TAMPA — Hillsborough County high school baseball teams have garnered plenty of attention from scouts in recent years. Players like Alonso’s Jose Fernandez, Jesuit’s Lance McCullers and Durant’s Tyler Danish are just a few of the top players to come under the scrutiny of radar guns and stopwatches.
This year will be no different as Bloomingdale’s Logan Crouse, Jefferson’s Nelson Maldonado and Sickles’ Troy Bacon will be watched by several major-league teams.
That said, the scene at Plant could be almost circus-like on some nights. With a pair of University of Florida signees in Kyle Tucker, last season’s Tribune player of the year, and all-county first-team pitcher Jake Woodford, the scouts will be flocking in droves to South Tampa.
“We’ve been fortunate to have at least one good player, a potential draft guy in our program,” Plant coach Dennis Braun said. “So having scouts around is nothing new. But to have two guys in the same year is a rarity that doesn’t happen anywhere that often.”
Case in point: For Plant’s first intrasquad game this season, Braun and his team hosted 25 scouts. There were nearly 70 scouts at a preseason game against East Lake last week and they were rewarded as Tucker hit a double and a pair of home runs, while Woodford needed just 51 pitches to get through five innings.
A season ago, Plant went 23-6 and won the Saladino Tournament and a district title before falling in the region semifinals to eventual state runner-up Bloomingdale (a team the Panthers bested in three previous meetings).
Tucker was outstanding at the plate, hitting .415 with nine home runs, 34 RBIs and 35 runs scored, while Woodford was 10-1, with a 0.43 ERA and 73 strikeouts.
However, for the duo who both committed to Florida before last season, this year isn’t about the scouts or making sure it is “on” when the game starts. It’s about one last chance as Panthers, a team that has something to prove as a unit.
“It’s more of a team thing. It’s my senior year,” Tucker said. “Ever since freshman year, we’ve gotten further and further in the playoffs. The scouts are going to come, but I’ve played with these guys since we were in middle school, I’ve grown up with them, so it’s about us having fun out there.”
The Panthers are by no means a two-man show. The roster boasts talent throughout, including pitcher Zach Rose (who posted a 0.28 ERA in 25 innings last year), catcher Ryan Ellis (.329 with 18 RBIs), first baseman Jake Bak (17 runs and 13 RBIs) and speedy leadoff hitter Cooper Dickens.
Dickens is a prime example of a player hoping to bask in the light his teammates draw. A .326 hitter last season, he led off and scored 28 runs, while also drawing 17 walks.
“It’s something special. Every time I score when (Tucker) hits a home run it’s like I’m a part of hitting that home run, too,” Dickens said. “I’m just trying to get on base every time and I know if I get on base, he has a better chance to get those better pitches.”