Tournaments | Story | 11/15/2012

2012 Jupiter Impact Players

Todd Gold        
Photo: Perfect Game
Over the past 14 years the WWBA World Championship has put an exclamation point on the amateur baseball season. The 85 team event offers a one of a kind experience to both the elite players around the country and the scouting community to see nearly all of the top prospects in the upcoming draft facing one another in meaningful games.

For five days each October, the spring home of the Marlins and Cardinals in Jupiter, FL becomes the epicenter of the amateur baseball universe. The talent level and atmosphere are unrivaled, and the event produces some very intense games.

The 2012 edition will be remembered as the "Hurricane Jupiter," due to the collateral effects of Hurricane Sandy passing nearby. Weather conditions impacted games during the first couple of days, with damp mounds, soggy conditions and strong winds. While far from ideal, the adverse conditions did serve to give some players an opportunity to show that they could thrive in spite of the conditions and contributed to some very memorable feats.

Stars on Display
The WWBA World Championship was loaded with elite talent and these select few position players stood out even amongst their impressive group of peers.

Dominic Smith (2013 1B, Yak Baseball West-GBG)-
Smith has been well-established as one of the top hitters on the national scene for some time now, so his success at the plate against the highest level of competition that his age group has to offer was par for the course. Thus, what stands out from Smith's impressive Jupiter performance are several moments in particular. He went homerless in the tourney, thanks to Hurricane Sandy, which turned what would have been a no-doubt Home Run to right center into a ground rule double to left center. Smith also played four different positions during the tournament. Right field, which is his primary position during the high school season at Serra HS (Gardena, CA), as well as first base, the position where he has the highest upside long term. A 6.89 runner in the 60-yard dash, Smith not only went 3-for-3 on stolen base attempts, he played a passable center field during parts of a couple games. But it was his two-inning stint as a left handed catcher during a consolation game that really reinforces how athletic and versatile Smith is. Just as importantly, it exemplified his passion for the game, not to mention he also got to show off his plus arm (1.84 pop to 2B, 1.56 to 3B with a coach standing in the right handed batter's box). Smith worked 90-92 as a LHP at the National Showcase in June, but did not pitch in Jupiter. All of the icing on the cake and the reassuring athleticism aside, Smith continued to cement his status as one of the top hitting prospects in the 2013 class with a smooth left handed stroke that generates tremendous bat speed with ease. 

Oscar Mercado (2013 SS, Marucci Elite)- In any class Mercado would stand out for his rare defensive abilities. But in a class that is shallow on shortstops, Mercado will be an especially sought after asset come June. The lithe athletic Tampa product is widely considered to be not only the best defensive MIF prospect from this year's tournament, but the best up-the-middle defender to come through Jupiter since Francisco Lindor (eighth overall pick in 2011). His defense alone makes Mercado a potential first rounder come June, but his offensive profile also warrants prospect status. He has quick hands and a direct path and has shown off good hand-eye coordination, squaring up quality pitching on a consistent basis. He lacks the present strength to drive the ball out of the ballpark at present, but as he matures he could develop occasional power to go along with a very good hit tool and some speed on the bases for a very solid offensive profile. That solid offensive profile is rarely found paired with such high caliber defensive ability, making Mercado a highly attractive draft prospect.

J.P. Crawford (2013 SS, Yak Baseball West-GBG)- In some years, Crawford would be the top defensive shortstop in the class. As it stands, he has an edge on Oscar Mercado in arm strength and is similarly athletic. But beyond his defense, Crawford boasts an especially impressive upside with the bat. His smooth left handed swing features plus bat speed and good contact ability. He flashes present power, and should develop average or above power as he gets stronger and continues to develop as a hitter. That power potential is rare to find in a prospect with a legitimate chance to stay at a defensive home up the middle. His overall upside is higher than that of Mercado, though he will need to work very hard and reach his lofty ceiling in order to become a more valuable asset. Crawford's floor appears to be that of an everyday corner outfielder with above average tools across the board, but he has a shot at developing into the rarest and most valuable variety of prospect: a legitimate five-tool shortstop. If he can convince clubs with his performance this spring that there is a legitimate possibility of him achieving that upside, Crawford should come off the board early.

