All American Game : : Story
Thursday, August 18, 2005

The Aflac Experience

Patrick Ebert        
Home run derby, finals
Saturday's action brought us to beautiful Ripken Stadium in Aberdeen, Maryland, home of the Aberdeen Ironbirds, the low-A short-season affiliate of the Baltimore Orioles. The entire Aberdeen complex is absolutely amazing, with four stadiums and four practice fields in addition to Ripken Stadium making up the Rikpen Youth Baseball Academy complex. You would be hard-pressed to find a finer minor league stadium, much less one that hosts a A-level ballclub, not to mention the youth complexes.

The All-Americans took the field Saturday in anticipation of the final round of the home run derby and to play the game itself. The final round of the home run derby kicked off with Robbie Alcombrack, Torre Langley, Kyle Drabek and Jeff Rapoport as the participants. Unlike the day before, the hitters were given 10 outs as opposed to 10 swings, meaning any swing that resulted in a home run did not result in an out. Robbie Alcombrack, who hit four out the day before in the first round of the competition, won the final round with six bombs, including several that bounced off the visitor's clubhouse past the left-field fence over 310 feet away. Kyle Drabek hit two dingers, one of which cleared the clubhouse in left, while Torre Langley and Jeff Rapoport made sure not to be shut-out in the final round by knocking one out each.

Aflac All-American Classic
While the weather was excruciatingly hot leading up to game-day, Mother Nature seemed to have saved her hottest day for Saturday. With so many talented players on the field, typically you would see the seats closest to the field filled with fans, scouts and family members. While I don't want to make any excuses, I have to believe the heat had something to do with the play on the field in a game that saw bouts of wildness, errors and an uncanny number of walks.

Matt Latos got the starting nod for the East squad while Baseball America pitching prospect of the year Jordan Walden started for the West. Both pitchers are extremely gifted athletes with tall, projectable frames and exciting, pure stuff. The West batted first, with second baseman Ryan Adams leading things off. The way the game started was indicative of how it would continue, as on a routine ground ball, East shortstop Brent Brewer air-mailed a throw to first base. Latos decided to take matters in his own hand after Adams reached, striking out Drew Rundle and Chris Parmelee using 91-93 mph heat and a few wicked curveballs before inducing a hard hit ground ball by Hank Conger, a ball that second baseman Ryan Jackson made a very nice diving play to rob Conger of a base hit.

Jordan Walden was able to get the East out in order in the bottom of the first inning, striking out Cody Johnson swinging. Walden, who has touched the mid-to-upper 90s this summer in a few showcases and tournaments, topped out at 92 mph in his first inning of work.

Latos returned to pitch the second for the East, and while he struck out the first and last batters of the inning, two singles by Devin Shepherd and Jeff Rapoport and a two-run double by Nathan Bridges led to two runs for the West. You could tell the heat was clearly getting to Latos, who started to show some emotions on the mound after walking Robbie Alcombrack. He managed to settle down, and record the last two outs of the inning without further damage.

Walden also returned in his half of the second inning, and like Latos pitched himself into some trouble. However, he worked around two walks to end his inning, and outing, unscathed.

It's a shame Dellin Betances only worked one inning, because he was the most impressive pitcher on the day, quickly shutting down the West in the top of the third on two ground outs and a fly out. Betances' first pitch recorded 93 on the gun, with 94 as his peak. His breaking ball was clocked at 76, and he didn't throw more than eight pitches to record his three outs.

Smooth lefty Aaron Miller came out to the mound for the bottom of the third, and once again the first batter of the inning, Ryan Jackson, reached on an error, this time by West shortstop Grant Green. Derrick Robinson grounded out, moving Jackson to second, and Miller really got himself into a jam by walking the next two batters, Chris Marrero and Cody Johnson, to load the bases. Miller did a nice job inducing an infield pop-up by Max Sapp using his 86-87 fastball to neutralize the left-handed hitter before inducing another infield pop-up by David Christensen. Overall Miller touched 89 and showed pretty good secondary pitches with a 75-77 curveball and a 80 mph change. No surprise the smooth lefty also has a nifty pickoff move to boot.

Colton Willems, who has been turning heads all summer with wicked heat, came on in the top of the fourth for the East. While he walked the leadoff batter, Devin Shepherd, and allowed a single to Jeff Rapoport, he got Nathan Bridges to ground out, struck out Robbie Alcombrack on a nasty curveball looking before getting Ryan Adams to line out to second base. Willems curveball was arguably the nastiest breaking ball in the game, topping out at 78 to go along with a fastball that consistently sat at 92-93 mph. As impressive as Willems was on the mound, his battery-mate Max Sapp unfortunately took a foul tip off of his finger during the frame, and was removed from the game.

