Benedictine shortstop Jamari Baylor could become a high-level draft pick

Benedictine shortstop Jamari Baylor could become a high-level draft pick
By ERIC KOLENICH | Richmond Times-Dispatch

Two major-league scouts visited Benedictine's baseball field one afternoon last week to observe Jamari Baylor, a senior shortstop considered to be among the state's top prospects.

They were perched on the grassy hill overlooking home plate when Baylor stepped into the portable cage for batting practice.From the mound, coach Sean Ryan tossed a baseball directly into Baylor's wheelhouse. The batter picked up his front foot, coiled his hips and swung the bat, rocketing the ball back toward Ryan, who ducked out of the way.

That hit almost went in his ear, the coach told Baylor. The assembly of scouts at batting practice on this day was a small one, Baylor said later, considering how pleasant the weather was. Two days earlier, when it was far colder and rainier, there were maybe 10 of them watching batting practice. One of the scouts present this afternoon was a cross-check, a higher-level talent evaluator who is sent to evaluate the elite players recommended by lower-level scouts.

These days, you can find an employee of a major-league baseball team watching Baylor at almost every Benedictine game. "They watch me every step I take from the car to the field to show I can do the right thing," Baylor said.

Being watched, studied and documented has become an unavoidable part of playing baseball for Baylor. There have been scouts following him since last summer when he was invited to East Coast Pro, a showcase in Alabama for elite high school-age players. He performed alongside Benedictine teammate Casey Green, a senior pitcher committed to Coastal Carolina. In his first game there, Baylor went 0 for 3 at the plate. But his bat soon came around.

Now he's viewed as a prospect for the professional draft in June. One scout, who gave his assessment of Baylor on the condition of anonymity, said he could be selected in the first five rounds. "He's got a lot of attributes that we're looking for," the scout said. "He can run, throw, hit, he's got speed, he can steal bases and make a lot of things happen offensively."

Baylor posted some of the best offensive numbers in the area as a junior when he hit .482 and recorded 35 runs, 28 RBIs, 25 stolen bases and earned first-team All-Metro honors. When he pitches, he lights up the radar gun to 90 mph. But the plan this year is for him to stick to what he does best, shortstop.When coaches and scouts make comparisons to professional players, they see shades of Justin Upton, his brother B.J. or Howie Kendrick of the Washington Nationals. They talk about how he's not just a baseball player but a pure athlete. He was a soccer player and a quarterback on the football team at a younger age, later casting off his secondary sports to focus on baseball."His raw ability is off the charts," Ryan said.

This is Ryan's 16th season coaching the Cadets, and never before has one of his players commanded the attention of professional scouts the way his shortstop does. Rarely have Richmond-area players been drafted out of high school. The last local high schooler who was drafted as high as Baylor might go was Mills Godwin's Matt Moses, who was taken 21st overall by the Minnesota Twins in 2003.Like Moses, Baylor comes from western Henrico. He grew up playing for Lakeside Youth Baseball and later Glen Allen. He was a member of the Glen Allen High School baseball team before his family moved to the Deep Run District. Last year he transferred to Benedictine and reclassified.

When he arrived, he didn't have the reputation as guy who could be drafted in less than two years. But he matured, Ryan said, and got stronger and faster. He's now about 6-foot-1, 195 pounds. His grades have improved but could still use more polishing. If Baylor doesn't go pro, he'll attend Louisburg, a junior college in North Carolina. But that's more of a backup plan right now, because he hopes to sign a lucrative professional contract. How he plays in the next two months will impact when and if he's taken and how much money he's offered. Recently, scouts have been concerned about his health. He hurt his arm in the winter, but the injury turned out to be just a stress fracture. Had a ligament torn and required surgery, his senior season and his draft prospects would have been turned on its head.

He started the season in a limited capacity, hitting but not running or fielding. One of his primary jobs, he said, was picking up his teammates, offering high fives and cheers to a Cadets team that is stuffed with talent."It's been humbling," said Baylor, who recently returned to full health and participation.

But Baylor isn't the kind of player who needs humbling, his coach says. He's already humble, quiet and not prone to flashy play.

And he's a heck of a hitter and a heck of an athlete.

Benedictine shortstop Jamari Baylor could become a high-level draft pick
Benedictine shortstop Jamari Baylor could become a high-level draft pick

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