Despite having Division I college scholarship offers in hand, two of the state’s top sophomore baseball prospects have just begun to tap into their full potential.
Fort Dorchester shortstop Jalen Vasquez and West Ashley shortstop Vince Smith already have made verbal commitments — Vasquez to South Carolina and Smith to LSU. Yet, the duo rated as the top two sophomore shortstop prospects in the state by thediamondprospects.com continue to work harder than ever to be ready for the SEC in 2021.
Vasquez moved into the starting lineup at Fort Dorchester early in his freshman season and shortly thereafter received a scholarship offer from former USC coach Chad Holbrook. He made a verbal commitment to Holbrook and later to new USC coach Mark Kingston.
Vasquez started on the junior varsity team as an eighth-grader before being pulled up to the varsity as a freshman. Patriots coach Ronnie Sayer knew he had something special in the young player.
“His strength is defensively,” Sayer said. “I’ve seen some good players and some good talent over the years. He has the best hands defensively I have ever seen. He has great instincts as a shortstop, a great glove and a good arm. He’s getting stronger and will continue to develop He has a good upside offensively, but the defensive range and arm is why the colleges love him.”
Being a highly-touted prospect so young, Vasquez can become the target of opposing teams and fans. If he makes a mistake, it is common to hear catcalls from the other dugout or in the stands.
“Yeah, sometimes I hear stuff but it’s just words,” the 5-11, 155-pounder said. “I’ve gotten used to it. Some of it is kinda fun. I don’t let that bother me. I just try to focus on playing the game and helping my team.”
Smith, who moved to West Ashley from Michigan as a seventh-grader, made his verbal commitment to LSU after attending a summer camp and later an official visit.
West Ashley coach Tyson Azevedo says Smith’s dedication to improving is special to see in a player of his age.
“He’s talented for sure but his work ethic and commitment is what sets him apart,” Azevedo said. “He is one of the hardest working kids on the team. He understands the process and he understands that he needs to keep improving. He’s always willing to do the extra stuff.
“And it’s not just baseball. Vince is an excellent student and he works very hard in the classroom. He wants to be as good as he can be in every aspect.”
Smith, a 5-10, 180-pounder, is playing both shortstop and third base this season while also getting time on the mound. He even spent some time in the outfield during summer ball. Smith says being a versatile player will help him down the road.
“I want to be a baseball player, whether that means playing short, third or in the outfield,” Smith said. “I think learning other positions is helping me understand the game better and developing me as a player.”
Azevedo admits to worrying at times that his young talent, who is ultra-competitive, takes failure too personal.
“His own expectations for himself are higher than anyone on the outside,” the coach said. “He is very hard on himself. His first instinct is to press if things don’t go well. We talk a lot about not trying to do too much. Like every kid his age, he is learning how to handle things.”
Smith and Vasquez have developed a solid friendship. West Ashley and Fort Dorchester recently played a two-game series as members of Region 7-AAAAA with the two shortstops showing off their skills.
“Jalen is a good guy and a great player,” Smith said. “I try to learn from watching him play. I try to develop relationships with great players because I think it makes me a better player.”
The two players could be competing against each other as SEC foes in the future.