The 2009 Aflac All-American Classic marked the fifth such contest since I have been employed by Perfect Game, a culmination of the best high school talent over that time. Starting in 2005, each year I have identified a handful of players that stood out to me, in particular those that opened my eyes as talents I was not previously aware of how good they could be.
In 2005 it was Dellin Betances, followed by Tim Alderson in 2006, Jack Armstrong and Taylor Jungmann in 2007 and Jonathan Walsh from last year. Betances signed for seven figures as an eighth rounder of the Yankees in the 2006 draft, and is slowly but surely making his ascent to the big-leagues. Alderson was a first-rounder in the 2007 draft by the Giants, and was the key piece the Giants used to acquire infielder Freddy Sanchez from the Pirates. Jungmann was arguably the top freshman arm in college baseball last year for the Texas Longhorns, and appears to be poised to be a premium pick in the 2011 draft. Armstrong is coming off of break-out summer on the Cape, and should be a big part of the Vanderbilt Commodores’ success this coming season.
Walsh is going to join Jungmann at Texas, and while Head Coach Augie Garrido historically is patient with his first-year players, a glaring hole at first base due to the departure of Brandon Belt and the signing of top recruit Colton Cain (Pirates) could push Walsh into a bigger role earlier in his career.
This year’s eye-opener to me was two-way talent Kaleb Cowart. A very athletic switch-hitter, I was aware of Cowart’s offensive prowess entering the game. Jerry Ford commented on his arm speed in one of his blogs from the All-American event, and it’s that arm speed that caught my attention as well. (The last player that Ford specifically pointed out to me for their arm speed was Jacob Turner, the ninth overall pick in this past year’s draft.)
Cowart’s arm works so well, and the ball explodes out of his hand. He quickly worked through the third inning, setting down three very accomplished hitters in order. He used four pitches to get Josh Sale swinging on a fastball, two pitchers to induce a groundout by Bryce Harper and five pitches to strikeout Kris Bryant on an impressive changeup.
His fastball was up to 95 with some running action to it, and he also threw a slow curve in the low-70s and the aforementioned changeup. His confidence is evident on the mound, at the plate and in the field. While he didn’t have the greatest day at the plate, with three strikeouts and a groundout, in addition to looking good on the mound he also looked very good in the field, showing his rocket for an arm at third base and making a nice diving play on a shot hit foul down the third base line.
Keep an eye on Cowart between now and next June’s draft, as he certainly has positioned himself to become an early selection as a premium, two-way talent similar to players such as Ethan Martin, Casey Kelly and David Renfroe.
Overall, the pitching stood out. Again, as Jerry Ford noted in his Aflac notes, it may have been the best collection of pitchers assembled at this event. It was fitting that the game ended after the 10th inning in a 4-4 tie, with only eight base hits, two of those for extra bases. There were 17 walks issued, which isn’t uncommon since the pitchers for the most part are raring back and throwing as hard as they can in an attempt to wow the scouts over their brief appearances on the mound.
Once again I intend to highlight a baker’s half-dozen of players that stood out to me from both the East and West squads. I am not going to include Jameson Taillon, Andrew Cole, Bryce Harper or Kris Bryant, all of whom were covered last week, or Cowart, who obviously was profiled above.
I always warn of player comparisons, since they aren’t always fair, but I do believe they help paint a good picture of what a player may look like or be capable of. Aaron Hill is a good comp for Alvord, who is a stocky strong infielder that has a good feel for the game of baseball and a hustling approach. He doesn’t have any one tool that jumps out at you, but he has a good approach at the plate, a quick swing and nice gap-to-gap power potential. He can turn on the best fastballs, seemingly not fazed by the level of competition he’s facing, and has a strong arm on the infield.
After Taillon and Cowart, Aviles impressed me the most of any Aflac participant. He looks like a big-league pitcher, with a strong lower half and good balance throughout his delivery. He reminded me of Chris Tillman, now pitching in the big-leagues for the Orioles, who had a simlar fastball-curveball combo at the 2005 Aflac game. Aviles’ fastball was in the low-90s with a little bit of sinking movement, and you can tell that there is more there (and he has thrown the ball harder at other events). He also has a very good changeup, including one that he used to fool Kellen Sweeney for a swinging strikeout.
The son of former big-league closer Steve Bedrosian took the mound for the East team opposite Taillon to start the game. He gave up a couple of runs on an odd play that involved a wild pitch, but overall his stuff looked sharp. He ran his fastball up to 95, but looked better pitching in the 90-91 range where his fastball appeared to have better, natural sinking movement. His curveball is a true hammer, and with a somewhat shorter, stockier build he reminded me a lot of Ben Sheets given his size and stuff. Bedrosian clearly has the big-league aptitude, and is also hailed for his character off the field.
Cabrera is built like a professional baseball player, with a mature, physical build that reminded me of a pair of big-league shortstops: Edgar Renteria and Yunel Escobar. I’m not so sure that Cabrera sticks at shortstop, and I, like most others, prefer his bat to his arm, as he also pitched the final two innings for the East. I also had the chance to watch Cabrera play on TV the week before where he flashed more of his power, so it wasn’t suprising that he was the HR derby winner at spacious Petco Park. With his approach, bat speed and extension he could become an impact hitter at the next level, with an exciting power/power combination due to his bat and arm.
Every year there is a group of outfielders that somewhat can be grouped with one another. Griffin joined other impressive athletes such as Chevez Clarke and Reggie Golden on the East team as well as Brian Ragira and Austin Wilson from the West squad. Griffin stood out the most to me from the East outfielders, with a very good, present-day build with plenty of room to add strength as he matures. Griffin displayed good bat speed and foot speed, giving him an exciting five-tool package highlighted by his disruptive tendencies at the plate and on the basepaths. He has played the infield in the past, but has more of a loping running action that will serve him better roaming ground in center.
