The 2008 Aflac All-American game was played last Saturday, and once again another summer all-star game has come and gone with the pitching dominating the event.
Before I break down some of the more intriguing players, the best of the best if you will, I just wanted to note how impressed I was with the overall play of the game. The pitching overall looked very good, not just the velocity readings but the actual tempo of the game, as well as the defense. The pitching was so good that I think the hardest hit ball was a foul ball hit by Scooter Gennett in the late innings.
The game itself was won in the final frame, just like it was last year, and even then losing pitcher Slade Heathcott didn’t pitch all that poorly, and he definitely wasn’t hit hard, but after allowing a few baserunners to get on he seemed to have lost his composure and his problems just compounded from there.
In my opinion, there were five players that really stood out, showing a combination of exciting tools and athleticism and uncanny polish.
Jacob Turner started for the West team and was the only pitcher to toss more than an inning. This helped him, as it allowed him to pace himself instead of throwing as hard as he could, and Turner is the type of pitcher that appears to be better off going five or more innings than he would be pitching in short stints.
He reminded me a lot of Tim Melville, the starting pitcher for the West team a year ago, in that he has a big, athletic frame and a cool, confident manner about him. He pounds the strike zone with a very impressive repertoire, which includes a low-90s fastball, a sharp mid-70s curve and a really nifty changeup. He commands all of his pitches very well, working off of the success of his fastball.
Turner struck out the side in the first inning after opening the game with a hit batsman and a walk. He struck out two more batters in the second inning. This was my second opportunity watching Turner pitch, having seen him perform at the Perfect Game Indoor Showcase in February. I remember how many people commented on his smooth, effortless delivery and easy heat back then, and that definitely was shown again on this day.
A pair of lefties that also pitched for the West squad, Tyler Matzek and Matthew Purke, followed one another in the fourth and fifth innings, and both showed impressive, electric stuff, quickly working through their innings.
Matzek showed a really nice delivery and quick arm. His first pitch record 91 and topped out as high as 93. As good as his fastball is, his mid-70s curveball may be his best pitch. He pitched aggressively, showing the approach of a true power pitcher, allowing him to quickly carve up the East lineup in the fourth.
While Matzek and Purke are both projectable lefties with very good stuff and the mindset of a power pitcher, they really are two different pitchers. While Matzek’s delivery is more traditional and compact, Purke employs a low-three quarters delivery and a lightning quick arm that easily producing low-to-mid-90s fastballs. The ball explodes out of his hand, and as soon as he has opposing hitters thinking fastballs, he uncorks a nasty slider that is nearly impossible to hit.
With long and lean proportions, he reminds me quite a bit of Cole Hamels. Like Hamels, he also throws a nice-looking changeup. He delivery is so easy and he has a quiet yet confident, well-mannered demeanor.
A prep draft class hasn’t seen two lefties this good since 2002 when both Scott Kazmir and Adam Loewen had the potential to go first overall.
Shifting my attention to the East squad, it wasn’t as easy to get a sense of what two-way star Mychal Givens is capable of since he used only two pitches to record two outs. While you didn’t get a sense for his whole body of work on the mound, those two pitches recorded readings of 96 and 98, so you know this young man can throw hard, possessing the best fastball in regards to velocity of all of the Aflac All-Americans in attendance.
And he may not even be drafted as a pitcher, as Givens in an extremely athletic and gifted player that also stars as a shortstop. During the game he showed nice range, quick hands and of course his strong arm. His speed and power potential makes him a true yet rare five-tool shortstop, something this game has seen quite a few of including the likes of first overall draft picks such as Matt Bush, Justin Upton and Tim Beckham. Aside from reaching base to open the game after getting hit by Jacob Turner, Givens didn’t do much at the plate, but regardless of the unimpressive box score, his talent is obvious.
No player on the field looked the part of a big-leaguer as much as Donovan Tate did. With a perfectly proportioned, muscular frame, Tate has a tool package that will have him being discussed as a potential top three to five overall pick for next year’s draft.
His bat speed and power potential are legitimate, and he runs extremely well for his size. His stature and overall potential is very similar to that of Cameron Maybin’s, who participated at this event four years ago and drew similar rave reviews.
There will quite a few other players that stood out at the Aflac game, but these five are the ones that have the talent to be future perennial stars and the polish to reach their potential more quickly.
The radar readings overall were impressive throughout the game, as few pitches tossed their fastballs below 90, and as I noted above, I was impressed by how well all of the pitchers threw all of their pitches for strikes. So many times at events like these you often see control sacrificed for velocity in an attempt to put up gaudy numbers given the number of scouts in attendance.
Right-hander Zach Wheeler started the game opposite Jacob Turner for the East. With a tall and perfectly projectable delivery, Wheeler had no problems reaching the mid-90s, pitching consistently in the 93-95 range. He has a big, slow delivery followed by a very quick arm action that creates a fair amount of deception. He also threw a nasty slider giving him two power pitches.
With a strong lower body and the opportunity to add strength in his upper half, Wheeler looks like a future workhorse. He appeared to be overthrowing a little in this game, but that is to be expected, and it didn’t seem to effect his ability to get batters out.
Keyvius Sampson followed Wheeler, and was on my short list to join the Fab Five just above. The talent is definitely there, but he does need some polish, and I really liked how lively his arm was. The ball explodes out of his hand and I would not be surprised to see this young pitch in the 94-97 range with more regularity within the next year. For now he was 93-94 while making it look like he was playing catch while also throwing a nice, slow curveball. I didn’t see him throw a changeup on this day, but the difference in velocities between his two power pitches makes him that much more difficult to hit.
