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Showcase | Story | 4/29/2018

Harris on top at Spring Top

Jeff Dahn        
Photo: Calvin Harris (Perfect Game)

CEDAR RAPIDS, Iowa – The inaugural Perfect Game 14u Select Baseball Festival played on Sept. 4, 2016, at jetBlue Park in Fort Myers, Fla., shined a spotlight on many of the best young prospects from the national high school graduating class of 2020.

Florida’s Victor Mederos was there, as was Dylan Crews (Florida), Mick Abel (Oregon), Nate Wohlgemuth (Oklahoma), Liam Norris (North Carolina) and Jackson Phipps (Georgia), all prospects who remain ranked in the top-10 overall in the 2020 class.

The all-star game was played with the West topping the East, 3-1. It was a game dominated by the combined 17 pitchers who took their turns on the mound, but it was some timely hitting by a kid from Northeast Iowa that made the difference.

Calvin Harris from Peosta, who is finishing up his sophomore year at Western Dubuque High School in Dubuque County, sliced a two-out, two-run single in the bottom of the second inning to give the West a 2-0 lead, and that was all it would need. Harris, a catcher from small-town Iowa surrounded by elite prospects from the country’s warm-weather states, was named the game’s Most Valuable Player.

“To see and be around the top-40 players in my grade was really neat,” Harris told PG Saturday while recalling the event. “Just to build friendships with those guys was really cool.”

Harris was speaking from the third base dugout at Perfect Game Field-Veterans Memorial Stadium after taking part in the morning workout session at the PG Spring Top Prospect Showcase. The workout went well, with his 1.96-second Pop time and 81 mph catcher’s velocity ranking as the best at the event, and his 6.78-second 60-yard dash proving to be the ninth-best effort.

“Absolutely, it’s important,” Harris said when asked why he made a return trip to the PG Spring Top. “As long as you keep improving and you keep showing the scouts and the coaches and the evaluators that you’re improving, it’s a really big deal; it’s huge.”

An athletic 6-foot-2, 190-pounder, Harris is an Ole Miss commit ranked the No. 1 2020 prospect in Iowa (No. 123 nationally). He was joined at the event Sunday morning by a couple of his WDHS teammates: junior left-hander Zachary Bierman and junior right-hander Sam Goodman.

Goodman (6-foot, 165 lbs.) is the state’s No. 3-ranked prospect in the 2019 class (top-500 nationally) and has committed to Wichita State; Bierman (6-1, 185) is ranked 19/top-1,000 and has committed to Illinois State.

“Me and Sam and Calvin have grown up playing against the best players in the state, and we like playing against the best players in the state and the Midwest,” Goodman told PG Sunday morning. “That’s part of the reason we come down here; we just want to compete against the best we can, and we feel like this is a good place to come and do that.”

“We’ve always done this sort of thing together,” Bierman added, also speaking Sunday morning from the third base dugout at PG Field. “We grew up doing USSSA stuff and we’ve been doing everything together since we were young. … I like that you get to see people from all across the United States.”

Harris agreed: “You meet kids from all over the state (at the Spring Top) and it’s really neat to get together with them and bring back those friendships; it’s really cool,” he said.

Although the 16-year-old Harris is just finishing up his sophomore year, he’s already a well-traveled veteran of more than 20 PG events. His participation dates to the 2015 PG Midwest Underclass Showcase held here at PG Field, where he was named to the event’s Top Prospect List.

Harris also earned TPL recognition at the 2017 PG Spring Top Prospect Showcase in Cedar and the 2017 PG Top Prospect Games at TCU in Fort Worth, Texas, to go with his MVP honor at the 2016 PG 14u Select Baseball Festival.

A regular on the Iowa Select Spring and Fall League circuits for the past two years, Harris has also been rostered at a dozen PG WWBA tournaments.

He’s already been at the PG WWBA World Championship in Jupiter, Fla., three times (’15 and ’16 with Iowa Select, ’17 with Sandlot Scout Team); he’s been at the PG Underclass World championship in Fort Myers, Fla., twice (’15 with Iowa Select Royal, ’16 with the Sandlot Sox).

Harris earned all-tournament honors at the 2015 PG Underclass Labor Day Classic at LakePoint in Emerson, Ga., the 2016 PG WWBA Kernels Foundation Championship in Cedar Rapids and at the 2017 PG WWBA World Championship in Jupiter.

“(The experiences) have been second to none,” he said. “Definitely Jupiter and TCU and all those places really provide an experience that’s unforgettable.”

Iowa plays a summer high school baseball season, so when Harris, Goodman and Bierman take the field for the start of the 2018 season late next month, they will still be considered a sophomore and two juniors. There is a lot of excitement surrounding the WDHS program up in Dubuque County this year.