Jones is a good-looking, projectable athlete that has some exciting tools to play with. He has good foot speed and a strong arm, both of which suit him well for the shortstop position, and on the mound as a pitcher. His value lies as a positional prospect, with a compact swing made for consistent, hard contact that gives him gap-to-gap power at this point in time. Given his taller stature, he may eventually out-grow the shortstop position, but his instinctive play may fit well at either second or third base down the road.
This summer has been good to Smelter, who has been rising up prospect lists by turning heads at each and every major showcase and tournament event he has attended. He lights up radar guns with low-90s heat with the ability to touch 95 on occasion. The ball explodes out of his hands, and batters have a hard time timing it. There is some deception to his delivery as he shows his back to the hitter as part of his windup, making him that much more difficult to hit. And he keeps hitters off balance with a very good signature pitch: A splitter that dives down and away from right-handed batters. He struck out the side during his inning of work in the eighth, and while he has plenty of time to prove himself as a starter, it’s easy to envision him as a dominant closer down the road with a pitch that would make Rollie Fingers proud.
Covey was another particpant whose performance really put himself on the map. Again, as detailed by Jerry Ford in his articles from the event, Covey’s development and availability for this game added to his intrigue. The most impressive thing that stood out to me was how well he disrupted the timing off the opposing batters he faced. He was fearless and aggressive, and really did a nice job owning the outside corner to right-handed batters. He has a slow windup but a fast arm, although there appears to be some effort to his delivery. He’s built strongly, with broad shoulders and a strong lower half. His fastball sits in the 89-92 range, can touch the mid-90s, and he has a great three-pitch mix with a very good curveball and a surprisingly refined changeup.
Projectability is the first word that pops into one’s head when watching Gausman, a tall athletic righty with long limbs and broad shoulders with plenty of room to add strength. His build and his stuff reminded me a little of watching the late Nick Adenhart pitch in the inaugural contest of this game back in 2003 (who was remembered with a nice patch on the left sleeve all of the players’ jerseys). Gausman showed a good fastball and a big, breaking curve. He recorded two quick outs, but labored a little to record the final out in his inning of work. It’s easy to dream about how good this young man could become down the road.
With long, wiry strong limbs, Ragira reminded me of a pair of former Aflac All-Americans who have gone on to have very good professional careers: Dexter Fowler and Cameron Maybin. Ragira has the sme kind of upside, with an exciting package of tools highlighted by bat speed, foot speed and arm strength. He can dial his fastball easily into the 90s when he’s pitching, but he’s a future centerfielder given his power-speed combo. He drove a double off of a Andrew Cole fastball that bounced off of the base of the wall to the right side of the centerfield fence. The drive was somewhat misplayed by Clarke, but it still showed just how much power Ragira has driving some of the best fastballs in the nation. He, along with his West team and fellow outfield-mate Austin Wilson, has committed to Stanford, so he has brains to go along with his brawn.
Sale was the most impressive positional prospect the week leading up to the Aflac game at the Area Code Games, and while he didn’t have a big day at the plate at Petco, he exhibited game changing bat speed that makes it easy to envision how good of a run producer he could become, and already is. As David Rawnsley pointed out in his scouting report from Long Beach, finding a spot defensively for Sale may be an issue, as he is probably restricted to either left field or first base with an already thick and mature build, but his bat may make that a non-issue. He reminded me of Geoff Jenkins as an potential impact corner outfielder from the Pacific Northwest with a game changing left-handed swing.
With long, lean limbs and an electric arm, Tago looked like a big-league reliever, coming in to toss the eighth through 10th innings for the West squad. He ended up giving up three runs, one in the 10th due to the unique rules Perfect Game implements for extra-inning affairs, but overall looked very good. There is some deception to his low three-quarters delivery, and he’s a good athlete that looks as though he could be a solid middle infielder. He did a nice job hitting the outside corner, and was fearless attacking hitters with his arsenal. That included his powerful fastball, and he is also able to take a few ticks off of his heater to create more late, downard movement. He also tossed a nice looking slow curveball and a backdoor slider that may have been a cutter. Simlar to Smelter, I could see Tago pitching out of the bullpen late in games down the road, but he has enough pitches in his repertoire to succeed as a starter.
If Dylan Covey didn’t have the best breaking ball at the game, Vanegas did. He snapped off some really nice curveballs in his inning of work, the third inning for the West. His fastball sat in the upper-80s to low-90s with some nice sink to it, giving him a really good two-pitch mix. He has a well-proportioned frame and looks the part of a professional pitcher. He is yet another Stanford recruit, as Stanford possibly had the second best looking recruiting class from those in the game (the University of San Diego clearly had the best collection of talent), which also speaks to Vanegas’ smarts in the classroom.
Similar to Josh Vitters from the 2006 game, the very best pure player is saved for the very last. Wolters is a gamer, a true ballplayer whose size and style of play was reminiscent of Christian Colon, the MVP at this same event, again in 2006. Wolters received the Rawlings Gold Glove award for the top defensive player in attendance, and overall is an energetic player whose style of play can rub off on his teammates. He seemed very humble as well, seemingly now knowing what to say upon receiving the MVP award. Overall he had two hits in the game, including the biggest one of the game: An RBI triple in the bottom of the ninth inning that pushed the game into extra innings. He’s the type of player that any coach would love to have on his club for attributes that extend much farther than his ability on the baseball field.
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.