E.A. Sports Today

Getting their shot

Oxford pitchers Turner, Syer get the chance to impress MLB scouts and college coaches at East Coast Pro Showcase trials

Major-league baseball scouts cling to the dugout rail while making notes on the top high school prospects in the South. (Photo by B.J. Franklin/GungHo Photos)

By Al Muskewitz
East Alabama Sports Today

OXFORD – Jarin Turner and Brody Syer literally waited all day Tuesday to do what they came to Choccolocco Park to do, and when they finally got their “one dry chance,” it proved well worth the wait.

After nearly 12 hours on site, watching almost every other pitcher go to the mound and waiting out a two-out weather delay, the two Oxford pitchers got their chance to impress scouts from every major-league team and dozens of college coaches in the closing innings of the East Coast Pro Trials.

Both pitched a hitless inning against some of the best prospects in the South and from where they stood it all went well.

Turner, a rising junior right-hander who remains committed to Alabama and won’t be eligible for the MLB Draft until 2019, pitched the third inning of the third game and struck out all four batters he faced. He fanned Nate LaRue, a junior catcher/outfielder from McGill-Toolen; Nic Nolan, a senior infielder from Niceville, Fla.; T.J. Reaves, a senior outfielder from Hueytown; and Von Seibert, a junior corner infielder from Spanish Fort.

St. Luke’s infielder J.J. Jackson is one of the top prospects in the country. (Photo by B.J. Franklin)

He threw 27 pitches, 16 for strikes. Before the weather delay, each pitcher was given five hitters an inning or 35 pitches. Specific velocity numbers weren’t provided, but those near the scouts’ station overheard Turner hit 76 with the changeup and 87 with the fastball.

“I felt like the ball was flying out of my hand good and it wasn’t just sailing everywhere,” Turner said. “My main goal was just not go out there and just walk everybody and give up 400 hits and look like an idiot. I went out there and threw the ball like I’m supposed to and just happened to strike out all four of them.”

Syer, a rising senior left-hander who remains uncommitted, pitched in the fifth. He also faced four batters in his inning and retired them all – Cameron Gray, a senior outfielder from Marianna, Fla., on a grounder; Christian Hall, a junior outfielder from Calera, on an infield pop; Ethan Hearn, a junior catcher/outfielder from Mobile Christian, on a strikeout with extra pitches; and J.J. Jackson, a senior infielder from St. Luke’s and one of the nation’s top prospects, on an infield pop one pitch after a long foul ball. He threw 22 pitches, 12 for strikes.

“I’m glad that home run was foul,” Syer said. “I thought it went well. I thought I had all my pitches.”

The Twins scout who worked him out in the bullpen was particularly impressed with the deceptive off-speed pitch Syer learned from Chris Hammond when the former big-league pitcher’s son Andy played for the Yellow Jackets.

And in a pleasant surprise, Syer grabbed a bat in the dugout after his inning on the mound and got to be the final batter of the showcase. He struck out against hard-throwing Bob Jones junior right-hander Dylan Ray swinging at a payoff pitch, but got in his cuts.

“Coach (Wes) Brooks just told me to grab a bat and just see how it goes,” Syer said. “A guy throwing that hard, I mean, what’s your chances; you might not ever see it again.”

Although he was being looked at as a pitcher Syer was one of the first players in the cage when his team took batting practice early Tuesday morning.

Hard-throwing Landon Marceaux of Destrehan, La., set the tone for the showcase pitchers as the first arm on the mound. (Photo by B.J. Franklin)

“At first I was like they might want me to hit so I took some in the cage,” Syer said. “Coach Brooks wanted me to take some in the field, so I did that. After that, (they said) aren’t you pitcher only? I was like yeah I can, but I can swing it too a little bit.”

Tuesday’s tryouts were established by major-league scouts as another level to identify the best players for their four-day East Coast Pro Showcase later this summer in Tampa. They’ve already committed to bringing the trials back to The Big House next year, possibly as a two-day event.

When guys like current Donoho coach Steve Gendron and Excel Baseball director Matthew Maniscalco were coming along, the top prospects were invited straight into the East Coast Pro Showcase, which may have left some top players overlooked.

Maniscalco called his ECP experience, which included future big-leaguers Josh Beckett and Josh Hamilton, the “best thing I ever did.’ It was where Mississippi State saw him and his number of college offers began to grow.

While the day was important to all of the more than 80 players who participated, it was particularly big for the two Oxford players.

Syer, a first-team All-State pick this season, has not yet made his college choice and frankly hasn’t received an abundance of either baseball or football offers. In addition to exposing him to the pro scouts, the trials got him in front of dozens of college coaches who may not have seen him before.

“I’m glad he gets 35 pitches and not 10 so he can show he knows how to pitch,” Maniscalco said.

Turner, meanwhile, has been committed to Alabama since last summer when the former Tide coaching staff offered after watching him pitch a half-inning for his East Cobb travel team. While the commitment remains mutually firm, Tuesday was the first time new Tide coaches Brad Bohannon and Jerry Zulli got to see Turner throw. (Zulli’s brother Zack was a Colorado Rockies scout here).

“I finally got to speak to them in person,” Turner said. “That’s also a big deal.”

Oxford coach Wes Brooks talks to pitcher Brody Syer (32) in the presence of MLB scouts from Baltimore and Pittsburgh. (Photo by B.J. Franklin/GungHo Photos)

On the cover: Oxford pitchers Brody Syer (L) and Jarin Turner loosen their arms prior to the start of Tuesday’s rain-delayed final game of the East Coast Pro Showcase trials.

To see a gallery of B.J. Franklin photos from the day’s event, go to www.bjfranklin.smugmug.com and open the Baseball file.

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