ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. – Tropicana Field is often the object of ridicule within elite factions of Major League Baseball’s high society but for these last five days in mid-July 2021 it did a great impression of hallowed ground as far as the top prep prospects from the national grad class of 2022 were concerned.
What’s not to love, after all? It’s a big league park with championship banners earned by its tenant, the Tampa Bay Rays, hanging from the domed roof above the upper deck in left field. One reads “2020 American League Champions” reminding us of the Rays’ appearance in last year’s World Series.
This year’s Perfect Game National Showcase reached the conclusion of its five-day run Sunday afternoon and the roughly 320 top prospects from the prep class of 2022 could all leave The Trop feeling good about themselves. First, for receiving the National invitation in the first place and, finally, knowing they had left a lasting impression as a class bursting at the seams with talent.
“Coming in here, we really looked at this class as one that is unique because of the athletes in it. That [showed] through the run times, the velocities and the shear athletic talent that we saw all week,” PG National Scouting Director Jered Goodwin said at event’s end.
“Typically we talk about how some need more development than others but it’s not that way with this class. It’s a pretty polished group for how athletic they are.”
That’s as good of a place to start as any. The athleticism did come to the fore in the 60-yard dash times, with 15 runners covering the distance in 6.31-seconds or faster. They were all chasing North Carolina speedster Michael Gupton, however, who set an all-time PG event record when he crossed in a mind-blowing 5.96-seconds.
Nevada’s Justin Crawford (6.11), Georgia’s Elgin Bennett (6.14), Florida’s Elijah Green (6.16) and California’s Austin Overn (6.19) were mercury-quick themselves, but it’s difficult to catch-up to a sub-6.0.
The three separate, four-team workout sessions did produce one other event record. Georgia primary shortstop Jay Knowles, an Indiana State commit ranked No. 98 overall nationally, threw 100 mph from the outfield, just a tick better than the 99 mph bullet from Arkansas’s Cooper Dossett, which matched the previous event-best.
Other workout leaders included New York’s Adonys Guzman (1.76-second C Pop time), Georgia’s Omari Daniel (97 mph INF) and Maryland’s Kerry Herndon-Brown, Georgia’s Colin Linder and Florida’s Yoel Tejeda Jr. (91 mph 1B); Washington’s Dominic Hellman and Texas’s Jayson Jones shared the same top exit velo at 105 mph.
As is always the case at a PG National, many of the stars did an excellent job of being stars on the big stage. Top guns like Florida’s Elijah Green (No. 1 overall, Miami) and Georgia’s Termarr Johnson (No. 4) never fail to impress and they were on top of their games at The Trop this week.
Everyone kind of knew that Georgia catcher Jared Jones (No. 20, LSU) was going to come out and hit, and lo-and-behold the kid came out and hit. It was the same thing with highly-regarded pitchers like the left-handers Jackson Ferris (No. 6, Ole Miss) and Tristan Smith (No. 12, Clemson).
And in what was a somewhat rare occurrence, at least three potential PG All-American pitchers threw on the event’s last day on Sunday.
It was a necessary schedule adjustment made to accommodate Florida left-hander Brandon Barriera (No. 2 RHP, Vanderbilt), North Carolina right-hander Eli Jerzembeck (No. 6, South Carolina) and Indiana lefty Andrew Dutkanych IV (No. 9 LHP, Vanderbilt) after they had thrown late at last week’s WWBA 17u NC.
So yes, Goodwin noted, many of the stars were kind of being the stars but they weren’t out there on their own little island. Many of the projection guys, players PG scouts knew were good coming in, also seemed to make a jump.
As an example, Goodwin mentioned Texas right-hander Chase Shores (No. 30, Oklahoma State), who pitched Saturday night and showed a nice bump in velocity. It was something the scouts kind of expected to happen at some point and it was just nice to see it on this stage.
And there were a handful of guys outside of the top-200 or so that turned out to be attention-grabbers, and no one fit that bill better than Austin Henry, a tall right-hander out of South Dakota. Henry entered the event ranked as the No. 107 RHP in the land (No. 314 overall) but showed a ridiculous spin metric that produced “an absolute hammer curveball” during his time to shine.
Tennessee lefty Joseph King is the No. 1-ranked overall 2022 in his home state but No. 316 nationally (No. 38 LHP), and he came out and filled up the strike zone, fully taking advantage of the PG National opportunity.
“I think that showed some of the work that these kids have put in, whether that be over the course of the calendar year since last year’s Junior National or this summer, being able to home in what they need to develop and certainly have done it,” Goodwin said.
The talent aside, something else has happened with this class that is unique when compared to previous classes. Prospects from the class of 2021 had their exposure hindered, through no fault of their own, by the Covid-19 pandemic, and the 2022s filled that void and then some.
As Goodwin points out, PG has seen these guys play so much baseball and has collected so much information on their off-field activities and interests that the players’ resumes are as thick as an old phone book. We know he’s a terrific center fielder but is he also a two-sport athlete? Does he enjoy music or just hangin' with his girlfriend when he’s away from the field? What is his family life like?
“We really have a good understanding of what they are on the field and what they are off the field with this class,” Goodwin said.
Based on the depth of talent in the class of 2022 alone and the lower number of rounds in the MLB Draft, college programs and their recruiting coordinators must be salivating over this group. In this age of individual training, body analysis and 3D imaging, Goodwin said it’s easy to tell there is a lot of individual work taking place and it’s been pretty top-to-bottom at the PG National.
So when it comes to the college game, even taking away the guys who will hear their names called in the 2022 Amateur Draft, there are going to be a lot of significant athletes stepping on campus in the fall of 2022, Goodwin believes.
“With those three years of college and that college development they’re going to get, we’ve seen it time after time, there’s going to be some guys [from this class] that make massive jumps in four years and end up going in the first round,” Goodwin said. “We’re going to see from this group those athletes really turn into polished baseball players, and I think the polish has been what’s been kind of impressive; they can actually play.”
So what about that sub-6 second 60? Goodwin points out that Gupton is a two-time North Carolina state champion in the 55-meter dash, a distance just over 180 feet and both of his parents were sprinters in college. Another thing to take into consideration is that the runner basically starts himself, taking off at the literal drop of a hat without waiting for a starter’s gun or going off of somebody else’s trigger.
So there are variables to take into account that work to the runner’s advantage in a 60-yard dash at a baseball showcase. But holy cow.
“We have gotten plus and double-plus run times to first base on Michael Gupton for two years,” Goodwin said. “To see that – he did it on turf, he did it on a big stage, the adrenaline’s going – I’m still shocked to be very honest.
“But this is a guy that if he wanted to go the Olympic route and put all his marbles in that bag there’s certainly a chance we could see him out there [at the Olympics] in four years.”