Photo: Mahki Backstrom, Spencer Jones, Derek Diamond, Garrett Frechette

4 introduced to ’18 Classic

Patrick Ebert

Published: Tuesday, July 10, 2018

SAN DIEGO – The first four members of the 2018 Perfect Game All-American Classic were introduced in a press conference on Monday from Petco Park prior to the San Diego Padres game against the Los Angeles Dodgers. With PG’s Daron Sutton serving as the emcee and long-time Honorary Chairman and soon-to-be Hall of Famer Trevor Hoffman serving as the hometown host, the players got to enjoy a taste of what it’s like being in the limelight.

San Diego, with the exception of one year in 2008 when the game was played at Dodger Stadium, has been the home of the Classic since 2006, and Hoffman has served as the event’s ambassador since 2011. Hometown hero Mickey Moniak, the No. 1 overall pick in the 2016 MLB Draft, starred in the Classic during the summer of 2015, while the host Padres currently have two players on their active roster that previously were part of the event: first baseman Eric Hosmer and catcher Austin Hedges.

This year’s PG All-American Classic will be part of a doubleheader with the big league Padres on Sunday, August 12. The Padres host the Phillies in an early afternoon game that will also honor the local military presence as it does several times on Sundays during the course of the regular season.

The four players introduced, all from California, include a trio of San Diego natives: Derek Diamond of Ramona, Garrett Frechette of Vista and Spencer Jones of Encinitas. The fourth player included, Mahki Backstrom, hails from nearby Los Angeles. All four players participated at the Perfect Game National Showcase in mid-June at Tropicana Field in St. Petersburg, Florida where much of the selection process took place.

Each one has a unique background, and like all of the players that attend a Perfect Game event, each one took a different path to get to this point in their career. Some, like Frechette, have been identified and followed for several years. Others, like Backstrom, are just starting to blossom into game-changing talents.

Righthanded pitcher Derek Diamond has enjoyed a significant transformation recently, and after his impressive showing at the National Showcase he saw his name rise from the 350 range to 15 overall in the most recent update of the high school class of 2019 player rankings. Known for his overall athletic prowess, Diamond has previously shined both on the mound and at the plate with intriguing two-way talents.

However, it is on the mound where he has stood out the most. Peaking at 93 mph at the Trop, it’s easy to envision Diamond throwing much, much harder in the not-so-distant future. He easily, and seemingly effortlessly, threw 90-93 in his recent appearance at the Perfect Game National Showcase, throwing a full three-pitch mix that included a mid-70s curveball and a 80 mph changeup.

“I just trust my coaches,” Diamond said of his development. “My head coach is amazing and my pitching coach has taught me everything, really. It’s all from my high school, trusting in them – hitting my growth spurt helped a lot – and believing in myself.”

As a much younger player Diamond participated in the 2013 12u All-American Championship for the San Diego Show. Even at the youth level his talents were evident, earning himself a spot on the event’s All-Tournament Team.

While he may not have made the conscious connection to the possibility of playing in a big league ballpark before his senior year of high school at that young age, being able to reach this pinnacle of his high school career while playing in his hometown is a moment he’ll never forget.

“I knew there was a tournament affiliated with Perfect Game but I didn’t think much of the connection at the time,” Diamond recalled. “Knowing that it’s all a process, and the Perfect Game organization does so well documenting players and their growth.

“Since I was 11 or 12 years old I’ve come to the game, and you see the guys out on the field and you dream of being in that position. So when it came to reality it was really unbelievable. It was something I’ve been looking forward to for a long time, hoping for, and now that it’s a reality it’s awesome. I almost can’t believe it.”

Diamond is also a 4.0 student off the field, and that combination of athletic talent and book-smarts led to a commitment to Stanford.

“Growing up my parents did a great job of explaining how important school was and how sports aren’t anything without academics, and I just took ownership of that,” Diamond said of his commitment. “My best friend for a long time and I are super competitive with grades. We’ve had almost the same grade in every class since middle school.“

For as talented as Diamond is on and off the field now he has the opportunity to prepare for one of the biggest moments of his life. As a rising soon-to-be high school senior he has much bigger things ahead of him, both on and off of the baseball field. And in all instances, his goal is to prove that he belongs.

