ESTERO — John Tolisano is an extremely talented baseball player, but even the great ones go through tough times.
While there is no question Tolisano is a polished hitter for a 16-year-old, his fielding and future as a shortstop came into question after he committed 29 errors as a sophomore last year.
The standout Estero junior took countless groundballs in the offseason, turning what was perceived as a weakness in his game into a strength. This year, Tolisano has committed just three errors, helping the Wildcats to an 18-1 start and No. 4 ranking in the Class 4A baseball poll.
And oh yeah, the kid can hit a little bit. The switch-hitting slugger is punishing area pitching to the tune of a .667 batting average (42-for-63) and an eye-popping 1.143 slugging percentage. Among his 42 hits are eight doubles, two triples, six home runs and 40 RBIs. He is also 11-for-11 in stolen base attempts.
"John is rapidly becoming a five-tool player," Estero head coach Frank Turco said. "He's got the speed, the arm, and he hits for an average. Last year, you couldn't really say fielding was one of the tools but he has done an amazing job improving that area of his game. And his power is coming along. He's going to be around in this game a long time."
Turco sometimes uses Tolisano out of the bullpen as a closer. In 7Ò innings, Tolisano has allowed one earned run and struck out eight.
"John's got a three-quarter motion and a great arm, so we sometimes like to get him out there on the mound," Turco said. "But we don't want to jeopardize his future so we use him only when we need to."
Tolisano said last year's fielding troubles were a result of trying to force the issue instead of letting the game come naturally.
"I found myself rushing," he said. "I'd be trying to throw the ball before I had control of it. I tried to make things happen too quickly. I just took groundball after groundball and concentrated on improving my fielding."
The results speak for themselves, and Turco now believes his star may not have to switch positions when he goes to the next level (either minor league baseball or college).
"Last year, there's no way I could say that," Turco said. "But John has worked so hard at his fielding and I know he's going to keep working at it. He's got the ability to play (at short) if he keeps working."
Tolisano just wants to keep playing baseball, no matter what position he plays.
"Just show me my name on that lineup card, give me a pack of bubble gum and I'm ready to go," he said. "Obviously, shortstop is the position I prefer but I'll play wherever they put me."
Tolisano will have a big decision on his hands next year, but it's one any athlete would love to make. He is expected to draw plenty of attention from professional scouts next season, and will have to decide on signing a professional contract or playing college baseball.
"Playing Major League Baseball is every kid's dream," Tolisano said. "I guess it would depend on where I was picked in the draft. If I was picked in the first couple rounds, it would be tough to pass up that kind of opportunity. If it was later, I could always play in college and try to improve my standing in the draft."
Turco has no doubts his star shortstop will succeed in the minor leagues or in college — not due to his substantial talent but how well he handled the adversity of a tough sophomore year.
"Anyone can handle success, it's how well you bounce back from failure that scouts and coaches look at," Turco said. "Last year, things were tough for John. He made a lot of mistakes on the field and he heard it from the opposing dugout. But he never got down on himself. He wouldn't let it affect him at the plate and that's what scouts look for. Baseball is such a tough game mentally. You've got to be able to forget about a bad game or bad play and John has proven he's able to do that."