Showcase : : Story
Sunday, June 17, 2018

'Athletes' headline PG National

Jeff Dahn        
Photo: Riley Greene (Perfect Game)

ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. – It is never easy to pinpoint a specific theme that characterizes an event with the magnitude of the Perfect Game National Showcase, and when the 18th annual PG National closed the door on its four-day run at Tropicana Field on Sunday, that was the case once more.

Prospects from the national high school graduating class of 2019 were the ones auditioning in front of the national scouting community this year and by all accounts the auditions went very well.

But this year’s collection of nearly 300 prospects from the United States, Canada and the Dominican Republic couldn’t be neatly gift-wrapped, tied in a bow and easily labeled as this or that, except with one very straight-forward summation: there were a lot of terrific athletes running around on The Trop’s turf field the last four days.

“It’s just a really athletic class,” PG National Scouting Supervisor Brian Sakowski said Sunday morning. “There are guys with tools, guys with power. It’s not easy to hit a ball out of here because you’re indoors – the ball’s not flying as much as it would be – and, obviously, it’s a major league ballpark, but there are guys that have made this place look small.

“There’s a lot of tools and a lot of athleticism, but we’re going to spend the rest of the summer deciding who can also play the game.”

First things first. Moving this year’s National into the indoor, air-conditioned comfort offered by Tropicana Field won the praise of everyone involved with the event. It made for longer days for those scouting or working the showcase in another capacity because its run was reduced from six days to four, but at least those days were spent watching the players on the field instead of waiting out long weather delays.

“I think it’s upped our abilities as evaluators, it’s upped management’s abilities as far as event operators, and I think the kids are a little more engaged in it than they might have been (otherwise).” Sakowski said. “It’s been absolutely great, absolutely fantastic.”

Now back to the athletes who were the real stars of the show. “This is a really athletic class,” Sakowski repeated. “There are a lot of guys who are incredible athletes and I think we saw that in the 60-yard dash.”

Yes, indeed. Running on turf in perfect, windless, air-conditioned comfort, 27 athletes covered the distance in 6.59 seconds or faster, 13 ran 6.48 or better and an elite eight got it done in under 6.33 seconds.

The fastest of the fast was Carthage, Miss., outfielder Jerrion Ealy, who set an event record when he crossed the line in a sizzling 6.13 seconds. Niceville, Fla., shortstop Connor Walsh (6.25), Orlando outfielder Justin Tejeda (6.27), Lawrenceville, Ga., shortstop Nasim Nunez (6.28) and Alpharetta, Ga. shortstop CJ Abrams (6.29) were also especially speedy when it was their time to run.

Strong infield and outfield arms were also on display, with five prospects throwing 92 mph or better across the infield and five others delivering throws of 94 mph from the outfield.

Rece Hinds, a shortstop from Niceville, Fla., and an LSU commit ranked No. 4 nationally, threw 98 mph across the infield during workouts to lead that charge. Lawrenceville, Ga., shortstop Nasim Nunez wasn’t far behind at 95, and Orlando’s Isaac Nunez, Woodstock, Ga.’s Brandon Smith and Colleyville, Texas’s Bobby Witt Jr. – the No. 1-ranked overall prospect in the class – all whipped the ball over to first at 92 mph.

Tyler Williams from Lilburn, Ga., led the outfielders with a throw of 98 mph, Logan Britt from Benbrock, Ga., and Ealy were right behind at 96 and Hylan Hall (Ococee, Fla.) and Nathaniel LaRue (Mobile, Ala.) each flung it in at 94 mph.

Sakowski called Ealy – an Ole Miss baseball and football commit currently ranked No. 8 nationally – a “once in a generation type of athlete” who graced everyone with his presence the first two days of the showcase.

“To come here to the PG National, it’s awesome, man,” Ealy said. “You just have to come out here and compete and that’s what I looked to do.”

Sakowski will be leaving the National having been impressed with dozens of the prospects that were here, but none more-so than Brennan Malone. A 6-foot-5, 210-pound right-hander from Matthews, N.C. – he’s ranked No. 5 nationally and has committed to North Carolina – Malone sent his fastball across home plate at 96 mph and complemented it with an 85-mph changeup and 78 mph curve.

“He was outstanding; he blew everyone away,” Sakowski said. “We’d seen him throw 95, we’d seen him look real athletic, etc., etc., but he really put it all together (here). He pounded the zone 93-96 with a better breaking ball, and his delivery looks better. He just really blew everyone away.”

At least 11 other pitchers joined Malone in delivering their fastballs home at 94 mph or better, with Statesboro, Ga., and native Panamanian right-hander Daniel Espino topping the charts at 98 mph; he found that velo three times in his two innings of work.

“This is definitely something I was looking forward to,” Espino said of the PG National experience. “First, you get to play on a major league field. Second, you’ve got all the scouts watching you, and to be around all these (elite) players, it’s amazing. … Yes, the adrenaline kicks in but you just have to go out and have fun; baseball is all about having fun.

“I feel great,” he added. “It shows me that hard work pays off and it just makes me want to work harder.”

Just in casual conversations mostly among themselves, PG scouts and officials seemed to concur that Oviedo, Fla., outfielder Riley Greene – a Florida commit ranked No. 3 nationally – was the best hitter of the bunch.

“I don’t think there’s any question about that, honestly,” Sakowski said of the left-handed hitting Greene. “There are guys with maybe louder tools but I think he’s the best bat-to-ball hitter here, and he does it in games, too. You can watch him take BP and it’s loud and he goes to all fields, and he can hit the ball out to the pull side.

“But in-game, he goes with the pitch to the outer half, he can hit to all fields, he can hit a variety of pitches in different spots, he moves the barrel around the zone. It’s really special hands; it’s special hitability.”

This is an exciting time of year for the PG scouting department as it braces  for long days (weeks? months?) spent at ballfields from coast-to-coast evaluating prospects not only from the class of 2019 but also from the younger classes.

“This is what makes it fun. It’s a new challenge every year,” Sakowski said. “Especially a year from now when we’re lining up the draft board and I’ve got to go 500-600 names deep, if we didn’t have a year’s worth of information figuring these guys out … we wouldn’t be able to do the job that we do.”

Vice President of Player Personnel David Rawnsley, National Crosschecker Jheremy Brown and National Scouting Coordinators Vince Cervino and Greg Gerard – each of whom were here this week – have their own specific responsibilities, and one of Sakowski’s is focusing on the MLB June Amateur Draft. He called Thursday, the first day of this year’s PG National Showcase, “New Year’s Day.”

“We got started with a whole new draft class and we’re ready to roll,” he said. “I’ve seen these kids before but I bared down on them for the very first time now that it’s their draft in 52 weeks. I’m excited to see how this class lines up from National to what Rawnsley sees at (USA Baseball) Tournament of Stars to what I’ll see at (the WWBA) 17u and throughout the course of the summer and into the fall. So, yeah, it’s very exciting.”

At the conclusion of last week’s PG Junior National in Emerson, Ga., the crosschecker Brown said that before it’s all said and done, the class of 2020 may come to be identified as the class of the elite left-handed pitchers. Sakowski said it’s probably too early in the summer season to identify the class of 2019 with one particular position.

“If you were to ask me after the 17u (WWBA National Championship) I’d have a better answer for you,” he said. “I think, right now, you could say it’s the class of the athlete. Even the guys who have been getting on the mound and showing well, they’re athletes. …

“It’s the class of the athlete, the class of the guys who are still kind of learning how to play baseball but when they learn, it’s going to be explosively talented.”

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