PHOENIX -- The new face of baseball in Brazil has dimples, poofy boy-band hair and a tiny black bead pierced into his left earlobe.Eric Pardinho's voice will probably drop another octave before he signs what could be a record-setting signing bonus for a Brazilian teenager when the international signing period
PHOENIX -- The new face of baseball in Brazil has dimples, poofy boy-band hair and a tiny black bead pierced into his left earlobe.
Eric Pardinho's voice will probably drop another octave before he signs what could be a record-setting signing bonus for a Brazilian teenager when the international signing period starts July 2. By then, he might have a driver's license and maybe the newest smartphone, too. At least he hopes so.
Pardinho, the growing teen who turned 16 last week, is emerging as a baseball star in a nation where the sport is gaining in popularity.
"I feel great because I feel like I'm opening the door for others," Pardinho said in Spanish during an interview at a Phoenix hotel. "Maybe I can open some eyes of organizations to find other talent. There are lot of players with talent in Brazil. I'm just one."
The 5-foot-10, 165-pounder with a 95-mph fastball dreams of one day joining Cleveland's Yan Gomes -- who in 2012 became the first player from Brazil to play in the Major Leagues -- San Diego pitcher Andre Rienzo and Kansas City outfielder Paulo Orlando on the exclusive list of Major Leaguers from Brazil. Rienzo made his big league debut with the White Sox in 2013. Orlando followed with the Royals in 2015 and later became the first Brazilian-born player to play in the World Series.
"Eric is a special kid," said Caleb Santos-Silva, coordinator of international game development for Major League Baseball. "His size is not too striking, but the ball just explodes out of his hand. There is a lot of potential. Not just to be a player, but to also be a spokesperson for the game in Brazil."
Pardinho burst onto the scene last summer when he pitched for Brazil in the under-16 Pan-American Baseball Championship against the Dominican Republic and struck out 12 batters in the win. He became an international sensation when he pitched two-thirds of an inning in relief for the country's team in the 10-0 win against Pakistan in the World Baseball Classic qualifier last September in New York. Pardinho's fastball was clocked at 94 mph during the outing. The Brazilians were eventually eliminated.
"I was nervous at the beginning, but we came [to New York] a week early to train and that helped," Pardinho said. "After that, I felt normal. I was OK. It was baseball."
There's a lot to like about Pardinho. His fastball has touched 95 mph, but it usually hovers in the 90-to-93-mph range. He also throws a curveball, slider and changeup. He's impressed scouts with his advanced approach on the mound and experience against top competition. That said, some scouts have expressed some concern about his overall upside and projectability given his smaller frame.
He pitched in front of scouts for all teams at the 2017 Perfect Game World Showcase in Florida on Sunday and is showcasing his talents at Spring Training facilities in Arizona this week, accompanied by his father, Evandro, and agent Rafa Nieves of Beverly Hills Sports Council.
"My son has always dreamt of being a good big league player," Evandro said. "I think that if Eric can make it to the big leagues in the United States, baseball in Brazil can keep growing so we can have other good Brazilian players."
Eric was born and raised in Bastos, a small municipality in Sao Paulo settled by the Japanese, to Evandro Pereira Pardinho and mother Rosa Reiko Taniguchi, who was born in Brazil to Japanese parents. The family spent part of Eric's childhood in Japan.
It is believed that American companies first brought baseball to Brazil in the late-1800s. The Japanese immigration to Brazil in the early 1900s also played a large role in the growth of the sport in areas where they settled.
This much is certain: Pardinho played soccer but his first love was baseball. He began training with pitching coach Arthur Asanome at age eight until he entered Brazil's famous CT Yakult Academy for baseball at 12 and spent three years there learning the game using traditional Japanese techniques. Pardinho credits Thiago Caldeira, a former Brazilian national team pitcher, and Henrique Shiego Tamaki, who pitched in Japan's Nippon Professional Baseball league for a decade, for helping him become the pitcher he is today.
"At the academy, my son used a rubber ball until he was 12 and he only threw fastballs the first year," Evandro said. "It was about preparation and mechanics. He started lifting weights the second year and then started learning his secondary pitches. It was very Japanese."
Overall, more than 50 players from Brazil have signed contracts with Major League teams.
Seattle's No. 21 prospect, pitcher Thyago Vieira, who pitched last season at Class A Advanced, and Twins infielder Leo Reginatto, who split last season between Double-A and Triple-A, are among the country's most heralded Minor Leaguers. Left-handed pitcher Luiz Gohara, who received $880,000 signing bonus from the Mariners, the most ever given to a Brazilian prospect, was the club's fifth-ranked prospect. He was traded to the Braves on Wednesday.
There have also been 10 prospects signed out of Major League Baseball's annual Elite Camp in Brazil since it launched in 2011. The camp featured Hall of Famer Barry Larkin, the manager of Brazil's team, along with former Major Leaguers Steve Finley, LaTroy Hawkins, Dale Murphy, Wally Joyner and Craig Lefferts as instructors.
Later this month, MLB will launch the year-round MLB Brazil Academy at the CT Yakult Academy as part of a partnership with the Brazilian Baseball Federation. Pardinho attended the Elite Camp twice and is expected to join the group of prospects at the MLB Brazil Academy.
"The country has high hopes for him from a national team perspective, but he's also just ," Santos-Silva said. "It's a lot on a young kid, so we will see how he responds. He's very mature and has a calm presence, but you will have to see how he does in different situations."
Jesse Sanchez is a national reporter for MLB.com based in Phoenix. Follow him on Twitter @JesseSanchezMLB and Facebook.