Sports

This Bradenton baseball team won 18 straight games. Three players come from MLB families.

Having spring training in Bradenton gave Josh Harrison the opportunity to visit a State College of Florida baseball game this season.

The Pittsburgh Pirates infielder has a cousin with the Manatees.

Jaren Shelby, whose father John Shelby played 11 seasons in Major League Baseball and in two World Series, is one of three SCF players that come from MLB families.

The other two are Rougie Odor, whose cousin Rougned is with the Texas Rangers, and Brock Bell, whose father Jay Bell played 18 years in the majors.

"The ones that we've had, and we've had quite a few and the ones we have right now, you can tell they've been around the game," SCF head coach Tim Hill II said. "I think it helps. I enjoy having those guys. I think it's a testament to the program that these types of families trust us with their kids."

Shelby, a sophomore outfielder, entered Wednesday's action hitting .337 with a team-leading 45 walks to showcase a revamped plate approach.

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State College of Florida sophomore Jaren Shelby entered Wednesday's action with a .337 average and a team-leading 45 walks. The son of former MLB player John Shelby and cousin to Pittsburgh Pirates infielder Josh Harrison, Jaren said he worked on improving his plate discipline during the offseason. Sonjai Persaud Photo provided

And the Manatees are benefiting. They won 18 games in a row before Saturday's loss to Polk State College to take a four-game lead atop the Suncoast Conference standings with nine games remaining.

"He always has been a good player, but he's doing even better this year than he did last year," Hill II said. "I think the biggest difference is he's a much more mature player than where he was last year. What I mean by that is he'll still strike out a little bit, but I don't see him chasing as many pitches. I think he has a better approach at the plate."

Brock Bell underwent season-ending Tommy John surgery earlier this year, and Rougie Odor has contributed in 23 games.

Harrison, who told the Bradenton Herald during spring training that he keeps up with his cousin's progress, also said Jaren is more mature this year.

"Just talking to him and in his voice with the things he says, he's starting to understand a little bit more," Harrison said.

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State College of Florida sophomore outfielder Jaren Shelby is more mature this season, according to head coach Tim Hill II and his cousin, Pittsburgh Pirates infielder Josh Harrison. Sonjai Persaud Photo provided

Shelby, who was Kentucky's high school player of the year in 2016, said he spent the offseason with his older brother JaVon, who plays Single-A baseball in the Oakland A's organization, hitting in the batting cages daily.

It led to improved patience and maturity at the plate.

"Last year, I struggled with my plate discipline, and sort of driving the ball the other way," Shelby said. "And this year, I just really focused up."

Of course, having access to current and past MLB players doesn't hurt.

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Rougie Odor is the cousin of Texas Rangers' Rougned Odor.

"For sure it's a good thing," Hill II said. "I'd pick their brains, too."

Shelby and Odor have received different advice, because their relatives' paths were different. Harrison played college baseball at Cincinnati, while Rougned Odor didn't go to college after getting discovered in Venezuela and signing at an early age.

"(Rougned) said, 'Whatever you go through, don't give up, don't quit. Get big, get strong, have fun along the way,' " Rougie Odor said. "That's the path and the dream. The dream is how you prepare yourself to get to the big leagues. The dream isn't when you get to it, the dream is getting ready every day."

Odor's family history with baseball is steep. Three of his uncles - Roberto Zambrano, Eduardo Zambrano and Jose Zambrano - all played in the same outfield for a Venezuelan team, while his father and other uncle played pro ball, too. Now his cousins Rougned and Rougned Jose, are playing pro ball.

Meanwhile, Brock Bell's older brother Brantley, who plays for the Daytona Tortugas in the Florida State League in the Cincinnati Reds organization, paved the way for his SCF arrival. Brantley played for the Manatees after leaving Ole Miss.

Shelby heard SCF was a solid program, in addition to having the draft eligibility option each year at a junior college, and he decommitted from Kentucky while still in high school.

"They welcomed me with open arms, and I've had a blast down here," Shelby said.

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Rougie Odor squares around the bunt during a game this year. The sophomore is cousins with Texas Rangers player Rougned Odor. Sonjai Persaud Photo provided

Harrison's advice: "The quicker he learns to make those adjustments now is going to help him in the long run."

The adjustments are at the plate and Shelby said he's learned to wait for his pitch.

"It's not a question of talent," Harrison said. "It's a matter of making adjustments and knowing what you're capable of doing, and playing to your strengths."

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