The Bobcats won a conference championship in 2017 and finished 32-7-1, coming up just short of returning to the Iowa state tournament. Harris, starting on the varsity as a freshman, slashed .390/.475/.576 with 13 extra-base hits and a team high 61 RBI in 40 games; he also threw out 13 of 15 baserunners who attempted to steal a base.

Goodman was 6-1 with a 0.79 ERA and 72 strikeouts in 53 innings pitched; Bierman was 5-1 with a 1.72 ERA and 44 strikeouts in 36 2/3 innings.

“It’s really cool to see guys from my high school – like Sam and Zach – come here and succeed like they’ve been doing,” Harris said before adding that is has been an “awesome” experience being part of head coach Casey Bryant’s program at WDHS.

Coach Bryant has done a really good job, and it’s been neat seeing what the program has built into over the last two or three years,” he said. “We’re going to get started (this week) and I couldn’t be more excited.”

Goodman and Bierman are on the same page with Harris: “We’re all very competitive, so that leads to us all wanting to be the best that we can be,” Goodman said. “There’s kind of a small-town feel to (the WDHS program), all of us grew up with each other and have played together since we were little … and we all try to get better by competing against each other; that should make us all better players.”

Bierman concurred: “Last year we had a good year, and we had a lot of (seniors) who kind of set the bar high; it’s our turn now. We’re going to be a young team this year … but it’s a hard-working environment up there,” he said before adding that he liked the idea of performing outdoors at the Spring Top after being forced to stay indoors for much of the early spring.

“It helps make us better because we’re getting to see (live) arms while other people are still doing tee work or taking BP,” Bierman said. “We’re out here seeing live pitching, so I like it a lot.”

Harris trains and conditions at the Building Better Athletes sports performance facility in Dubuque, and readily sings its praises. The motto at the facility is “One percent better every day” and Harris believes that if an athlete can, in fact, show one percent improvement each day, everything will progress nicely over time. And, he’s developing into and prized prospect

“There’s never been a catcher I’d rather have back there besides him,” Goodman said. “He’s a great catcher to have; I love pitching to him.”

Town-team baseball has been a fact of life in Dubuque County for generations, and Harris is already getting his generation involved. Although his hometown of Peosta has a team of its own, Harris is going to play for nearby Farley this spring. It’s important to remember that town-team rosters are generally made up of college-aged players or older.

“You really get goosebumps playing (town ball); it’s just really neat,” he said. “Being around a lot of different guys with those town teams has been really important, and they’ve helped me develop and mature as a baseball player.”

Like Harris, Goodman and Bierman have also been regulars on the PG Spring and Fall League circuits. That participation has helped increase their exposure in front of the national scouting and college recruiting communities and helped all three get those coveted D-I offers.

Performing in a showcase environment can provide its own special challenges, but Harris and his WDHS teammates have learned how to confront them. Harris believes the key to enjoying a successful showcase experience is to stay relaxed while also giving 100 percent effort; if that can be accomplished the results will take care of themselves. And listening and learning at events such as this has helped him become one of the top catchers in his age-group.

“You definitely learn something new (about the position) every time you go out, and even just by watching games on TV or watching other guys at showcases like this,” Harris said. “You definitely learn something new every single day.”

The PG Spring Top provided an excellent springboard into Iowa’s summer high school season for the three prospects from Dubuque County. The sun is finally warming the chilly air that has lingered in Eastern Iowa this spring, and PG Field was the perfect place to be this weekend.

“I think it’s awesome that all three of us are down here,” Goodman said. “I think this gets us ready for the high school season, and it’s going to be exciting to see how we do this year. … I love it that those other two guys were able to come down here, too; it’s a great experience for all of us.”

In two or three years, the trio will be getting ready to begin their college careers, providing the MLB Draft doesn’t come calling. Harris looked around at several schools before announcing his commitment to Mississippi last October. He had pictured in his mind what his perfect school would offer, and Ole Miss checked all the boxes.

He was especially taken in by the fact that Rebels’ head coach Mike Bianco and assistant coaches Mike Clement and Carl Lafferty were all catchers during their playing days and have earned a solid reputation for developing draft-ready catchers within the program.

“I hope to move on to the next level and play college baseball and do as well as I can there, and see what happens after that,” Harris said. “I definitely hope to keep moving up from there.”

Don’t count him out. Harris is, after all, the kid from Iowa who stepped up and earned an MVP award at the country’s premier 14u all-star event two years ago, when the odds were against that happening.

“Just being from Iowa makes this special,” Harris said that night. “With Perfect Game getting started in Cedar Rapids, I’m just proud to represent it.”

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