The West trotted out back-to-back lefties, with Taylor Hammack pitching the bottom of the fourth. He probably had the slowest reading on the gun, topping out at 87 and working 84-85 with a 67-68 curveball. Hammack didn't help his stuff out by hitting the first batter, Andrew Clark, and then walking Billy Rowell. He did strike out Brent Brewer before allowing a single to Ryan Jackson that loaded the bases. With two out, Hammack got Derrick Robinson to pop out to second base before giving up a big two-run, two-out double to Chris Marrero that tied the game. Hammack finally got Cody Johnson to strike out swinging on a 87 mph fastball to end the inning.

The East countered with their own southpaw in the top of the fifth, the only lefty the West squad would face in Kasey Kiker. A smaller lefty with a tremendous heart on the field, he threw 93 consistently, touching 94 with his fastball, while adding a good 77-78 curveball and an 81 mph changeup. Kiker was unusually wild, walking Jared Mitchell to lead off the inning, committing a balk and allowing Mitchell to take third on a stolen base. He did strike out left-handed hitting Chris Parmelee, then walked Hank Conger on a pretty good looking 3-1 curveball. Kiker had some good fortune on his side, as Mitchell was gunned down at home plate on a nice throw by Ryan Jackson as part of a double steal attempt. Unable to take advantage of that good fortune, Kiker gave up a RBI single to Grant Green and walked Devin Shepherd before getting Jeff Rapoport to ground out to first base. As many baserunners as there were in the inning, the East team was lucky the West only scored one run, now leading by that one run.

Chris Tillman of the West recorded the second 1-2-3 inning of the game with a ground out and two fly outs in the bottom of the fifth. His fastball kept getting better in the inning, first recording 90 mph, then 92, then 93 and finally topping out at 94. Tillman also displayed a very good hook that gives him two potentially devastating pitches to go along with his picture-perfect pitcher's frame.

Kiker's high school teammate Cory Rasmus took the mound in the top of the sixth, and was yet another pitcher to put himself into some trouble. He did strike out Bridges swinging to open the frame before walking Alcombrack and hitting Adams with a pitch. Rasmus then struck out Jared Mitchell on a very nasty curveball before allowing a single to Parmelee which loaded the bases. In his first of two bases-loaded situations, Kyle Drabek was unable to cash in, despite driving the ball to deep centerfield. Rasmus' curveball impressed me, working 74-76 while his fastball was equally impressive, registering a 94 on the gun and never dipping below 92. He also snuck in a 81 changeup to keep the West hitters honest.
Another hurler continued to pitch himself into trouble, as the West's Ryan Jenkins came on to pitch the bottom of the sixth. He gave up a lead off single to Rowell before striking out Brent Brewer on a very good curveball. Ryan Jackson recorded his second base hit of the day ahead of a RBI single by Derrick Robinson. Marrero flied out to right field, a play in which the West doubled up Robinson at second base on an odd base-running gaffe. With a similar, towering frame to Chris Tillman, Jenkins has a strong lower half and a potentially dominating curveball. However, he did pitch backwards in that he used his curveball early in the count to set up his fastball, thrown 88-90 consistently. By giving up three hits, Jenkins was lucky to get out of the inning by allowing only one run, as the East had once again tied the game up.

Right-hander Chris Walden took to the mound in the top of the seventh. While he gave up a leadoff double to Green, and a one-out walk with Green on third to Rapoport, he struck out Bridges and Alcombrack swinging on 88 mph fastballs. The 88 was Walden's lowest number on the gun, while 90 was his highest, mixing in two different breaking balls, a slider in the upper 70s and a slower looking slurve in the lower-70s.

Lefty Brett Anderson had the prettiest, smoothest delivery of any of the pitchers on Saturday. He used a slow, deliberate delivery yet quick arm stroke to reach 92 with his fastball, consistently working in the 90-92 range and dipping no further than 88. He also added a good 74 mph curve to keep hitters off-balance. Anderson struck out Cody Johnson on a 92 mph fastball to lead off the bottom of the seventh, the second consecutive strikeout for Johnson opposing a left-handed pitcher. East catcher Torre Langley slashed an opposite field single, moved to second with two outs after Andrew Clark was hit by a pitch and scored on Billy Rowell's RBI single. On the play, likely trying to seek some revenge for being hit, Clark was gunned down at third base. The East finally snuck ahead of the West, although that lead would be very brief.

