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Friday, March 12, 2010

We Hit .867 on Baseball America’s List

Jim Ecker        
When you were a kid, did you ever race to the candy store to buy the latest pack of baseball cards? They came five cards to a pack, along with an awful piece gum that was nearly as big as the cards themselves. The packs cost a nickel, and the gum lost its flavor real quick.

We’re dating ourselves here, of course. Nobody runs to the candy store anymore, and nothing costs a nickel, especially five cards of major league players. But here’s the point: You’d rip open that package and see who you got.

If you were real lucky, you’d get a Willie Mays or a Mickey Mantle. If you were unlucky, you’d get Ross Moschitto. Yes, we’re talking about the 1960s. Anyway, you’d then race home, grab your box of cards and start going through it, seeing if you got somebody new.

Koufax? Got him. Gibson? Got him. Aaron? Got him.

That’s how it felt this past week when the latest edition of Baseball America showed up in the mailbox. It’s the one with Cliff Lee on the cover, and one of the stories is about Baseball America’s annual list of Top 20 Rookies for the 2010 major league season.

You flip to page 16 and there they are, 20 young players who have a chance to make an impact this year. And then it hits you. Hey, a lot of these guys played in Perfect Game USA events when they were just kids, when they were 15 or 16 years old and still growing.

Jason Heyward? Got him. Stephen Strasburg? You bet. Austin Jackson? Yes, sir. Buster Posey? Got him, too.

Perfect Game didn’t have them all, of course. Nobody’s perfect, but we were pretty darn good.

Of the 20 players on Baseball America’s list, 13 of them participated in Perfect Game events when they were in high school. That means we batted .650 overall, but our slugging percentage was even higher than that.

Five of the 20 players on BA’s list are Latin players, from either Venezuela or the Dominican Republic. We don’t get a lot of players from Latin American countries at our events in the United States, due to obvious logistical problems, so if we eliminate those five guys, it leaves 15 players on the list. And of those 15 players, we had 13 come through our events. That means we hit .867 with those 15 guys, which is pretty good in any league.

Jason Heyward, the No.1 prospect on the Baseball America list, practically lived at our events in high school. He participated in 17 of them, starting when he was a 14-year-old freshman. “Has a chance to be a very special player,” we wrote in 2006. The Atlanta Braves agree and are grooming the 20-year-old to take over in right field this season.

Michael Taylor, an outfielder for the Oakland A’s, is No.5 on BA’s list. Got him.

Wade Davis, a pitcher for the Rays, is listed at No.7. Strasburg, bidding to crack Washington’s starting rotation, is No.8. Madison Bumgarner, a lefty with the Giants, is No.9 on the list. Got him, got him, got him.

Then there are Justin Smoak, a first baseman with the Rangers, who’s No.10 on the list. Logan Morrison, a first baseman for the Marlins, is No.11. Jackson, trying to win the center field job in Detroit, is No.12. Drew Storen, a relief pitcher for the Nationals, is No.13.

Got him, got him, got him, got him.

Then come Michael Brantley, an outfielder with the Indians at No.15, and Dan Hudson, a pitcher with the White Sox. Got him, got him.

The list finishes with Pedro Alvarez, a third baseman with the Pirates, and Buster Posey, a catcher with the Giants. Got him, got him, too.

Perfect Game ranked Heyward as the No.2 prospect in the High School Class of 2007, which in retrospect looks pretty good. We ranked Bumgarner No.5 in that class, calling him “One of the top ’07 pitchers in the country. Maybe even the best.”

We ranked Jackson in the top-10 in the Class of 2005, based on his performance at seven of our events. “The first thing you notice about Jackson as a baseball player is the easy grace with which he moves,” we wrote. If you’ve seen him play on TV in spring training, you know what we mean.

Alvarez, the young third baseman with Pittsburgh, came to one of our showcases in 2005. “He has a great future,” we wrote.

Posey, now a catcher, impressed us as a pitcher with a 95 mph fastball. Hey, nobody’s perfect.

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