It wasn’t just what Geron Sands said. It was how.
Texas Rangers assistant general manager Ross Fenstermaker had known Sands for years, almost as long as the decade-and-a-half Sands had been training baseball players. Many a time, Fenstermaker had visited his International Elite academy in the Bahamas to scout prospects, and the two had built a mutual trust. They’d even done some deals together, although this time Sands was invoking the specter of one that never came to pass.
“Ross,” Sands had said, his voice serious, “don’t miss out on the next Jazz.”
“Jazz” was Jazz Chisholm, the vibrant Miami Marlins star who made the All-Star Game last year at 24 years old. Eight years ago, the Rangers had indeed missed out on him. They’d been focused on another Bahamian prospect, shortstop Lucius Fox, but didn’t get him, either. The Giants had signed Fox for $6 million, while Chisholm went to the Diamondbacks for just $200,000. Fox has been a disappointment, but Chisholm has become a marquee attraction, enough to serve as a reminder of why major-league clubs are increasingly flocking to the Bahamas despite little baseball tradition and a population of only 400,000.
To label a Bahamian kid as “the next Jazz” is high praise, but that’s the tag Sands placed on a tall and lanky teenage shortstop named Sebastian Walcott. The kid could really hit, Sands boasted. He also had a cannon for an arm. The Bahamas has produced plenty of tantalizing athletes who now populate the minor leagues—although only Chisholm and Fox have broken through to the majors in the last decade—but Sands insisted that Walcott was something exceptional.
The next Jazz.
The one that got away, now back within reach.
“The tone in his voice every time he would come up indicated to me that he felt he was a special, special player,” Fenstermaker says. “When you hear that, you take notice.”
The Rangers did more than notice. Back then, Walcott was an intriguing 13-year-old years away from being eligible to sign a professional contract. Now, only a handful of games into his professional career, he is considered one of the best prospects in the game. Baseball America and MLB Pipeline rank him just inside their top-100 lists. The Athletic slots him at No. 42. The game is catching on to what the Rangers already knew and what Sands was so eager to tell them—that Walcott has a chance to be a star.
If he fulfills that potential, he’ll be a likely heir to Evan Carter and Wyatt Langford as the Rangers’ top position player prospect. He’ll also represent another leap forward for a small country that is punching above its weight as a baseball factory. But even among that deepening pool of talent, Walcott stands apart.
He signed for $3.2 million, the second-largest ever awarded to a Bahamian amateur, and the highest since limits were placed on international bonuses in 2017. It’s also the second-highest bonus the Rangers have given any international amateur in the same period. Almost everybody missed the first Jazz, but MLB teams have caught on to the Bahamas since. To get the next Jazz, you have to pay.
It was an investment for Texas that already looks prudent. Walcott signed this January and has already hit .292/.352/.566 in the Arizona Complex League. Just 17 years old, he may finish the season at Low-A Down East. Walcott is aiming for a rapid ascent. “I told Ross on the day of the signing that I want to be in the big leagues by 19 or 20,” Walcott says. As young as he is, that doesn’t seem out of the question.
If he’s as good as the Rangers hope—and as quickly as he hopes—one thing’s for sure: the label of “the next Jazz” will soon seem outdated.
Eight years ago, Sands noticed a 9-year-old at a Little League game in the Bahamian capital of Nassau. Every other kid on the field was two years older, and yet the clear star was the one who could still count his age on his fingers. That was Walcott.
“Every time I watched him,” Sands says, “I would get goosebumps.”
Sands has been around long enough to know how to recognize a special ballplayer. He’s trained them since retiring in 2007 from a brief playing career, and when it comes to turning the Bahamas into a baseball hotbed, he’s played as big a role as anyone. First with an academy called Maximum Development, and for the last 11 years with his own outfit at I-Elite, he has guided the development of nearly every Bahamian who has signed a professional contract in the last 10 years.
He trained Chisholm and Fox, as well as former top-100 prospect Kristian Robinson of the Arizona Diamondbacks. Others who have come through I-Elite include two-way player Janero Miller (Marlins), pitcher Tahnaj Thomas (Pirates), and outfielder D’Shawn Knowles (Angels). Many more populate the lower minors, representing a pipeline of talent that had been previously untapped.
Before Chisholm cracked the majors in 2020, no Bahamian had played in MLB since Antoan Richardson in 2014. The last Bahamian big-leaguer before Richardson had played in 1983, lasting only seven games. Until recently, few Bahamian kids grew up playing baseball, a sport that isn’t offered through the school system. Now Sands and partner Albert Cartwright train a significant number of them with an eye on a professional career.
When Walcott turned 11, he joined I-Elite. By age 13, scouts were coming around, and Rangers evaluators were among the most serious. Walcott was too young then to sign—international amateurs cannot sign contracts until they turn 16—but the Rangers kept him in their sights. They scouted Walcott in the Bahamas and in tournaments in Florida. They saw a tall player with a frame to add strength and the athleticism to play shortstop. At the plate, he unleashed a powerful right-handed swing.
