Photo: Perfect Game

Malcom eyes return trip to SD

Jeff Dahn

Published: Monday, July 31, 2017



FORT MYERS, Fla. – Last Aug. 15 dawned as a beautiful Monday morning on the University of San Diego campus, and top 2018 Michigan prep prospect John Malcom couldn’t wait to get the day started at the 2016 Perfect Game Underclass All-American Games showcase. But for a brief moment, he allowed himself to think back to what he had witnessed about 12 hours earlier.

Malcom had spent the previous evening sitting in the stands at Petco Park in downtown San Diego as a spectator at the 2016 Perfect Game All-American Classic. It wasn't the prettiest Classic ever staged with the West Team posting a 13-0 victory for the over the error-prone East, but the play on the field did nothing to dampen Malcom's enthusiasm for the event.

“I absolutely loved it,” he told PG that sunny Monday morning. “It was my first time actually seeing (the PGAAC) live, and just seeing the players and how much fun they were having, it was a great experience. It is definitely my goal to play in that game next year.”

“Next year” has arrived and Malcom took care of all his necessary business over the past 11 months – which is to say he performed at a very high level – to make sure that goal was reached. In a little less than two weeks, the highly ranked and regarded prospect from West Bloomfield Township, Mich., will walk out onto the field at Petco Park as a proud member of this year’s East Team at the 15th annual Perfect Game All-American Classic.

It’s been quite a ride for the 6-foot-4, 210-pound Malcom, a Vanderbilt commit PG ranks as the No. 41 overall national prospect in the 2018 graduating class, and the No. 1-ranked first baseman. He is slotted in as Michigan’s No. 2-ranked overall prospect, one notch behind fellow PG All-American and overall No. 39-ranked Bryce Bush out of Birmingham; Bush will be suited-up for the West Team.

And don’t make the mistake of pigeon-holing Malcom as one of those prospects from the north that has never been tested or never been challenged only because he calls the state of Michigan home. This is a kid who can be forgiven -- based on his playing experiences -- if he also considers himself an honorary Georgian.

Malcom has played for the last two years with Winder, Ga.-based Team Elite Baseball, and 13 of his Team Elite 17u Prime teammates this summer attend Georgia high schools. Nine roster spots on the East Team at the PG A-A Classic are also filled with top prep prospects from the Peach State.

And there is duplication, to be sure: East All-Americans Will Banfield (Lawrenceville), Ethan Hankins (Cumming), Parker Meadows (Grayson) and Kumar Rocker (Watkinsville) all wore Team Elite 17u Prime uniforms alongside Malcom this summer and, as a team, tasted their share of success.

The Elite 17u Prime finished 7-1-0 after a loss in the quarterfinal-round of the playoffs at the 17u PG WWBA National Championship and wound-up 8-2-0 after a loss in the championship game at the 17u PG BCS National Championship.

Banfield, Hankins and Rocker were also on the Team Elite squad that finished 6-2-0 and runner-up at last year’s PG WWBA World Championship in Jupiter, Fla.; Hankins was the co-Most Valuable Pitcher. Malcom was also in Jupiter last year but played with TPL National out of Biloxi, Miss. (Meadows was there with the underclass Team Elite Nation).

“With so many of my teammates playing in Georgia and with me playing in Michigan, we always trade thoughts about different playing styles and different ways of (approaching) the game,” Malcom told PG while at the 17u BCS earlier this month.

He said he’s close with everyone on the Team Elite roster but especially his teammates that have also committed to Vanderbilt. They include Banfield, Hankins, Rocker, Ryder Green (Knoxville, Tenn.), Chance Huff (Niceville, Fla.), Ethan Smith (Mount Juliet, Tenn.) and Makenzie Stills (Fayetteville, Ga).

“We’re all kind of just a group of brothers and we all just go about our business every day; we’re a pretty close group,” Malcom said while playing at the 17u PG BCS National Championship held here earlier this month before adding how much it has meant to him to be part of the Team Elite program.

“It’s definitely helped me as far as my (college) recruiting and becoming a Perfect Game All-American and everything,” he continued. “I wouldn’t have had a lot of the opportunities that I’ve had without being on this team; I love playing with Team Elite. I wouldn’t have had a lot of the opportunities that I’ve had without being on this team; I love playing with Team Elite.”

It is Team Elite owner/general manager/field manager Brad Bouras that put this collection of top talent together on the same roster, and he knows Malcom is a worthy member.

“John has been a real pleasure to coach,” he said at the 17u PG BCS. “He’s shown a great work ethic, continuously working hard to try to improve on his game. He’s really showing a lot of versatility in his overall game as far as being able to hit to all fields; play different positions. I feel like he’s a player who just continues to get better and better and better every day.