Justin Williams (2013 OF, Marucci Elite)- The physically imposing Louisiana product has as much raw power as any hitter in the 2013 class. Unfortunately the term raw applies not only to his power, as Williams enters just his fourth full year of playing baseball. The physical gifts that Williams possesses are blatantly obvious to anyone who watches him play. He is still behind the curve of most prospects of his caliber when it comes to the finer points of hitting, and it showed at times. But his development has been promising and he has been closing the gap quickly. While he only went 2-for-9, Williams' second hit was a home run and his performance is beginning to catch up to his potential. He has begun to show the ability to make adjustments and shorten up with two strikes, and gone are the "happy feet" that sapped his in-game power this summer. While he's far from polished, the consistent steps forward as a hitter suggest he will eventually unlock most if not all of his tremendous raw power. If that happens, he has an MVP-caliber ceiling at the plate with above average defense on an outfield corner, possibly in right.

Josh Hart (2013 OF, East Cobb Baseball)- Hart has such a long track record on the national scene that it is almost easy to take his abilities for granted. While the tool that stands out most is his speed, he is more quick than fast at present. It's rare to find an athletic leadoff hitting centerfielder whose game can be described as workman-like, but his consistent production for East Cobb most certainly qualifies. Hart's overall game and approach make him one of the safer bets in a high school class that is short on reliable position prospects. He has a top of the order profile, and not just because of his speed. Hart's left handed swing is smooth and balanced, with good bat speed and quick twitch acceleration. But more importantly, he is already well on his way to becoming a professional lead-off hitter. He shows an advanced approach at the plate, good strike zone judgement and discipline, works the count extremely well and has shown that his on-base skills play against even the highest caliber of amateur pitching. His steady progress and remaining projection has, at least for now, allowed him to hold off hard-charging Terry McClure to maintain his spot near the top of an impressive list of centerfield prospects from Georgia. The 2012 WWBA World Championship was Hart's seventh PG event of 2012. At the highest levels of competition (WWBA World Championship, 17u PG World Series, PG All-American Classic) Hart hit .355/.540/.422 over 63 plate appearances. His showing in Jupiter was his best yet, hitting .455/.571/.591 in 28 plate appearances and sparking East Cobb Baseball to a championship. It could be said that Hart's level of play was on par with the caliber of competition in Jupiter, but the reverse would be more accurate.

In a tournament where high velocities were the norm, this group of elite pitchers stood out from the impressive field at the WWBA World Championship for their ability to not just throw hard, but for their ability to pitch.

Touki Toussaint (2014 RHP, Atlanta Blue Jays)- His deceptively smooth arm stroke doesn't tip off hitters to the heat that he is about to unleash. But with a long wingspan and fast whippy arm action, Toussaint showed off an explosive fastball. While he has some work to do cleaning up his delivery, Toussaint showed the most electric arsenal of the entire tournament. He opened the tourney with a 95 mph fastball on the first pitch of the first game en route to knocking off the defending champions Marucci Elite while pitching in tropical storm conditions. He would go on to touch 97 during the playoffs, and his fastball showed explosive late riding life that resembles that of Gerrit Cole's heater. He aggressively mixed in a mid 70s curveball that featured very tight spin and big depth. His curveball was so deep that he got squeezed on some strike calls with it during his first outing, as one scout remarked "it's going to be tough to get a called third strike with that yakker if he keeps buckling the ump's knees."

Jordan Sheffield (2013 RHP, Ohio Warhawks)- The Ohio Warhawks offered up a buffet of power arms to the throngs of scouts in attendance on Saturday night. Jordan Sheffield's younger brother Justus, a 2014 left hander, got the start and was the first of four Ohio Warhawks to hit 91+ mph on the radar gun in the same game. The elder Sheffield came into the game in the fifth and needed just one inning to establish himself as one of the biggest highlights of the tournament. Jordan has the fastest arm in the 2013 class, and he has efficient mechanics with good direction to the plate, allowing him to blow fastballs past the Houston Heat, working 94-95, before unleashing a 98 mph K.O. fastball up and in for an inning ending strike three. Though he didn't really need to, he snapped off several power curveballs in the low 80s (81-83 mph). His impressive arsenal and lightning quick arm will quiet concerns about his size and commitment to Vanderbilt.

