Williams Jerez has a talent for drawing crowds.
Players from Grand Street Campus and Bryant chatted as they accepted trophies, parents and friends spoke with coaches. The 42nd Monroe Tournament had just come to an end with Grand Street winning the prestigious week-long showcase for the first time.
Suddenly, with the crisp sound of bat on ball, everyone turned to the batter’s box. Jerez, Grand Street’s hulking 6-foot-4 center fielder and New York City’s top high-school baseball prospect, was taking batting practice for a handful of major league scouts and sending one picturesque blast after another well over the wall in right field.
“It was like a commercial,” Grand Street coach Melvin Martinez said. “Everybody stopped what they were doing.”
Jerez, who came to Brooklyn from Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic, two years ago, has been the center of attention ever since his breakout summer with Hank’s Yanks, an 18-and-under summer-league team for inner-city kids funded by Yankees co-owner Hank Steinbrenner and coached by Yankees senior advisor Ray Negron.
Scouts flock to his games, to catch a glimpse of the Brooklyn prospect with the easy gait, powerful arm and bigger bat. One scout said Jerez could go in the top two rounds of the draft and labeled him the top high-school prospect in the Northeast with “close to five major league tools.” Another said it would surprise him to see Jerez go so high, but he was a definite top five-round pick and reminds the scout of a certain Mets outfielder.
“He can project to be a young Carlos Beltran,” the scout said, referencing his easy swing, long strides and smooth coverage in the outfield.
Jerez came to New York City for a better opportunity academically and athletically. He enjoyed a solid season last year with Grand Street, where he in the school’s transitional bi-lingual program and is on pace to graduate in June, but was hardly a can’t-miss prospect.
That changed with Hank’s Yanks. He played up to 65 games during the summer and was given opportunities to showcase his ability in front of scouts. He also played several times at Yankee Stadium and George M. Steinbrenner Field in Tampa, meeting Yankee players such as Mariano Rivera and Robinson Cano and spending time with Steinbrenner.
“It was a lot of hitting, a lot of running, a lot of preparing,” he said through an interpreter. “It was an opportunity to get looked at and show what I have.”
Jerez returned to Grand Street a different player, more confident and with a relentless work ethic. Shortstop Jose Cuas recently marveled at his teammates’ new pregame regimen: from 300 dry swings, to running laps, to extra batting practice, to soft toss.
“He takes an hour to get ready for games now,” Cuas said of Jerez, who has led the Wolves to a 7-0 mark in Brooklyn A East with a .727 batting average, 16 RBIs, 13 stolen bases and 13 runs scored.
“if he improves as much each year over the next three years as he did this last year, he’s got a great chance to make it,” the first scout said.
Jerez said once he saw improvement, he realized the extra work was paying off and began adding to it. Now that the First-Year Player Draft is just two months away, his decision to come to Brooklyn is looking wiser by the day. There are times, he said, it’s hard to believe he could be a professional soon because so much has changed in the last year.
“It feels like a dream,” Jerez said. “But I still have to work hard to make it reality.”