The promise of specialized high-end training, college preparatory offerings in the classroom and the opportunity to get outdoors and play every day the year around is becoming more and more difficult to resist for the top high school baseball prospects from across the country, primairly those from the Northeast.
Many of the highest ranked juniors and seniors who began their prep careers at high schools in New Jersey, New York and Pennsylvania – along with at least two from Virginia – have enrolled in a handful of the most respected sports academies in Florida over the last year or two.
The players and their families make the decision to move south in an effort to better their chances of being ready to perform at the “next level” upon graduating from high school.
IMG Academy, a prestigious athletic and academic preparatory school located in Bradenton, Fla., has benefitted the most from the influx of talent from the Northeast, with five players on its 2014 roster who call cities in New Jersey home, with two others from both Pennsylvania and Virginia. There are also players from Illinois, North Carolina and Texas on the roster.
IMG Academy – ranked No. 27 in Perfect Game’s Preseason National High School Rankings – is not alone. Montverde (Fla.) Academy is hoping to enjoy the services of two of New York’s highest-ranked high school seniors this season and Coral Springs (Fla.) Christian Academy has added a top-10 New Jersey senior.
Jason Elias, the former head coach of IMG’s varsity baseball team who in April took on the role of Student-Athlete Advisor at the highly regarded academy, said it is the school’s reputation that is alluring to the young prospects from the Northeast.
“It’s getting to the point now where it’s a lot of word of mouth in the summer baseball circuits,” Elias told Perfect Game in a recent telephone interview. “It’s where the Logan Allens of the world speaks to the Taylor Lanes of the world who speaks to the Ryan Kartstetters of the world. So there’s a lot of word of mouth that has really gotten out into the amateur baseball market.”
Logan Allen is a junior left-hander/first baseman Perfect Game ranks the No. 116 national prospect in the class of 2015 who calls Fletcher, N.C., home and has committed to South Carolina. Taylor Lane is a senior shortstop ranked 195th nationally (2014) who has signed with Florida and is from Chesapeake, Va. Kartstetter, a junior third baseman/right-hander and a Virginia commit ranked No. 283 in the class of 2015, is from Port Matilda, Pa.
The biggest prize IMG landed for this spring is senior Luke Bonfield, a 6-foot-2, 185-pound outfielder from Skillman, N.J., who played last spring at Immaculata High School in Somerville, N.J. Bonfield, ranked 59th nationally and No. 3 in New Jersey (2014), hit .400 (20-for-50) with three home runs, 31 RBI and 15 runs scored for Immaculata last season and has signed with Arkansas.
Another top New Jersey product, senior right-hander/shortstop Brian Rapp from Mendham, N.J., who spent his junior year at Delbarton High School in Morristown, N.J., will join Bonfield at IMG this spring. Rapp, a Boston College recruit, was 7-0 with a 0.42 ERA, and surrendered just 29 hits while striking out 69 and walking 12 in 49 1/3 innings for Delbarton last spring. He also hit .333 (22-for-66) with 18 RBI.
Bonfield and Rapp played for IMG at the PG WWBA Florida Qualifier in Fort Myers, Fla., in October and were also teammates with the Atlanta Blue Jays at the PG WWBA World Championship in Jupiter, Fla., later in October.
Highly regarded brothers and New Jersey natives Eric and Michael Feliz are also on IMG’s roster this spring, but while they call Englewood Cliffs, N.J., home, they never attended a New Jersey high school. Eric Feliz, a junior outfielder, is ranked No. 69 nationally and No. 1 in New Jersey (2015).
Senior left-hander Ethan Magaziner from Cherry Hill, N.J., will play his second season at IMG this spring and senior catcher Caedon Saltis from Wallingford, Pa., has moved to Sarasota and is also on the IMG roster. Senior Stephen Hueber, a 6-foot-5, 185-pound right-hander from Bedford, Va., is also in on the fun.
IMG wasn’t able to hold on to another prized Northeast prospect, however. Left-hander Willie Rios from Waterford, Conn., had enrolled in the academy but decided only about two weeks ago to return to Saint Bernard High School in Montville, Conn., for his senior season. Rios, the No. 1-ranked 2014 prospect in Connecticut (No. 77 nationally) was 8-1 with a 1.60 ERA and struck out 86 in 48 innings pitched for Saint Bernard last spring.
By Elias’ way of explanation, IMG Academy is the “world’s largest training facility for athletes with a private prep boarding institution” that caters to 850 students in eight sports – baseball, Bollettieri tennis, golf (boys and girls), soccer (boys and girls), basketball (boys and girls), football, lacrosse and track and field/cross country.
There are 85 players involved in the baseball program this year.
“I think the allure here is we’re playing every day and we have a staff of 10 coaches that all have at least collegiate experience if not collegiate coaching experience, if not professional playing experience, if not professional coaching experience,” Elias said.
Students at IMG are engulfed in a half-day academic program – usually 7:30 a.m. until 12:15 p.m. – and a half-day athletic program – in baseball, 1:30 p.m. to 4:15 p.m. The program promotes in-depth, individualized instruction that appeals to serious-minded baseball players from all across the country, and the world, for that matter.
“There is the allure of being able work every day at your craft here at IMG,” Elias said. There are also lifting sessions with the strength staff, speed sessions, mental conditioning sessions and an on-campus program called Athletic and Personal Development (APD) that include nutrition, vision, mental toughness and leadership training.
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