Tournaments : : Story
Jupiter Impact Players
Monday, November 14, 2011
For the past 13 years the WWBA World Championship has put an exclamation point on the amateur baseball season. The 85 team event offers a one of a kind experience to the elite players and teams that have the opportunity to experience competing against the best players from around the country in front of hundreds of professional scouts and college recruiters at a Major League Spring Training Complex.
For five days each October, the spring home of the Marlins and Cardinals in Jupiter, FL becomes the epicenter of the amateur baseball universe. The talent level and atmosphere are unrivaled, and the event usually produces some very intense games.
The 2011 edition will go down as possibly the most entertaining in tournament history thanks to the incredible playoff battles, cinderella runs and the high level of talent, which received a boost from a very strong crop of 2012 graduates.
Below are just a few of the players, games and moments that stood out most to the Perfect Game scouting staff.
Stars on Display
The WWBA World Championship was loaded with elite talent and these select few position players stood out even amongst their impressive group of peers.
David Dahl (2012 OF, FTB Mizuno/Cardinals Scout Team)- Dahl's talents were obvious this summer, in spite of being sidelined for a portion of it with a bout of mononucleosis. Shortly before taking time off to rest and recover, Dahl was very impressive at the 2011 National Showcase in June. Dahl threw 95 mph from the outfield and posted a blazing 6.49 60-yard dash time, and went 3-for-5 against live pitching, earning a spot in the 2011 Perfect Game All-American Classic. The full extent of his abilities appeared likely to be very impressive based on what he was able to do at less than 100%, and in Jupiter Dahl lived up to expectations. Several member of the PG scouting staff in Jupiter expressed that they believe Dahl was the best prospect in attendance. A potential five-tool player, Dahl posted a team best .400 average and .571 on base percentage out of the second spot in a lineup that featured four 2011 PG All-Americans (including Dahl), with several underclassmen who look to be likely candidates for next year's game. The only tool of Dahl's that is not already plus is his power, though he has the bat speed and projectable strength to develop home run power down the road.
Tanner Rahier (2012 SS, ABD Bulldogs)- The 6-foot-2, 210 pound shortstop really stood out during his third tour of duty at the WWBA World Championship. Rahier not only stood out defensively, but as per usual, put on a show with the bat. Rahier hit .429/.467/1.000 with a pair of triples, a double and a Home Run in 15 plate appearances. The oversized SoCal shortstop invokes the obvious physical comparison to another California product, Troy Tulowitzki. With the size and arm strength that Rahier possesses it would be easy to peg him as a future third basemen. But his speed and athleticism combined with his aggressive high effort fielding actions give him plus range at short in spite of playing at over 200 pounds. Rahier showed his athleticism off by posting a 6.62 60-yard dash time at the 2011 National Showcase. It was no fluke either, as Rahier ran a 6.67 at the California Underclass Showcase in January, a 6.63 at the 2010 West Coast Top Prospect Showcase and a 6.94 at the 2010 California Underclass as a sophomore. Even though he clearly possesses the arm strength to play third (93 mph in the workout at the National Showcase), there is no reason to believe that he will need to move off of shortstop. The only imminent position change for Rahier is that he will give up pitching to become a full-time position player. Rahier's combination of size, speed and power are extremely rare and he compliments his tools with an impressive makeup, hard nosed competitive approach and an obvious passion for the game.
Jesse Winker (2012 OF, FTB Mizuno/Cardinals Scout Team)- One of the premier power bats in the high school ranks, Winker has flexed his muscle at numerous events this season, and in Jupiter he continued to show it off to the hordes of scouts in attendance. On Sunday Winker crushed his first homer of the tourney against the East Cobb Astros to the opposite field in the final pool play game to send FTB to the playoffs. He followed that up later in the day with an awe-inspiring blast in a playoff opening victory against the Homeplate Chilidogs. Winker's second bomb left Field 7 in a hurry, landing in left field of adjacent Field 3. Winker had a shot at the hat trick in the quarterfinal playoff matchup with FTB's underclass team, Central Florida PG Royal. Winker came to bat with the bases loaded and two outs in the bottom of the fifth, trailing 3-0. Winker tee'd off on a 1-0 pitch and blasted it high into the night sky, but the towering fly ball hung up in the air before falling into the right fielder's glove at the warning track for the loudest out of the tournament. It was a disappointing end for Winker and FTB, but he had a big tournament, tying for the lead with two homers, paced the loaded field with 8 RBIs and finished second in SLG (1.071) in a tournament dominated by pitching. Winker simply did what he does best: punish the baseball.
