Difficult decision looms for Sulbaran

Juan Carlos Sulbaran recently capped off an undefeated high school career by winning the Florida state championship. Now the pitcher looks forward to the MLB Draft and pitching for his home country. Scout.com's Jason Cole features the young prospect.

The Dominican Republic and Venezuela have dominated Caribbean baseball for years. After that, Puerto Rico and Mexico generally come to mind. But recently, Curaco has quietly built a reputation for producing solid Major League prospects.

Dodgers outfielder Andruw Jones has been the most notable native of Curacao, but rookies Jair Jurrjens and Wladimir Balentien have begun making their mark on Major League Baseball this season.

The next big leaguer out of Curacao just might be right-hander Juan Carlos Sulbaran.

Although Sulbaran is a native of Curacao, he currently attends high school at American Heritage in the Miami suburb of Plantation. The hurler moved to the states two years ago despite getting an offer to play professional baseball as a 16-year-old.

"I had the Las Angeles Dodgers," said Sulbaran. "They wanted to sign me when I was 16. But my dad said if I go to the states, it will help me more in baseball and I can go to college there. I decided to go to the states and not sign."

Playing at American Heritage has certainly helped Sulbaran garner as much attention from scouts as possible. Not only is the team likely to be named the 2008 National Champions, but the club also features top talents such as first baseman/pitcher Eric Hosmer and catcher Adrian Nieto.

Sulbaran may often be overshadowed by his highly-touted teammates, but he has been a successful pitcher in his own right. The righty finished his high school career having never lost a game at American Heritage. He was recently honored as the Miami Herald's high school Pitcher of the Year after going 11-0 this past season.

The 6-foot-3, 200-pound pitcher works with a three-pitch repertoire, relying heavily on his hard sinking fastball and above-average curveball.

"I throw a two-seam fastball," he said. "I have a four-seamer but I don't like it that much. I have a changeup and I have a curveball. Usually I throw 92 to 93. My changeup, I think, is around 74 – the same as my curveball."

Sulbaran's best pitch is a hard two-seam fastball.
Like most talented young pitchers, Sulbaran has never needed a changeup. Hard-throwing high school pitchers generally do not throw changeups because it only speeds up the bats of their overmatched counterparts. Regardless, he began throwing the pitch when he came to the states two years ago.

"My changeup," replied Sulbaran when asked which of his pitches needs the most work. "I started throwing my changeup when I got here during my junior year."

Sulbaran has signed to play his college ball at the University of Florida. First year head coach Kevin O'Sullivan and his staff initially spotted him at a showcase last summer.

"Last year in Florida, I was at a tournament in Jupiter," he said. "It was the World Wood Bat Association. I was pitching a game there. After I pitched, I was in a hotel room with my teammates and I got a call from [Florida head coach Kevin] O'Sullivan. He was like ‘I saw you pitch and we really like how you pitched', so I got in contact with him, he called my parents, we kept in touch, and I signed with them."

Having already turned down a professional contract for an opportunity to continue playing baseball while getting an education, Sulbaran may not be easy to pry away from college. But the youngster is keeping his options open and will be more than willing to sign if the offer is right.

"I want to play professionally," Sulbaran said. "I'm one of those kids that wants to go professional, but it depends on the deal and everything. If I don't get a good deal, I can go to school because that's more secure."

With the draft fast approaching, most prospects are planning to be glued to their television sets or in front of their computers later this week. But that is not the case for Sulbaran, who will be pitching for his country.

"I've always played for the Curacao national team," he said. "This time they called me and they asked me if I wanted to do it again. I said of course I would like to play for them. If everything goes good, I might play for them in the Olympics – for Holland."

Sulbaran also hopes to speak with another native of Curacao – Braves pitcher Jair Jurrjens – for some pre-draft advice.

"I used to know [Jurrjens], like really close" said Sulbaran. "We used to play little league, so we used to talk but then he signed and I never see him again. But this break, I might see him again so I want to ask him for advice because I think I might need some."

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