Christopher Jenkins was up next, a tall, skyscraper righty that has really good stuff but definitely has some work to do with his mechanics. There is a slight head snap in his delivery, and given his height and long limbs he has a lot of moving parts. The ball explodes out of his hand and his fastball sat in the 91-94 range. He threw mostly fastballs, but showed a nice slider as well.
The impressive arms kept coming as righty Daniel Tuttle took the mound in the fourth. He had a big leg kick despite not being built as tall and lanky as Jenkins, but created a fair amount of deception while tossing a nice 93-94 fastball that also had impressive late sinking movement. His slider was an equally impressive pitch, he pounds the strikes zone and despite the high leg kick he has a nice, quick arm action from a low three-quarters delivery. Tuttle worked quickly with somewhat of an exaggerated delivery that created some deception.
His body type makes him look more like an infielder, and his stuff and overall polish reminded me of when Buster Posey took the mound at this same event back in 2004.
Ethan Carter didn’t put up the best radar readings (90 mph fastball), but he showed one of the better overall repertoires of those in attendance. His slurvy breaking ball sat in the 77-80 range and he clearly has mastered this pitch by his ability to throw it for strikes and to use it to make batters look foolish when he’s ahead in the count.
He is built long and lean with a high waist and a strong lower half. His projectable frame leads me to believe that more velocity could emerge as he matures, and his current polish and overall repertoire could allow Carter to soar once that happens.
Shifting back to the West team, two-way talent Brook Pounders pitched the third inning after Turner and before Matzek. With a huge, hulking frame, Pounders reminded me of B.J. Hermsen, who was an Aflac All-American a year ago.
With a fearless approach and intimidating presence on the mound, Pounders aptly pounded the strike zone with 93-94 mph fastballs that showed very good late movement. He also snapped off a few sharp 75-77 curveballs. With a fast and somewhat violent delivery, he appeared to be overthrowing at first before he found his rhythm. Pounders is also an exciting power prospect as a hitter, making it difficult for scouts to try and determine where they think his future is the brightest.
Scott Griggs pitched the seventh inning for the West, and was a similar pitcher to the East’s Daniel Tuttle, in that he commanded the strike zone well and had really nice movement on a polished arsenal.
His fastball sat in the 93-95 range and had some nice sink to it. His best pitch is a very sharp 75-77 curveball that he snaps off consistently and effortlessly. He also mixed in a changeup that didn’t do much, but he also didn’t throw more than one or two of them, since he didn’t have to pitching only an inning of work.
The pitcher that was the biggest pleasant surprise (if that is possible watching the finest collection of talent from around the nation) on the day was right-hander Matt Graham who worked the eighth inning for the West.
First of all Graham looks like he’s already 25 years old. He has a strong build and a muscular lower half. Employing a short-arm delivery that creates some deception, his fastball topped out at 94 with movement. He also threw a sharp curve and really did a good job changing speeds and commanding the strike zone.
Again, I’m not going to take the time to break down every pitcher, as they all looked good, but the ones profiled above are the ones that stood out the most to me.
In a recurring theme similar to past events, I wasn’t able to get as good of a look at the bats that were in attendance. I already covered Mychal Givens and Donovan Tate above, but there were a few others that you got a good sense of their tools despite not seeing too many hits, or even hard-hit balls, throughout the game.
Third baseman Matt Davidson could very well be the best hitter of the class. He won the home run derby and has very good bat speed and power potential, and he also seems to exhibit good pitch recognition and very good hand-eye coordination. He made some nice plays at third base, showing an strong-average arm strength.
Outfielder Brian Goodwin won the game’s MVP award by hitting a two-run single in the ninth inning that put the East team ahead. He added another single up the middle, showing a very good approach in all of his at-bats, employing an inside-out swing that is perfect for his tool-set. He doesn’t appear to have much power, but he does appear to have very good speed, getting out of the box and down the line to first base very quickly. He reminded me of a left-handed hitting version of Andrew McCutchen, who starred at this event with a four-hit performance four years ago.
Scooter Gennett is a good looking left-handed hitting middle infielder. He probably will be best suited at second base, which will probably evoke some comparisons to Nick Noonan which will then draw unfair comparisons to Chase Utley. Gennett is a true, hard-nosed ball-player that shows very good bat speed and intriguing power potential despite a smallish frame. He makes the most out of his athleticism, and doesn’t appear to ever get cheated at the plate.
Austin Maddox looked good as a pitcher, a hitter and as a catcher. I had heard quite a bit about his arm strength and he did not disappoint. I think at some point in time he is going to have to choose between catching or pitching so he can focus on one craft or the other, because at this point in time he seems to be more of a raw talent.
Overall, all of the catchers looked very good. The one that came in seemingly with the most hype, Max Stassi, probably impressed me the least defensively, but again it wasn’t like I had the greatest opportunity to see him perform. I did like his approach at the plate, while Michael Zunino and Andrew Susac were both very active, athletic backstops.
The West squad had a pair of big, hulking left-handed sluggers hitting back-to-back in the starting lineup in Jonathan Walsh and Jonathan Singleton. Walsh looked as though he was the better pure hitter of the two with a good eye and overall approach, while Singleton is a big, barrel-chested slugger whose stance reminded me of Jason Heyward’s from two years ago. Singleton doesn’t have Heyward’s overall tool-set, but his power potential is evident.
Everett Williams and Kyrell Hudson didn’t do much in the game, but you definitely can see why they were in attendance. They were definitely two of the better overall athletes at the game. Williams is a left-handed hitter that showed a really nice approach despite not having anything to show for it, while Hudson showed very good bat speed and foot speed, making him a dynamic player to keep an eye on.
I would like to congratulate everyone that participated, as it is always a pleasure to watch the talent that is annually collected at the Aflac All-American game. While that talent and the game itself continues to get bigger and better, it is also important to remember the first overall goal of the event is to continue to try and find a cure for pediatric cancer.
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.