Jonah Wesely
(2013 LHP, Team Elite)-
In class that is unusually deep on left handed pitching, Wesely separates himself from his peers with his competitiveness and work ethic. He's a relatively advanced pitcher for a high school product, but adrenaline-induced spurts of wildness at a couple of national level events duing the summer put pressure on Wesely to perform at his usual level in Jupiter. He responded with a complete game victory, complete with seven punchouts. In the outing Wesely showed not only that he could consistently command his fastball throughout an entire game, but also showed some pitchability, effectively utilizing his four pitch arsenal. One common concern about Wesely amongst evaluators has long been a thick lower half, but he showed up in Jupiter in noticeably improved physical condition. While there are more talented lefties in this class, none can match Wesely's mental makeup, which makes him a relatively safe bet to reach his ceiling and have a successful career at the next level.

Casey Shane (2013 RHP, Houston Banditos)- Shane fits the mold of the classic Texas power pitcher. He is a physically imposing 6-foot-3, 200 pounds, and as per usual, he worked in the low 90s and touched 94 with a low effort delivery and sound mechanics. His fastball features heavy sinking action and good run to the arm side. His secondary stuff is highlighted by a quality slider in the low-mid 80s, with the rest a work in progress at this point. He lacks a lot of remaining physical projection, but he has two quality offerings to go with good pitchability and command within the bottom of the strike zone. He'll need to develop a consistently reliable changeup to avoid the bullpen down the road, but not only has plenty of time to do so, he has shown flashes with the pitch and there is reason to believe that it will eventually be a quality offering for him. 

Connor Jones (2013 RHP, EvoShield Canes)- The Canes were hoping they would be able to hold their ace back and save him for the championship game. But after falling behind in the semifinal game against Chet Lemon's Juice they summoned Jones in relief. It was his second appearance of the tournament, and the duel that ensued between he and eventual Most Valuable Pitcher Tyler Danish, was one of the biggest highlights of the tournament. Both pitchers were locating low 90s fastballs with plus movement to both sides and both offenses came to a grinding halt. Jones came up short, having entered the game with the same 3-1 deficit that the Canes ultimately lost by, but he really impressed with his competitiveness and ability to execute in critical situations. In two appearances, Jones threw 10 shutout innings, allowing five hits and striking out nine without issuing a single walk. He repeats his deceptive delivery that features a back turn which allows him to hide the ball throughout. The deception combined with the command and movement on his fastball make him extremely tough on hitters. He also has shown the ability to move the ball around the zone and spin it very well. He has a very strong and well rounded profile as a pitching prospect.

Hidden Gems
This is a group of players who entered the WWBA World Championship with their talent mostly unknown to the PG scouting staff as well as many of the scouts and recruiters in attendance. They came away from Jupiter with their ability burned into the back of scouts' minds.

Carlos Salazar (2013 RHP, Ohio Warhawks)-
The rumors seemed almost too good to be true. A previously unheard of prospect out of Kerman, CA, a town of just over 13,000 people located west of Fresno. The legend included a mid 90s fastball that supposedly had climbed up to 98 mph and even included tales of incredible weight room feats. With the bar set so high, Salazar was almost certainly destined to be a disappointment as he took the mound on Sunday morning. A large turnout of scouting directors and cross checkers crowded behind the backstop on Field 5 of the Blue Quad to find out for themselves. Salazar didn't quite touch 98, instead topping out at 96 mph, but he most certainly did not disappoint. He generated his velocity with big time arm strength and supplemented it with a well above average mid 80s changeup. He didn't get to show his breaking ball much in his two innings of work. But with a player who is such a late arrival to the national stage, this outing wasn't about showing off his entire repertoire, his pitchability and ability to compete on the mound. It was about firmly establishing himself as a legitimate prospect, confirming the whispers about his arm strength, and becoming a priority for MLB decision makers to follow during the spring. The time for scrutiny will come this spring as organizations try to pin down just how high they're willing to put him on their draft boards. For now, Salazar accomplished exactly what he set out to in Jupiter, meaning the circus will be coming to Kerman, CA this spring.

