see his 93-mph fastball and biting slider.
Thomas is used to being the center of attention: "You see them to a certain degree," he said. "But when I toe the rubber, I'm there to do a job and that's get outs. I don't focus on it."
Legendary high school coach Billy Reed, who coached the likes of Dwight Gooden and Gary Sheffield at Hillsborough, attends most Middleton home games.
"He has the arm, he has the quickness, he has the dedication," Reed said of Thomas. "He'll be a good one. … I don't think he's reached his peak."
Middleton coach Vernon Slater agrees. There have been times when the Tigers have booted wins away at Thomas' expense. And there are times when Thomas sees the scouts "and tries to throw it through the backstop. That's when his physical takes over his mental. When his mental is right, he's a beast."
Talent aside, Thomas learned hard work from his father, Corey Thomas Sr., who coached his son throughout youth ball.
"Now it's time to turn it up," Thomas Sr. said. "Saladino is coming up. I think you're going to see him take it to another level."
And then, maybe the next step, to professional baseball.
"I think I'm ready, and the reason I say that is because I'm willing to work hard," Thomas said. "I have a serious passion for this game."