Showcase | Story | 4/20/2013

Big Sky Country at Spring Top

Jeff Dahn        
Photo: Perfect Game

CEDAR RAPIDS, Iowa -- Once the tarp was pulled off the infield and the ice that had formed on top of the tarp was shoveled from the outfield grass at Perfect Game Field Saturday morning, the 11th annual Perfect Game Spring Top Prospect Showcase was ready to take the green light.

Standing along the right field line shortly after the morning workout session commenced were three young prospects who seemed unfazed by the chilly sub-freezing temperature and the ice on the field. These were the three young prospects who had found their way to Perfect Game Field from three separate cities in Montana, and they were ready to play some baseball.

"I'm used to Montana," said the state's top 2014 catching prospect Slade Heggen, a junior at Loyola Sacred Heart High School in Missoula. "I'm pretty warm right now; I've already stripped down."

Heggen was joined at the Spring Top Saturday morning by Brac Warren, a junior right-handed pitcher at Custer County District High School from Rosebud, and Jayse McLean, a junior outfielder at C.M. Russell High School from Great Falls. Heggen and McLean were accompanied by their dads Jed and Mike, respectively, while Warren had his mom, Wendy, in tow.

"I've done a Perfect Game showcase before and it was really good, and it got me a lot of looks," Heggen said of reason for being in eastern Iowa in late April. "I did it last year and I've gotten a lot bigger, so I wanted to come out here and hopefully bump up my ranking a little bit, and get that ranking up so I can send it out to colleges and whatnot."

It's more than 1,200 miles from the Montana cities and towns where these families live to Cedar Rapids, and this trip was all about taking advantage of an open window of opportunity. Montana high school ballplayers play American Legion ball during the spring and summer, a 70-game schedule that runs from April through August.

Once the Legion conference season starts in late May, the players are prohibited from traveling, which basically eliminates any opportunities to participate on the national travel team summer tournament circuit. Both Heggen and Warren have squeezed some major tournaments in, however.

Heggen is a 6-foot, 185-pound switch-hitting catcher ranked 448th nationally in the 2014 class, and is ranked No. 1 in the state of Montana.

He played in the 2012 Perfect Game/EvoShield National Championship (Underclass) in Peoria, Ariz., with Team Northwest, and then got a taste of life at the biggest tournament on PG's schedule, the 2012 PG WWBA World Championship in Jupiter, Fla., playing with the Dbacks Northwest Scout Team. His first exposure to PG came last Aug. 25-26 when he attended the Northwest Showcase in Bellevue, Wash.

"This is like the main one we've been looking to go to," Heggen said. "You get to see all the talent from across the nation and it gives us perspective on where we stand, and it helps me to train harder knowing who I'm competing with; maybe it gives me more confidence and maybe it shows me I've got to work harder."

Warren, Montana's No. 2-ranked over prospect in the 2014 class behind Heggen ( and a top-1,000 prospect nationally), played in the 2010 PG/EvoShield National Championship (Underclass) with Hitters Club Select, and the 2012 PG/EvoShield National Championship (Underclass) with Mountain West 2014. He also attended the PG National Underclass Showcase-Session 1 in Glendale, Ariz.

"I'm out here to see all the competition and get exposed in front of all the scouts and get my ranking up," Warren said, echoing Heggen. "I've had the opportunity to go down to Arizona for a couple of weekends and just pitch, and it's a blast. Just getting to know new people and getting to pitch down in Arizona has just been a lot of fun."

McLean, a three-sport standout at C.M. Russell High, is attending his first PG event. He is unranked but plans on getting more serious about baseball in the years to come; he was excited about this opportunity to compete at the Spring Top.

"I play three sports, so it's kind of tough for me to get out and do stuff like this," he said. "This is kind of right between two of the sports -- we haven't really started the baseball season -- so I can get in here and kind of get seen. This is my first time (at a showcase) and you can just kind of feel things out and see where you are among all the other people at your position."

All three young players took part morning workout session with mixed results. Heggen was the most impressive, running a 6.78-second 60-yard dash (one of just five runners to break 6.8) with an 88 mph outfield throw velocity and a 78 mph catcher throw (top-four at the event). His pop time of 1.87-seconds was the best of the morning. (Max Knutson, a 2013 Nebraska signee from Arden Hills, Minn., set an event record with a 94 mph outfield throw).

The Montana boys' parents, bundled up in jackets and sweatshirts to guard against the early morning cold, were also excited about this opportunity for their sons.

"Brac doesn't play Legion -- he plays on a travel team -- but since we're from Montana we don't have a lot of baseball. This is a good place to get them exposure," Wendy Warren said. "We've been to Perfect Game (events) before and it's always nice to see how you're doing, and hopefully improve on your skills and your ranking and all that good stuff."

Jed Heggen concurred:

"Living in Montana, we play a Legion season and that pretty much takes up our summer," he said. "Once the conference season starts, the boys aren't really allowed to go out (of state) and play, and that happens to be when a lot of the recruiting is taking place. This gives us an opportunity to come down here, let them play and get them in front of at least the Perfect Game scouts and potentially other scouts that may be in attendance.

"An it's pretty convenient for us," Jed continued. "If you've got to fly, you've got to fly, whether it's one connection or two. And this is pretty easy to get here."

Mike McLean, who like his son was experiencing his first PG showcase event, watched the proceedings with special interest. He agreed with the others that the Spring Top's place on the calendar was among its biggest selling points.

"My son plays football and basketball and he doesn't get a chance to get out to this kind of thing, so this was a good chance to get seen a little bit more," Mike said. "He likes baseball -- I think baseball is his favorite sport -- and since we don't have very much going on baseball-wise right now, this is pretty much the only opportunity that we have a chance to get out here."

You can excuse the boys if they sometimes feel isolated playing in Big Sky Country in the wide open spaces of their state. McLean compared seeing all the players here this weekend from all over the place -- 12 states, three Canadian provinces and Puerto Rico are represented -- was kind of like watching the Major League Baseball amateur draft. That is the only other time he got to see high school players from other states.

"You come here and you actually get to see those guys play right in front of you," he said. "I'm going to try to do these things as much as I can. Playing three sports, you don't really get out as much, and we live in Montana so it's not like there's a whole lot of camps really nearby us, so we have to fly to Iowa. But I definitely want to try to get out as much as I can ... and I'd like to come back to another one."

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