By Ryan S. Clark
CORAL SPRINGS -- How Touki Toussaint became one of the top high school baseball prospects in America started by keeping a promise to a friend.
When he was 10 years old, he gave up on baseball after striking out 22 times in 24 at-bats. Toussaint turned to other sports like hockey and soccer. Two years later, one of Toussaint's best friends wanted to hang out more. His friend agreed to play soccer as long as Toussaint gave baseball one more chance.
Years later, the Coral Springs Christian senior is one of the most promising young pitchers in the nation. Baseball America projects him to go 13th overall to the San Diego Padres when Major League Baseball's First-Year Player Draft begins Thursday night.
"The last two years have been fun for me," Toussaint said. "I go out there every day, do what I do and that's fun."
His success is also a credit to his mother.
Every MLB club pursuing Toussaint knows his mother, Kahaso Kiti. She told scouts she would answer any questions they had of her son during the season. That way, Toussaint could focus on academics.
"I made it clear from the beginning," Kiti said. "I come from a family that values education."
First-round picks such as Toussaint, who has signed to play college baseball at Vanderbilt, are often thrown mega bucks to go straight to the minor leagues.
Assuming he is selected by the Padres, the team can offer a $2.72 million signing bonus for Toussaint to forgo college, per Baseball America. The Houston Astros, who have the No. 1 pick, can offer $7.92 million while the Marlins, who have the No. 2 pick, can offer up to $6.82 million.
"I am definitely still going to Vandy," he said. "Look at the pitchers they've produced, how seriously they take grades and how important academics are."
While academics are important to Toussaint and his mom, so is baseball.
Toussaint was a catcher and an outfielder until he became a pitcher. He played for youth teams in Coral Springs and then enrolled at Coral Springs Charter for his freshman season. He played on the junior varsity and didn't get much varsity playing time.
He enrolled at Coral Springs Christian and his performances for his travel team caught the eye of USA Baseball heading into his sophomore year. USA Baseball invited Toussaint to their tryout camp in Cary, N.C., where he made the U.S. U-16 Team.
He began working with Coral Springs Christian pitching coach Steve Carp during the high school season. Toussaint later joined an Atlanta-based travel team working with pitching coach Steve Loureiro.
Carp and Louriero's tutelage eventually led to Toussaint's rise in his junior year.
"The minute he hits 97 [mph] during his junior year, it has been a lot of attention," said Coral Springs Christian baseball coach Matt Cleveland. "It's almost been two years that he's been on people's radar."
His fastball is recorded as the fifth fastest of all high school pitchers eligible for the draft. Toussaint's curveball had the highest number of revolutions at the Perfect Game All-American showcase, which featured the best pitchers in the nation. He also possesses a devastating change-up, which at 84 mph, is the same speed of a typical high school pitcher's fastball.
Toussaint, who was the Sun Sentinel's Player of the Year in 2013 and first-team All-County this season, went 8-2 with a 1.22 earned run average and 104 strikeouts. He only allowed 30 hits and walked 27 batters for Coral Springs Christian (23-8), which lost in the Class 3A state semifinals. He threw four complete games after tossing two in his sophomore and junior seasons combined.
"First of all, you're looking at an athlete," an American League scout said. "Physically, he is just so much different than everybody else. The physical attributes he has are that of a premium athlete."
At 6-feet-2 and 190 pounds, he has the required frame to throw hard over long innings.
His lengthy arms are also a reason why Toussaint is so effective. Archbishop McCarthy pitcher Brian Gonzalez joked Toussaint's arms are so long he could tie his shoes standing up.
"When he throws, you don't have the 60 feet, 6 inches between the mound and the plate," said Gonzalez, a Miami signee. "With him, it is more like 53 or 54 feet. And what's really a 97 mph fastball feels more like 100."
Toussaint's ability to handle the attention comes from Kiti's upbringing.
Her father was a Kenyan ambassador to the United Nations. He was also the secretary of communications for the Kenyan Ministry of Communications. As a child, she gave roses to the First Lady of Kenya and spent time with the King of Luxembourg.
Because her mother is Haitian, it meant she could also speak French, Haiti's official language.
Kiti moved to Haiti to become an interpreter. It was there where she met Toussaint's father and her ex-husband, Dany. Dany Toussaint, a former Haitian Army major and bodyguard to former Haitian president Jean-Bertrand Aristide, was a Haitian presidential candidate in 2006.
"I was lucky enough to have a father who brought us up to realize everyone is a person," Kiti said. "Don't treat people as if they are things or someone who is to be used or praised. That is how my son treats everyone."
When the couple was pregnant they chose the name ''Touki" by combining the first three letters in Dany Toussaint's surname and the first two letter's in Kiti's last name.
Toussaint was born in Pembroke Pines but spent parts of his childhood in Haiti. He was involved in community outreach programs such as feeding the poor until civil unrest forced the family back to South Florida in 2004.
"I look at my mom as the perfect role model," Toussaint said. "She is legit. People make mistakes but if she's wrong, she'll come back the next day and say she is sorry."
Toussaint, who will major in sports medicine, could join 2012 Cy Young Award winner and Tampa Bay Rays star, David Price, and Oakland A's phenom Sonny Gray as the next piece off the Commodores' assembly line. If he doesn't sign with the team that drafted him, Toussaint will be eligible for the draft following his junior year at Vanderbilt.
ith all this attention, Toussaint still has fun as a teenager hanging out with friends, playing video games, talking about school, girls, basically anything but baseball.
hen Toussaint was told he had a Wikipedia page, he was excited and said: "That's raw. I didn't know that. Honestly, that's awesome."
hat's where it ends. Toussaint won't read that page. He won't read anything written about himself. He doesn't even like talking about himself.
When you talk about yourself, people don't want to hear you brag," he said. "When people meet me for the first time, I don't even tell them I play baseball."
Sports | June 1, 2014 | Page 1C, 7C
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