Coral Springs Christian Academy relies heavily on catcher Benito Santiago

02/21/2014 12:01 AM

02/21/2014 12:37 AM

Coral Springs Christian Academy catcher Benito Santiago wakes up every day and tells his mother, Carmen Miranda, that he loves her.

His father and namesake — the former big-league catcher — hasn’t been involved in his life in years, but that hasn’t stopped Santiago from becoming a top prospect.

Santiago, a 5-10, 175-pound senior, has a scholarship to the University of Tennessee, and CSCA coach Matt Cleveland said scouts have told him his catcher should get selected in the first eight rounds in June’s MLB Draft.

“He’s a very athletic player,” Cleveland said of Santiago, who transferred from Flanagan after his sophomore season. “He has improved his receiving a lot since he got to us.

“He’s a great catch-and-throw guy who can control our opponent’s running game. He’s also our three-hole hitter and one of the better hitters in the area.”

Hitting third in CSCA’s lineup is impressive because the Crusaders are one of the heavy favorites to win a state title this season in Class 3A.

Batting second, for example, is Vanderbilt recruit Touki Toussaint, who is considered a lock to get drafted in the first round this June as a pitcher.

Other CSCA stars include several who have already committed to colleges: pitchers Devin Meyer (Miami), Eric Hepple (Central Florida), Jeremiah Muhammad (Miami Dade College) and outfielder Chris Bec (Tennessee).

However, the team suffered a serious blow last month when Meyer slipped on the mound and injured his arm. He is out for the season.

Meyer’s injury and some other lesser factors have contributed to a 1-2 start, but many experts still believe CSCA will be in the hunt for the state title once the regional playoffs begin on April 30.

The Crusaders will rely heavily on Santiago’s ability to lead behind the plate.

“When he’s back there, I never worry about base runners,” Toussaint said. “He’s got a quick release, and it’s a cannon.”

Santiago may have inherited some catching genetics from his father, a five-time MLB All-Star, a three-time Gold Glove winner and a defensive whiz who was famous for throwing out runners from his knees.

But that’s about it as far as comparisons. The younger Santiago bats from the opposite side of the plate, lefty, and he has done it all without his biological father by his side.

Instead, he credits his mother, his maternal grandparents, Carmen Gloria Miranda and Hector Miranda, and his baseball mentor Paul Casanova, who is both his hitting and catching instructor.

“From Paul, I learned how to be a successful athlete,” Santiago said, “and how to grow and change from a boy to a man.”

But Santiago, an only child, saves his biggest praise and best wishes for his mother.

“I just want to make my mom happy and proud,” he said.

“Everything I do is for her.”

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