Throughout the 28 years of its existence, the Saladino Baseball Tournament has become more than just a spring tournament. An annual event shrouded in prestige and history — the pipeline of Hillsborough County's proud baseball tradition to the present — the Saladino offers teams the ultimate opportunity to showcase themselves in front of the entire county. "For some teams it's a chance to prove themselves," Brandon coach Matt Stallbaumer said. "And other teams go into it with nothing to lose and end up making a name for themselves." Last year, Brandon used the tournament as a springboard to an 18-game win streak and the Class 5A state semifinals. Then-sophomore James Ramsay put on a show with his hitting, a freshman pitcher named Chase Sparkman earned wins in the semifinal and final, and second baseman Derek Dungan dazzled with his defense. All of them made their way onto the Saladino all-tournament team. Get on that team and your name is forever linked to local legends like Dwight Gooden, Carl Everett and Danny Graves. We take a look at five up-and-coming players who could shine under the Saladino spotlight.
Reggie Williams Jr., CF, Brooks-DeBartolo, Sr.
He had not played high school baseball in Hillsborough County until this year, and he plays for a first-year program without a league or home field, but Reggie Williams Jr. might be the best player you've never seen. He already signed to play college ball at Miami, but at least three pro scouts attend every Phoenix practice. Game days bring out at least a dozen, to clock his speed around the basepaths.
"They all like his size," Phoenix coach Donnie Oliver said of the 6-foot-4, 189-pounder. "They like his speed, the way he can play centerfield. They like it all."
On the basepaths, Williams has the green light at all times. He has taken advantage, swiping a county-high 41 bases while hitting .576 with a .694 on-base percentage hitting from the leadoff spot. As for the Phoenix, who are playing as an independent this year, Oliver hopes the Saladino is their grand debut. "For us, this is our state title," he said.
Zack Powers SS/LHP, Armwood, Jr.
Hawks coach Mike Wrenn was hesitant to make Powers his No. 2 starter heading into the season because he didn't want to leave a hole at shortstop, but the 6-foot-3 left-hander has become the perfect complement to ace Robert Benincasa, pitching to a 1.48 ERA and striking out 39 batters in 232/3 innings. Add in the fact that Powers, the Hawks' No. 3 hitter, is batting .475 with a .800 slugging percentage, and Powers will have to play a big part if Armwood emerges from the Indian Division, which could be the tournament's most competitive pool.
Shane Rowland C, Tampa Catholic, Jr.
The Crusaders return most of the squad that reached the Saladino quarterfinals last season. Tampa Catholic began this season 1-4 but has won seven straight. A lot of that is thanks to a lineup now hitting .338 collectively.
Rowland leads the way with a .395 average and team-leading 16 RBIs (including a five-RBI game against Land O'Lakes). He has reached safely in Tampa Catholic's first 13 games, boasting a .491 on-base percentage.
Jose Fernandez | RP, Alonso, So.
The Ravens' stellar pitching staff boasts a 1.75 ERA. And starters Ray Delphey and Thomas Dorminy receive most of the praise. But credit Fernandez for closing the door on opponents. Just a sophomore, you're likely to hear more from him next season because of the Ravens' pitching depth. But this season, Fernandez closed wins over Gaither, Wharton and Mitchell, including not allowing a hit until his fourth appearance. Despite a rough outing in his last appearance against Mitchell, Fernandez owns a 2.90 ERA.
Drew Doty CF, Gaither, Jr.
In a Class 6A, District 7 dominated by Alonso and Mitchell, Gaither is close behind. Gaither began the season with a power surge, but the Cowboys' lineup just broke out of a recent hitting slump. Their success in Saladino will depend on Doty, their No. 3 hitter, who is hitting a team-high .389 with all four of his homers coming in Gaither victories.