Bryce Montes de Oca (2014 RHP, Midland Redskins)-
The big righty has become a big name in the midwest, but until stepping onto the mound of Field 7 on the Blue Quad, he was a bit of a mystery nationally. The 6-foot-7, 265 pound hurler is surprisingly athletic for his size, and is a very solid basketball player during the offseason. While he did have some difficulty repeating his delivery, he struggled with it much less that most underclassmen of his massive stature typically do. He managed to stay near the bottom of the strike zone well, and even though he has a ways to go with his delivery, he does have the athleticism to make the necessary adjustments. He comfortably worked 93-95 with downhill plane. Because he was behind so often he didn't get to show his ability to utilize his secondary stuff much, but his upper 70s curveball and mid 80s changeup both showed very good potential. If he puts it all together this might have been the national debut of a special player.

Edwin Diaz (2013 SS, Texas Sun Devils)- The Puerto Rican import had a big impact for the Texas Sun Devils, as he looked to fill some big shoes. For the past four years the shortstop position has been manned by the Cecchini brothers Garin (2010 3rd round, Boston) and Gavin (2012 1st round, NY Mets). Diaz had never played at a PG event before, but he announced his presence immediately with a line drive double to deep centerfield in spite of a strong wind blowing in. He continued to handle the big stage well, impressing on both sides of the ball. The thin athletic MIF showed good defensive actions, and drove the ball back up the middle consistently. Diaz finished the tourney 3-for-9 with a pair of walks, but it was the tools that will have him among the group of top Puerto Rican players to keep an eye on for the 2013 draft, joining what is beginning to look like a deep group, highlighted by SS Jan A. Hernandez.

Jake Brentz (2013 LHP, Mets Scout Team/St. Louis Pirates)- Brentz was a player that has played at a couple of PG events in the past, but he has done so exclusively as an outfielder. His first time taking the mound was much anticipated, as we had heard reports of him being able to reach the low 90s with his fastball. He exceeded expectations when he took the mound late in the final game of the night on Saturday, hitting 94 mph with the first fastball he threw. He nailed down the Save in a 3-1 ballgame by striking out the final batter of the game on five pitches (all fastballs at 93-94). He would also earn a Win in relief in a consolation game against a very strong Royals Scout Team, striking out the side in his one inning of work. Brentz came to Jupiter with a reputation as a very solid two-way prospect, he left firmly established as an intriguing pitching prospect who will be followed closely this spring.

Tyler O'Neill (2013 C, Dbacks Team BC)- Canada has produced some talented Major League players over the years, but aside from Russell Martin (who was drafted as a third baseman in the 17th round), there has been little contribution at the catcher position. O'Neill does not have history on his side, but does have the physical talent to potentially break the mold. He posted low-mid 1.9 pop times and impressed with his defensive tools behind the plate. He also plays on the left side of the infield, but his prospect status looks far better as an athletic catcher if he can refine his receiving skills. His offensive tools are highly intriguing. He has a noisy approach and deep handsy load, but he showed enough bat speed to turn around high velocity pitching in spite of setup and approach. He generates very good bat whip and has well developed small muscle groups that allow the ball to jump off his bat when he squares it up.   

Indelible Impressions
These are a few of the moments and performances that are etched in the minds of the PG scouting staff from the WWBA World Championship.

