This is always an exciting time of year, to be able to view the best collection of high school talent take the field and play what is always an exciting ballgame. As Perfect Game president Jerry Ford noted in previous blog entries from the Aflac All-American Classic, this year’s contest was very crisp and smooth and moved along at a nice pace.
Every year as I write this column I typically start out by focusing on one player that really caught my attention. From Jack Armstrong to Caleb Cowart, it’s hard not to play favorites with some of the young players in attendance.
This year that player to me is Archie Bradley.
In watching him it’s impossible to not be immediately impressed by his size and strength. He has the build of a workhorse, and it’s not surprising that he is also a very talented football recruit who has committed to play for Oklahoma as both a quarterback and as a pitcher. His build and profile remind me of Chad Hutchinson’s at a similar stage in his career. Hutchinson went on to have a solid two-sport career at Stanford, even if his professional sports career didn’t match the lofty expectations that followed him.
With a big leg kick yet balanced delivery, Bradley had that “country strong” feel to him, pumping his fastball in the 93-95 range before dropping down to 88-93 in his second inning of work. He also threw a sharp-breaking knuckle-curve, giving him two legitimate strikeout pitches. I like how his success is predicated off his fastball, establishing his heater early to allow him to use whatever else he chooses to throw at a hitter to get them out. It’s a fearless, confident approach, and I really like this young man’s chances to succeed moving forward.
Here is my usual baker’s half-dozen players from both the East and West (which includes Bradley) squads that also stood out a little more than the rest. This isn’t a top prospect list, as you won’t find Daniel Norris’ name listed below. Norris is almost unanimously considered the top prep prospect eligible for next June’s draft, and it doesn’t mean that Norris looked terrible, just that a few other players really stood out to me from their Aflac performances.
Beede’s build stood out right away, with a tall and lean frame that scream projectability. He has a strong lower half, a high waist and narrow shoulders, giving him ample room for added strength as he continues to mature physically. I like how well his arm worked, with easy velocity while tossing a riding fastball that sat in the low-90s. There’s a lot more room in his body and arm action for increased radar gun readings, and he complemented his fastball well with a sharp curveball.
Cave didn’t do much at the plate, but he impressed me immediately with his athletic build, bat speed and extension at the plate as a left-handed hitter. I also appreciated how he hustled his tail down the first-base line on a pair of routine groundouts in this game, and he also looked to be pretty fluid in centerfield. And then he came on to close out the game for the East in the ninth inning, and looked impressive doing so. There is some deception to his somewhat rushed delivery, in which he comes over the top to produce consistent low-90s heat. He really commanded the pitch well, and the ball seemed to explode out of his hand. He peppered the strike zone, striking out the first batter he faced on a fastball looking, and then got the second batter swinging when he pulled the string on a picture-perfect changeup.
Tall and projectable to go along with great command of a well-rounded three-pitch repertoire, Kelly reminded me of former Aflac All-American Rick Porcello. Kelly has a smooth and repeatable delivery, and as impressive as his low to mid-90s fastball is, the movement on the pitch and his command of it may have been even more impressive. He also threw both an impressive curve and polished change. He did hang a curveball to Daniel Camarena that got hammered to right field, but it’s hard not to like the total package this young man has to offer.
Lindor looks as though he was born to play the sport, bringing grace, ease and enthusiasm to the game that makes him a pleasure to watch. He has a lean, smaller frame, but there is room to add some strength and more power to his swing. And while he did win the home run derby, I’m sure he would be the first to admit that he’s not a power hitter. He is a switch hitter though, and is short to the ball with gap-to-gap power. He drove a high fastball the opposite way to deep left field for a triple off of Ricky Jacquez in the fourth inning. He’s sound defensively and made a very good play in the first inning, ranging quickly to his right before throwing a strike to first base to throw out Travis Harrison.
If you watched the TV broadcast you may have been impressed by a few of the 97 and 98 readings that came up. He wasn’t, and doesn’t, throw that hard, at least not yet, but does work easily and consistently in the low-90s with the ability to touch 94-95. He’s a shorter righty with a little Roy Oswalt to his delivery. He is built more compactly strong than Oswalt is, with a fastball that shows some dip to it. He throws aggressively, attacking the inside with his boring fastball before putting them away with his spike curve. He also threw a good change, giving batters just one more pitch to think about.
