ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. – So OK, it’s not exactly one of those “twin sons of different mothers” scenarios but the parallels in the present are paired with all the appropriate subtleties of the past and future even if their high school decisions took vastly different routes.
Jackson Ferris, the 6-foot-4, 190-pound southpaw out of small-town North Carolina, and Brock Porter, the 6-foot-4, 205-pound righty from a northern suburb of Metro Detroit, both carry themselves in a way that demands respect. That was noticeable even before either one had delivered a single pitch under the domed roof of the Rays’ Tropicana Field this week.
And why not? Ferris and Porter came into this week’s Perfect Game National Showcase ranked as the Nos. 6 and 7 top overall prospects, respectively, from the high school grad class of 2022. Additionally, Ferris is the country’s No. 1-ranked left-hander, while Porter is the No. 2-ranked righty behind only Georgia’s Dylan Lesko (No. 2 overall).
It was the morning of the third day of play at the PG National, where this year 320 of the top prospects from the prep class of 2022 took turns under the spotlight. The National is high school baseball’s premier scouting showcase for incoming seniors so very few spotlights burn as intensely as this one.
Both part of the PG Navy roster this week, Ferris and Porter took their turns in consecutive two-inning stints on this morning, giving scouts four straight showcase innings to evaluate two top arms that are projected to be selected very early in the 2022 MLB Amateur Draft just about a year from now. It promised to be a lot of fun and no one, except for the would-be hitters, left disappointed.
(Jackson Ferris) was sensational, working 92-96 mph with his fastball over his two frames with good feel for spinning a slurvy breaker. His fastball has plus carry and absolutely dominates in the zone. – PG National Scout Blog.
Jackson Ferris was, in fact, dominating in his two innings of work, something that even surprised him a little bit based on what he thought he was taking out to the mound with him at the start of the game.
“It wasn’t my best bullpen considering I didn’t have a feel for any of my pitches,” he told PG. “So going into the game I had to make a big adjustment...compared to the 'pen. Then I had feel for all four pitches – the ball came out of my hand and it felt great – so I think all-in-all it was a good outing.”
Ferris, an Ole Miss commit who calls Mount Airy, N.C., home, is a kid who comes across as Carolina country in much the same laid-back way 2016 PG All-American and first round draft pick MacKenzie Gore presented himself five years ago. The difference is Ferris has already enjoyed considerably more baseball experiences outside of North Carolina than Gore ever did during his prep years.
None of that matters to Ferris, of course. Give him a bump and a ball, a catcher and a batter, and he’ll have at it anywhere. Hey, it’s the only way he knows how to go about his business.
“What makes a good pitcher a good pitcher no matter what the situation is being able to go out there and not change anything; you’re just doing what you do,” he said.
Feeling a little unfulfilled during his freshman and sophomore years at Mount Airy High School – there are only about 200 kids total at the school – Ferris made the life-changing decision to enroll at IMG Academy High School in Bradenton, Fla., as a junior for the 2020-21 school year; he immediately found what he was looking for.
“I knew going to IMG was going to be different, but it made me realize that what I wanted to do in life was baseball and nothing else,” Ferris said. “Whenever I’m out on that mound it’s like an island. Of course I’ve got my teammates behind me that I love, talk to [and] smile with, but when I’m out on the mound it’s just me.”
Ferris played on a 2021 IMG Ascenders squad that featured four players who were selected in the first 17 rounds of this month’s MLB Amateur Draft and even though it isn’t eligible to compete for a sanctioned Florida state championship it did finish No. 6 in the PG High School Final Top 50 Rankings.
The Ascenders were also the champion at the PG High School Showdown in Hoover, Ala., in March where Ferris was named the MV-Pitcher; he was also the MV Pitcher at the 2020 PG WWBA 16u National Championship while playing with the Canes National 16u.
In all, Jackson Ferris has been rostered at 25 PG events and has earned 12 all-tournament team selections since 2016; he’s been a part of two WWBA tournament championship teams, most recently with the Canes National 17u at the 17u Ultimate Baseball Championship. His only showcase experience before this one was at last year’s PG Junior National in Hoover.
