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Showcase  | Story  | 8/7/2019

Getting better key for Dilandri

Jeff Dahn     
Photo: Thomas Dilandri (Perfect Game)

SAN DIEGO – The morning dawned cloudy, cool and comfortable at the University of San Diego’s Fowler Park on Wednesday, extending a perfect welcome for the first large of group of top prospects here for the two-day Perfect Game Underclass All-American Games showcase.

Invitations for this year’s PG Under AA Games were sent to the top preps from the classes of 2021 and 2022, players who will be starting either their junior or sophomore years in high school in just a matter of weeks. It’s a talented assemblage with every player in attendance ranked at least as a top-500 in his respective class.

Immediately after completing his batting practice session, Thomas Dilandri – one of the aforementioned top prospects – walked into the first base dugout on Cunningham Field and allowed a smile to spread widely across his entire face when asked about the showcase. At that moment, Dilandri was exactly where he wanted to be; where he needed to be.

“Just playing with these top-notch players, it’s truly a fun experience. Being out here with these guys makes me better as a player, as a person,” he told PG during a casual conversation inside the dugout. “Perfect Game always does such a good job putting on great events, and it truly is awesome to be out here.”

Dilandri is yet another top prospect to come out of the high school baseball hotbed of Las Vegas, Nev. He is a 6-foot-3, 195-pound right-handed hitting 2021 outfielder who PG ranks as the No, 10 overall prospect in his class (No. 3 outfielder); he is Nevada’s No. 1-ranked prospect.

A TCU commit, Dilandri is toolsy in every respect, having ran a 6.61-second 60-yard dash and throwing 95 mph from the outfield at June’s PG Junior National Showcase in Hoover, Ala., while possessing a swing that caused the ball to “really jump off the bat” according to his scouting report.

Here’s a 16½-year-old kid that seems to have figured-out what it takes to keep climbing the baseball ladder on his way to reaching many of the goals he sees as very attainable.

“It’s definitely a learning experience every time I step out on the field,” Dilandri said. “The game will humble you and every time I step out there I’m learning something new, something different; I’m just trying to be better as a player.”

Traveling around the country to attend PG events is something Thomas and his dad, Brendan Dilandri, really enjoy doing. Brendan has found that there’s always a lot of positive energy at these events and his son, who he describes as a “high energy kid, a positive kid,” loves bringing his own brand of energy and likes playing with other high-level athletes.

“That’s really what we look for with Perfect Game, is playing against the best competition; that’s what it’s all about,” Brendan said. “And Perfect game really does pull the top kids in and that’s what you want to play against. … It doesn’t just pull kids in from one area, it pulls kids from across the country and he loves seeing the other kids and having the interactions with them.”

Dilandri credits his dad and Manny Abeyta, his hitting coach back home in Vegas, for playing big roles in his development to this point. His dad, he said, has impacted him in just about every way possible but mostly in his approach both emotionally and mentally.

Brendan has ingrained in his son’s mind the idea the need to become not only a better player but also a better person than he was yesterday. The journey is never really complete until the playing career comes to an end, and Brendan’s emotional support has helped Dilandri immensely as he maneuvers through this process.

“I’ve learned a lot through the years of him playing by helping him with his swing and with all of his fundamentals in baseball,” said Brendan, who played high school baseball and juco football. “Just really staying on top of it, talking with him after every game and just really critiquing and breaking down every part of the game.”

Dilandri played football and basketball when he was younger and said he really didn’t start to figure baseball out until he was 10 years old. He actually picked the sport up fairly late compared to many of the other top prospects at the PG Under AA Games, which makes his rise to the No. 10 spot in that national rankings even more impressive.

“He excelled in all three sports but we just felt baseball was the right path,” Brendan said. “He’s been doing well so far but there’s still a lot more to learn and a lot longer way to go. I just try to tell him to make sure that he’s better than he was yesterday.”

The PG Underclass All-American Games are classified as a showcase but it is different from a typical PG showcase in that the emphasis is on game-play. Dilandri earned Top Prospect List recognition at both the 2018 and 2019 PG Junior National Showcases, however, so he knows the drill.

