V.I. players skipping MLB for college

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The emerging baseball talent coming out of the U.S. Virgin Islands continues to grow as evidenced by the number of young players selected in recent Major League Baseball Drafts.

Four USVI players were drafted two years ago - all four signed with their professional clubs - while three more were selected last June.

But in reality, getting picked by an MLB club doesn't guarantee much. Many times, young prospects decide to sharpen their game at the college level instead, and wait until next year for the pros.

Such was the case for USVI standout pitchers Jharel Cotton and Deshorn Lake, who were each selected in the 2011 MLB Draft but will be walking the campus of East Carolina University this week. Both players made verbal commitments to ECU months ago, but their decision to play for the Pirates was contingent on where they fell in the draft.

"It's one of the hardest decisions these young men will have to make," said Darren Canton, who runs the V.I. Future Stars, a local non-profit organization that has helped prepare USVI baseball players for the college and professional levels since 2005.

"If they don't make it to the pros, it's not the end of the world," Canton said. "We have a lot of young players from the territory who have earned scholarships to college and have moved on from there."

Aside from Cotton and Lake, Canton announced this week that the V.I. Future Stars assisted an additional 10 players from St. Thomas and St. Croix make it to college programs this upcoming year.

The organization sponsored two baseball showcases this summer, and as a result, several local baseball players were noticed by college coaches.

"I went to the one in Fort Lauderdale and hit a few out," USVI catcher Joel Bellot said Thursday. "The coaches at Barry University liked what they saw, and now I have a second shot. The first few years for me after high school was a little rough, but now I have a fresh start, and I'm going to take advantage of it."

Canton described Bellot as a "veteran of the program" as he has worked out at different showcases for the last few years and waited for the right opportunity.

The Charlotte Amalie High School graduate had played catcher for the Houston Astros' Jamaine Cotton, a 2010 draftee, since they were 6 years old, and several other players who have risen to the professional ranks.

"Watching those guys, my friends, get drafted and go to the pros just made the dream more of a reality for me," Bellot said. "This is a big step for me. The dream of playing in the pros is still alive. It will never go away. But right now, I have to focus on my school and becoming a better baseball player."

Bellot said his impressive grades - he posted a 4.0 grade-point average last year as a sophomore at Murray State - made it easier for Barry to offer him scholarship money. It's a lesson he likes to tell younger players in the territory.

"Every time I come back and we do a showcase or have different workouts, I always tell them that good grades stick out when you play athletics," said Bellot, who arrived on Barry University's campus in Miami on Wednesday and will start the fall semester next week. "It shows the coaches that you are committed and that you are capable."

Cotton, Lake and Bellot headline a slew of local players who will be playing in college this year.

Two of the top prep pitchers on St. Croix last year will start their freshman year this week. Joshua Torres, a left-handed pitcher from Central High, is headed to Hill College in Texas, while Javier Perez, a middle infielder from Educational Complex, will play at North Oklahoma College-Tonkawa.

St. Croix's Shakelel Newton will start his college career at Genesee Community College in upstate New York.

JeMari James, a first baseman, is a junior transfer at Centenary College of Louisiana, while shortstop Jose Alicia made the move from Daytona State College to Ranger College, considered one of the top junior college baseball programs in Texas.

Shortstop Keithroy Charles spent his freshman year at Connors State in 2010, but made the move to Navarro College, which won the NJCAA National Championship last season.

Logan Senelis Jose is now at Lenoir-Rhyne University, and left-handed pitcher Kellen St. Luce is at Nova Southeastern University in Florida.

- Contact sports writer Aaron Gray at 774-8772 ext. 352 or email agray@dailynews.vi.

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