Showcase | Story | 6/17/2016

Top guys bridge coastal divide

Jeff Dahn         Matt Czechanski         Jheremy Brown        
Photo: Joy Absalon

Also see: Conner Uselton feature

FORT MYERS, Fla. – The No. 1-ranked national high school prospect in the class of 2017 is an East Coast kid from Davie, Fla., a young man who celebrated his 17th birthday on Jan. 26, carries a 4.26 grade-point average and decided to stay close to home by committing to the University of Miami and its nationally renowned Atlantic Coast Conference baseball program.

The No. 8-ranked national high school prospect in the class of 2017 is West Coast guy from the Los Angeles County city of Covina, Calif., who turned 17 on April 26, maintains a 3.85 GPA and decided to head to Nashville, Tenn., where he will matriculate at Vanderbilt University and join its nationally renowned Southeastern Conference baseball program.

No. 1 Alejandro Toral from Florida and No. 8 Jayson Gonzalez from California obviously have a lot in common, with a love and passion for the game of baseball their most prominent shared trait.

On Thursday, the two rising seniors at prominent Catholic high schools sitting 2,700 miles apart – Toral at Archbishop McCarthy High School in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., and Gonzalez at Bishop Amat High School in La Puente, Calf. – were brought together on the field at jetBlue Park to take part in the 16th annual Perfect Game National Showcase, a true melting pot of prep talent from most of the 50 states, Puerto Rico, Venezuela and the Dominican Republic.

There may be an undercurrent of an East Coast-West Coast rivalry, but the rivalry is nonexistent between a pair of players that are at the PG National as the top prospects representing the states of Florida and California. There is absolutely no trash-talking between the East and West coasters, just an overwhelming sense of mutual respect.

“That’s definitely a big part of this event,” Toral said Friday. “You get to make friends from across the country that you don’t really get to talk to every day, but you get to see them here. When you get to see them here you can pick up some little things about their game that can make you better, and you can make good friendships that you’re never going to lose in the future.”

Gonzalez took a look around jetBlue and didn’t categorize any of the players by state or region. Instead, he looked around and saw only one intriguing species in attendance: baseball player.

“I’ve played with some of these guys in the past at USA (Baseball) events and I’ve played against them at tournaments,” he said Friday. “It’s a great experience meeting up with them again and talking the game with them, and trying to pick out the little things that they do right that I can use to improve my game. That’s one of the things I try to do when I play against this competition.”

Toral is a 6-foot-2, 220-pound first baseman and outfielder who both hits and throws from the left side. He has been top-ranked in the 2017 class since September 2015 and looks at that ranking as something that needs to be defended.

“The rankings are a big thing for a lot of people but for me it’s just sort of like, ‘They have you there, you’re among the best,’ which is something great to have,” Toral said. “At the same time, you can only go down from number-one, and that sort of motivates you to work your hardest to stay there because you know there’s no place higher to climb. You’ve got to maintain that spot and you’ve got to wake up in the morning and go out and work your tail off to stay there.”

Jayson Gonzalez (Joy Absalon)
Due in large part to the proximity he enjoys with dozens of fields PG uses in Fort Myers and in the north Atlanta suburbs, Toral has attended 34 PG events since 2013, including dozens of PG WWBA and PG BCS Finals tournaments with Richie Palmer and Alan Kunkel from the Pembroke Pines, Fla.-based Elite Squad Baseball organization (in his early years he also played with Mervyl Melendez and MBA Pride Elite).

He made appearances at both the 2014 and 2015 PG Junior National Showcase right here at jetBlue and was named to the Top Prospect List each time. After taking part in his workout and batting practice session Thursday, Toral said he felt right at home at the PG National.

“It’s sort of the same thing as the Junior National in that it’s obviously the best Perfect Game (showcase) event of the summer,” he said. “You get to play with the best baseball players from around the country, and you always seem to get the matchup where it’s the best pitchers against the best hitters in the country. That’s definitely something that we’re blessed to have here at this event and I just feel very fortunate to be here.”

His batting practice session was one of the best of the week, according to at least one PG national scouting director in attendance. The scouting report read:

BP at Fenway South can turn into a Home Run Derby, especially for right handed hitters, but it's nice to see someone like Alejandro Toral turn in such a professional BP, lining 380 foot rockets from gap to gap and only leaning and lifting a couple.  He's the No. 1-ranked player in the 2017 class for a reason.

Getting back to this whole East Coast-West Coast thing, Toral refused to offer a single discouraging word: “Seeing the West Coast competition is something that can help everybody out here on the East Coast,” he said. “You can just see that it’s not just the East Coast that has the great competition, but California and Texas and other states have a lot of big power arms and bats.