“I just want to show that I belong with the best players in the nation,” Diamond said of his upcoming appearance on the mound at Petco. “As long as I do well and look like I fit in with the top guys then I’ll be happy. It’ll be a great day either way.”

It would seem as though Garrett Frechette has been training for the opportunity to participate in the PG All-American Classic for quite some time. Step-by-step, he has climbed the ladder up the PG chain of events, making his first Perfect Game appearance in 2016 at the Sunshine West Showcase following is freshman year of high school.

From there he attended the 15u WWBA National Championship and earned All-Tournament honors prior to his first of two appearances at the PG Underclass All-American Games, the annual underclass event associated with the Classic in San Diego.

He returned to the PG Underclass All-American Games in 2017, making other stops that year at the California World Series, the 16u WWBA National Championship, the Underclass World Championship, the WWBA World Championship, the Jr. National Showcase, the Fall National Championship and the West Memorial Day Classic, where he was named the overall event Most Valuable Player with Phenom Signature.

“Each event I’ve seen all of the other players play and (have) seen all of the other top prospects and the way they play, and getting evaluated by Perfect Game so I knew what I had to work on,” Frechette said of his numerous PG experiences. “Going back home after that and going to work, working on my weaknesses and strengthen everything I can to get better.”

Frechette, like Jones and Backstrom, most recently participated at the 17u WWBA National Championship in Emerson, Ga. Frechette played for his hometown team, the San Diego Show, a squad that advanced to the round of 16 in the playoffs at the event (profiled here).

“It’s a great program, great support,” Frechette said of the San Diego Show. “The coaches are great people, I’ve learned a lot from them. Seeing a bunch of other guys come out of their program, first rounders, first picks like (Mickey) Moniak (and) Brady Aiken; it’s just a great program.”

It’s safe to say that Frechette has definitely gotten better as his baseball career has progressed. Having committed to play for nearby San Diego State, Frechette is an imposing lefthanded slugger who is universally praised for his ability to consistently impact the baseball hard.

This summer he is already off to a good start, with stops in St. Peterburg for the National, Emerson, Ga., for the 17u WWBA National Championship and his impending stay-cation to the 2018 Perfect Game All-American Classic.

“Waking up every day and doing that one thing that gets me closer to my dream of playing in the big leagues,” Frechette said of the honor being selected to play in the Classic. “This was one of them, playing in the All-American game. Working on me, working on my swing, going to the gym and working out. Just one thing a day to get me closer to my goal.”

Spencer Jones, a towering 6-foot-7, 205-pound lefthanded pitcher that is currently ranked 29th overall in the class of 2019 player rankings, has made his college pledge across the country to Vanderbilt. Like Frechette, Jones has participated in the PG Underclass All-American Games each of the last two years but really took a step forward when he threw in the 88-93 mph range at the PG National Showcase last month.

Hailing from Encinitas, Calif., he attends La Costa Canyon High School where he shines not only as a pitcher but also as a hitter. You can read more about Jones and his Blackhawks National team from the 17u WWBA National Championship here.

"It means a lot, mostly because it’s a hometown event,” Jones told Perfect Game from Georgia. “I was fortunate enough my freshman year to have Mickey Moniak on my high school team, and he told me a lot about the event and how special it was. It was always a goal of mine starting high school to play in front of my friends and family in the event, and it just means a lot. I can't be any more excited than I am right now."

Ranked 31st overall in the 2019 player rankings, Backstrom, like Jones, is quickly recognizable on a baseball field thanks to his powerful 6-foot-5, 220-pound frame. A lefthanded slugger like Frechette, Backstrom put on a hitting display at the PG National Showcase with easy raw power, getting a chance to prove himself on a national level after an impressive performance at the PG Sunshine West Showcase in Chula Vista, Calif., in early June.

“I’m not going to lie I was pretty nervous at first,” Backstrom told Perfect Game about his experience at the National Showcase. “It was a very opening experience. Just being around so many great players, I kept telling myself that I wanted to stand out as the best player there. I wanted to make sure I was at 100 percent all the time.”

He attends Junipero Serra High School and is currently uncommitted, although is drawing significant interest from numerous powerhouse Division I programs on the West Coast. You can read more about Backstrom and his ascent with the CBA Cavs at the 17u WWBA National Championship here.

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