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Young arms impress at WWBA Championships

Teenage pitchers show poise, command at Breakthrough Series youth competition
October 21, 2018

LAKE WORTH, Fla. -- Pitching against elite competition in front of scouts thousands of miles from home can be intimidating.So when Pablo Santos got the nod in the Breakthrough Series team's opening game of the 2018 World Wood Bat Association Freshman Championships on Friday at FITTEAM Ballpark of the Palm

LAKE WORTH, Fla. -- Pitching against elite competition in front of scouts thousands of miles from home can be intimidating.
So when Pablo Santos got the nod in the Breakthrough Series team's opening game of the 2018 World Wood Bat Association Freshman Championships on Friday at FITTEAM Ballpark of the Palm Beaches, the 14-year-old listened to "hype music" to stay focused.
It seemed to work, as the 5-foot-11, 150-pounder didn't allow a run in a 7-2 victory.
"I tried to keep my composure and take everything out and focus on pitching," said Santos, who attends Don Bosco Preparatory in New Jersey. "I didn't try to overthink anything, so I don't put pressure on myself. I like to stay mentally focused so that way, I'm just thinking about me and the batter and what I'm going to do next. I really don't try to do anything out of my league, try to keep it simple and play my game."
The Breakthrough Series, which was established in 2008, is a joint effort between MLB and USA Baseball to promote baseball as a viable collegiate and professional option for youth from minority backgrounds.
Santos, who has already received interest from top collegiate baseball programs such as Clemson, Florida and Virginia, throws a two-seam fastball, curveball, slider and changeup. He believes it takes a person with "high composure" to be a pitcher.
"Sometimes I get nervous when there's a lot of scouts, knowing I have to do good, but on the mound, I feel that's the place where I'm settled," Santos said.

In settings such as this one, former big leaguer and Breakthrough Series pitching coach Marvin Freeman tries to reassure his players that all they're trying to do is execute a pitch. If they can stay in the moment, they can eliminate the noise and things outside of their control -- like scouts or defensive errors.
Freeman also encourages the players to focus on their two best pitches to the point of being able to use them in any situation.
"Get strike one, stay aggressive, keep the ball down and trust the stuff that you have," Freeman said. "Anything else outside of that, you can't control."
Gilbert Saunders III came on in relief during Saturday's 5-3 loss at Santaluces Sports Complex, hoping to keep the game close. He did so by not allowing an earned run.
According to Perfect Game's scouting report, the 15-year-old right-hander "repeats his mechanics well with a good use of his lower half, short stride down the mound and good tempo throughout." The 6-foot-3, 205-pounder throws a four-seam fastball, changeup and curveball -- each for strikes, with good feel.
Saunders, who attends the Hill School in Gilbertsville, Pa., also plays basketball and water polo, the latter of which he credits for his arm strength and conditioning.
"My main focus is be the bulldog," Saunders said. "Normally when people aren't able to throw strikes, they kind of let loose, but Coach Freeman has pounded in my head, 'Keep throwing the ball hard, keep trying to locate, it's going to get there eventually.'"
Former big leaguer and Breakthrough Series coach Homer Bush has been impressed with the young staff's ability to control and change speeds.
The level of competition, in Bush's opinion, brings out the best in players. And by simply taking the mound, pitchers get a better understanding of what hitters are doing in the box. Students of the game learn best by competing.
"One thing I'm noticing with these young players is they come with live arms, but at the same time, they're able to locate, they can go to a strike when they need it, which is fastball down and away or down and in most the time," Bush said. "That's extremely important. That usually is what puts them ahead of the pack and gets them invited here, because they can fill up the strike zone. But the plus feature is you see them using the curveball or the changeup at the right time, and that's what's impressive for me at 14, 15 years old."

Christina De Nicola is an editorial producer for MLB.com.