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5 Sarasota baseball stars making waves in the big leagues

The area has several candidates for breakouts this season, with an MLB debut a possibility.

Orion Kerkering was named to the Philadelphia Phillies postseason roster Oct. 3.
Orion Kerkering was named to the Philadelphia Phillies postseason roster Oct. 3.
Courtesy image
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Baseball is back. 

As the MLB season kicks off March 28 — and other leagues elsewhere have already begun — fans in the Sarasota area have reasons to keep an eye on several organizations outside of their favorite teams. As much talent as the Sarasota area has amassed in sports like football and basketball, it is baseball where the city's athletes seem to shine the brightest. 

Here are five players at various levels of professional baseball, and a rundown of how close they are to breaking through to the top levels of the sport. 

Orion Kerkering, Philadelphia Phillies

Orion Kerkering is a Venice High graduate, but since his father, Todd Kerkering, is the emergency manager for the city of Sarasota, I think we can adopt him as our own. 

Kerkering, 23, made his MLB debut in September, just as the Phillies were preparing for the postseason. Kerkering, a right-handed bullpen pitcher who is known for his devastating slider, showed the Phillies enough to make the team's postseason roster. Kerkering held a 3.38 ERA in 5.1 playoff innings, striking out five hitters and walking three. 

Kerkering will start on the Phillies' roster this season, too, but his season debut will be slightly delayed. The Phillies said March 23 that Kerkering will begin the season on the 15-day injured list. He'll be eligible to return to action on April 9.

Kerkering missed much of spring training while dealing with the flu, which set back his preparation. But he'll be back to tossing those sliders of his before long, which is good news for the Phillies and for people who appreciate lights-out pitching. 

Vaun Brown, San Francisco Giants

Other than Kerkering, Sarasota High grad Vaun Brown is the closest area alum to making it to the show in 2024. The right-handed Brown, a 25-year-old outfielder, had a breakout 2022 season in which he hit .346 with an OPS of 1.060. Brown then regressed a bit with the AA-level Richmond Flying Squirrels last year, hitting just .246 with a .752 OPS. He also played in just 50 games while dealing with injuries. 

Former Sarasota High outfielder Vaun Brown was called up to the San Francisco Giants' major league camp on March 21, giving him a taste of top-level pitching before the season begins.
Courtesy image

Still, an early rebound for Brown — who wears a face gaiter when hitting, giving him a distinctive appearance at the plate — could mean a quick rise through the ranks. The organization still has faith in him, evidenced by his call-up to the team's major league spring training camp on March 21. The call-up does not mean he will make the MLB roster when the season opens this week. It's instead a way for him to get experience against legitimate MLB talent before finding his groove in the minors. 

If all goes well, Brown could find the major leagues later this season. 

Satchell Norman, Milwaukee Brewers

Norman, a former catcher at Sarasota High, played for the Brewers' Arizona Complex League rookie team in 2023 after being drafted in 2022 out of Florida SouthWestern State College. Norman hit .308 with an .898 OPS and 20 RBIs in 30 games. He also added eight stolen bases, which is impressive for a catcher, and held a .989 fielding percentage.

At just 21 years old, Norman has plenty of development time left. It's unclear where Norman will begin the 2024 season, but it will likely be around the A-level. He won't see the MLB this season, but continuous improvement will keep his arrival on track for seasons down the road. 

Ben McCabe, Colorado Rockies

McCabe is the newest name on the list. The former Sarasota High and University of Central Florida catcher was drafted by the Rockies in the ninth round of the 2023 MLB Draft. He only got 18 at-bats for the Rockies' ACL rookie league team after signing, but he got two hits and three RBIs. 

In all honesty, those stats don't mean much. The real test for McCabe, 24, will begin this season. Now that he's had a full offseason to settle into being a pro, how will he fare? Like Brown, McCabe was an older draftee. That could mean his track to the MLB is accelerated — but it also means the time Colorado gives him to develop will be much shorter. However McCabe ultimately fares, this season should give a strong indication. 

Casey Kelly, LG Twins (Korean Baseball Organization)

Kelly continues to be one of my favorite stories in all of sports. The former Sarasota High pitcher and first-round draft pick of the Boston Red Sox never quite made it work in the MLB, but as he has demonstrated, the MLB is not the only way for a professional baseball player to forge a career. 

Kelly resigned with the LG Twins for the 2024 season in November. It will be his sixth season with the team, making him the longest-serving foreign pitcher in the club's history. Kelly has found a niche in the KBO and become one of the team's top pitchers. Last season, Kelly held a 10-7 record and a 3.83 ERA, helping the Twins win the Korean Series championship against the KT Wiz, even getting the clinching win in game five. 

Kelly is also a reminder of how difficult it is to reach the MLB at all. On his Instagram page on March 2, Kelly posted a photo of a bottle of Field of Dreams bourbon, a special release with only 22,860 bottles created in its first run. That number represents the number of people who have played in the MLB; Kelly, who made his MLB debut in 2012, holds No. 20,287. Considering that the MLB has existed since 1903, it gives you perspective on how small the number of players is. 

It's why the players on this list are worth following. They're attempting to do something that few athletes can do. Baseball is hard; by design, you fail a lot more than you succeed. Yet the best find the strength to keep going. 

It's one of the most beautiful sports on Earth, and it's back. Enjoy it.

This article has been updated with the potential date of Kerkering's return from the injured list.



Ryan Kohn

Ryan Kohn is the sports editor for Sarasota and East County and a Missouri School of Journalism graduate. He was born and raised in Olney, Maryland. His biggest inspirations are Wright Thompson and Alex Ovechkin. His strongest belief is that mint chip ice cream is unbeatable.

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