Carlos Correa (2012 SS, PRBAHS)- The top ranked shortstop in the class had an impressive showing in Jupiter, hitting .400/.571/.900 with a Home Run, four Runs and seven RBIs in five games. The emerging power and improved plate approach are very encouraging signs for Correa, whose scouting notes from the 2011 World Showcase in January included "future plus hitter with adjustments/maturity, too spread/long right now...projects for power...raw with upside, good bat speed, approach needs work." Fast forward ten months and the latest set of notes include praise such as "sound hitting approach...power approach at plate...impact type bat...power to all fields." Correa's strong lean build at 6-foot-4, 185 pounds projects for significant increase in strength and muscle mass. There is a concern that the additional weight will diminish his range at shortstop, and though quick and athletic, Correa is not a premium burner (6.83 60-yard dash at 2011 National Showcase). Correa typically plays an extra step deep at short to increase his lateral range, something his plus arm allows him to pull off at 185 pounds. An eventual move to third base wouldn't be a huge blow to Correa's long term value. His arm strength will play anywhere, his soft hands and quick reflexes are well suited for the hot corner and he has the offensive tools to produce enough for a corner position. However his bat would make him a rare commodity if he is able to stick at shortstop. Regardless of his future defensive home, Correa looks to have a bright future on the left side of the infield.
Courtney Hawkins (2012 OF, Houston Banditos)- Hawkins burst onto the scene two years ago as a 15 year old RHP, topping out at 91 mph at the 2009 15u WWBA National Championship. When his progress on the mound stalled out last year, some began to overlook the gifted athlete. During that time however, Hawkins made exceptional strides as an outfielder. At the 2010 Junior National Showcase Hawkins ran a 7.15 60-yard dash. A year later Hawkins posted an impressive 6.62 time at the 2011 National Showcase. The time spent focusing on improving as a hitter has also shown a similar improvement. Now getting the most of his natural strength, Hawkins blasted numerous tape-measure shots throughout the 2011 season, including a three-run bomb against the All-American Prospects/Indians Scout Team in Jupiter. Still possessing quality arm strength, Hawkins has emerged as a legitimate five-tool talent this year. Hawkins dominated his first three games of pool play, with five extra base hits and three SBs in that stretch before teams began to pitch around him. The biggest improvement Hawkins showed in Jupiter was his ability to drive the ball the opposite way with authority, after showing off impressive pullside power this summer, Hawkins crushed a deep homer to right center. Though he still has a few things to improve upon, the rapid improvement makes Hawkins a very intriguing prospect as he enters the spring of his senior season. Teammate Rock Rucker summed it up best while watching Hawkins from the on-deck circle, putting it simply: "how is he going to wow us today?"
In a tournament where high velocities were the norm, this group of elite pitchers stood out from the impressive field at the WWBA World Championship for their ability to not just throw hard, but for their ability to pitch.
Clinton Hollon (2013 RHP, Kentucky Baseball Club)- The only underclass player on this list also posted the highest velocity of the tournament, touching 96 mph. Hollon came in as the No. 2 ranked player in the class of 2013 and made a strong case that the lofty ranking may not entirely do him justice. The hurler showed significant progress across the board from last season. Hollon showed good command in his two appearances in Jupiter, throwing his fastball for a strike 63.2% of the time, and 73.3% of his offspeed pitches. Hollon mowed down 11 hitters in 5 2/3 innings, with two hits and one walk. As he gets closer to his draft year and Hollon's potential begins to be dissected in depth, the primary thing his detractors will point to is the fact that he is (presently) a 6-foot-1 RHP. But with the elite power arsenal that Hollon possesses, it would be a huge mistake to dismiss his ability simply because he does not fit neatly into the traditional mold of an elite power pitcher. If he continues to improve his command and pitchability between now and June 2013, Hollon will likely be one of the first high school players to come off the board on draft day.
Matthew Smoral (2012 LHP, Midland Redskins/Royals Scout Team)- Smoral is a rare talent in that he is a 6-foot-8 LHP who works comfortably in the 90-94 mph range. More importantly, he generates that impressive velocity with a low effort delivery that he repeats well for his size. Smoral did a good job of getting ahead with a first pitch strike in Jupiter and located his quality slider (up to 84 mph) very well, throwing it for a strike 82.4% of the time. Smoral did struggle with locating his fastball later in the count, leading to six walks in five innings. When he missed, he generally missed low, as the sink on his fastball tended to pull the ball out of the bottom of the zone. His legitimate swing and miss stuff allowed him make up for the walks by piling up eight strikeouts, thanks to a gaudy 39.1% swing and miss rate, good for fifth best in the entire tournament. Smoral has pitched effectively at several high level events this year and is one of the top left handed prep pitchers in the impressive crop of 2012 grads.
