FORT MYERS, Fla. – The warm Southwest Florida sun hadn’t quite succeeded in burning off a heavy ground layer of fog when the players began arriving at the Terry Park Complex early Thursday morning but it was a battle the sun would eventually win, making way for yet another picture-perfect late December day along the Gulf Coast.
The players were gathering for what would be the finale of the Perfect Game National Underclass Showcase-Main Event’s three-day run. After two previous days of workouts and game action, Thursday was “coach-pitch” day when the players could take a break from the non-stop competitive nature of the event and just relax and get their cuts in. Laughter and plenty of good-natured chatter filled the air.
Jason Kwon out of Louisville and Jack Quick from Miami, both top-500 2023 outfielders, were among the members of the PG White squad taking part in the coach-pitch session and truly seemed to be enjoying themselves along with the other players in attendance.
Kwon and Quick had more in common other than being prep junior outfielders ranked in the top-500 nationally. They were also experiencing their first Underclass-Main Event and as uncommitted prospects they also came in hoping to make a lasting impression on the large contingent of PG scouts who were tracking their progress.
“It’s definitely been really cool coming down here,” Kwon said Thursday. “I’m from Kentucky and it’s really cold up there … so to finally come down here and showcase (myself) against a bunch of good competition and in front of the PG scouts, it’s always a cool experience.”
And there’s even more to it, according to Kwon:
“You get to know where you stand out (among) all these really good players and it’s just a good time. You get to meet so many new kids playing these games and during the breaks that we have in between. … It’s just a cool experience just to come down to Florida and get a vacation in with the family and play baseball, which is something that I love doing.”
Even though the two prospects’ homes are separated by more than 1,000 miles, their experiences here this week were remarkably similar, which should really come as no surprise considering they’re chasing the same desired outcome: college offers to a place where they can continue their athletic and academic careers beginning in the fall of 2023.
“Everything’s been good,” Quick said. “I’ve just been grinding, playing games, having fun and doing the (workouts) is always fun, too. Going out there with some friends and playing some baseball. … It’s always fun playing with people who love playing baseball, too. And playing with dudes that you didn’t know before, that always a lot of fun.”
While the guys that were here this week from the country’s more northern states can treat this trip as bit of a winter vacation in addition to taking care of business out on the field, it’s a little different for a kid from Miami, which sits just a little over 2 hours to the east. “I don’t know about that,” Quick said of the vacation angle, “but as long as I’m playing baseball that’s going to be as much fun as I’m going to have.”
Kwon is a junior at Fern Creek Traditional High School, a JROC, media and arts magnet school located right in Louisville where he’s also a member of the district champion baseball team that went 22-6 in 2021 after being unranked in the preseason.
“We only lost one kid (from that team) so this year we’re looking to do even better and make it to state,” Kwon said. “We were definitely the underdog so it was a cool story just being able to say that I played for a team that proved everybody wrong.”
The start of the 2022 high school season in Kentucky is still a couple of months away but that’s not keeping Kwon from using the Under-Main Event as a springboard into that season.
“With baseball here in Florida, I know that (a lot) of the top talent is down here,” he said. “Seeing this caliber of players will definitely not only improve my game but help me get into that groove again. Being able to see good players will help me try to better myself and motivate me to become even better before the spring season.”
The 5-foot-10, 180-pound Kwon is not only a top-500 overall national prospect but is ranked as a top-230 outfielder (Nos. 11/2 in Kentucky). PG puts its reputation on the line when compiling those rankings with input from a variety of sources and the players have a sense of their importance – to a point.
“Obviously, you’ll see it on your (PG) profile and it’s definitely something that is motivating,” Kwon said. “But I try not to pay attention to it because anything can happen. You can always fall or you can always rise but you just want to control the things that you can control.
“That (comes) by taking everything one step at a time, one at-bat at a time. I’m just trying to be the best version of myself on and off the field and I know that if I do that then everything will go my way no matter what the rankings say about me.”
Like Kwon, the 6-foot-3, 200-pound Quick is a top-500 national prospect and top 250-ranked outfielder in the 2023 class (Nos. 186/44 in Florida). His thoughts about the rankings mirror those of Kwon’s.
“It’s a great honor but I try not to pay too much attention to it because it can get you a little lackadaisical,” he said. “But it is a high honor and it keeps me motivated because I want to be ranked No. 1.”
