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Showcase | Story | 6/16/2021

Memorable Jr. National bids adieu

Jeff Dahn     
Photo: Wesley Mendes (Perfect Game)

MARIETTA, Ga. – The sun set on a memorable, record-breaking Perfect Game Junior National Showcase on Wednesday, with almost everyone involved with the premier underclass scouting event leaving the Top Chops East Cobb Complex with a bit of a bounce in their step.

“It was awesome hanging around all these really great players,” Tampa 2023 left-hander/outfielder and No. 14-ranked Vanderbilt commit Wesley Mendes told PG Wednesday morning. “Seeing them everywhere and just soaking in what they know; just getting to learn from the best.”

Learning from the best while working to become your best was what the 300 players who were in attendance over the Junior’s five-day run were able to take away from their experiences. It served as an amazing  platform on which the top prospects from the class of 2023 (and a handful of 2024s) were able to showcase their abilities in front of a large contingent of scouts and college recruiters.

What is certain is that everyone walked away with the knowledge that the class of 2023 is filled with a special collection of athletes and ballplayers who will continue to dazzle with their deeds right up until the 2023 MLB Amateur Draft.

Many members of PG’s talented and thorough scouting department were on hand to document and report on the proceedings, including PG National Crosschecker Jheremy Brown, one of the most respected in the industry.

In his position with PG, Brown was in on the ground floor with the PG 14u Select Baseball Festival, which debuted in 2016, and the 13u and 12u Select Fests that followed in subsequent years.

With this 2023 class, no fewer than 15 of the prospects were also at the 2019 PG 14u Select Festival, so Brown has been following these 16u players for at least three years. What he’s seeing now are kids who are bigger, stronger and faster at a much earlier age.

And he’s enjoyed having that baseline from which he can track their progression. Holy cow, he might think when coming across a burgeoning prospect, that kid has grown three inches and added 30 pounds.

“The fastball was really good already and now it’s an elite pitch or he was a 6.7 type runner and now he’s running a 6.5 – you’re talking about game impact-type tools and they’re playing now at a high level,” Brown said Wednesday. “It’s been fun to watch that, and at the same time you’ve seen guys pop up on the scene at this event that you might not have known about or guys that have really elevated their game.”

Brown was reluctant to call him a “popup” but he did mention Walter Ford, a primary third baseman out of Alabama and a Crimson Tide commit ranked the No. 20 overall national prospect. All Ford did this week was head to the mound and deliver an event-record 97 mph fastball during his outing.

“We knew about him, he was ranked 20th and did this, did that, but he came out and he was a different kid,” Brown said with a tone of admiration. “He sat 95-96, up to 97 (with a) banger breaking ball.”

Other guys Brown mentioned who arrived here from what he called “non-hotbed” states were Nebraska outfielder Cole Eaton (Tennessee commit), Missouri left-hander Adam Hachman (uncommitted) and Wisconsin right-hander Dylan Questad (Notre Dame); Eaton’s 98 mph throw from the outfield was an event-best effort.

“The talent is rich and the talent is spread out throughout the country, for sure,” Brown said.

This was a record-breaking PG Jr. National in four categories, as well. Along with the record 97 mph fastball delivered by Alabama’s Ford, another Alabama prep, catcher Colton Wombles (Auburn), matched the event’s all-time best with a 1.75-second Pop time (he also threw out three would-be base-stealers in one game).

Also, the aforementioned Mendes threw 94 mph from first base (he was 95 mph from the outfield), and Florida shortstop Jorge Gonzalez Febo (uncommitted) delivered an eye-popping 101 mph throw across the infield.

“With Wombles...that’s no fluke,” Brown said. “He’s a high-energy kid and another Festival kid that plays like his hair’s on fire and he’ll run through a brick wall for you if he has to. (He) had three on-the-money throws right to the bag.”

The 60-yard dash was also run as part of the workout sessions and 21 athletes ran the distance in 6.60-seconds or faster. The quickest time was turned in by Georgia outfielder Kyle Henly at 6.27 seconds with Chicago’s AJ Garcia not far off that pace at 6.37 and Illinois outfielder Adison Worthman close behind at 6.40; Mississippi third baseman Kaden Irving notched the fastest Pocket Radar exit velo at 102 mph.

This year’s Jr. National was held a little later on the calendar than in pre-pandemic years,  when it was usually staged closer to Memorial Day. What that meant is that the vast majority of the participants not only got in their full high school seasons but many had also already played in high-level PG tournaments in front of this event.

PG’s Brown noticed that quite a few of the prospects looked to be in mid-summer form, especially those carrying a bat to the plate.

“This is a one-time look for the pitchers and usually it’s a pitcher-dominant event,” Brown said. “We’ve had home runs, a ton of barrels throughout the games; I would say the bats are definitely swinging it at a high level already. … I’d say that pitchers have dominated but the bats are there. So I think having some season behind them already is definitely showing.”

Hitters in that group who were among those that impressed Brown were Tennessee outfielder Maxwell Clark (No. 3, Vanderbilt) and California outfielder Dean West (No. 47, UCLA).

Several younger guys, the 2024s, also stood out, including third basemen George Wolkow (No. 5, South Carolina) from Illinois and Samuel Richardson (No. 92, uncommitted) out of Mississippi.

It is in this setting and this environment where every one of PG’s scouts thrive and they take their work seriously. Brown excels at developing personal relationships with the young prospects which makes the job of identifying ebbs and flows in their progression within the game just a tad bit easier. It goes back to what was established at the Select Baseball Festivals and branches out from there,

“You get to see the kids, you get to know them, you talk to them before the game (and) after the game, you talk to the parents and you just see how they keep growing,” Brown said. “They were some of the best at 13, 14 (years old) and they continue to be the best now.”

As an example, Brown pointed to PG stalwarts like Georgia outfielder Drew Burress (No. 24, uncommitted) and Florida catcher Riley Jackson (No. 26, Florida State). The duo both were very good here this week two years after being among the top names at the 2019 Select Fest.

At the same time, there are those names that were somewhat unknown coming in. No one fits into that category more neatly than Jorge Gonzalez Febo, the uncommitted ’23 from Orlando who threw 101 mph from short to first.

“You’re like, how do you miss arm strength like that?” Brown said with a shoulder shrug. “But kids just develop and that’s my favorite part of all this, watching them develop: Seeing them at such a young age to where they go when they’re at the draft level, when they’re in the minor leagues.”

By this point in the conversation, Brown had yet to mention Cam Collier, the country’s No. 2-ranked overall prospect in the ’23 class. A Louisville commit out of Austell, Ga., Collier was must-see PG.TV over the weekend and didn’t disappoint with his performance.

Cam Collier did Cam Collier things,” Brown said. “He took a really professional round of BP...and he’s an A-plus kid. He’s another one we’re going to get to watch come through the entire ranks, and the best is yet to come for Cam.”

And so, the 2021 PG Jr. National Showcase bid farewell on Wednesday after five days of amazing fanfare and amazing weather. As Brown pointed out, barely a drop of rain over five June days in the Southeast? That’s basically unheard of in this neck of the woods and it allowed all of the players to get the most out of the experience.

“There are a lot of great players, for sure, just stacked all the way up and down,” Mendes said of the class of 2023. “It’s just legit the whole way … and these players, they’re always into the game; it’s easy to play with them. You’re playing against here and it’s obviously a great way to start off your summer.”

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