Walker Weickel (2012 RHP, Orlando Scorpions)- The tall athletic hurler possesses a legitimate big league fastball, living in the bottom corners of the strike zone at 90-94 mph with heavy sink. At 6-foot-6 Weickel is athletic enough to repeat his deceptive delivery well for a tall pitcher and the result is a consistent pounding of the bottom of the strike zone. The question about Weickel's ultimate upside lies in his secondary stuff, as his 74 mph curveball showed good depth and a lot of break. But to catch up with his fastball he will need to increase the sharpness of the break and command it better. Currently his curve is only an out pitch when he is able to spot it to the bottom corners for called strikes or entice hitters to chase. He's shown the ability to do both at times, but not yet on a consistent basis. The changeup has shown improvement and is a good complement to the fastball but his command of it is still a work in progress. Weickel sets up hitters as well as anyone in the country, but to reach his potential he will need to develop his ability to put away high level hitters to become more than a innings eating ground ball pitcher at the next level.
Mitchell Traver (2012 RHP, Houston Heat)- Big, powerful and imposing. Traver is an intimidating mound presence at 6-foot-7, 235 pounds, and he uses his size and strength to overpower hitters. Traver uses his long frame to release the ball closer to the plate than most pitchers and with a sharp downhill plane, allowing his 90-94 mph fastball to play up several miles an hour. His 80 mph slider is a quality No. 2 pitch and has shown improved command since the summer, though he still tips it by slowing his arm down. But the biggest adjustment Traver has made is going from throwing his fastball toward the heart of the plate at 90-92 this summer, to working in the bottom of the zone at 92-94 in Jupiter. While he still has some things to improve upon, the progress that the PG All-American showed throughout the fall is encouraging for a player with so much upside.
Duane Underwood (2012 RHP, East Cobb Baseball)- The live armed righty made the leap to high level prospect status this summer when he ran his fastball up to 97 mph during the 17u WWBA National Championship. He cemented his lofty reputation by touching 98 at East Coast Pro and 96 at the PG All-American Game. Given the ball on possibly the biggest stage in amateur baseball, Underwood started the Opening Night matchup between East Cobb and Palm Beach PAL in Roger Dean Stadium. Underwood did not disappoint, limiting PAL's talented lineup to one (unearned) run on four hits, while striking out nine without issuing a walk in 4 1/3 innings. Underwood topped out at 95 with his fastball in the victory, using his secondary stuff sparingly. Underwood flashed a quality curveball at 75 with sharp biting action, but had little need to mix his pitches much given how dominant his fastball is, even against good competition.
This is a group of players who entered the WWBA World Championship with their talent mostly unknown to the PG scouting staff as well as many of the scouts and recruiters in attendance. They came away from Jupiter with their ability burned into the back of scouts' minds.
Erich Knab (2012 RHP, Royals Baseball Club)- Like a lot of the players on the Royals Baseball Club's talented roster, Knab hails from a relatively small town and was a largely unknown commodity on a national level. Hailing from Conway, SC, a town of just over 16,000 people, Knab had not only never pitched in front of a large group of scouts before, he had hardly pitched in front of any. Understandably nervous in his PG debut, Knab drilled three of the first four hitters he faced, walked two more and allowed three runs in the first inning. Though not the ideal first impression, the large crowd of scouts he pitched in front of couldn't help but notice his very impressive arm speed. Knab sat 93-94 with his fastball in spite of balance and timing issues caused by rushing through his delivery. Though he is raw, Knab's flaws are fixable and the live arm he possesses is something that simply cannot be taught. Early jitters aside, Knab made a positive impression in his PG debut and is a strong follow entering the spring of his senior year.
Andrew Schorr (2012 LHP, Tri State Arsenal/NJ Super 17)- Schorr made a solid impression in his first travel ball event of his career. After missing his sophomore season of high school ball with a fractured left tibia suffered from running into the outfield fence during preseason workouts. Schorr bounced back to lead Audobon High School to a championship this spring. The 6-foot-2 southpaw was extremely effective in Jupiter, throwing seven shutout innings, allowing just two hits and two walks while mowing down 15 hitters in the two games he pitched. Schorr threw 64.5% of his pitches for strikes and generated a tournament best 44.5% whiff rate. Schorr's fastball touched 90 mph, while generally sitting 86-88, with sinking action. He also flashed a solid curveball that, while inconsistent, showed good depth and quick spin while sitting between 70-75 mph. While his stuff is not overpowering, it is good, and two talented lineups (Dulin Dodgers, Georgia PG Texas Orange) failed to make much contact at all against him (six balls in play, three ground outs, three air outs).
