UNIVERSITY PARK — Darren Seferina admits there was a time he was just going through the motions on the baseball field.
He joked around and didn’t always give his best effort at Trinity Christian Academy’s practices. He’d take a week off from his workout routine if he felt like it. He wasn’t making the most of the talent his coach knew could get him to professional baseball.
By the time Seferina dedicated himself to maximizing his natural ability as a senior at the Florida high school, he expected it to be enough to be selected at some point in the 2013 First-Year Player Draft.
Three days — encompassing 40 rounds and 1,216 picks — went by. Seferina wasn’t taken.
“Sophomore and junior year, you can’t get drafted, so you’re not taking it as serious as senior year,” Seferina said. “So the effort was there, but I wasn’t giving it my all, so senior year I turned it around.
“But it was too late.”
Seferina found a home at Miami Dade College, committed to his newfound work ethic and was motivated by his draft snub. The speedy second baseman from Curacao hit .405, scored 56 runs and stole 34 bases for the Sharks and became the St. Louis Cardinals’ fifth-round draft pick this June.
After clearing up a visa issue that delayed his professional debut, Seferina is off to a fast start for the State College Spikes. Through 11 games, Seferina is batting .341. He’s recorded six two-hit games, and he’s reached base in all but one contest.
In less than two weeks, he’s established himself at the top of the State College lineup.
“He’s a guy that just takes a good at bat,” Spikes manager Oliver Marmol said. “He has a really good understanding of the strike zone. He lays off pitches that are tough and just gives you a good at bat and with his speed and his ability to control the strike zone. He’s going to get some base hits, so he’s done a nice job in that leadoff spot and he’ll stay there.”
This isn’t Seferina’s first experience playing in central Pennsylvania.
Seferina competed for Curacao in the Little League World Series down the road in Williamsport. He came to the United States in 10th grade, attending Trinity Christian Academy, which has had 11 former players drafted since 2004.
Seferina had to overcome a language barrier — his native language is Papiamentu — and couldn’t communicate much at first. He also had to adapt to a cultural difference on the field.
Expectations were higher playing for Trinity Christian coach Miguel Cuello.
“Game-wise here in the States, it’s a little different,” Cuello said. “A lot of kids come from there, they’re fast, they throw hard, they have great arms, but you put them in a game and you really have to just keep your eyes open because they do things that are not supposed to be done on the field because they don’t know any better. They don’t teach them that much of the game itself in those countries.”
Cuello pushed and challenged Seferina, but the lackadaisical habits carried into games. Seferina did just enough to get by, barely throwing out runners by a half-step on ground balls to shortstop.
Seferina finally started to put in the consistent effort that had been lacking after his junior year, when Cuello told him he had the talent to be drafted out of high school.
He no longer took weeks off from his individual workouts. He was in the gym every day, getting stronger and improving his natural speed with ladder and footwork drills.
In games, Cuello noticed a different player.
The coach watched Seferina use his “super-speed” to reach second base on routine base hits between shortstop and third base. Any small bobble or lack of hustle in left field gave Seferina the extra split-second to race to second, a play Cuello estimates Seferina pulled off four times.
“That’s when I saw the change,” Cuello said. “OK, now he’s becoming the player I thought he could be. He’s going all or none. That was the turning point — when I saw him the first time he did that.”
The transformation and a standout senior season proved to be too late to garner professional attention.
Cuello was stunned when Seferina wasn’t taken in the 2013 draft. Seferina was disappointed but motivated for his freshman year at Miami Dade College, where he ensured he wouldn’t go undrafted again.
The Cardinals then took him as their first position player in the draft with the 165th overall pick.
“That year that I didn’t get drafted, that makes me realize I have to work harder,” Seferina said. “I was kind of (ticked) off, so that kind of made me work harder so I could be ready for next year, and then I put a lot of work in and look where I am right now.”
The 20-year-old is now right on track in his professional career.
And he’s a success story for current and future players at Trinity Christian with professional aspirations.
If they’re not taken out of high school, Cuello said, it’s not the end of the world.
“He’s going to be a good example for me to talk about to the kids,” Cuello said. “Here’s a kid that didn’t get drafted a year that we both thought that he should have got drafted, and he didn’t put his head down.”