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Showcase | Story | 6/12/2018

Jr. National calls it a wrap

Jeff Dahn        
Photo: Liam Norris (Perfect Game)

EMERSON, Ga. – The 18th annual Perfect Game Junior National Showcase ended its four-day run at PG Park-LakePoint with a bang Tuesday afternoon, as the final games were played and the last of the 260-plus players who attended headed for home.

Scouts of every persuasion spent four days compiling numbers and filling their notebooks with information regarding some of the very top prospects from the high school classes of 2020 and 2021, and most left the complex on Tuesday quite impressed with what they had seen.

PG National Crosschecker Jheremy Brown, a man who welcomes every opportunity he can get to watch and evaluate the younger players in PG’s extensive database, was at the Jr. National for the fifth straight year and, per usual, was among those impressed by what he saw.

“The level of talent, obviously, just keeps progressing,” Brown said Tuesday morning. “Everybody’s getting bigger, faster, stronger at a younger age, and we see it from the Festival game. You see the kids come through the Festival, you see them here and now you’re starting to see these kids throwing 90-something miles an hour regularly.”

The “Festival” that Brown referred to is the 14u PG Select Baseball Festival, an event that has brought 40 of the top 14u age-group prospects together in Fort Myers, Fla., over the Labor Day holiday weekend each of the last two years. Many of the top 2020s were at the inaugural Select Festival in 2016 and most of the top 2021s here were at the event last year.

Brown is correct in his assessment of the players getting bigger, faster and stronger at what is essentially the 16u and 15u age-groups each year. More and more, it seems, these young pitchers are delivering their fastballs to home plate at 90-plus mph.

On Monday night Liam Norris, a 2020 left-hander from Cary, N.C., who is ranked No. 9 nationally and has committed to College World Series-bound North Carolina, hit 94 on the gun; Norris was at the 2016 Select Festival.

“These kids are 15, 16 years old and they’re showing you velocity that D-I players and big-leaguers are showing you,” Brown said.

After commenting on Norris, Brown said that’s it’s already starting to look like the 2020 MLB June Amateur Draft is going to be the year of the prep left-handed pitcher. Two years out, there are several that have already thrown 90-plus and there is already a dozen that have been identified as high-end, projectable pitchers.

And it’s not just the pitchers who are throwing hard. Nineteen players threw 90 mph or higher across the infield and eight threw 93 mph or better from the outfield.

Masyn Winn, a 2020 middle-infielder/right-hander from Kingwood, Texas, who is ranked No. 19 nationally and has committed to Stanford, set an event record with a 98 mph throw across the infield.

Alex Greene, a 2020 outfielder from Edgewater, Md., who is ranked No. 12 and has committed to Virginia, matched an event record with his 98 mph throw from the outfield. Yanluis Ortiz, a 2020 catcher from Grapevine, Texas, and a Miami commit ranked No. 30 nationally, set an event record with an 88 mph throw from behind home plate to second base.

From the hitters’ standpoint, exit velocities were also off the charts. Fourteen hitters recorded exit velos of 95 mph or better led by a best-in-show effort of 101 mph by 2020 catcher Jack Bulger from Bowie, Md. Bulger, a Vanderbilt commit ranked No. 58, also recorded the event’s top Pop Time at 1.80-seconds. Nate McCollum, a 2020 from McDonough, Ga., ran a 6.39-second 60-yard dash, the best effort of the event.

There are always surprises at the Jr. National, where teenagers are just starting to come into their own. Brown identified one of this year’s biggest as Nicholas Griffin, a 2020 outfielder/left-hander from Monticello, Ark., who Brown saw for the first time. Griffin, who celebrated his 16th birthday Sunday, ran a 6.95-second 60, threw 87 mph from the outfield and showed a 91-mph fastball.

Robert Moore, a 2020 shortstop from Leawood, Kan., who is ranked No. 31 nationally and is yet another alumnus of the 2016 PG 14u Select Baseball Festival, certainly didn’t come out of nowhere this week. The son of Royals’ GM Dayton Moore, Robert has been a favorite of Brown’s for going on two years now.

“It’s almost, ‘What can’t he do?’ by what he’s showing,” Brown said. “Yeah, he’s not the biggest, but he has the instincts and the feel for the game that you just don’t see from a kid at this age. He definitely grew up around the game but he continues to work at it and doesn’t just rest on his merits and past success.”

One of the most satisfying aspects of an event like the Jr. National for the crosschecker Brown and PG national scouting coordinators Vincent Cervino and Greg Gerard – they wrote scouting blogs from the last four days – is watching the progression of these young ballplayers from year-to-year.

The advent of the 14u PG Select Baseball Festival two years and a PG 14u National Showcase and 14u regional showcases in the last year or two, has made observing that progression and filing informed reports on the players that much easier.

“You maybe find them last year at the 14u level, and then they come here and you get to see the progression,” Brown said. “You get to see how they interact amongst their peers, how they do against the 90-plus arm. … It just allows you to get a baseline and then grow the baseline over the next couple of years and watch the trajectory of them.”

Many of the players that were at the PG Jr. National Showcase will be at the PG National Showcase in 2019, just like many of the prospects that will be at the PG National this week were at the PG Jr. National last year.

“You can look and say, ‘I like that kid a lot and it looks like he could be a future (PG) All-American’ just by knowing what the kids in the prior Classics have looked like at the Junior National level and then what they became,” Brown said.

“You start pointing and picking and you have your favorites – Vinnie (Cervino) has his favorites, (Brian) Sakowski has his favorites, and then you go to National and it’s holy cow, they’re even better than we thought.”

The PG Jr. National is also a very important event in terms of the young prospect shoring up the numbers on his PG Player Profile Page, something that is very valuable to college recruiters. It’s the information in the database that Perfect Game stakes its reputation on.

“(The colleges are) one of our main clients,” Brown noted. “It’s helping them find the players they need and helping the players find the schools they want; I feel like this a good glue event for both.”

Brown took some time recently to go back and review Jr. National scouting reports when the event was held at Tropicana Field in St. Petersburg, Fla. – the site of the 2018 PG National Showcase later this week – and was surprised at what he found.

As he scrolled through he noticed there were only around 75 players at those events in the early to mid-2000s; there were 260 players here this year. That means more and more exposure for more and more young players moving forward, which is beneficial for everyone involved.

This marked the first time the event was held at PG Park-LakePoint and the venue was a perfect fit. Initially there were some questions surrounding the use of two fields, but the workouts all took place on one field and when games were played on two fields the starts were staggered so scouts and recruiters could move easily between the two.

It’s a concept that probably wouldn’t work as well at the National Showcase where the MLB scouts can’t be asked to divide their attention between two fields, but it worked well for the Jr. National. Don’t be surprised if PG Park at LakePoint becomes the event’s permanent home.

“Here, you have the turf (fields) and the kids can have the true reads,” Brown said. “You don’t have to worry about the bad hops in the infield – just let them show their actions, let them play – and the mounds aren’t going to be a problem for anybody. It’s a good central location with the (international) airport … and it’s definitely been good.”

Just like the players that graced the fields with their presence over the last four days.

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