6/7/2014 10:51 P.M. ET
After years of work, Bellinger faces tough decision
By Alex Halsted / MLB.com
ST. LOUIS -- All his life, Justin Bellinger and his family have made decisions in the hopes of the left-handed power hitter landing in the Major Leagues. Every step of the journey has had a purpose; every move has been calculated.
For years Bellinger has travelled across the country for power showcases and tournaments. When he was 14 years old, he would make trips to Jupiter, Fla., to train with professional instructors. For the past two winters, a Minor League manager relocated to Massachusetts and was paid by the Bellinger family to train their son, who plays first base.
Finally, the call came Saturday afternoon. The Cardinals had used their 11th-round pick in the First-Year Player Draft on Bellinger. He now faces the biggest decision of his life.
"I've put in so much time and so much travel," Bellinger said. "I've been going to the top Perfect Game events since I was in seventh and eighth grade with players that are now in the Major Leagues and in the Minor Leagues and college.
"It's finally come to the point where it's paid off."
When Bellinger was 11 years old, he met up with Ace Adams, a pitching coach currently with the Class A Advanced Palm Beach Cardinals. Adams would work with Bellinger on his pitching, but soon recommended he get a hitting instructor.
First, Roger LaFrancois, the hitting coach with Palm Beach, was recommended. LaFrancois, though, felt Bellinger needed a younger connection and recommended Oliver Marmol, the manager for the Class A State College Spikes in the Cardinals organization who was a former infielder within the organization.
The two have been working together ever since.
"The hitting that he's taught me and everything about the Major League approach and the Major League swing and what they're looking for at the next level has definitely helped me a lot," Bellinger said. "I feel completely different than the baseball player I was before. The knowledge I was able to grab out of him was unbelievable."
Initially, Bellinger would meet with Marmol during offseasons in Florida. That was until Marmol and his wife were presented an offer from the Bellinger family: Would they relocate to Massachusetts for the two winters leading up to the 2014 Draft to train Bellinger on a consistent basis?
Marmol and his wife agreed, moving to Boston and driving to train Bellinger for the past two winters. The two would work on hitting for two or more hours a day, four times each week.
"Just the way he goes about his work," Marmol said when asked what stands out about Bellinger. "You see a kid with a very high ceiling with just crazy power. The way he goes about his work lets you know that it's going to develop."
The power has always been there for Bellinger. When he was 12 years old, he hit a ball 400 feet at a tournament in Cooperstown, N.Y. Later, at a Power Showcase Home Run Derby at Chase Field in Arizona, he sent a pitch into the upper deck some 477 feet from home plate.
Bellinger started getting recruited following his eighth-grade season before he started his freshman year at St. Sebastian's School in Needham, Mass. He committed to Vanderbilt initially before ultimately switching his commitment to Duke, where he is slated to be this fall.
Bellinger has struggled to show his talent at times, often being walked in high school games, including once with the bases loaded. He would use a wooden bat to create a challenge, setting himself up for professional baseball, too.
"He's a potentially really interesting player," Cardinals scouting director Dan Kantrovitz said. "If he walked onto the field into our Minor Leagues right now he might have the top raw power in the system. We've been following him for a long time and he's always had a really impressive power bat."
Bellinger's selection in the 11th round could make him a difficult sign for the Cardinals, but the pick was based on possible money free from an earlier choice. The team's third-round pick, Trevor Megill, isn't a sure sign, either, and Cardinals team could choose to use his $500,000-plus bonus elsewhere, such as on a player like Bellinger.
Early on, Bellinger said he's leaning toward Duke. The decision he's been waiting for, though, is finally here.
"I really want to go to Duke, I think that would be able to help me out with a lot and get me to a higher Draft pick and make me a better player over the next three or four years," Bellinger said. "But I also am thinking about the Cardinals and how much I want to play Major League Baseball.
"I think it would be awesome to play for such a great organization."
Alex Halsted is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.