Kevin Merrell grew up as a huge Ben Zobrist fan watching the Tampa Bay Rays.
Now, the tables have turned.
Merrell, a junior shortstop at USF and Steinbrenner High School graduate, bring a similar versatility into the 2017 Major League Baseball Draft.
And Merrell will likely be drafted higher than his role model Zobrist, who was taken in the sixth round of the 2004 draft.
“Ben Zobrist is my favorite player,” Merrell said. “I look up to him in pretty much all aspects. He’s versatile. He can play short, second, center, left, right, whatever. Wherever they put him. So, I think I could do that as well.”
Merrell is seen as a shortstop or second baseman by most scouts, but he's also been projected as a future centerfielder.
He could be chosen in the first 100 picks of the 2017 draft after going unpicked following his senior year at Steinbrenner in 2014.
Merrell is 51st overall on Baseball America's draft prospect rankings
His rise to prominence at USF has been incredible.
And good old fashioned hard work has been the secret to Merrell's success.
“Countless (extra) hours,” Merrell said. “I mean, you have to. This game’s a tough game. So there have been countless hours. And if you don’t put it in, then you’re not going to get the results.”
Those results have been spectacular.
Merrell became the first Bulls player to lead the team in batting average for three straight seasons, leading the American Athletic Conference with a .384 average as a senior.
That batting average cracked the top 20 nationally, and Merrell was chosen as a Second Team All-American by Baseball America.
Merrell is quick to give the credit for his success to the numerous coaches and mentors who've helped him with his game.
“It’d be kind of foolish of me to sit here and say I did it all by myself, because that wasn’t the case at all,” Merrell said. “I’ve had so many great, great people who’ve invested in me and helped me become who I am today.”
Merrell is watching the draft with his family, and he has met with representatives from several major league teams over the past week.
They've even sent team psychologists to evaluate him.
Merrell, who was a USF bat boy as an eight-year-old, calls himself a Bull for life.
But he also feels he’s ready to play at the professional level.
“It’s been a long ride, and I’ve enjoyed every second of it,” Merrell said. “And I’m definitely excited for the next step.”
And he’s ready to put in the work to keep moving up.