“I love the showcase environments. It gives you as a player a chance to show your tools and show what you’re able to do,” he said. “You can also learn from these guys out here by watching some of the things they can do, and you can take some things that you saw and you liked from these other guys and try to implant them in your game.”

Eighteen of the 21 PG events Dilandri has attended have been WWBA tournaments, playing with both the Nevada-based Las Vegas Recruits (LVR) and Georgia-based Team Elite. He has been named to seven PG all-tournament teams since 2016, including while playing with Team Elite at last year’s PG WWBA World Championship in Jupiter, Fla.

Dilandri is home-schooled and he didn’t play high school baseball this past spring due to transfer rules and he felt like his summer got off to a pretty slow start. He did play with the Team Elite 16u Scout Team at the PG WWBA 16u National Championship in Emerson, Ga., in early July, a team that won that PG national championship.

“That’s a great group of guys; it’s the most fun team I’ve ever played with,” Dilandri said of the Team Elite experience. “Winning (the WWBA 16u championship) was awesome, there was nothing like it. Perfect Game does such a good job putting on those events and everything is so top-notch and having 300-some teams there and finishing number-one, it’s pretty awesome.”

Being from Las Vegas, Dilandri has already become immersed in that city’s rich baseball talent. MLB All-Stars Kris Bryant, Bryce Harper and Joey Gallo are the most recent Vegas-area products to strike it rich in the big leagues and their impact on today’s young Vegas players has been huge.

“I would say that all big-leaguers are role models; everybody wants to get there, everybody wants to be a hall-of-famer,” Dilandri said. “Just watching those guys and being able to follow in their footsteps would be awesome; it would be truly a blessing. … I know all the other players in Vegas, everybody looks up to those guys.”

After visiting the TCU campus as an eighth-grader, Dilandri ended up with an offer and committed to the Horned Frogs when he was a freshman in high school. When he first stepped on campus he remembered thinking that was the place where he wanted to be, and he was happy to end the recruiting process early: “It was definitely a relief getting that off my back; It truly is awesome,” he said.

Even though Dilandri’s college recruitment process was relatively brief, when all of the baseball experiences of the last three or four years are considered in their entirety it has been a bit of a whirlwind adventure for Thomas, his dad Brendan and his mom Jamie. Sound time management and careful planning are required to successfully confront and conquer all the twists and turns, peaks and valleys.

“I had no idea it would be to this extent,” Brendan said of the sometimes wild ride. “You get pulled 100 different directions all the time: which events to do, where to go. It’s nice that Perfect Game really has them mapped out for the year with their high-level events and it’s nice to have Perfect Game help navigate his path.”

Again, it’s all about being better today than you were yesterday. Brendan Dilandri has come to realize that his son and the other top prospects in attendance at PG showcase events like this one are here to test their skills and measure themselves against each other.

At some point they’ll go home, read their PG-generated scouting reports and watch video, and then make the necessary adjustments to their game in an effort to get better at the game. They also do it so they can renew old friendships while also making new ones, and it’s all done in a highly competitive environment.

When Dilandri finishes up here at the PG Underclass AA Games on Thursday, he’ll head north to Long Beach to take part in the Underclass Area Code Games; that will end his summer.  Because of the ACG commitment, he will not be able to attend Sunday’s PG All-American Classic at Petco Park but he hopes to be given that opportunity next year – as a player.

On Wednesday Dilandri contented himself playing at USD’s Fowler Park, and he’ll do the same thing tomorrow, with one eye on Petco Park. It’s certainly worth noting that 21 of this year’s 52 PGAAs were at last year’s PG Underclass All-American Games. It’s also worth noting that Las Vegas products Bryant, Gallo and Harper were PG All-Americans.

“That’s one of the goals I’ve had set since seventh or eighth grade, to be able to play in the All-American Classic,” he said. “That would be awesome to play in that with that caliber of players, playing with those guys and learning from those coaches.”