DJ Davis (2012 OF, Royals Baseball Club)- Davis is a premium athlete who hails from the small town of Wiggins, MS (population: 3900) and could very easily have slipped through the cracks. That changed when he posted the best 60-yard dash time (6.38) at East Coast Pro and then batted second in a loaded Royals Baseball Club lineup that drew huge crowds for each of their six games in Jupiter. The strong compact left handed hitter posted a line of .375/.500/.562 and went 5-for-5 on stolen base attempts. Though a bit raw at the plate, as would be expected of a player with little experience at the higher levels of amateur baseball, Davis showed good raw hitting tools. With quick hands and strength at contact, Davis drove the ball with authority to both fields. Though he did show a bit of a stronger ground ball tendency to the pull side as a result of rolling over on high level breaking balls. As his skills at the plate progress towards the level of his raw tools Davis should make significant strides towards being a high level table setter with occasional home run power. That potential with the bat combined with his plus plus speed make him an exciting prospect.
Cal Becker (2012 RHP, Marlins Scout Team)- Becker was an unknown commodity on the national level as he entered the summer following his junior season at Redwood High School. Having been a football and rugby player early in his high school career, Becker didn't begin to focus on pitching until 2011. Becker made a name for himself by throwing 91 mph at the Area Code Games in August. With that performance in the back of the minds of scouts, the righty got extended looks in his two appearances for the Marlins Scout Team in Jupiter. He showed very good stuff in spite of giving up four hits over 2 1/3 innings. Becker's fastball sat 90-93 with good life and tailing action, throwing it for a strike 64.7% of the time. He supplemented it with a plus slider at 81-84 with late break and some depth to it. Becker also mixed in an occasional mid-70s curveball with solid 11-5 break. Becker uses his strong lower half well in his delivery, with good balance and direction towards the plate. In a short time Becker has become an interesting pitching prospect and if he can add polish to his repertoire he has a chance to develop into a high level pitcher.
Theo Alexander (2012 OF, Northwest Scout Team)- In his first PG event Alexander stood out amongst a group of several talented under the radar players on the Northwest Scout Team. Alexander really looks the part at 6-foot-2, 195 pounds and projects to add significant strength to his athletic frame. Alexander handled Centerfield well in Jupiter and is a good present runner, though as he bulks up with maturity he is likely to wind up at a corner spot. His offensive upside is high enough to be a high level prospect regardless of position. He struggles a bit with elite offspeed stuff, especially from lefties, but he showed an ability to turn around high velocity fastballs with serious authority. Alexander's .364/.333/.636 line confirms that his plate approach and discipline have a long ways to go, but also that he can put a charge into the ball against good pitching. With refinement and physical maturity Alexander looks to be capable of developing into an offensive force.
These are a few of the moments and performances that are etched in the minds of the PG scouting staff from the WWBA World Championship.
Kirby slams the door- Nathan Kirby turned some heads in Jupiter, as the lefty not only showed off a 92 mph fastball, he backed it up with a plus slider with massive depth and hard biting action. Kirby used his arsenal well, stepping up in a huge spot for the Canes during the playoffs. Kirby was the third pitcher the Canes used in the bottom of the fourth inning, which started with a 3-0 lead. After the starter ran out of gas and the first reliever failed to record an out, the Canes were forced to bring their ace on in relief. Kirby inherited a bases loaded, one out jam with the Canes lead dwindled down to just a run. Kirby struck out back-to-back hitters to get out of the inning with the lead intact. Kirby then continued to make the slim lead stand up the rest of the way, nailing down a high-pressure 3 2/3 inning save. All told, Kirby allowed just one hit and two walks, while piling up a ridiculous 10 strikeouts in one of the most clutch performances on the mound of the tournament. His impressive stuff was surpassed only by his ability to execute big pitch after big pitch.