Quick plays baseball for and attends classes at Richie Palmer’s Elite Squad Baseball Academy in the Miami area, where he maintains a 4.0 GPA. The academies’ attendees are out of the field practicing from 10 a.m. until 3 p.m. and then they attend classes after the day’s baseball work is done.
Both players, who hit right-handed, performed well during the workout session of the showcase on Thursday and then even stepped it up a notch during game-play. The PG scout blogs mentioned both a couple of times when it came to their hitting prowess and those mentions shouldn’t be dismissed off-hand. A sampling reads as such:
“Jason Kwon is an athletic player that showed nice timing, consistently hitting the ball out in front of the plate. He looks to leverage the ball, especially to the pull side, and made plenty of loud contact to the pull side. He has good hand path that allows the barrel to stay through the zone.”
And these items in reference to a couple of at-bats from Quick:
“Jack Quick hit a double to the outfield in left-center field and displayed his athleticism all day. … (He) hit a line drive to left-center for a double to start the offense in the top of the second inning (and) showed good short level swing and ability to cover the inner half of the plate.”
Kwon has earned inclusion on seven all-tournament teams while playing with five different travel ball organizations over the past several years. There’s just something about the bigger stages that brings out his best.
“Just being in those tournaments, that adrenaline rush you get is nothing that compares to anything else,” he said. “Every PG event that I’ve been at, the adrenaline (rush) is crazy. I feel like being in that type of environment only brings out the best in me because I know anybody could be watching.
“I know that if I play my best against all of this good competition that I can help my recruiting process and prove myself to the PG staff and everybody around me that I can be a great player.”
Quick has garnered six all-tournament selections so far in his career while playing with the Cannons Baseball Academy and the Elite Squad.
“Playing with the people that I’ve grown up with just adds something to it,” he said. “Even playing with them just for the summer, that’s enough for me to want to go out there and win with them and the coaches. I love Richie (Palmer). Anytime you need something you can go up and talk to him; he’s amazing.”
Playing college baseball has basically been a dream for both of these young prospects for as long as they can remember and they’re OK with waiting for the right offer to come along. Kwon said that he’s confident that he can receive a good education just by continuing to play the game he loves so much at a high level.
“I’m staying in touch with a lot of schools and obviously PG has helped me a lot in the recruiting process,” he said, adding that he “picked up a good amount of attention” after earning all-tournament recognition at the WWBA 17u National Championship while playing with California-based Trinity Gold.
An excellent student who values a college’s academic standing above just about anything else, he’s received interest from several of Ivy League schools, along with Bucknell, Davidson and Georgetown, among others.
“My parents are huge on academics and there’s always life after baseball,” Kwon, just a month shy of his 18th birthday, said. “Baseball can end at any time so being able to go to any college, really, and get that degree and play the game I love is always important.”
He also knows that the upcoming summer season – that all-important one in front of his senior year – will help him build even more interest. He plans to play with Tennessee-based eXposure Prime program this summer which will enable him to take part in all of PG’s biggest national tournaments.
The 16½-year-old Quick, also an excellent student, admitted that the recruiting process has been challenging at times but he’s working his way over the hurdles.
“I wouldn’t say it’s been difficult but it’s been a little bit hard talking to some coaches because I am a young 2023,” he said. “I was actually thinking about reclassifying but I’ll have to see about that. I’ve talked to some schools but I haven’t found what I’ve been looking for so far.”
Being here at the PG National Underclass Showcase-Main Event has been a great learning experience for both of these talented teenagers. They sit back and observe how their peers go about their business and will emulate their actions when they can or at least when they think it can work to their benefit.
“I like to see what guys do to get warmed-up or prepare for the games,” Quick said. “Just seeing how people get prepared and maybe take a little bit of what they’re doing and then putting a little bit of it into your (routine).” The bottom line, he added, is pretty straight forward: “I just want to play baseball for as long as I can.”
For his part, Kwon told PG that as he looked around the collection of athletes that gathered here this week he’s come to know that a lot of them will go on to play college ball. He plans on seeing a lot of them on the PG tournament and showcase circuits in 2022 and maybe even in three or four years when they meet on a college field somewhere.
“You can go to a future event and say, ‘Hey, I remember seeing you at that Underclass event’ and it’s cool to see how far baseball can really take you in life, not only on the field but off the field,” he said.
And when he leaves here, just what it is he hopes to take away?
“I just want to be able to say that I came down here and I did everything that I could; I did my best,” Kwon said. “I want to just show that I can compete with a lot of these players from around the country. … That’s really all it is, just trying to be the best version of myself every time I come to a PG event; that’s my main goal.”