“It looked right,” says Fenstermaker.
But right enough? The Rangers had dipped into the Bahamian well before, with limited success. They signed shortstop Keithron Moss for $800,000 in 2017, but he never advanced past rookie ball; Texas released him earlier this year. The Rangers gave $835,000 to outfielder Zion Bannister in 2019, and Bannister was only promoted to Low A this season. A deal for another Bahamian prospect—D’Vaughn Knowles, the twin brother of the Angels prospect—was scuttled due to medical concerns. And Walcott would require a higher level of investment than all of them.
Because of all this, like many teams, the Rangers remained both intrigued and cautious when it came to evaluating Bahamian players. Chisholm is still the only recent signee to establish himself in the majors; many others have flamed out. Kids do not play year-round in the Bahamas, and while athletes abound, the country produces few notable pitchers. It’s a big experience gap to bridge. For many, the adjustment to pro ball proves too big a leap. Scouting them is “really challenging,” Fenstermaker says. “I’ve made mistakes in the past.”
So far, Walcott doesn’t look like one of them. Sands is careful to not overhype his players to teams—you don’t want to be the trainer who cried All-Star too often—and Fenstermaker knows Sands will give it to him straight. With Walcott, though, the straight assessment was still a glowing one. “The way that he said that to me was: ‘Basically, I’d put everything on this kid. He’s special,’” Fenstermaker says. He got the message, and the Rangers held off a runner-up bid from the Padres.
So far, Walcott might be better than the Rangers thought. And Sands might be right.
This past spring, two days before his 17th birthday, Walcott dug his feet into the right-handed batter’s box, stood tall in his stance, and stared down Rangers right-hander Alex Speas, a pitcher eight years his senior. A few seconds earlier, he’d received a brief scouting report. The highlight: a fastball that sat between 97 and 101 miles per hour.
The first pitch zoomed in at the bottom end of that range. Walcott flashed his bat through the zone and deposited the ball over the outfield fence.
“That was the first time I ever saw 97 in my life,” he says.
He’d been a pro for less than two months—had yet to play in an actual game—and already Walcott was dropping hints that he might be more polished than the Rangers had assumed. He has proven adept at hitting fastballs, to the point that he says pitchers recently became less willing to throw one his way. His power is eye-opening. Rangers rookie-ball manager Guilder Rodriguez recalls Walcott walloping a pitch foul over the offices of the Kansas City Royals at Surprise Stadium. “It had to go 480 foul to left field,” Rodriguez says.
In the field, Walcott impresses with his glove and his arm strength, leaving evaluators with the impression that he might stick at shortstop despite his size. Along with his plate discipline—Walcott is striking out 36 percent of the time in the ACL and has more multi-strikeout games (18) than games with one or fewer (10)—size is the biggest question mark hanging over his development. At 6-foot-4 and a lanky 190 pounds, Walcott has the frame of a shooting guard. (Indeed, his father was a semi-pro basketball player.) The more he fills out, the tougher it will be to avoid a move to third base.
If that move comes, Walcott has the arm to excel there. But the Rangers feel confident he’ll stick in the middle of the diamond. “He’s surprisingly athletic, surprisingly agile, and he has a 70-grade arm,” Fenstermaker says. “There’s a lot of reasons to believe that he stays at shortstop long term.” In that way, Walcott invites obvious comparisons to another long, powerful shortstop: Reds top prospect Elly De La Cruz. The 21-year-old De La Cruz is now in the majors, helping to power an upstart Cincinnati team. Two years ago, he was destroying the ACL, just like Walcott is now.
Matching De La Cruz’s timeline would be quite the feat, but Walcott relishes the challenge. “I feel like I can make a big impact on the big-league team,” he says. Notably, when the Rangers did their trade deadline shopping for starting pitcher Max Scherzer, it was a different top-100 shortstop prospect the team flipped to the Mets: Luisangel Acuña, who is well-regarded and closer to big-league ready but doesn’t boast Walcott’s ceiling.
There is much left to prove, but Walcott has the game’s attention. If he clicks, teams will show even more interest in the Bahamas, where the development machine is becoming increasingly sophisticated. I-Elite now takes players abroad to Florida for four months in the summer, practicing on weekdays and playing in tournaments every weekend. It’s expensive, but it’s the best way to close the experience gap between the Bahamas and other countries with stronger baseball traditions.
In fact, as Sands glows about Walcott in a phone interview, he sits in view of a Florida ballfield. There are no scouts at this game, but if anyone is hot after the next Sebastian Walcott, he has a player to recommend. He’s a four-year-old tee-baller, and Sands admits he’s particularly biased in this case, but the name might be worth remembering. “Be looking for Storm Sands, if you want to put that on paper,” the elder Sands says with a laugh. “Storm Sands is going to be coming, for sure.”
After all, his advice has been worth heeding before.