R.J. Benedetto singled twice and drove in a run for Baseball U. NY.
By Rich Bevensee
No sooner had Will Markwood stepped off the mound at Diamond Nation’s Field No. 7 when the field umpire, clearly impressed with Markwood’s one-batter cameo – a five-pitch strikeout – approached to ask about his recruiting prospects.
“Nope, nothing yet,” came the answer with a shoulder shrug.
The umpire, seemingly stunned by that news, collected Markwood’s contact information and promised he would reach out to some of his college contacts.
Markwood thanked him and went about the business of packing up his gear in the dugout, which is all a rising high school senior ballplayer can do. Keep moving forward until someone notices.
If the prospect of not having a college scholarship in hand – or at least the promise of a roster spot on any college baseball team – seems daunting, it doesn’t seem to affect the three young men who took the mound for the 18U team from Baseball U N.Y.
Markwood, John Francesconi and Brady Bouchard combined for a four-inning, 10-0 shutout of All-Stars Academy Scout 2023 17U on Friday at Diamond Nation in Flemington.
Afterward, rising seniors Markwood and Francesconi shared their feelings about their recruiting possibilities. They are remarkably calm and matter-of-fact about their situations, which speaks volumes not only about their maturity, but also the confidence in their talent.
It’s important for these athletes to take that approach because it’s not a given that every talented ballplayer will find a landing spot. According to baseballscouter.com, only seven percent of high school baseball players play in college, and only two percent play Division 1 ball.
“Honestly I take it with a grain of salt because I know I’ll end up where I should,” said Francesconi, a rising senior at Marcellus High in Marcellus, N.Y. (35 miles southeast of Lake Ontario’s eastern shore). “I just don’t fret about it too much. There are a few D1s in play but I’m mostly looking at D2, D3.”
The Blue Chip Prospects 17/18U is one of Diamond Nation’s bigger showcases of the summer, so there is a very good chance Markwood and his buddies have received a good look.
Francesconi, a 6-3, 175-pound right-hander, pitched 3⅓ shutout innings, allowing just three hits with no walks and two strikeouts. He topped out at 83 mph with his fastball which hovered in the high 70s, and he sprinkled in his curveball and splitter to retire the last 10 batters he faced.
“I wasn’t on today at all,” said Francesconi, who said his fastball normally hovers in the low 80s and reaches 85 or 86. “My velo was down and the slider wasn’t really working but I made it through. It’s great to see I can execute on days when I don’t have everything.’
Because All-Stars coach Matt Frey indicated he would wave the white flag after four innings – he had no pitching left and only eight players at his disposal Friday afternoon after losing two players to injury earlier in the day – Baseball U coach Lloyd Quick suddenly was in a hurry to get more pitchers some work.
Markwood relieved Francesconi and struck out the only batter he faced. Rising junior Bouchard came on and closed out the game with a strikeout.
Markwood, a 6-1, 175-pound right-hander, said he appreciated the umpire’s interest in his future. The interest was warranted, even if it was after only one batter. Markwood has an attractive delivery – smooth and whip-like which produces a two-seam fastball in the mid 80s with a max of 86, as well as a slurve, change-up and splitter.
“My two-seam has a lot of run on it and my arm slot is really low so that’s where I get that run,” Markwood said. “I rely on that pitch to get ground balls and get swings and misses.”
Markwood attends Manlius Pebble Hill School in DeWitt, N.Y., but plays for Bishop Grimes High in East Syracuse because Manlius does not have a baseball program. He said he was appreciative of the umpire’s interest but didn’t seem overly worried about not yet having a college offer in hand.
“I wouldn’t say it bothers me because of all the hard work I’ve put in to this point,” Markwood said. “If I keep doing what I’m doing I know something will happen. Whether it’s D3, D2, D1, I don’t really care. I just want to play baseball in college. Four more years of having fun on a baseball field.”
Quick is a former coach at Onondaga Community College and now heads the varsity program at Oneida High, which is east of Syracuse. Having seen hundreds of ball players pass through his programs, he said that it’s expected that aspiring ballplayers feel pressure, because they understand there is intense competition for a roster spot at the next level.
And there is even more competition for available spots since COVID extended eligibility limits.
He also noted Francesconi and Markwood are two examples of well-grounded young men who can handle the pressure of waiting for an invitation to a college roster.
“I think they feel pressure a little bit. That’s natural,” Quick said. “They come down here (to Diamond Nation) and see the radar guns and the coaches watching, and they can see how they match up against other guys. We were making fun of John because after every pitch he was looking up at the scoreboard to see how fast he was throwing.
“But I will say this. They can handle it. They will be ready. And they will make a college coach very happy.”
Bouchard, a 6-1, 175-pound rising junior at Penn Yan Academy (in the Finger Lakes Region of New York), can really get the radar gun beeping with a fastball in the upper 80s. He throws a four-seam and two-seam fastball, a spike curve and a circle change.
“He’s a down-to-earth kid and his dad is a high school baseball coach, so he gets it,” Quick said of Bouchard, who normally plays for the Baseball U 15U team but was called up to join the 18U team this week. “He can handle this level, and if he keeps going the way he’s been going, he’ll make it at the next level, too.”
Even with his immense talent, he’s been watching Francesconi and Markwood intently because he wants to emulate how his elder teammates handle the whole recruiting situation.
“I try to see how they act on the mound,” Bouchard said. “I watch their body language. If someone gets a hit I see if they’re down or if they bounce back. They’re good role models. I used to yell but I’ve been working on getting less angry at people. I want to play college baseball but I’ve got a long way to go.”
The win over All-Star Academy capped a split of this week’s action for Baseball U, which also beat Diamond Jacks Super 16 (7-1). The New York squad lost to Lehigh Valley Baseball Academy Prospects National (5-4) and Long Island Titans Page (12-1).
The All-Stars limped home with a 1-3 record in the Blue Chip showcase. They began the week with a 5-2 win over Long Island Titans Page, then lost to LVBA Prospects National (6-1), Baseball U PA Scranton (6-5) and to Baseball U N.Y.
Against the All-Stars, Baseball U N.Y. received a 2-for-2 performance with an RBI double from Reed Bouchard, Brady’s twin brother. Cam Brennan, R.J. Benedetto and Ben Ruth each went 2-for-2 with an RBI, and Evan Froelich had a two-run single.
Kyle Blake doubled for All-Star Academy and Kyle Blake and Jack Gialanella each had a single.