You can currently read about all of the participants of the Aflac All-American Classic on PG Crosschecker’s homepage, straight from the people at Perfect Game that got to see these young men show their wares in person from sunnySan Diego .
We all know by now that the East squad came from come from behind fashion to knock off the West squad for the first time since the inaugural year, 5-4, with Tim Beckham being named the classic’s MVP.
Like last year, I am going to share my thoughts on a handful of players from each team that caught my eye. I will say before I get into those player reports that I was impressed by how well the game was played, especially the early innings. The past two years in particular have been marred by sloppy play and pitchers more concerned with lighting up radar guns than actually pitching.
Two quick comments on players that I will not cover below: Eric Hosmer flashed a really slick glove at first base to complement his offensive reputation, and Ryan O’Sullivan fired off the best curveballs, reminiscent of the curveballs his big brother snapped off a few years ago.
Last year I detailed my favorite Aflac performer (Josh Vitters) last. This year the alphabet allows the player I was most impressed with to be listed first. Armstrong wasn’t blowing batters away, but it is clear that his former big-league dad has instilled into him a pretty good idea of how to pitch. He commanded the strike zone extremely well, and every single pitch he threw had some kind of movement to it. He tossed the final two innings for the East, picking up the win and striking out the side in the ninth, all three batters being retired on nasty curveballs. It is noted on the homepage that he topped out at 89 mph, the only pitcher not to crack 90, but if I had to take one pitcher to get one big-league out right now, it would be Armstrong.
The MVP of the game by driving in three runs in the contest, two via sacrifice flies and one thanks to an RBI triple. The triple in particular was a very exciting hit, as Beckham showed his prowess at the plate by driving a Austin Wright fastball to the right-center field gap and letting his easy speed take care of the rest. He didn’t have too many opportunities to showcase his defensive skills during the game, but you can tell he’s the type of player that makes everything he does look incredibly easy.
It was really difficult to get a good read on the hitters just from watching the game, since the West did such a good job shutting down the bats through the first several frames. Martin didn’t have that great of a game, striking out three times in five at-bats, but you could tell just from his swing that he has all of the tools to be a pretty special offensive contributor. There’s not swinging out of his shoes, it’s just a simple approach trusting his hands and wrists to do the majority of the damage. He did lace a single in the fourth off of a Taylor Jungmann slider, while Alex Meyer made sure to give him a heavy does of breaking balls after working the batters ahead of him predominantly with fastballs.
Similar to Martin and a lot of the hitters the played in the game, I really didn’t get a good look at Martinez ’ swing and his overall game. He does have the ideal baseball body, and reminded me a lot of Chris Marrero who played the game two years ago and is now smoking the ball in the Washington Nationals system. He did take one swing that allowed me to get a feel for his timing and bat speed, as he put a great swing on an Austin Wright fastball that he fouled straight back. He ended up walking in that plate appearance, and was robbed by two great defensive plays by Robbie Grossman in two other at-bats. A few inches here and there, and Martinez could have had a huge day.
I’m not sure I’m sold on Nieto’s bat, but given the way he plays defense he should have a place to play at some level for a long, long time. He is a very active and dynamic backstop that is always doing something from behind the plate, with snap throws to first and third, a couple of rockets to second base and cat-like quickness. He is the type of player that takes a tremendous amount of pride in his craft as it showed more so than any other player on the field. Nieto is a switch-hitter, which adds to his value, and there is some pop in his swing. He may profile similar to Yasmani Grandal, an Aflac All-American a year ago.
It seems as though there is somewhat of a Tim Lincecum revolution going on. Palazzone’s delivery may not quite be that violent and dramatic, but it is very similar as he rocks back and brings his arm straight over his head. That kind of delivery immediately leaves me a little concerned with how much strain a pitcher like this puts on his shoulder, but I’m not a doctor or a pitching coach. Palazzone’s curveball is obviously his bread-winner, a pitch that is thrown in the low-80s and could be one of the best breaking balls at any level. He did seem to rely on this pitch too much, and didn’t have the best fastball command on the day, but with a yacker like that you have my interest any day.
I enjoyed watching Silverstein pitch, a long, loose-armed lefty that employs a low three-quarters delivery. His fastball looked harder than the 86-90 mph readings he was putting up, thanks in large part to the natural late life his heater had, making it difficult for batters to put a good swing on the ball. He also showed a pretty good curveball. Not a sharp bender, and not overly loopy either, but it was a nice complement to his fastball. His best curveball came on a strikeout against Andy Burns to open the seventh inning, this came after he struck out two batters in the sixth inning on fastballs.
West SquadGerrit Cole
One after another, there were so many tall, perfectly proportioned, projectable pitchers on display, and Cole might have been the most picture-perfect. He has a lightning quick arm that makes his low-to-mid-90s fastball that much better with some late, explosive life. His slider also profiles as a plus pitch, giving him a true power repertoire as he breezed through the third inning, one-two-three. His arm action did look a little long to me through his delivery, but that’s nit-picking (and again, I’m no pitching coach).
