MLB Tour players show off at the Hank Aaron Invitational

July 23rd, 2022

VERO BEACH, Fla. -- Week One at the Hank Aaron Invitational is in full swing at Jackie Robinson Training Complex, and New York native Izayah Mercedes is taking advantage of the opportunity he earned.

Mercedes is one of the 100 amateur young talents from 21 states who has come to Florida’s Treasure Coast in the camp, which is operated by Major League Baseball and the Major League Baseball Players Association (MLBPA).

Training and instruction from former Major League players is given to the group, many from the Class of 2025 but some from 2026 and 2027. The Invitational is also supported by USA Baseball and the MLB-MLBPA Youth Development Foundation.

But Mercedes, 15, is not the typical camper running through drills and practicing on the former Spring Training home of the Los Angeles Dodgers.

The pitcher and first baseman from Brooklyn is one of approximately 25 players who were selected for the Invitational from the MLB Tour, a one-day workout in 11 cities across the country this year.

Those workouts are presented to players who may have not had the chance to compete for a spot at the famed Vero Beach facility.

“It’s a chance for us to identify players we wouldn’t ordinarily find,” said Kindu Jones, senior coordinator of baseball development. “We were able to get to some places that are less exposed to evaluators. We put them through the workout and [we] were able to invite them.”

Mercedes tried out on his birthday, May 21, in Staten Island, N.Y., and turned in a strong showing at first and third base. He added that he wowed the Tour with a great round of batting practice.

A class of 2025 prospect, Mercedes played varsity ball as a freshman at Bishop Loughlin Memorial High School in Brooklyn. He started at first base for his team, but his excitement for the mound has him leaning in another direction.

“I enjoy pitching more because it gets the energy going," Mercedes said. "It gets me riled up. Striking a batter out gets me going."

Mercedes has been to team camps at Boston College and Rutgers, but his excitement this week has been all about being at the Jackie Robinson Training Complex.

“This is actually my first time at an event like this, [with] the chance to play with some of the top prospects in the country,” said Mercedes, who cited elite players on his team like LSU commit Bubba Coleman and Deion Cole.

On Saturday, the 6-foot-4, 230-pound Mercedes took the mound for Team Aaron in its contest against Team Mays.

In a strong two innings of work, the right-hander put up a pair of scoreless frames, displaying a good fastball and a big, bending curveball that had Team Mays stuck in the box watching the bender go by.

Marvin Freeman, 10-year Major League veteran pitcher at 6-foot-7 and Mercedes’ coach/instructor on Team Aaron, said a taller frame presents unique issues, especially with stride.

“The bigger you are, the taller you are, the more stride you’ve got to have so that everything else can unwind on time,” said Freeman, who last pitched for his hometown Chicago White Sox in 1996.

“[Mercedes is] very aware of the things he’s doing when I’m talking to him," Freeman said. "He makes a lot of straight-on eye contact, and that’s the first thing I really notice when I’m talking to pitchers; 'Are they hearing me?'”

Freeman does feel Mercedes hears him and takes his words to heart. If Mercedes adjusts and grows accordingly, Freeman feels the young pitcher could excel.

“I told him he’s got to be a little bit more physically fit, because everything else is there,” Freeman said. “He’s got a good, clean delivery and a real good understanding of how to make adjustments. When he gets his body functionally strong enough to do that a hundred times, then you’re going to really see his velocity pick up.

“Then he’s going to take off and get even better. He’s the kind of guy who’s accepted the criticism and is going to use it to get better.”

Catcher Samuel Schwamb, a Fort Mills, S.C., native, also came to the Invitational via the MLB Tour after turning heads with a home run during the workout in Charlotte, N.C., on May 8.

A Team Aaron teammate of Mercedes, Schwamb is a class of 2026 prospect whose prowess with the bat was on display Saturday. In his first at-bat, the right-handed-hitting catcher launched a 300-foot drive to right that was run down for a flyout. He later lined a single up the middle, then went first-to-third on a single to right and scored on a sacrifice fly.

Schwamb has worked with current Jackie Robinson Training Complex instructors Lenny Webster and Charles Johnson -- each of whom have 12 years of experience in MLB -- on the catching side in camp.

“[The instruction] has been really good. I’m having a lot of fun here and getting to know my team and bond and play with them,” said Schwamb, who has received some interest from the University of South Carolina after excelling at the school’s camp.