By David Furones
With only a handful of baseball prospects attending the MLB draft each year, it’s pretty rare for a pair of high school players coming out of the same county to be there.
How about two that were once teammates – from the ages of 8 to 13?
That’s the deeper connection that American Heritage first baseman Triston Casas and North Broward Prep shortstop Xavier Edwards share. They will also be in the same building Monday night, where the 18-year-olds are likely to hear their names called within the first two rounds of the draft.
The two played together on a travel squad called Team MVP for about five years before splitting up on their high school journeys. Edwards was a speedster and productive leadoff hitter. Casas would usually hit third or fourth in the order and drive in Edwards often. A look at team photos shows Casas seemed to be the biggest kid on the team, and Edwards the smallest.
“For me to have a chance to share [the draft experience] with him, it’s going to be special for my family and his family just with the fact that we grew up together, shared so many special moments together, and we’re going to share another one on Monday,” said Casas, a 6-foot-4, 238-pound power-hitting lefty signed to the University of Miami if he doesn’t make a deal with the pro team that drafts him.
MLB.com ranks Casas the 20th prospect in this year’s draft and Edwards the 28th.
The all-star youngsters
Team MVP, originally called the Sugarcanes, was started up by Casas’ and Edwards’ fathers. Through the first couple of years of their sons’ Little League days, they watched them play against each other and decided to team them up. For Jose Casas, Jovon Edwards and a number of other parents, having like-minded goals for their kids made it easy to merge. Edwards, a former minor-leaguer, coached the team.
“You had a group of parents that had a common interest in finding the highest level of baseball for their kids,” said Jovon Edwards, who was drafted by the Dodgers and also played in the Mariners’ and Mets’ organizations before an ankle injury sidetracked him at the Double-A level. “It was parents seeking out the best competition for their kids and the right coaching.”
Said Jose Casas: “Deep down inside, I think we bleed the same blood. … That’s when I started realizing that this kid was special, and Xavier the same.”
And so they were off. The team was runner-up in the AAU National Championships at Disney’s Wide World of Sports one year. They participated in big tournaments like the Elite 32 World Series, went to Puerto Rico for the Pee Wee Reese World Series and earned what Edwards estimates were 10-15 tournament titles touring the Southeast U.S.
“Me and my friends, I’m sure we didn’t think about it at the time, but now looking back on it, the team that we had back when we were 9, 10, 11, 12 years old was pretty crazy,” said Xavier Edwards, who is signed collegiately to Vanderbilt. “There’s a lot of D-I kids. There’s kids that are going to the draft – I mean, last year, Mark Vientos used to be on my team, same team with Triston. He got drafted in the second round [to the Mets out of American Heritage].”
The parents’ push
The two players were united on this youth team despite living far apart — Casas in Broward County and Edwards in Wellington, where he moved to from New York when he was 5.
Both prospects are grateful for the efforts their parents made to put them in the best position to succeed, especially Casas, whose father raised him on his own after he lost his mother to a heart attack when he was 9.
“He’s my superhero, and he’s my role model. I owe everything to him and the way he handled everything he did when it did go down,” Triston Casas said. “He’s built in me an amazing work ethic that will stick with me for my entire life.
“I think about [my mother] every day. I wish she could be here with me sharing [these memories] with me, but hopefully she’s in a better place.”
Whirlwind of the draft
Casas and Edwards both started receiving major scout attention in 2015. By now, all 30 MLB teams have seen each of them at some point.
Edwards had to settle himself down when the scouts started coming.
“I was putting too much pressure on myself – ‘I’ve got to get a hit this at-bat. I’ve got to play my best every game because all these scouts from around the country are coming to see me. I don’t know how many times they’ll see me. It may only be one time. There’s only one time you make a first impression,’” he said.
The two have worked out for multiple teams after both their high school careers ended on May 22 in regional finals.
Casas visited Tampa Bay last Friday, Kansas City on Wednesday, was back in Miami for a Thursday workout with the Marlins and worked out with Red Sox on Friday – hitting for all of them in their big-league parks. Edwards has stayed in Florida, working out at Marlins Park and the spring training complexes of the Rays and Astros. With family roots in the New York/New Jersey area, Edwards expects to use all 30 of the invitations he’s allotted to attend the draft in Secaucus, N.J.
‘The work separates you’
Casas and Edwards were good ball players in their pre-teen years, like several other kids, but the dedication to the craft kept them on the rise.
“A lot of kids have fallen behind, and we’re still here,” Jose Casas says. “The work separates you.”
For Triston Casas, he was a pudgy kid back then, but his father had the right plan for him – he focused on the skills of the game early, so he had that foundation in him, and then got to the conditioning. Edwards continued to build the traits that scouts love – his switch-hitting leadoff abilities, speed and slick fielding at short.
“It’s crazy to think about a 12-year-old baseball team, how much talent it really had,” Edwards said. “At the time, it seemed like we were very talented, but in the grand scheme of things, we didn’t think it would turn into something this great, this big.”
To read more and see more photos, visit http://www.sun-sentinel.com/sports/highschool/baseball/broward/fl-sp-casas-edwards-baseball-draft-20180602-story.html