Sports

Two Manatee County baseball players performing for MLB scouts

Lakewood Ranch High's Pablo Garabitos, left, and Out of Door Academy's Tai Gilbert, right, pose for a portrait after participating at the MLB Breakthrough event on Thursday afternoon at Pirate City in Bradenton.
Lakewood Ranch High's Pablo Garabitos, left, and Out of Door Academy's Tai Gilbert, right, pose for a portrait after participating at the MLB Breakthrough event on Thursday afternoon at Pirate City in Bradenton. zwittman@bradenton.com

The routine nature of this week’s Breakthrough Series at Bradenton’s Pirate City wasn’t unique to Lakewood Ranch High rising senior Pablo Garabitos.

Garabitos participated in the annual three-day event jointly staged by USA Baseball and Major League Baseball in 2016.

What was new, though, was seeing Pittsburgh Pirates outfielder Starling Marte, who was suspended 80 games for failing a drug test earlier this season, taking swings in the batting cages at Pirate City during the early morning hours of Wednesday and Thursday.

“It’s really different, because he’s strong,” said Garabitos, who was born in the Dominican Republic. “He hits the ball harder. He knows what he’s doing. And you just look at it, and say, ‘Wow, that’s a good swing. That’s a major league guy.’ He hits the ball way different than we do. That’s for sure.”

Garabitos and Out-of-Door Academy rising junior Tai Gilbert are the Bradenton residents participating in the Breakthrough Series, which concludes Friday.

The event is a diversity-focused amateur development camp that began in 2008 as a way “to promote baseball as a viable collegiate and professional option for youth from minority backgrounds,” according to a news release.

162017 MLB draft picks that previously participated in the MLB Breakthrough Series

“It’s an honor to be here,” said Garabitos, who is committed to the University of South Florida.

It gives me an opportunity and exposure with all the scouts here.

Bradenton’s Tai Gilbert on playing in the MLB Breakthrough Series

For Garabitos and Gilbert, the three days are a chance for the two longtime friends to display their skills in front of Major League Baseball scouts and former players.

“It gives me an opportunity and exposure with all the scouts here,” Gilbert said.

Garabitos and Gilbert are pitchers and outfielders. The former starred for Lakewood Ranch High School this past season, and said he received an email from Major League Baseball about taking part in this year’s event. Gilbert said his travel ball coach with the Tampa-based Dog Pound Elite got him the invite.

The MLB Breakthrough Series also takes place in Compton, Calif., and Chicago, Ill.

“I didn’t know much about it, but my dad talked on the phone with my coach and told me I was coming here,” Gilbert said.

Garabitos and Gilbert live about 15 minutes apart, but they’re spending the three days at the camp rooming at Pirate City. The event has allowed them to meet the rest of the players taking part and generate new friendships through social activities after baseball workouts conclude each day. Those social activities include table tennis and video games.

Garabitos, after choosing the Cleveland Indians, has bragging rights over Gilbert after defeating him in the MLB: The Show video game on Wednesday night.

“Probably me,” said Garabitos about who was better at the game.

Former MLB stars like Marquis Grissom, Charles Johnson and Tom “Flash” Gordon are among the instructors.

Garabitos said the batting tips revolve around hitting line drives to the gaps, while he’s received pitching tips on keeping his shoulders and body aligned with a strong base in his legs.

“I already knew the routine that they had to do,” Garabitos said. “I knew this and that, what time you had to get up, so I was prepared for everything that I had to do.”

Former major league veteran and coach Ron Jackson has guided the two Manatee County players with outfield drills, Gilbert said.

“Balls off the wall, how to get balls in the gap, angles and where to place yourself with different hitters,” Gilbert said.

The action resumes Friday with games and evaluations scheduled to wrap up the three-day exposure to professional scouts and coaching for Garabitos, Gilbert and the rest of this year’s Breakthrough Series campers.

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