This time last year, J.R. Murphy figured his future was set.
He had verbally committed to the University of Miami, which meant everything to a kid who had long dreamed of playing baseball for the Hurricanes.
Besides, he had family in Miami. He liked the players. He liked the coaches.
Now, everything has gone haywire — albeit in a good way.
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Born and raised in Bradenton, Murphy has become one of the most highly touted high school baseball players in the country. He just capped his senior season at The Pendleton School at IMG Academies by putting up numbers fit for a PlayStation game: a .627 batting average, 11 home runs, 66 RBIs and 34 extra-base hits in 102 at-bats.
Consequently, Murphy spent the fall and spring playing in front of roughly 20 major-league scouts per game. On Tuesday, he’ll be sitting at home, watching the Major League Baseball 2009 First-Year Player Draft and waiting to hear his name.
Chances are, it’ll be called pretty quickly. Baseball America ranks Murphy as the fifth-best catching prospect in the country, estimating he could go in the supplemental round sandwiched between the draft’s first two rounds. The publication also ranked Murphy’s strike-zone judgment second overall among high school baseball players.
“I never knew there’d be this much hype,” he said. “It’s been pretty exciting.”
The same thing can be said for this past week. Murphy flew to Kansas City to workout with the Royals on Tuesday, worked out for the Pittsburgh Pirates on Thursday at Pirate City and did the same for the New York Yankees on Saturday in Tampa.
Oh, and he graduated from high school Friday.
“It’s been crazy,” said Murphy, who has also worked out for the Texas Rangers, “but I wouldn’t want it any other way.”
What’s been impressive, said Kevin Sharp, Murphy’s baseball coach at IMG, is the way the teenager has handled it. Whether talking to scouts, filling out evaluation forms or speaking at Pendleton’s graduation ceremony, Sharp said Murphy’s character never waned.
“I’ve been blessed to have a lot of good players over the years,” Sharp said, “and if I could take the best qualities of all those players, ages 14 through 18, J.R. encompasses what those people would be. He comes from a great family, and he’s a great person.”
He’s not a bad ballplayer, either. Baseball America praises Murphy’s compact swing, bat speed and plate coverage, while Sharp estimated the right-handed hitter took about five bad swings all year.
“We had the same scouts coming out over and over,” Sharp said, “just to be here to see if he ever took a bad swing.”
Now comes the time for Murphy to make a decision, and he did say money will play a role in deciding if he will head to the pro ranks or to college.
But he doesn’t feel any pressure.
“It’s a win-win situation for me,” he said. “I still have the University of Miami. I love the players and I love the coaches.
“I’m kind of anxious. But either way, I’m pretty excited.”