SARASOTA -- With the temperature hovering above 90 degrees, Zack Larson sits under a tree in the parking lot of Ed Smith Stadium munching on a Subway sandwich.
It's the pregame meal for the Gulf Coast League Twins and makes the major leagues seem far away.
It didn't have to be this way for Larson, a highly coveted college prospect when he finished his senior season at Lakewood Ranch in 2012.
But it's a path he chose, and he has no regrets.
"There is where I want to be and what I want do. I am playing baseball, the game I love, every day and having fun," Larson said Wednesday before his team played the Gulf Coast League Orioles. "I didn't play a lot last year because I signed late. There are a lot of good guys on this team, and I am learning about the game."
Larson is doing a lot more than just learning the game. He has adjusted to pro ball, which even at this rookie-league level can be difficult.
Heading into the game, the 19-year-old led the GCL Twins with a .381 batting average and was second in the league with a .667 slugging percentage. He went 1-for-4 with a double in the Twins' 2-1 defeat on Wednesday.
He batted .250 in 40 at-bats last season.
"He is ready for the next level. He can now dominate at this level," GCL Twins manager Ramon Borrego said. "Last year when he first came here, he was nervous and didn't want to make a mistake. Now he is more aggressive and understands the game better. It's a long way to the big leagues, but he is ready to move up."
The 6-foot-2, 185-pound Larson agrees with his manager's assessment. He signed in late July last year, and when he joined the team it was like entering a different world.
"When I came here last season, I was nervous and didn't know what to expect. It's totally different now. I feel more relaxed and confident," Larson said. "The breaking ball is the hardest thing to hit. Most of the guys throw in the 90s, and you see quite a few change-ups that are good, so that makes it tough. You see a good pitcher every time. In high school, you might see one in two weeks."
GCL Twins hitting coach Ricardo Ingram says the wooden bat adds to the adjustment quotient.
"It's heavier, and there is a smaller hitting area. Then you are facing pitchers who are better," Ingram emphasized with a smile. "But Zack has made great adjustments, and his defense has been good. If someone at the next level got hurt, there would be no concern about sending him up there."
Before he signed for a $190,000 bonus last summer, Larson debated about going to college. His life would be different. He would still be playing baseball, but it wouldn't be on these dog-day afternoons when temperatures soar past 90 and the field feels like 100 degrees.
He shares a hotel room in Fort Myers with a teammate. The day begins at 6:30 a.m. when they head to the field to get in their work, which includes individual batting instruction and pregame warm-ups. If he is free at night, Larson often goes to watch the Fort Myers Miracle, the Twins high Single-A team in the Florida State League.
It's baseball 24/7. Larson says this is what he signed up for and loves every minute, though at times it can be difficult.
"I definitely made the right decision because this is what I wanted to do ever since I was a little kid," Larson said. "I could've gone to college, but it's quicker this way (to get to the big leagues). Playing every day can be a grind, and it's hot playing at noon. Nobody is used to that. You've got to push your way through it, and it helps if you love the game."
Borrego has Larson playing all three outfield positions because he wants to get him ready for anything. He has been batting leadoff or third most of the time because he has been consistently getting the bat on the ball and has shown some power. Entering the game, he was tied for the team lead with three homers and second with 28 total bases.
"The hardest thing for young guys is to understand all parts of the game because when they turn pro everything is different," Borrego said. "Zack has a lot going for him. He has good bat speed and hands and discipline. He doesn't swing at too many bad pitches. He never batted leadoff before, but I wanted to put him there because most of the time he puts the ball in play."
With his mom and little brother and a group of friends from Lakewood Ranch sitting in the stands, Larson showed his talent.
He hit the ball hard in three of his four at-bats. He struck out once when a pitcher fooled him with a breaking ball on a 2-2 count, but that's OK. It's part of the learning process, and he is loving every minute of it.