Finest in Field: Will Banfield

Photo: Perfect Game

Jeff Dahn
Published: Monday, January 8, 2018

2017 Finest in the Field Class-by-Class: 2018 | 2019 | 2020 | 2021

CEDAR RAPIDS, Iowa – Standout Lawrenceville, Ga., 2018 catcher Will Banfield first started turning heads with his strong arm, defensive mobility and potent bat as a 14-year-old playing with the East Cobb Astros in Perfect Game tournaments back in the summer of 2014.

Now more than three years later, the 18-year-old senior at Brookwood High School in Snellville, Ga., has developed into the No. 6-ranked national prospect in the class of 2018, playing for the Team Elite organization since 2015. A Perfect Game All-American, Banfield is also ranked the No. 12 overall prospect (college, juco, high school) in the 2018 MLB June Amateur Draft.

In August at the PG All-American Classic Awards Banquet, the 6-foot-1, 210-pound Banfield took home the 2017 Rawlings Defensive Player of the Year Award in acknowledgement of his prowess behind the plate. As an extension of that recognition, today Banfield is being honored as the 2017 Perfect Game/Rawlings “Finest in the Field” Defensive Player of the Year.

He’s earned the awards and the recognition by being dedicated to hard work, and it’s paid off. A PG scout at last June’s National Showcase at jetBlue Park took note not only of his prowess behind the plate but also at the plate, admiring his “raw strength and quick hands” during BP sessions. “He’s a rare catcher who has both the top-level defensive skills and offensive tools,” the scout reported.

But as much time and effort that he puts into honing his hitting skills, he has turned catching into a science. A thinking man’s catcher, Banfield has become expert at presenting pitches, an art often referred to as “stealing strikes.”

“I have some drills I do before every single game,” Banfield told PG while playing for the Brookwood Broncos at last year’s PG High School Showdown at PG Park South-LakePoint in Emerson, Ga. “I like to get my hands working, get my hands in the zone and make sure I stay around the plate for every single pitch.”

Once the batter steps into the box and while crouched behind the plate, he’ll hold his glove hand out and pretend it’s a steering wheel, turning it one way or another depending on if the pitch is inside or outside. On a high pitch, he’ll turn his wrist down and on a low pitch he’ll extend his glove upward in a “thumbs-up” motion.

“With the pitchers, it’s easy when they hit the zone but when they don’t I’m glad I have the technique – the steering wheel – that I can just steal a strike for the umpire to call,” Banfield said.

Ethan Hankins, the dominant 6-foot-6, 200-pound right-hander from Cumming, Ga., has been a Team Elite teammate of Banfield’s since the 2015 summer and fall PG tournament seasons.

Hankins, also a Vanderbilt signee, is the No. 1-ranked national prospect in the class of 2018 and there is speculation that he might become the first prep right-hander to be selected No. 1 overall in June’s MLB Draft. He has a special appreciation for the skills Banfield brings behind the plate.

“I love pitching to him,” Hankins told PG at the National Showcase in June. “There’s not a better feeling in the world than having him make a pitch that’s not so much a strike, a strike. I love it, and it’s hard to imagine throwing to anybody else.”

Banfield has participated in 43 PG events – he’ll add a 44th at this year’s PG High School Showdown – including the 2016 and 2017 National Showcase and the 2017 PG All-American Classic. He has been named to 11 all-tournament teams – nine with Team Elite from 2015-17, two with East Cobb in 2014 – has been a part of three PG WWBA tournament championship teams and one BCS championship team, and earned Top Prospect List recognition at four PG showcases.

A visit to Banfield’s PG trophy room provides proof positive as to just how decorated his Perfect Game career has been.

One of those Top Prospect List performances came at this summer’s PG National Showcase, where Banfield recorded a 1 .74-second Pop Time, the best effort of the entire 2017 showcase season; his 84-mph catcher’s velocity was tied for the second-best at the event. PG scouts were obviously impressed with what they saw from Banfield, filing the following report:

“(Banfield shows the) highest level physical tools on defense, extremely flexible and athletic in his lower half, strong hands that frame mid-90s like a professional; high energy blocker, outstanding arm strength and release. … Plays the game hard.”

The report was similar a year earlier when Banfield earned TPL recognition at the 2016 PG Underclass All-American Games in San Diego after recording a 1.78-second Pop and an 82-mph catcher’s velo:

“Big and strong athletic build … and has a physical presence on the field. … Athletic actions behind the plate, gets low and is flexible, outstanding arm strength. … Has all the tools to be one of the top prospects in the 2018 class, and would be that high-level prospect at multiple positions.”

Banfield is proud of his association with Team Elite and honestly believes he wouldn’t be the same player that he is today had he not hitched his wagon to the program. While at the PG National, he spoke with admiration about program founder/owner/17u manager Brad Bouras and coaches Shane Hopper and Brock Bennett and how he’s benefitted from being able to work with them.

“They’ve just helped my game so much and helped my craft,” he said. “They kind of treat us like we’re college players and like the player that we need to be; they just help us so much.”

With the calendar now flipped to 2018, there is much for Banfield to look forward to over the next six months. There will be his final baseball season at Brookwood High, graduation and then the 2018 MLB June Amateur Draft.

The opportunity to continue both his academic and baseball careers at Vanderbilt is golden one, to be sure, but the draft could prove to be a life-changer for the standout catcher from Georgia.

“This spring before the draft, if I have the opportunity to go into it, I’m just going to keep working hard because I need to get better in parts of my game. It’s definitely important and I’m excited about it,” he said. “I just want the scouts and everybody that has been watching to see what kind of player I am, and that I can live up to the hype that people have set for me.”

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