All American Game : : Story
The Aflac Experience
Tuesday, August 16, 2005
I'm sure many of you tuned into the third annual Aflac All-American Baseball Classic on Fox Sports Net on Saturday afternoon. While the game had it's fair share of errors, walks and instances of sloppy play, it was clearly filled with the best baseball talent in the nation, and was an amazing experience for the players in attendance. They not only played with and against the top 38 players in the nation on national television in front of scouts from every big league team, but they also got to learn some very valuable life lessons during the days leading up to what has quickly become the game's greatest high school all-star game.
I'm going to break down the days that I was in attendance day-by-day in three separate installments, followed by individual player profiles and I'll even hand out some of my own hardware to the players that attended. We start the coverage of the Aflac events on Thursday.
Thursday All-American scrimmage
I arrived too late on Wednesday to take part in any of that day's events, which started with a team practice conducted by Perfect Game and was followed by the players visiting the young boys and girls at the Johns Hopkins Kimmel Cancer Center. Held at John B. Schuerholz Park on the campus of Towson University, the second day of baseball related activities for the Aflac All-Americans started with the usual infield and outfield drills, followed by the players showing off their wheels in the 60-yard dash. Derrick Robinson predictably stole the show with times in the 6.3 range.
The scrimmage that followed allowed the players to get a taste of what it was like playing with one another. The game was highlighted by a home run by West shortstop/right-handed pitcher Kyle Drabek (The Woodlands, TX) off of left-handed pitcher Kasey Kiker (Phenix City, AL). The scrimmage, which ended in a 2-2 tie, didn't feature a whole lot of offense, and probably went more like how many expected Saturday's game to go given the amount of pitchers used. In fact, Drabek's blast was the only hit tallied by the West squad. Cody Johnson (Panama City, FL) added the other big offensive highlight by ripping a double down the first-base line off of left-handed pitcher Taylor Hammack (Angleton, TX).
Hammack touched 89 with his fastball during the scrimmage, throwing his breaking pitch in the 80-82 range. Ryan Jenkins (Houston, TX), a tall, projectable righty with a strong lower half followed Hammack, throwing his heater in the 87-88 range. The scouts put their radar guns down for the next two pitchers from the West squad, Robbie Alcombrack (Grass Valley, CA) and Chris Parmelee (Chino Hills, CA), both of whom have a much brighter future as positional players than pitchers, despite pitching very well.
The East squad strode the 6'8" Dellin Betances (New York, NY) out to the mound, who threw a 91 mph fastball on his first pitch. He reached 93 mph, and flashed both a slider (80 mph) and a curveball (73) that showed good very good bite. I think the pride of New York City definitely left some lasting impressions on those in attendance, not only during the scrimmages, but at the Aflac game itself, which I will get in to greater detail in a later installment. Given his size he impressed me with how well he commanded the strike zone, and he definitely adds a cool and confident, not to mention intimidating, presence on the mound. His arm action, stature and the trajectory of his pitches definitely work in his favor.
While Betances has a quiet confidence on the mound, Jeremy Jeffress (South Boston, VA) definitely allows himself to show his emotions on the mound. Armed with a heater that has been clocked in the upper-90s this summer, he started in the 90-91 range before dipping to 85-87. This is a trend that also continued during the Aflac game itself, again, which I will also get to later on. He has a slurvy breaking pitch that could use some more consistency, but it definitely shows promise.
Lefty Kasey Kiker followed Jeffress, and brought a much different approach to the mound. His fastball consistently sat in the 90-91 range, and he mixed in a 73-75 curveball very well. Also known for an advanced changeup, I can't say I saw him unleash that pitch in the scrimmage. While he gave up the aforementioned home run to Drabek, I was impressed with the way Kiker pitcher, particularly his aggressive approach which defied his smallish stature.
Kiker's high school teammate, Cory Rasmus, came in next, touching 91 with his fastball and flashing a very good curveball that I think surprised a lot of observers. Of course, Kiker and Rasmus were two of the biggest cogs to the success of their high school team, which finished the season ranked as the number one team in the country, Russell County High School in Alabama. That team also included Cory's older brother, Colby, a first-round draft pick by the St. Louis Cardinals in this past June's draft.
Cody Johnson took the mound to finish the scrimmage for the East, and like Alcombrack and Parmelee of the West, scouts didn't have much interest in finding out how good Johnson's fastball was. Johnson's power potential is extremely evident, with long, strong limbs and a tall, athletic frame.
Defensively, Ryan Jackson (Miami Springs, FL) showed the smoothest actions on the field. Most impressive was the transfer of the ball out of his glove to his hand. His movements are so natural and smooth and he made everything look easy on the field.