Puk steps up- AJ Puk, a baby faced southpaw has made tremendous strides this season. As detailed here Puk's velocity has jumped from 83 mph in the PG Iowa Spring League all the way up to 89 at the WWBA Underclass World Championship. But Puk wasn't finished after a strong showing at the Underclass, with an invite to play on the Reds Midwest Scout Team as a 2013 grad, Puk arrived in Jupiter looking to hold his own against older elite-level competition. Puk didn't seem the least bit intimidated by the competition, instead he was the intimidator. Puk nailed down a three inning save in his first appearance, preserving a 3-2 lead, allowing one hit and one walk, while striking out four. In the Reds' playoff opener they had their hands full with a talented Team Mizuno of Puerto Rico. After starter Brent Stong began to tire at the end of his second quality start of the tournament, the Reds turned to Puk in the sixth. The young lefty responded with five punchouts to notch his second save in as many chances. But Puk was at his best in the semifinals against Marucci Elite. Entering the one run game in the seventh, Puk inherited a bases loaded no-out jam and responded by striking out three high level hitters in order to hold the defecit in place. Puk then earned a nine pitch walk in the bottom of the inning before the Reds rally fell short. In all Puk threw six shutout innings, allowing two hits and two walks, striking out 12 and established himself as the go-to arm out of the bullpen for a final four team.
Bregman-McKinney battle- PG All-American MIF/C Alex Bregman has earned a reputation for his advanced plate approach, exceptional pitch recognition and being one of the toughest outs in the country. One Video Coordinator from an MLB organization mentioned that "Bregman's at bats take so long that your arm gets tired." Bregman's FTB Mizuno/Cardinals Scout Team ran into FTB's other team, Central Florida PG Royal, in the playoff quarterfinals. Central Florida had an ace up their sleeve for that matchup, in 2013 LHP Ian McKinney. McKinney showed exceptional command of three pitches during the WWBA Underclass World Championship a couple of weeks before Jupiter, and was equally as sharp navigating the dangerous FTB Mizuno lineup. The McKinney-Bregman showdowns lived up to expectations, with the two squaring off twice. In the first matchup McKinney got the best of Bregman with a four pitch strikeout. Bregman came to the plate the second time knowing what type of pitcher he was dealing with. The chess match went back and forth for eight pitches. Bregman did what he could to disrupt McKinney, calling time on him and fouling off several quality pitches. McKinney worked both sides of the plate, with four pitches down and away, two down and in and elevated the other two. On 2-2 McKinney made a tough pitch, with a tailing fastball at 89 mph just off the outside corner. Most hitters would have chased for strike three, but Bregman was taking the whole way, moving the count full. The showdown came to an end three pitches later when McKinney left a breaking ball a few inches wide of the backdoor corner. To the casual observer it was a long uneventful plate appearance, but to those who appreciate what they witnessed, it was an epic struggle between two exceptionally skilled combatants.
Brakeman knocks off Canes- Marucci Elite's title run was an exciting ride. They pulled out a pair of one-run games on the final day of the tournament, surviving the Reds Midwest Scout Team in the semifinals and Central Florida PG Royal in the title game. But it was the night before when they pulled out what was arguably the most exciting game of a great playoffs in the quarterfinals against Canes Baseball. Marucci RHP Marcus Brakeman hit the first batter of the game, before settling in to mow through the Canes lineup for six innings. Brakeman took a no-hitter into the top of the seventh inning, looking to make Marucci's 1-0 lead stand up the entire way. Brakeman won a five pitch battle with cleanup hitter Xavier Turner to lead off the inning before a two base error on a ground ball in the next at bat put a runner in scoring position with one down. After a fly out to left Brakeman was one out away from a playoff no-hitter. Talented 2013 OF Joseph Jae Roberts stepped in and broke it up with a line drive the opposite way to right, evening the score at 1-1. Brakeman got the final out of the inning and then Oscar Mercado drove in a run in the bottom of the seventh to make a winner out of Brakeman and keep the eventual champs on their title run. Brakeman threw 64.4% strikes, topping out at 91 with a quality 80 mph changeup and a mid 70s curveball.
Foody returns- The feel-good story of the tournament was Max Foody's return to the mound. The 6-foot-4, 195 pound lefty last pitched at a PG event in 2009 at the WWBA World Championship when he topped out at 89 mph as a sophomore. Foody was one of the highest ranked pitchers in the class of 2012 at the time. That spring he suffered a torn labrum in his pitching shoulder, a serious injury that is often career ending. Foody continued to play 1B and DH over the next year and a half before finally working himself all the way back to the mound this fall. Foody threw three shutout innings of relief, holding he Northwest Scout Team to just one hit (two walks) while striking out five. Foody sat 87-90 with his fastball, reaching as high as 92 mph. It was a very encouraging sign for Foody, and though he did look rusty in some ways, he is undeniably talented, and most importantly, healthy again.
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