There might have been a little Bill Belichick injury report mastery going one with how the West Squad handled Galloway, who many thought wouldn’t last past the first inning much less even play in the game. A graceful outfielder that makes the game look so incredibly easy, and fun, it’s hard not envisioning Galloway being a special player as he continues to advance in his baseball career. He has a very quick bat that matches his foot speed, and I liked the way he made contact in all three of his at-bats, hitting singles in two of them.
It was impossible not to enjoy watching Grossman play, who made two dynamic defensive plays in center field. His hard-nosed approach to the game reminded me a lot of John Drennen a few short years ago, and his athleticism and his stance somewhat reminded me of Grady Sizemore. A rare left-handed throwing switch-hitter, Grossman had the opportunity to take a couple of hacks from both sides of the plate. He didn’t fare as well at the plate as he did in the field, but you could see some pop in his bat, and you could definitely tell that he could be a pest once he does reach base.
Galloway and Hick were the most impressive overall athletes at the event, and I’m sure they are two names we are going to hear over and over again between now and next June. Like Galloway , Hicks is an exciting five-tool outfielder that can cover a tremendous amount of ground while also putting up big numbers at the plate. A switch-hitter that showed nice patience laying off of a slew of Palazzone breaking balls to draw a walk, and later smoked a double to left-center field as a right-handed batter off of Scott Silverstein, I was actually more impressed with Hicks as a pitcher, and to be honest he didn’t even pitch all that well struggling mightily with his control. He had the most electric arm of anyone there, reminding me of former Aflac All-American Jeremy Jeffress. His delivery isn’t as smooth as Jeffress’ was (and still is), but his fastball is nearly impossible to catch up with and he mixes in a devasting slider. He also seemed to be able to take a little off of his fastball to make it dip and dive a little more than his four-seamer.
Jungmann started off a little shaky, as he appeared to be over-throwing while not incorporating his whole body into his delivery as he was out of rhythm and all over the place. The good thing is that he was missing low, and the better thing is that he started to settle down and pitched quite well despite giving up a walk and a base hit to Beckham and Martin respectively. He showed once he settled down that he does have pretty good fastball command and a nasty slider, using one such pitch to set Destin Hood down swinging.
Melville reminded me of Nick Adenhart from the 2003 Aflac All-American Classic in that he made it pretty clear pretty early that he knew what he was doing on the mound. A very sound baseball player who didn’t showcase any one absolutely unhittable pitch, but offered one of the better overall packages of anyone in attendance. He carved up the East lineup in order in his only inning of work, the first inning, and then impressed me with the way he handled the bat, ripping an RBI single through the hole on the right side of the infield in the sixth and driving a ball to deep left-center field in the eighth that allowed a runner to advance to third. Melville is one of those guys that just seems to get it, and I wouldn’t be surprised to see him fly through the minor leagues when that opportunity is presented to him.
A very big boy, Meyer has the stuff to match his intimidating presence on the mound. He has a dominating fastball that should be able to sit in the low to mid-90s that shows pretty good late life deep in the strike zone. His slider is an equally dominant and powerful pitch, as he uncorked a few unhittable ones, and they got significantly better the more he threw them. He started a little on the wild side, similar to Jungmann, but looked very impressive after he settled down. He also did a nice job keeping the ball down in the zone, and in my opinion, offered the best fastball-breaking ball combo outside of Aaron Hicks.
I was impressed with Skipworth’s approach and presence at the plate more than any other batter, and not just because he hit a two-run bomb in the third inning. He stood in the batter’s box very cool and confident, with a smooth left-handed swing. He reminded me of John Olerud in his stature and stance, and like Olerud, Skipworth seems like the type of guy that makes contact every time the bat leaves his shoulder. In addition to his offensive prowess, he showed some good moves behind the plate, with very good quickness despite his rather large frame. A left-handed hitting catcher with power potential is a lock to go in the first round next June.
Wright didn’t have the greatest of performances, but I was really impressed with his size and stuff, particularly for a left-handed pitcher. I noticed Jerry Ford made a comment on Wright’s player write-up that he looks bigger than his listed size. That was the first thing I thought, as I did a double take when I saw he was listed at 6’3”. He’s a big fella with a potentially over-powering low-90s fastball and a nice looking knockout breaking pitch. Wright did a good job settling down, briefly, after giving up an RBI triple to Beckham, of which he elevated a fastball that was smoked, by striking out Ethan Martin. He did manage to get out of a bases loaded jam after walking a couple of batters, but did not allow Beckham to score.
With another Aflac All-American Classic in the books, I can’t wait to follow yet another talented group of young men over the next year and beyond. I think the talent in the West, particularly the pitching, is superior to that in the East despite the East winning the game, at least based on what I saw on display.
The thoughts and opinions listed here do not necessarily reflect those of Perfect Game USA . Patrick Ebert is affiliated with both Perfect Game USA and Brewerfan.net, and can be contacted via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.