Lefties are always fun to watch, and Pfeifer looks as though he was born to pitch. He has somewhat of a pear-shape to his shorter frame, and has some herk and jerk to his delivery that makes the ball out of his hand that much more difficult to track. He sat, and sits, in the upper-80s to low-90s, mixing in a hard, slurvy curve. He threw two of these breaking balls back-to-back against Travis Harrison after he got into a 3-1 count to the mighty slugger. That’s a testament of his confidence with the pitch, doing so against one of the nation’s best right-handed hitters.
If Pfeifer looks like he was born to pitch, then Trent looks like he was born to hit. With sloped shoulders, strong proportions and a solid build, he offered a strong presence in the batter’s box, showing a good eye and a solid approach overall. He used his strong, compact frame to produce an equally strong and compact swing with good bat speed. He ripped a high fastball off of Bradley in the fifth, and then another in the seventh off of Caramena for a two-run single, the hit that put the East on top for good. He played both left field and third base in this game, and handled one opportunity at the hot corner cleanly with a very strong and accurate throw to first.
Apologies to Tyler Malette, who of course was named the game’s MVP for hitting a no-doubt two-run shot to left field while also showing a very strong arm behind the plate.
Camarena appeared in this game as both a positional player and as a pitcher, but it was his swing in the batter’s box that really caught my eye. There are some young players that I have watched over the years that I feel just ‘get it,’ and Camarena is one of those hitters. He’s a lefty with good size and obvious bat speed with plenty of physical projection left for added strength. He looks like a hitter with sloped shoulders and very good extension in his swing. He showed the ability to hit the ball with back-spin, driving a double in the second to deep right field off of Michael Kelly, a ball that seemed to carry a lot farther than what it looked like it would do off the bat. That gives him promising power potential, and he also was throwing in the upper 80s with a big, slow curveball.
As a high schooler, Harrison looks like a brute. There is some Matt Williams to his overall build and gait, although I don’t know if Harrison is quite that athletic. He has some pretty big hands and forearms along with a mature, somewhat barrel-chested build, and he looks somewhat like a throw-back (although that may have just been the lack of batting gloves speaking to me). The power in his swing is obvious, using his big frame and strong forearms and wrists to punish the baseball. He swung on top of a ball in the fifth inning and he was able to muscle the ball through the left side of the infield for an RBI single. For most hitters, that’s a weak groundout, and he also put on a display in the home run derby despite being out-slugged by the more diminutive Francisco Lindor.
Similar to Bryce Harper from a year ago, Hedges’ arm strength alone was impressive enough to be mentioned in this column. He fired a seed to second to throw out Javier Baez stealing in the first inning, and overall showed like he belonged behind the dish. I also was impressed with his approach at the plate, as he used a quick, compact stroke to put a charge in a 94 mph Dillon Maples fastball in the third inning that was hit into the gap in left-center for a double. He also showed pretty good wheels for a catcher.
Owens was one of the players I was most interested in seeing, knowing that he was more about his pitchability than raw stuff, although he still brought his heat into the 90-91 range. He has a Ryan Anderson “Space Needle” type build, with a tall and lanky stature and even a similar delivery. He obviously doesn’t throw as hard as Anderson does, and while he probably never will, it’s easy to envision him adding a few ticks to his heater in the next 2-3 years as he matures. His fastball has some nice sink to it, and he really commands the pitch well with the ability to paint the corners. Both his curveball and changeup are advanced pitches at this stage of his development as well, and he knows how to throw all three pitches to set up batters and upset their timing, lulling them asleep with soft stuff away before busting them up and in.
Stephenson was right behind Bradley among the players that caught my eye the most, and like Bradley he got to show his stuff over two innings of work, the only two pitchers that did so. It looked as though he threw both a four-seam (clocked in the 93-95 range) and an upper-80s two-seamer with impressive diving action. His breaking ball was also a plus pitch, a hard curveball with a little slurve-type bite to it when thrown a little harder. He has good size with lean, tapered proportions, and overall looks to be a good athlete with a clean, repeatable delivery. He looked about as sharp as they come in his two innings of work.
I had heard about Swihart’s effortless approach at the plate before, and it was immediately evident the first time he took to the batter’s box. It starts with a patient and confident approach, knowing what he wants to hit and hit hard. The bat speed is obvious, using a quick, easy swing in which the ball jumps off his bat. He hit a hard single up the middle in the fifth inning off of a low-90s fastball from Deshorn Lake, and entered the game with a lot of fanfare for his overall hitting prowess. I can’t comment on his defense just from this game, but one player that he immediately reminded me of given his switch-hitting bat and prowess at the plate was Victor Martinez.
Congratulations to all the young men that took part in this year’s event.
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 5 Tool Talk, and can be contacted via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.