All four of the catchers in attendance offer a lot of promise behind the dish. The East's Torre Langley (Winston, GA) was the most active behind the plate, while his teammate Max Sapp (Windermere, FL) was quick to show off his arm behind the plate on snap throws to first. The West catching tandem consisted of Alcombrack and Hank Conger (Huntington Beach, CA). Alcombrack was the more polished defensively, while no one hit the ball harder, more consistently than both Conger and Sapp.
Nathan Bridges (Yorba Linda, CA) had the strongest arm in the infield, followed by first baseman Chris Parmelee and third baseman Chris Marerro (Miami, FL).
Derrick Robinson (Archer, FL) added an impressive arm to go along with his world class speed. David Christensen (Parkland, FL) showed the next best arm, while Jeff Rapaport (Westlake, CA), Devin Shepherd (Oxnard, CA) and Drew Rundle (Bend, OR) all had an average at worst throwing arm. I first was concerned with Rundle's arm strength during outfield drills, but he made me a believer by gunning down Torre Langley at third base with an impressive throw from deep left-centerfield during the scrimmage.
Perfect Game Aflac Showcase Day One
As the Aflac All-Americans left the field, heading back to their hotel to clean up and attend seminars, including one by "The Rookie" Jim Morris, in preparation for the awards banquet that evening, the next group of impressive young high school players took the field as the Perfect Game Aflac Showcase got underway. Last year marked the first year in which Perfect Game conducted a showcase event separate from coordinating the on-the-field activities for the Aflac All-American players, as several of the players in attendance were good enough to play on last year's Aflac team, including Brandon Erbe, Matt Olson and David Adams. The showcase is a great way to take advantage of the number of scouts, crosscheckers and scouting directors in attendance.
Thursday's session was relatively quick, consisting of infield and outfield drills to go along with a round of batting practice. Former Orioles great Dennis Martinez threw about 300 pitches to about half of the players taking BP, including his son Ricky (Miami, FL), a talented outfielder with a cannon for an arm in right field. Ricky and fellow South roster teammate Scott Robinson (McDonough, GA) both showed off their guns in right field, throwing lasers to third base.
High energy infielder Jonathan Merritt (Douglasville, GA), made up for his lack of size with a very good tool-set, which included an arm that made a lot of scouts in attendance look twice in disbelief. Evan Cox (Maumelle, AR) flashed the best arm in the infield at third base, and swung a pretty good bat at the plate as well with quick hands and intriguing pull power. Luis Tovar (Yuma, AZ), Braxton Chisholm (St. Cloud, FL) and Matthew Sweeney (Rockville, MD) also hit the ball very well for the South.
The North players that stood out during BP included infielder Ryan Powers (Beacon, NY), catcher Joseph Mercurio (Brewster, NY), right-handed pitcher Dale Hering (Skillman, NJ), and Tommy Pham, a rising two-way athlete that turned heads at the plate and the mound who traveled all the way from Las Vegas, Nevada to attend this growing event.
There were several good throwing catchers in attendance, including Mercurio and Chisholm, Jared Avchen (Palm Bay, FL) and Jayson Hernandez, a late addition from Jackson, New Jersey. Hernandez in particular drew some murmurs in the crowd with a POP time of 1.80 and a lean yet strong, athletic frame that reminded me of young catching sensation Yadier Molina of the St. Louis Cardinals.
Aflac All-American Awards Banquet
The banquet was a great experience as the players, parents, sponsors and key-note speakers all came together in one place. The overlying message was a reminder that the players were All-Americans, something they should embrace not only as baseball players, but as people. They got to meet with Cal Ripken Jr. privately before the dinner kicked off, where Major League Baseball's Jimmie Lee Solomon delivered an encouraging speech. With former successful big leaguers such as Dennis Martinez and Doug Drabek (the father of Kyle) also in attendance, along with Rachel Robinson, the widow of Jackie Robinson, everyone was truly among baseball royalty.
Catherine Silver of Baseball America presented Jordan Walden (Mansfield, TX) with the Baseball America Pitching Prospect of the Year Award, Cal Ripken Jr. presented Gerald Sullivan (Budd Lake, NJ) with the Cal Ripken Jr. Sportsmanship Award while Rachel Robinson announced that Cody Johnson received the Aflac National High School Player of the Year Award. All three awards not only recognized the players' accomplishments on the field, but for the character they displayed off of the field.
Stay tuned to Perfect Game USA's homepage for more coverage from the Aflac All-American Baseball Classic. In the next feature I will focus on Friday's events, which included the first-round of the home run derby for the Aflac All-Americans, a scrimmage between the North and South squads at the Aflac Showcase, and taking in an Orioles game with the All-Americans at Camden Yards. T
he thoughts and opinions expressed 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.