TAMPA — The baseball talent pool is so deep at Jesuit High that it is — in the strongest sense of the word — phenomenal.
Of the 29 players on the Tigers’ roster, 17 are committed to play in college and more than 20 are expected to eventually play at the next level.
Perhaps even more telling is the fact the Tigers have 13 pitchers — 13! — who are expected to pitch in college.
Even at the junior varsity level, Jesuit has players being recruited by some Division II colleges.
Then there’s this: the Tigers’ student manager, Dylan Callaghan, is a pitcher who didn’t make the team, but is still being recruited by some Division II schools.
Coach Miguel Menendez smiles at the thought of his program and says in a humble, quiet tone, “This year we definitely have first-world problems.”
Two questions shout out: How did this happen? And why does the talent choose to stay when many could get more playing time at other schools?
“This is something that has evolved,” said Menendez in his seventh season with the Tigers. “It’s not something where I sat down and mapped out a plan for a roster that had 13 pitchers who would be recruited by colleges, and 20-plus players who would be recruited. It’s something that just happened and it’s really taken off in the last few years.”
The main reason for his amazing roster, Menendez said, stems from the quality of the school: “Without a doubt, the No. 1 thing is that they want to get the Jesuit education.”
It also helps that summer travel ball teams have become a major recruiting ground, so the high school season is not the end-all, be-all that it once was. “By the time they get to the high school season a lot of the players already know where they are going for college,” Menendez said.
On top of that, he said, is the fact that being around a bunch of talented players makes each individual better: “You have to keep working hard around here to keep your starting job because everybody is pushing every day to get better.”
In the process, the nation has taken notice. Before the season, Jesuit was the consensus national No. 1, including a top spot in the MaxPreps rankings. Heading into this week Jesuit was ranked No. 2 by MaxPreps, before losing 4-2 on Wednesday to No. 5 IMG Academy.
“IMG was a big game; we probably had to win it to still have a chance to win the national title,” Menendez said. “But our goal really remains the same, and that is winning the (Class 5A state title).” District tournaments start next week.
Senior pitcher Alden Segui, committed to the University of North Carolina, says everything is cool and smooth with the Tigers, who never have trouble with jealousy in the ranks.
“I’ve been here four years and I’ve (hit 95 mph on the radar gun) and yet there have been times when I still wasn’t getting that many innings (to pitch in games),” said Segui, who could also get picked in this summer’s Major League Baseball draft.
“But I trust the process, as we all do. You know that sometimes your opportunity isn’t right here right now, but if you keep working hard you will get it and when you do everything will pay off. There is no doubt that playing here has helped me. No doubt at all.”
Segui, by the way, is one of seven Tigers whose fastballs have been clocked at 90 mph or higher, while all 13 Tiger pitchers have hit 85 mph or higher. More importantly, the team ERA heading into Friday was 1.27 with an average of 1.6 strikeouts an inning.
Seniors Kris Sosnowski (6-0, .21 ERA), Dominic Castellano (6-1, 1.62 ERA) and Segui (4-1, 2.01 ERA) lead the staff, but there are plenty more guys are ready to step in at a moment’s notice.
As for hitting and fielding, the starting nine is also superlative from top to bottom. No weaknesses anywhere.
All nine are hitting better than .306 with senior Bradke Lohry leading the way with a .411 average and 28 runs scored.
Senior catcher Cole Russo, a UCF commit who also has a chance to get drafted this summer, said everyone knew coming into the year that this team had a chance to be extra special.
“You look around and see all this talent and it is amazing,” Russo said. “It’s great to be a part of this team because you know you’re around something special. You know being here is going to make you better. We are all very proud to be here with this team.”