“You can definitely learn from them and they can also motivate you when you see there are a lot of other people out there striving to be the best.”

Gonzalez, a middle-infielder, sports a very similar build to Toral, standing 6-foot-2 and wearing 205-pounds. The National is his 13th PG event and he’s been named to the Top Prospect List at three prominent West Coast showcase events: the 2014 PG West Coast Top Prospect, 2014 PG California Underclass and the 2015 PG Underclass All-American Games.

The Underclass All-American Games showcase is a national event as opposed to regional one and Gonzalez was also at the 2014 PG WWBA World Championship in Jupiter, Fla., with the SGV Arsenal (Toral was also in Jupiter that year playing with South Florida PG Navy), but this is without question his biggest showcase stage.

The majority of the roster spots for the West Team at this year’s PG All-American Classic in San Diego will be filled during the PG National’s six day run (it concludes Monday), a fact not lost on the kid from Southern California. He said being invited to the Classic would be both a “blessing” and a “humbling experience.”

“There is a little bit of pressure playing with the best kids in the country and all of them trying to live out the dream of making the PG (All-American) team and, obviously, trying to make it to the big leagues,” Gonzalez said. “There are a lot of scouts here who have their stop watches out, have their radar guns out, and there’s definitely some nerves there a little bit.”

Gonzalez also shared some thoughts on the whole East Coast-West Coast “rivalry” and, like Toral, expressed nothing but respect, noting there are too many similarities to nitpick. And when he speaks, you get the feeling he’s talking about Toral.

“There are some different styles, but they also go about the game the right way,” Gonzalez said of his eastern counterparts. “They hustle every ball out, they make every play, they hit the ball hard; they do everything right. That’s one of the things that I like, because they really do play the game the right way.”

Then he hesitated and gave a quick assessment of “California-style” baseball: “We’re hard-nosed players and some of the hardest working players in the country. I really think that’s one of the styles that goes with California baseball is a strong work ethic.”

National Showcase Day 3 Standouts

Here are a few of the players that stood out on Day 3 of the 2016 PG National Showcase. To view the workout results and read more about the participating players in the scout blogs please click on the links supplied below.

Workout Results | Scout Blogs | Day 1 Standouts | Day 2 Standouts

Terriez Fuller showed possibly the most raw power of any player during batting practice that grades out as an easy plus tool. The bat speed and strength from his 6-foot-4, 240-pound frame stand out easily, but there were reservations on how it would play in game. He answered some of those concerns in the early game today by staying back on a curveball in a left-on-left matchup to drive the ball 101 mph off the bat for a triple down the right-field line.

The mid-afternoon turned night matchup had several promising arms on display, with one being Florida State commit Tyler Ahearn. He worked from a longer arm action and high three-quarters slot with good arm speed and a fastball that he was able to spot up on both sides of the plate. It worked consistently 90-93 mph in his outing with some arm-side wiggle. He also showed a tight-spinning changeup for strikes and mixed in a developing changeup.

Another big-time righthanded arm was USC commit and SoCal native, Kyle Hurt. Hurt certainly looks the part at 6-foot-4, 205-pounds with really good present strength and a starter’s build. He showed plenty of arm speed on the mound from a three-quarters slot. That arm speed was even more impressive given the minimal extension, short stride and limited lower half used as part of his delivery. His fastball showed heavy action and angle sitting at 90-93 mph and generated swings and misses. Hurt also showed a very impressive curveball that showed some slurvy action, but looked better when he stayed on top of it. He also mixed in a changeup with depth and replicated the arm speed well at 79 mph with late tumble low in the zone.

Another impressive SoCal arm was UCLA commit Jeremiah Estrada. Estrada missed a lot of barrels eliciting weaker contact with a full, extended arm action and fluid release. He’s very athletic, with a lean frame and projection remaining to add strength with good extension down the mound. His fastball showed slight cut at 89-92 mph, touching 93, and worked well around the zone. Estrada worked a pair of breaking balls with a slider at 79 mph showing more consistent tilt.

On a day filled with a ton of noteworthy pitching performances, a pair of highly projectable lefthanders deserve attention as well. Sam Weatherly, a Clemson commit from Michigan, projects well as a two-way prospect at the next level but his highest upside may be on the mound. With a highly athletic build and lots of projection remaining, Weatherly worked in the 87-90 mph range with very good angle to the plate, highlighted by excellent extension through his release and above average arm speed. He showed good feel to spin the ball as well and mixed in a quality changeup with some fading action.

