Ariel Antigua is off to a slow start this spring. In November, the talented Florida prep shortstop had surgery to repair a torn ACL and meniscus. It has sidelined him to start his senior season, with his hope to return in April to serve as his team’s designated hitter.
Once Antigua returns to the diamond, he will be a must-watch prospect. Antigua has been on scouts’ radars for the last few years, including a promising showing at the Prospect Development Pipeline League last summer. If Antigua can return to the field and show the potential he exhibited over the previous summers, he will have a chance to hear his name in July’s MLB draft.
Scouts project Antigua as a potential top-five-round pick in this year’s draft.
“It’s a good feeling because you feel like you are doing something right for pro teams to even talk to you,” Antigua said.
Antigua is a 5-foot-8, 185-pound position player known for his ability at the plate. The right-handed hitter has a solid feel for the strike zone and uses an aggressive approach to square up the baseball consistently. He shows an impressive ability to hit for average and power.
Antigua credits his offensive development to former MLB All-Star Manny Ramirez. The prep star is family friends with Ramirez and hits with him about five times per month, Antigua said. The experience has allowed him to learn and refine his offensive tool set to develop into a power-hitting middle infielder.
“Definitely the fact that I’m smaller than most guys and I hit for power,” Antigua said. “I put balls in gaps and bring runners in. I really do what a DH or third or fourth hitter does at a height that is not very seen in pro ball.”
Scouts are split on Antigua’s long-term defensive position. Antigua is a high school shortstop but likely fits better at second base. He moves well laterally with smooth defensive actions, a quick release and quality arm strength.
Antigua gained experience playing catcher at the PDP League last summer. He caught “three or four times,” including catching premium prep pitchers Thomas White and Blake Mitchell.
Antigua looked comfortable behind the plate. Due to his willingness to play the position, his baseball IQ and his overall skill set, scouts are intrigued by his potential to catch in the future.
“I feel like I can play wherever,” Antigua said. “I play shortstop now, and I think I do pretty good at it. I’d love to stay at shortstop, but wherever I end up, I end up.”
Antigua has two intriguing routes after high school. Besides his draft prospect status, he is a Tennessee commit. He initially verbally committed to South Carolina before reopening his commitment and signing with the Volunteers.
Tennessee has pumped out professional prospects under head coach Tony Vitello. The staff’s track record of developing talent for the pro ranks stood out to Antigua during the recruiting process.
“The player development system was a big part because you see the background of the entire staff they have there, and you want to be part of that,” Antigua said. “They have accomplished a lot.”
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Dan Zielinski III has covered the MLB draft for eight years. He has interviewed 433 of the top draft prospects in that period, including four No. 1 overall picks. Multiple publications, including Baseball America, USA Today, MLB.com, The Arizona Republic and The Dallas Morning News, have quoted his work, while he has appeared on radio stations as a “MLB draft expert.” Follow him on Twitter @DanZielinski3.