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Crowd pleaser

"Baby Unit" Betances draws attention on the mound

Posted: Monday June 5, 2006 8:46PM; Updated: Monday June 5, 2006 8:46PM
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Right-hander Dellin Betances may be the finest prep pitcher ever from New York City.
Right-hander Dellin Betances may be the finest prep pitcher ever from New York City.
Tim Llewellyn/SchoolSports
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By Ryan Canner-O'Mealy, Special to SI.com, SchoolSports.com

It's another cold mid-March day in Brooklyn, an afternoon better suited for hanging out inside than playing baseball outside.

But at the Grand Street Campus baseball field, the crowd is wild and the atmosphere electric. The number on the thermometer might read 40, but the number on the radar gun keeps hitting 90, as Grand Street's 6-foot-9, 215-pound righty Dellin Betances keeps pumping fastballs into the catcher's mitt.

Professional scouts dot the backstop and get as excited as teenage girls at a Nick Cannon concert. Grand Street needs its security guards to maintain order among students fighting for the best seat in the house to see this once-in-a-lifetime player.

Betances -- rated the nation's No. 10 high school baseball prospect in the Class of 2006 by SchoolSports.com and a near lock for the first round of this summer's MLB Draft -- is the reason for all the fuss. He has the height and heat but thankfully not the cameraman-attacking temper of Randy "Big Unit" Johnson, not to mention the flair of Pedro Martinez. Every time Betances (pronounced ba-tance-is) takes the mound, it's an event.

"Whenever he's thrown this year, the place has been unbelievable," Grand Street coach Melvin Martinez says. "He brings energy and enthusiasm to the mound."

"The cheering helps me and the energy gets me hyped up," says Betances, who is nicknamed "Baby Unit" because of his similarities in height and pitching style to the 6-foot-10 Johnson.

Not that he needs much help. Betances brings a level of intimidation to the mound rarely seen at the high school level.

"Try to put yourself in the shoes of an average-sized high school player," Martinez says. "And here's Dellin, 6-9 with long, lanky arms on a 10-inch mound. We're talking about the Empire State Building on the mound, and the batter is like a shed."

And to make matters worse, this Empire State Building happens to throw a 95-mph fastball, a knee-buckling cutter-curve, a knuckle-curve and a changeup.

Last year, Betances went 6-0 with a 0.17 ERA and 100 strikeouts in only 41.2 innings. Betances, who gave up only 11 hits on the year while walking just 23 batters, also had six complete games in seven starts. A feared batter as well, he hit .439 as a junior to further prove he's the type of prospect rarely seen in New York.

"I haven't seen anything like this in New York City," says Martinez, who's in his 11th year as head coach at Grand Street Campus. "We've had great hitters like Manny Ramirez, but a pitcher? In this cold weather?"

Sure, Martinez's words might sound like the hyperbole of a coach pumping up his superstar. So don't listen to Martinez. Listen to Hall of Fame second baseman and ESPN broadcaster Joe Morgan or future Hall of Fame slugger Alex Rodriguez.