Jerry Sullivan, the Cal Ripken Jr. Sportsman of the Year, started the top of the eighth for the East. Sullivan, like Willems, had drawn a lot of attention to himself earlier this summer by producing mid-90s heat at various showcase events. While warming up you could tell he didn't have his best stuff with him today, and he also struggled with his command. His fastball topped out at 87, and sat in the 84-86 range. He mixed in a slow curveball, and didn't help himself out by walking the first three batters of the frame, Adams, Mitchell and Miller, to load the bases for Kyle Drabek's second bases loaded situation. Drabek didn't get a chance to bring them all home in this at-bat, as Sullivan uncorked a wild pitch allowing Adams to score while Mitchell and Miller moved up to second and third respectively. Jeremy Jeffress, whom the East were saving for the ninth, warmed up quickly and replaced Sullivan with two on and no outs. Pumping his fist into his glove repeatedly and getting big cheers from the crowd, Jeffress hit 94 on his first five fastballs, striking out Kyle Drabek in the process. He also threw an inconsistent but potentially dominant 79 mph slider. Unfortunately for Jeffress and the East, he never threw 94 again, as his velocity quickly declined to 91, 89 and 88 mph before settling at 87. The eighth continued to be a nightmare for the East, as Green reached on an error with a runner scoring, while another runner scored on a wild pitch. Shepherd then followed with a RBI single to right field, and Rapoport reached on yet another error. Bridges singled to left field on a good fastball by Jeffress to load the bases. Jeffress got Alcombrack to pop up to third base, but Chris Marrero dropped the ball in foul territory giving Alcombrack a new life (Marrero committed three errors in the inning). Alcombrack then walked in a run. Jeffress finally got a little bit of luck on his side, as he got a double play when Ryan Adams flew out to centerfield and the East threw to third base after Rapoport apparently had tagged and scored. The ump, likely tired due to the heat and length of the inning, called Rapoport out, even if the replay clearly showed he had tagged. With five runs scoring, the West seemed up for good, eight to four.

After the extremely long inning, West pitcher Kyle Drabek took a little while to find his rhythm in the bottom of the eighth. With a slow, deliberate leg kick, Drabek's arm whips around to produce impressive heat. He hit 92 on his first fastball, and moved up to 93, 94, and finally 95 in succession, recording 95 fastballs on consecutive pitches, the best fastball reading on the day. But Drabek didn't find that rhythm with his fastball until he started baffling hitters with his wicked curveball. He walked both Rasmus and Jackson to lead off the inning before striking out Robinson, Marrero and Johnson on nasty 76-78 curveballs.

Cody Johnson allowed the East squad to breathe in the top of the ninth, retiring the West in order, including strikeouts of Aaron Miller and Hank Conger. Johnson got Miller with a 86 mph fastball swinging, while Conger went down looking on a 71 mph curveball. This was the third and only 1-2-3 inning of the game.

Drabek came back in to pitch the bottom of the ninth and close out of the game for the West. Seemingly unaware that there were no other pitches available to pitch, Drabek kept looking back in the dugout as if he expected to be replaced. His fastball didn't touch 95 again, but he worked 92-93 and had much better command of his heater, losing the command of his curveball briefly. Langley started the inning by reaching on an error, and move to second on Cedric Hunter's flare to left-centerfield that fell for a base hit. Hunter was quickly wiped from the basepaths as Clark hit into a double play, and while Rowell followed with a walk, Brewer struck out, his third of the game, to end the game on yet another wicked curveball by Drabek.

Devin Shepherd was named the game's MVP by going two for three with two runs scored and an RBI. Jerry Sullivan took the loss with Drabek picking up the win.

As I pointed out when I started this three-part feature, the game itself wasn't the prettiest to watch, and in near 100-degree heat it was particularly tough to sit through a four-hour game. However, the talent was evident. While both Matt Latos and Jordan Walden struggled with their control briefly and didn't show the same stuff scouts had seen earlier in the summer, their talents were clearly visible. Kyle Drabek maintained why he is one of the best 2006 draft-eligible players, while Jeffress, Willems, Tillman, Betances and Kiker continued to show their impressive repertoires. Cory Rasmus (as a pitcher) and Brett Anderson showed me more than I was expecting coming into the game.

As for the hitters, while Cody Johnson didn't have any big hits in the home run derby or the game, you could see why he was named the player of the year. All four catchers, Sapp, Langley, Conger and Alcombrack, are names to watch over the next year with impressive defensive and offensive skills. Shepherd, Brewer, Mitchell, Hunter, Rapoport, Christensen and Rundle bring an impressive array of tools, Derrick Robinson brings the speed while Ryan Jackson is going to be one of the better fielding infielders. Chris Marrero and Chris Parmelee are going to be very good, natural hitters, while Billy Rowell and Nathan Bridges opened my eyes quite a bit with the way they swung the lumber.

While one team has to win, and one team has to lose, no one loses in a game, atmosphere and overall event like this.

Keep an eye on my Crack of the Bat column in the next day or two as I will break down the players further while identifying the top tools from the event.

The thoughts and opinions expressed here do not necessarily reflect those of Perfect Game USA. Patrick Ebert is affiliated with both Perfect Game USA and, and can be contacted via email at
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