“From last year to this year, he’s made a big jump and he seems to understand his game … and he understands what he needs to focus on to make his game be the best that it can be; he’s matured a lot.”

The All-American Classic will be the 20th PG event at which Malcom has participated and he’s taken something positive away from each one. Among the highlights, he was named to the all-tournament team at the 2016 17u PG WWBA National Championship playing with the Team Elite 16’s Prime, and won the Home Run Challenge at the 2013 13u PG BCS Finals while playing with Team Mizuno.

He has also been included on the elite Top Prospect List at four PG showcase events: the 2014 PG National Underclass Showcase-Main Event; the aforementioned 2016 PG Underclass All-American Games; the 2017 PG Great Lakes Indoor Showcase, and the 2017 PG National Showcase – big stages, all.

“At each showcase, I try to work on something different,” Malcom said. “I like to use them as building blocks to get better, so at one showcase I’ll work on showing scouts my power and then I’ll try to show the scouts my speed and my arm strength. I use those to get better and better, and to make sure that I’m on the right path.”

Although Malcom calls the upper-middle class Detroit suburb of West Bloomfield Township home, he attends Detroit Country Day School in nearby Beverly Hills, Mich., a prestigious academic school with a short but already storied athletic history.

Its boys’ and girls’ athletic programs have won more than 100 Michigan state championships in 19 sports since 1971, claiming titles in such divergent pursuits as the traditional baseball, basketball and football to the non-traditional coed mountain biking and coed sailing.

The boys’ basketball program has won nine state championships since 1989 (most recently in 2013) and the Detroit Country Day School baseball program is also on the rise, even if its only state championship was claimed more than 20 years ago in 1995.

The school recently installed an on-campus, all-turf playing field and the Yellowjackets finished 24-9 this past spring after a loss in a Michigan Division 2 regional final. “It’s been really cool just watching the program grow,” Malcom said.

Perhaps because the state of Michigan, in general, and the Detroit Metro area, in particular, is so basketball-crazy, it is toward that sport Malcom initially gravitated. He was good at it, too, and as a youngster just felt like hoops would offer him the most promising opportunities.

But he had always played baseball, too, and at some point he fell head-over-heel in love with the game. He began directing all of his energy toward becoming the best he could be out on the diamond instead of on the hardwood, and considering he has reached high school baseball’s mountain top by being invited to the PG All-American Classic – 141 PGAAC alumni had made their MLB debuts as of last this week – it certainly appears to have been a wise career move.

Malcom once played alongside 2015 PG All-American and fellow Michigander Karl Kauffmann – now playing at the University of Michigan – and he once asked Kauffmann what it was like being a part of the PG All-American Classic four-day weekend.

The older prospect told the younger one that there was no way he would be able to adequately describe everything that goes on at the event – it’s simply something each participant needs to experience for himself. And experience it, Malcom will, drinking everything in at every opportunity.

A major component of the entire PG All-American Classic experience is raising money for San Diego’s Rady Children’s Hospital’s pediatric cancer treatment and research wing, an effort that also includes a Friday afternoon visit to the medical center by the players.

Perfect Game donates all proceeds from the game – and an additional amount, as well – to what PG President Jerry Ford refers to as “The Cause” and for the past several years the players themselves have become involved with their own fund-raising efforts; the total raised will surpass $1 million this year.

It is an endeavor that Malcom finds both intriguing and gratifying, and not just because he’s never been involved in anything like it before. That’s because his mother, Dr. Latisha Malcom, is a medicine/pediatrics physician in Detroit, and is affiliated with Sanai-Grace Hospital.

“You’d think I would have done something like that before because my mom’s a doctor but, no, I haven’t,” Malcom said. “It’s definitely something that I’m looking forward to and I definitely want to see that side of everything.”

Even before watching the 2016 Classic in person, Malcom had been watching it on television for as long as he can remember; it is something he thinks every aspiring young ballplayer should have on their bucket list. It was something that as a youngster he dreamed about one day being involved with but admits there were occasions when he wasn’t sure he was going realize that dream.

He called it almost “surreal” when he heard his named called during the PG All-American Classic Selection Show earlier this month, but once it sunk in he was able to sit back and be both thankful and appreciative that all of his hard work had paid-off. Just like he had hoped it would last year when he was out on the field at USD.

“There is always something that I’m working on and I think I’m improving every day,” Malcom said. “I think my first Perfect Game event was when I was 13 years old, and I’ve came a long way since the beginning; it’s been a good journey.”

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