Later in the day fellow lefty Jake Eder took the mound and delivered a high-end performance that checked a ton of boxes for evaluators. With an ideal frame and build consisting of length, strength, and looseness, Eder looks the part physically right now and projects for more. He worked 88-91 mph with his fastball from a clean, loose arm action with plus arm speed, generating big-time angle to the plate and flashing the ability to get to both sides of the plate with the pitch. He generates huge extension out front, allowing the effective velocity of his fastball to play a couple ticks harder than his raw velocity.

The current No. 1 player in the 2017 class, first baseman Alejandro Toral, is in the top spot almost entirely on the strength of his lefthanded bat, which projects to be extremely advanced both in terms of average and power at any level. However, he's also a very good defensive first baseman, something that is often overlooked. He moves well for his size and has quality feet, and his hands are very soft, which allows him to impact the game on the defensive end. Later in the game – so as to remind everyone of his offensive talent – he drilled a hard liner at 101 mph off the bat, though he managed to hit it directly at the defender for a loud out. His combination of feel to hit, bat speed, strength and raw power are the best of anyone in the class, and he projects to be an impact bat at the professional level.

Brand spankin' new Auburn commit Tanner Burns had an extremely impressive outing on the mound, with impressive arm speed and looseness that generated quality plane to the plate. His fastball worked at 92-95 mph over both innings, with plane and command to both sides of the plate, really jumping out of his hand with ease and explosion. He also showcased a very sharp, swing-and-miss curveball in the low-80s with big-time spin and break, projecting as a plus bat-missing pitch at the next level.

One of the best catchers in the class, M.J. Melendez, was his usual stalwart defensive self behind the plate today, not doing anything particularly loud but being incredibly impressive nonetheless with his defensive prowess. He had no issues receiving and framing up low- to mid-90s heat from several pitchers, moving extremely well side to side to block errant breaking balls, and showing the kind of quick-twitch athleticism not often seen in a catching prospect. He's ranked highly in the class of 2017, and if you watch him play defense it's very easy to see why.

In terms of strikeouts and missing bats with a fastball, no arm has does either better at this year’s National than Florida commit and 2017 lefthander Jordan Butler. While he may not have thrown as hard as other pitchers he didn’t have to and yet he still touched 91 mph. He works comfortably from a lower three-quarters arm slot making for an uncomfortable at-bat as Butler is able to sink the ball and spot to either side. The 6-foot-2 Butler recorded all six of his outs via the strikeout on Friday, several of which came by way of swings and misses on his heater.

It’s easy to see why lefthander D.L. Hall is currently ranked within the top 10 prospects of the class as he checks several of the boxes scouts look for; he’s big, athletic, lefthanded, and shows present velocity along with a solid breaking ball. Though his outing was cut short due to Fort Myers’ weather, the Florida State commit was still able to run his fastball up to 95 mph with angle and flashed a hard curveball in the mid-70s with power bite.

Nicholas Storz nearly got a standing ovation from those watching his batting practice round Thursday night despite being listed as a primary righthanded pitcher. On Friday he did his thing on the mound where he continues to refine his craft with nearly every look we at Perfect Game get. Physically gifted at 6-foot-6, 245-pounds, Storz showed his best velocity yet running his fastball up to 94 mph, though it was the progression of his slider that was even more impressive. He’s now throwing the pitch with better arm speed and more conviction, two attributes that helped the Louisiana State commit spin it at 78 mph with tilting plane.

Speaking of the Bayou Bengals fellow LSU commit Tanner Allen picked up right where he left off after Thursday night’s loud round of batting practice. His hands are lightning quick and he showed them in live action Friday as he spun on an inner half fastball and roped it down the line, jumping off the barrel at 79 mph.

Everything that came out of Brandon McCabe’s right hand on Friday was powerful. With a full arm action with which he works to an over-the-top slot, McCabe regularly ran his fastball up to 95 mph and missed bats with the pitch when on top and generating powerful plane. On top of the big velocity the Miami commit also flashed arguably the best breaking ball of the day, a big 12-to-6 downer with hard bite and bat-missing ability.

In case having one highly touted two-way player in the class wasn’t enough (Hunter Greene), there appears to be another with tools just as loud and it’s Louisville commit Jordon Adell. After running a 6.19 60-yard dash time, throwing 97 mph from the outfield and putting on a loud round of batting practice, Adell worked a quick 1-2-3 inning on the mound. Once on the bump Adell pounded the zone with fastballs in the 93-94 mph range showing plus arm speed and severe downhill plane while completing the pitch with a big downer curveball up to 81 mph.

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