Brazil­ian, 16, with 94-mph fast­ball, draws in­ter­est

Northwest Arkansas Democrat-Gazette - - SCOREBOARD -

IBIUNA, Brazil — A prospect with a 94-mph fast­ball gets a lot of at­ten­tion, no mat­ter where he is pitch­ing — even when that prospect is a diminu­tive 16-year-old from a coun­try with lit­tle baseball tra­di­tion.

Eric Pardinho’s blaz­ing fast­ball has brought scouts to this city 50 miles west of Sao Paulo in soc­cer-mad Brazil. The 5-foot 8-inch right-han­der could get a lot more at­ten­tion start­ing to­day, when Ma­jor League Baseball teams can be­gin sign­ing in­ter­na­tional play­ers. Pardinho is No. 5 on MLB.com’s list of 30 world prospects to watch.

Pretty im­pres­sive for a kid who was in­tro­duced to baseball al­most by accident.

“I am only here be­cause at 6 years of age I was play­ing pad­dle­ball on the beach and my un­cle thought my con­trol could be good for baseball back in Bas­tos,” he said.

Bas­tos is a small town out­side of Sao Paulo with a size­able Ja­panese pop­u­la­tion. The Ja­panese be­gan bring­ing their love of baseball and sushi to Brazil in the early 1900s.

Pardinho, whose mother’s par­ents are Ja­panese, started gain­ing at­ten­tion last year when he struck out 12 in a vic­tory over the pow­er­house Do­mini­can Re­pub­lic at the un­der-16 Pan Am Games. In Septem­ber he got two outs against Pak­istan — both strike­outs — in a qual­i­fier for the World Baseball Clas­sic, a 10-0 vic­tory played in New York City.

The young Brazil­ian’s changeup and slider have also earned praise from lo­cal coaches, who al­ready see in him a po­ten­tial na­tional star for baseball’s re­turn to the Olympics in 2020 at Tokyo. At the mo­ment, Brazil has only one player in MLB, the Cleve­land In­di­ans catcher Yan Gomes.

Since Jan­uary, more and more vis­i­tors have come to watch Pardinho work out at a new MLB-spon­sored train­ing cen­ter in Ibiuna, an­other city in­flu­enced by baseball-lov­ing Ja­panese im­mi­grants.

Pardinho is ea­ger to sign with a team and move to the United States.

“There is a lot that I will only learn when I go,” said Pardinho.

The pitcher said his height should not be an is­sue, though fam­ily mem­bers still hope that he will grow more in the next year.

“Some time ago there was an is­sue with shorter play­ers, but now there are teams that don’t care. It mat­ters more that I have a safe fast­ball and two more good op­tions, in­clud­ing a curve­ball that I con­trol well,” he said.

Other MLB hope­fuls agree: Fac­ing Pardinho is a huge chal­lenge.

“Pardinho’s curve­ball is amaz­ing, he is more than fast. His height doesn’t mat­ter be­cause his arm can do won­ders,” said third base­man Vic­tor Coutinho, also 16.

Also a pitcher, Heitor Tokar prac­tices with Pardinho ev­ery day and be­lieves in his friend’s fu­ture in the sport.

“Pardinho doesn’t feel any dif­fer­ence when he throws against play­ers taller than him, he de­stroys them all,” Tokar said.

Even Pardinho’s coach, Mit­suyoshi Sato, knows the teen is headed for bigger chal­lenges, and pro­tects his arm. Sato pitches the soonto-be pro no more than two in­nings at week­end tour­na­ments.

Pardinho’s fa­ther Evan­dro makes the hour-plus drive from Bas­tos to check on his son, and Sato makes sure Pardinho is a pri­or­ity for Yakult train­ing cen­ter medics. Pardinho has the sup­port of an or­tho­pe­dist, a phys­io­ther­a­pist and a fit­ness trainer. He also has a tech­ni­cal trainer.

“He still has to im­prove phys­i­cally and men­tally. I don’t want him to do too many fast­balls now be­cause I worry about a pos­si­ble in­jury,” said Sato. “No arm is pre­pared to pitch that fast, much less the arm of a kid.”

Sato be­lieves Pardinho has room for im­prove­ment in the con­trol of his changeup so he can spare his arm and shoul­der.

Pardinho said he thinks if he has suc­cess, he could change baseball in Brazil.

“If I do well, maybe more and more Brazil­ians, not only those of Ja­panese her­itage, will think of play­ing on a di­a­mond, too,” he said.

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