For Marten Gasparini, choosing Royal blue over Savoy Blue was a matter of heart. The 16-year-old loves his native land, but when it comes to sport, baseball in America beats the Azzurri.
Gasparini made history when he inked a contract with the Kansas City Royals last week. An native of northern Italy, he received a $1.3 million signing bonus — a record for a European amateur. A switch-hitting shortstop with elite athleticism, he is rated the 12th-best international prospect by Baseball America. According to reports, scouts feel he might be the best European prospect ever.
Gasparini talked about his love of America’s pastime — and why he chose it over Italy’s sporting passion — this past weekend.
Gasparini on his immediate future: “Right now I’m in Kansas City meeting with people from the Royals. From here I’m going to Arizona, to the complex, then back to Italy to play in the European [Junior] Championships, in Prague. After that, I’ll be back in Arizona, working out.
“I’ll be at [instructional league] in the fall. I’m going to be talking to the coaches I’ll be working with, but right now I don’t know exactly what they’ll want me to work on. All I know is that I’ll be playing baseball. But I‘m sure I‘ll be working on running, fielding, my swing — I’ll need to work on everything.
“My best tool is speed. That’s whether I’m in the field, on the bases, or in the box. I like playing shortstop the most, but if they feel it is better to move me to the outfield, it’s OK. But shortstop is the position I love to play.”
On hitting and the level of competition he‘s faced: “In Europe, usually you can find 85 [mph], maybe high 80s. But for most pitchers, you don’t see 90s. I’m pretty comfortable hitting against mid 80s. I’ve faced some pretty good [breaking pitches].
“There are some good pitchers in the Netherlands. I was also in the Under-18s last year [in Seoul, South Korea] and faced some Japanese and Canadian pitchers who were really good. They had some great curveballs and sliders.
“I try to stay patient at the plate. I try always to wait for my pitch, and when I get to two strikes, I shorten my swing up and use the whole field.”
On choosing baseball over soccer: “Soccer just doesn’t make me feel as good. I think it’s kind of boring, because everybody does it. I have a much better feel for baseball. They’ve told me I could go to [soccer] practices and maybe perform well, but it is more than just [athleticism]. It is technique that makes you go far.
“I played stickball when I was about eight years old. I first started to play baseball when I was 10.”
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