FORT MYERS, Fla. – The members of the PG Red team that will be playing games both Saturday and Sunday at the Perfect Game National Showcase at JetBlue Park weren’t able to check into the five-day event until Friday afternoon, and didn’t get out on the field for their workout sessions until Friday evening.
The PG Red roster is loaded with many of the highest ranked prospects in the national high school class of 2015 and they were understandably eager to get their time in the spotlight up-and-running. A 60-yard dash, infield, outfield and catching drills, and a batting practice session would fill the night, leading into games on Saturday afternoon.
John Aiello is one of the top guys wearing Red this weekend, but the brightness of the color of his jersey won’t be the reason he’ll standout among players who are also use to standing out. Aiello is a 6-foot-2, 200-pound elite ballplayer from Lansdale, Pa., who will be a senior at Germantown Academy in Fort Washington, Pa., in the fall. He is one of the best shortstop prospects in a 2015 class bursting at the seams with outstanding shortstop prospects.
By the time the workout and batting practice sessions were completed Friday, Aiello had already made an impression. He ran a personal-best 6.75-second 60-yard dash, threw 90 miles-per-hour across the infield and, as a switch-hitter, was most impressive during BP. In his Day 2 Roundup of the event, PG website managing editor Patrick Ebert wrote:
“Aiello … is an impressive overall athlete with power from both sides of the plate. He routinely smoked the ball, both in the form of hard line drives to all parts of the field and towering drives to the gaps. Already strong with a physique that resembles those you see at the big league level at 6-foot-2, 200-pounds, it's easy to envision Aiello getting even stronger as he matures physically.”
Aiello didn’t really surprise anyone with his strong showing Friday – least of all the hundreds of scouts taking notes – and it will surprise no one if he performs at an elite level during the games. On Saturday morning Aiello, one of the friendliest and most accommodating young men at this year’s PG National, reflected on his first hours at the event.
“I was just trying to have fun and do the best I can,” he said. “I think I did pretty well, but there are a lot of good kids out there; everyone’s pretty good out here. It’s been real awesome down here so far and just the (workout) part was really fun.
“I got to meet a lot more players I hadn’t met before – a lot of really good players – and I watched a couple of games (Friday night), and the competition is really awesome,” Aiello continued. “I’m really excited to start the games off today.
The Perfect Game National Showcase is the annual event where incoming high school seniors solidify their reputations and national rankings, stimulate conversation within the scouting community and perhaps even earn an invitation to the Perfect Game All-American Classic in August. For a player like Aiello who came down from the Northeast, it’s the perfect stage at the perfect time.
“This is kind of our kickoff to the summer because it’s been indoors, snow, rain (at home), so this is the first real outing that we’ve had in a baseball environment,” John Aiello’s father, Rich Aiello, told PG on Friday. “John loves coming to the big, Perfect Game events because there are so many talented players and they’re all kind of equal and it’s great competition.
“He gets to see friends that he’s played with over the years and that’s probably the most enjoyable part that makes it all worthwhile where he can really enjoy it and look forward to it even much more than the high school season.”
One thing that is certain is that all of Aiello’s friends here are very talented, and he fits right in with the crowd he hangs out with. The top-six shortstop prospects in the 2015 national class are here, including No. 1 Brendan Rodgers (No. 2 overall) from Longwood, Fla., and No. 3 Nick Shumpert (No. 4 overall) from Lone Tree, Colo. Aiello is ranked No. 2 at the shortstop position and No. 3 overall.
A history of 14 Perfect Game tournaments and showcases has helped prepare him for the PG National, the biggest of the national showcase stages. Scouts and college recruiters monitor a prospect’s every move, taking note when a kid runs out ground balls and, perhaps even more importantly, when he doesn’t.
“When there are a lot of people looking I just try to relax as much as possible and remind myself that you just need to just be yourself and don’t worry about anything else,” Aiello said. “Just be yourself and work as hard as possible and always hustle; that’s about all you can do.”
“Every day he works hard, and he’s very disciplined in terms of nutrition and his work ethic; that’s kind of his strength,” Rich Aiello said. “Every kid’s got talent, so he tries to be that guy that just keeps trying to work hard, and he enjoys it.”
Aiello has been training with Joe and Bob Barth from the Tri-State Arsenal and the Hit Doctor Baseball and Softball Academy since he was 12 years old. He credits the Tri-State Arsenal organization and the Hit Doctor Academy – which are headquartered in Voorhees, N.J. – with his continued improvement through the years.
“I really appreciate (the Barths) along with all the other Arsenal coaches and the guys that work at the Hit Doctor. I love it there,” he said.
This is the fourth PG showcase event that Aiello has attended – the 2013 PG All-American Underclass Games, the 2014 Northeast Indoor Showcase and the 2014 Sunshine Northeast Showcase are the others – and he was named to both the Top Prospect List and Top Prospect Team at the previous three.
“I like playing in a showcase and you kind get use to it after awhile,” he said. “It’s kind of weird the first couple of times because you’re not really sure what to expect, but once get used to it you know what to expect and you can just have fun.”
The trip across the country for the PG All-American Underclass Games in San Diego was especially enjoyable for Aiello. Not only did he enjoy the event itself, but he was even more impressed with the opportunity to watch the 2013 Perfect Game All-American Classic at the Padre’s Petco Park the night before the A-A Underclass Games got under way.
“I got to see the actual All-American game and watch a couple of guys that I know,” he said before admitting being selected to play in that game this year would be something special. “I really don’t really think about it that much; I just try to take it one day at a time and do the best I can.”
Aiello has benefitted from both the PG showcase and tournament environments. His father noted that nothing teaches humility with any less subtlety than the game of baseball, and John has absorbed every lesson introduced on a day-to-day basis.
“He’s seen and experienced failure and he’s seen and experienced success, and you need both for the long haul if he’s going to play and reach his goals whether it’s in college or pro ball in the future,” Rich said. “That’s what he’s got to understand and manage – it’s a long haul and not a short sprint.
“It’s these types of things and playing in front of people, and it really helps to get that long term understanding of handling those types of things.”
Aiello has verbally committed to accept a scholarship offer from Wake Forest University, a decision his father said John is especially excited about. John Aiello said there simply was nothing not to like about the university located in Winston-Salem, N.C.
“I wanted to go to a very good baseball school along with a good academic school,” Aiello said. “(The Demon Deacons) play in the ACC so you’re going to play the best competition, and it was just really a good fit for me. I loved the campus and the coaches are awesome, and it was just a perfect fit for me.”
John Aiello has both an older sister and older brother, and while his brother played baseball John is the first one in the family to go through the Perfect Game experience. It has been fulfilling and as the PG experience moves into its final chapter, Rich Aiello said his son is already getting nostalgic.
“It’s pretty incredible that we have an organization like Perfect Game that is able to bring these events together,” he said. “It provides a great learning experience for the kids when you bring all the great players together; that’s not something we had as kids. I think this is something that he’s going to look back on after all the years – it’s all he remembers right now.
“He still talks about previous years … so, yeah, it’s been a lot of fun and it’s actually gone by really fast when you think about it.”