Tyler "Everyday" Danish carries the Juice- It has to qualify as one of the greatest performances in Jupiter history. 2013 RHP Tyler Danish pitched every single day of the 2012 WWBA World Championship. His complete game victory over the prospect laden EvoShield Canes, in which he dueled with high level prospect Connor Jones was just shy of a Herculean feat. Danish had a similar run last year at the 2011 WWBA Underclass World Championship, also being a workhorse that sparked Chet Lemon's Juice to a championship run. He has typically worked in the upper 80s, touching 90/91 mph with an impressive sinker ball. But he touched 94 in his first start on Friday night and hit 92 several times during his semifinal victory. In Jupiter his sinker/slider repertoire was shades of Brandon Webb circa mid-late 2000s. He combined advanced present stuff with a bulldog competitiveness on the mound that really opened some eyes. He could be a tempting draft pick in spite of a strong commitment to national powerhouse Florida and a very difficult profile as a 6-foot right handed sinker/slider high mileage high school arm. If he makes it to Gainesville he will be ready to contribute from day one.

Molnar debut-
Given the high caliber of competition in Jupiter, it is rare for a sophomore to make an impact. But the top ranked player in the inaugural class of 2015 rankings, Kyle Molnar, did just that. It's almost impossible for a player to hold onto the top spot throughout his entire high school career, given how rapidly players change and new prospects are discovered. But if his outing in Jupiter is any indication, he has a shot to stay near the top for a long time. He was called on in relief of a tie game that looked to be slipping away. The sophomore hurler worked out of a jam en route to a two inning victory, striking out three without allowing a baserunner. Molnar worked 89-91 and touched 92 mph several times. Just as impressively, he showed above average present spin rate on a mid-70s curveball that showed good bite and some depth. Also a talented outfielder, Molnar hit .333/.400/.556 in 10 plate appearances. The victory ultimately didn't get ABD into the playoffs, but their playoff hopes hinged on the shoulders of a sophomore making his first trip to Jupiter, and he delivered in a huge spot while showing physical tools that justify his lofty ranking.

Ryder slays the Yak- Every year there is one team that enters Jupiter loaded with impact prospects and a huge target on their back. Last year it was the Cardinals Scout Team/FTB Mizuno with an All-American outfield (Albert Almora, David Dahl, Jesse Winker), this year it was Yak Baseball West-GBG with All-American infielders Dom Smith, Chris Rivera and JP Crawford. In the opening round of the playoffs the loaded Yak squad met up with the Dirtbags, a very strong team in their own right. It was an intense battle, and ultimately 2013 SS/RHP Ryder Jones proved to be more than Yak could handle. Jones accounted for all of the game's scoring by hitting a long 3-Run Home Run
to RF off Rivera in the bottom of the 5th. Then the Stanford commit was summoned to the mound in the seventh inning to nail down the Save, consistently sitting 91-92 with life. 

Morgan overpowers gale-force wind- One of the unique aspects of the 2012 edition of Jupiter was the powerful winds that occurred as residual effect of nearby Hurricane Sandy. The powerful winds swatted away what would have otherwise been surefire Home Runs on some fields. But Ontario Blue Jays 2014 OF Gareth Morgan showed that Sandy was no match for his power bat. Morgan crushed a line drive homer to left center field, directly into the teeth of a powerful wind.
The underclassman's shot fought it's way upstream through the wind for a go-ahead Home Run. Morgan had an up and down tournament against the elite players from the 2013 class, but this was the type of moment that will resonate in the minds of scouts throughout his draft process.

Big-Game Demeritte- East Cobb Baseball star 3B Travis Demeritte started off Jupiter in a slump, going 0-for-the weekend. The PG All-American entered Championship Monday without a hit in 16 plate appearances. But when the stakes reached their highest point, Demeritte rose to the occasion. In the quarterfinal playoff game against Palm Beach PAL Demeritte took the ball and tossed six scoreless innings, racking up 10 strikeouts. Then in the championship game Demeritte broke the game open with a bases clearing double as part of a 3-for-3 performance to lift East Cobb to the WWBA World Championship. What also doesn't show up in the box score is Demeritte's stellar defensive play at third all tournament long, he is arguably the top hot corner defender in the class. Teammate and Tournament MVP Wesley Jones will rightfully be remembered as the biggest catalyst for East Cobb's title run, but they may not have been able to finish the job without Demeritte's big-game contributions. 

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