Because of his somewhat small stature, one would think that Fighting Scots outfielder and starting pitcher Blake Bennett wouldn’t be capable of the power numbers that he has put up recently. But it’s that very misconception that has motivated the Scotland High School rising senior throughout his young baseball career.
Bennett is currently preparing to rub shoulders with 80 of the top high school prospects in the nation at next week’s “USA Baseball Breakthrough Series” showcase event held in Cary and Durham, NC. And at that event, Bennett hopes to utilize his underdog mentality to not only make a name for himself, but possibly bring national attention to Scotland baseball as a whole.
“Playing against bigger guys for most of the time I’ve known him, Blake has always felt that he’s had something to prove whether he admits it to you or not,” said Derek Graham, who has been Bennett’s Athlete’s Choice Area Stars showcase baseball coach since Bennett was 14 years old.
“People may look at him and make the mistake of thinking Blake’s not strong, but once his bat enters the strike zone it will change all of their minds. I think the secret is out now, and the stage is set for Blake to put himself and Scotland County on the map for good,” he said.
In a summer season that has seen the varsity Fighting Scots baseball team display explosive hitting ability from the top of the lineup on down, no one has been hotter than Bennett. After a 2012 regular season that he described as a “let down,” Bennett fully committed himself to improving his swing mechanics in the off-season with both Graham and the Scots coaching staff. In less than two months time, Bennett has thoroughly entrenched himself in the three-spot of Scotland’s batting order, and has been the team’s most feared hitter throughout a Central Carolina Scholastic Summer League campaign that saw the Scots blow out nearly every opponent.
“I didn’t do that well during the regular season, and a lot of that came from me trying to put monster hacks on every pitch I liked,” Bennett said. “My coaches told me to keep my head in there and calm down, and now it feels like everything is coming together at just the right time.”
“Blake is a tremendous athlete and has a whole lot of natural talent,” said Scotland head coach Jamie Coleman. “All he needed was to make a few minor adjustments, mainly make his swing more compact, and now he’s quickly become one of our team leaders.”
While it may appear that his recent production came out of nowhere, Graham knew almost from the start what he had in Bennett when he saw the then-14-year old’s smooth swing for the first time. His most recent strides from the batter’s box prompted Graham to capture footage of Bennett taking 10-15 swings in a batting cage, which he sent via email to Carl Nichols out of Compton, California. Nichols is a former Major League Baseball fourth round draft pick who currently works as a coordinator of instruction at the MLB Urban Youth Academy in Compton.
He is also responsible for scouting and recruiting players for the USA Baseball Breakthrough Series showcase baseball event. And though the clip he received was brief, Nichols saw and heard enough of Bennett’s ability to vouch for him when it came time to make national selections for the Breakthrough Series.
“We’ve developed a solid rapport with Carl over the years, so when we tell him that we have a big-time player to showcase he always listens,” Graham said. “Carl was blown away by how compact and natural Blake’s swing was, and that alone was enough to open the door for Blake to compete in this event.”
In front of a slew of college, university and MLB scouts, Bennett will have the opportunity to demonstrate his skill sets on both sides of the ball at the Durham Bulls Athletic Park, home to the Tampa Bay Rays AAA affiliate Durham Bulls. In addition to testing his swing out against some of the top pitching prospects in the country, Bennett will also see time in both the outfield and on the pitcher’s mound, the latter of which has seen Bennett become dominant as well. His last CCSSL outing against Pinecrest saw Bennett strike out 10 batters en route to a 11-0 shutout against the Patriots.
But now the underdog gets his shot at being noticed on the biggest platform possible. And as he’s done all throughout his career, Bennett has every intention of taking full advantage.
“Coach Graham told me that this is my shot at showing how good of a player I am, and that right there has me excited,” Bennett said. “I’ve been working hard to improve as a player, and now I’m hoping to get the scouts attention.”
Graham himself knows a thing or two about performing when the spotlight is brightest. A member of the 1990 Hoke County 4-A State Championship baseball team, Graham was drafted that same year by the Cincinnati Reds right out of high school as a shortstop in the 13th round. And ever since that experience, Graham has dedicated himself to maximizing the talent of the players he feels have the highest ceiling and could one day find themselves nervously awaiting the MLB draft.
For Graham, Bennett is one of those players.
“I believe Blake to be a division-1 collegiate prospect, and one who has nowhere near reached his peak yet,” Graham said. “Blake can get whatever he wants from this game as long as he maintains that chip on his shoulder. Let people underestimate him: He’ll prove them all wrong.”