“Freshman and sophomore year I’d say I was kind off the radar,” Ferris said. “I’ve been working since I was eight years old to get to this point...I just feel like last summer going to Junior National and this summer to National, I’ve gotten my name out there and I feel like I’ve done what I can do.”
In other words, he’s seen a pretty good slice of the country already and he thinks he’s a better player/person because of it.
“It’s definitely helped me mature a lot more, considering that at IMG I was [away] from family for a whole year, away from the mom, my dad and my little brother,” Ferris said. “As soon as I went there, I was like all right, I’ve got to grow up a little bit and realize that it’s time to be mature be the young man that my parents had raised me to be.”
The son of Jason and Lena Ferris from Mount Airy, Ferris said his dad always wanted what was best for his son but demanded that Jackson always give his best, as well. If you’re not going to give it all you’ve got, Jason would tell him, then don’t even bother going out there in the first place. When Jackson was younger, he wasn’t even sure what that meant but it’s all so crystal clear to him now.
“Now that I’m older I’m like, all right, I’ve got to go out there and do what I can for the team,” he said. “I’ve got to give it 110 percent because if [my teammates] are I’ve got to, too.”
Jackson Ferris said he watched this month’s MLB draft with renewed interest because he knew it was likely several of his IMG Ascender teammates would be picked, and he wasn’t disappointed.
James Wood (2nd round, Padres), Drew Gray (3rd round, Cubs) and Mason Albright (12th round, Angels) – all 2020 PG All-Americans – were the first off the board; Drake Varnado went in the 17th round to the Diamondbacks.
“With the 2021 draft, I knew a lot of kids especially with the four IMG kids being drafted. Now I’m like, all right, it’s 361 more days until my time,” he said.
Ferris’s stay at the PG National Showcase was a good one and he feels like, once again, he got what he was looking for: “Of course I [came in with] expectations with the way I’ve been throwing recently and (over) the last year, to be honest. I’ve felt like I’ve gone out there and no matter what team I’m on I’ve given them a chance to win the game. That’s what I came out here to do, just do what I’ve done for the last year.”
(Brock Porter) ran his fastball up to 97.5 per Trackman and sat in the 92-97 mph range over his two innings, consistently missing bats and showing his usual plus changeup. He also flashed an above-average curveball and was all over the strike zone. – PG National Scout Blog.
Based on past performances over the last three years or so his PG National outing was, in fact, pretty typical Brock Porter.
“I felt good. It’s always fun coming to these to showcases, so it was good getting loose and playing on this awesome field,” Porter told PG. “It was a lot of fun.”
It was also a 9 a.m. game in a big league stadium with hundreds of scouts scattered throughout, all of whom were busy jotting down their observations while occasionally exchanging words with the scout sitting the closest to them.
These are not fans like the ones that can be found at PG tournament championship games, these are working scouts doing their job; the atmosphere isn’t exactly electric. That requires the young prospect to bring his own energy which, of course, is seldom a problem
“Getting warm and kind of creating your own mindset of the atmosphere you want (is important) and that’s what I do,” Porter said. “I don’t really care who’s out there, who’s talking, who’s watching the game – I just play my game.”
Brock Porter, a Clemson commit and the son of Todd and Michel Porter, calls Milford, Mich., home and this fall he’ll be a senior at national prep power Orchard Lake St. Mary’s Prep in the north Detroit suburbs. Unlike Ferris, Porter didn’t have to leave home to discover his roots but has still managed to get around and see the sights.
Porter has been rostered at 24 PG events just since 2018 and has been named to a PG all-tournament team 10 times, mostly while playing with the Tri-State Arsenal. He won a PG WWBA championship playing with the Arsenal 2022 Scout Team at the 2018 14u Memorial Day Classic at Lake Point. He was also with Motor City Hit Dogs teams that won a pair of PG Super25 championships in 2017.
The biggest highlights of Porter’s prep years from a team perspective haven’t come out of his Perfect Game experiences but rather his experiences playing with the Orchard Lake St. Mary’s Eaglets the last three years (2020 being an outlier, of course).
St. Mary’s has been the most dominant prep program in the Upper Midwest over that span with multiple Michigan state championships. With a roster that included 13 D-I commits – including top 2021 shortstop Alex Mooney, the MVP of the 2020 PG All-American Classic – the Eaglets finished 43-1 this past spring and in the No. 2 position in the PG High School Final Top 50 National Rankings.
“It was unbelievable. Our team was just stacked with talent and we all just had a lot of fun,” Porter said. “We just played well together and we had so much fun, so it was a great ride...Everybody meshed really well and we had a good coaching staff; it was a good group of guys.”
Come summertime, the boys from St. Mary’s prep are more than ready to get out of their safe haven just north of the Detroit area and venture down south to see if they can hold their own against the heavyweights from the sunbelt.
Because of how hard the northern players push themselves during what is often a compacted and intense spring season, Porter doesn’t feel like they’re lacking for a thing on the southern travel ball circuit. In fact, they’ve found they can fit right in most instances, and Porter most recently pitched for the powerhouse Canes National 17u at last week’s WWBA 17u National Championship in Marietta, Ga.
Even as a freshman back home in Milford, Porter was a bit of a taller kid but tended to shade on the skinny side. So, as he matured and began growing into his body, weight gain became his highest priority, and he began training with the Eric Cressey program in West Palm Beach to accelerate the process.
It seems to be working. When he was at the PG 16u National Elite Championship in Hoover, Ala., just a year ago, Porter was listed at 6-foot-3, 185 pounds; he’s now at 6-3, 205.
“Gaining weight was the biggest thing for me,” he said. “I continually have to get stronger-bigger-faster and just overall better at the game and hopefully continue that into the next year. I don’t think I’ve peaked-out at all; I think I have a lot more that I can bring to the table.”
Like each and every one of the other 300-plus prospects in attendance here, Porter came in looking to prove to any doubters who may still remain that he deserves a spot on one of the two PG All-American Classic rosters that will soon be announced for the Aug. 22 game at Petco Park in San Diego.
Based on his lofty No. 7 ranking coming in and now with a stellar National outing to back up that ranking, Porter’s selection is likely a formality. But the kid from the land of the Great Lakes isn’t going to assume a trip to California’s Pacific Coast is a given.
He’s got eyes; the talent here is, in his word, “amazing.” Porter knew his only course of action was to be on constant attack, dominate the would-be hitters he’d face and show everyone what and who he is. “I came in with the mindset of doing that and I tried to just show who am,” he said.
They’re all studs, he continued, and everyone who took the field at Tropicana didn’t leave anything in the dugout. They push each other to get better and Porter said facing the best hitters in his class only makes him better at the end of the day. It never hurts to go out and just see firsthand what the other guy has to offer.
“You learn so much from these guys,” Porter said. “Everybody is from different areas, different states … and I think we all make each other better. I learn so much from everybody, all the pitchers and even hitters, too.”
Jackson Ferris and Brock Porter, two of the best three or four pitchers from either side in the class of 2022, got to enjoy being teammates for the Canes National 17u at last week’s PG WWBA 17u National Championship and were pitchers in arms for PG Navy over four consecutive innings at the PG National Showcase.
Those are two of the biggest upperclass stages Perfect Game can offer a 17u prospect in the same summer and an experience they will hold dear to their baseball-loving hearts for the rest of their lives.
“This is a great experience; playing at the Rays stadium is awesome,” Ferris said with a tone of appreciation in his voice. “I hope to do this in the future and end up playing in every MLB stadium that I possibly can.”
Porter could only smile: “This whole summer, this whole circuit, has been crazy. Being around good competition is always a plus...I’ve already met a bunch of new kids [here] that I hadn’t met before and hopefully I get a good [scouting report] write-up and people like who they see.”
You can count on that.