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Monday, August 13, 2012

East meets west at PG Games

Jeff Dahn        
Photo: Perfect Game

SAN DIEGO -- By the time the 2012 Perfect Game calendar of events concludes in December, there will have been nearly 25 tournaments or showcases held in Florida and Georgia. That certainly gives the top prospects from those two states ample opportunity to showcase their skills in front of the country's top college programs and professional scouts.

Which makes it somewhat remarkable that 10 of the top guys from those two states traveled across three time zones to be at the 2012 PG National Games, a four-team showcase/tournament being played Monday and Tuesday at Triton Ballpark on the University of California San Diego campus.

Among those prized prospects from the Southeast is elite catcher John Jones, who on Aug. 20 will start his junior year at East River High School in Orlando, Fla.

The PG National Games is the 14th Perfect Game tournament or showcase Jones has attended, and 12 of the previous 13 were either in Fort Myers, Fla., or Marietta, Ga., usually while playing with the Orlando Scorpions organization.

The lone exception was when Jones was selected to perform at the PG Junior National Showcase in Minneapolis in mid-June.

So here it is, mid-August just in front of the start of his junior year in high school, and Jones finds himself in sunny San Diego on the left (as opposed to the right) coast.

"People told me I needed to be here," Jones said Monday morning.  "I like to play baseball and this was another opportunity to play. And I got to watch the 'older' game last night, too."

The PG National Games is an underclass event, designed this year for prospects in the high school classes of 2014 and 2015. The "older" game to which Jones referred is the Perfect Game All-American Classic presented by Rawlings, which was played Sunday night at the Padres' PETCO Park. The Classic showcases the top senior prospects and this year's was for those in the class of 2013.

It was not lost on the underclassmen here Monday that many past or present All-Americans attended the National Games the previous year. In fact, 13 players who donned uniforms Sunday night at PETCO played in last year's National Games.

Jones seems aware of the history with this event, and he attended Sunday's game with his uncle and traveling partner, Scott Karsten from Orlando.

"It gave me chills. I really wanted to play," Jones said. "That's why I'm out here -- trying to get invited to that game next year."

Karsten also enjoyed the Classic experience.

"It really opened our eyes up to how many good players there are, and how there's this big stage they all want to strive to get on," he said. "When you get there and you're actually in the stadium watching kids you've played against you know you have to keep working harder so you can get there, too."

Jones is the No. 33-ranked overall national prospect in the 2014 class and is considered the No. 3 national catching prospect. A switch-hitter who has verbally committed to the University of Miami, he stands out among the easterners performing here this week. He said he enjoys being surrounded by other elite prospects.

"You play up to their abilities and, obviously, you try to do better than them," he said.

"He likes to compete with the best players and he likes to see where he stands with all the other good players," Karsten said. "Perfect Game always brings all the best players together, so when he shows up he can see where he's at and what he needs to work on and where the other kids are."

Karsten said he has been traveling with Jones since Jones was 9 years old, and because Karsten is single, it's easier for him to do the trips than it is for Jones' parents, Alan and Monica of Orlando.

"I love baseball and me and his dad played together at (the University of Central Florida)," Karsten said. "It's been good for both of us. It's made me realize that the talent pool is deep. You're in Orlando and you see the best kids in Orlando, but then you start getting out and it gets bigger and bigger.

"Now all of a sudden we're in California and we're seeing kids we've never seen before."

Jones has had a terrific summer playing "back east." He was named to the all-tournament teams at the 16u PG World Series, PG WWBA 2014 Grads or 16u National Championship and the 18u PG WWBA East Memorial Day Classic.

He was 10-for-18 (.556) with four doubles and 13 RBI at the East Memorial Day; 11-for27 (.407) with two homers and nine RBI at the WWBA 16u National; and 6-for-20 (.300) with a home run and four RBI against many of the top 16u arms in the country at the 16u PG World Series.

Jones was also named to the Top Prospect list at the PG Junior National. In his scouting report after the Junior National, PG national director of scouting David Rawnsley wrote of Jones:

"A strong armed switch hitting catcher, threw 81 from behind the plate and popped a 1.91 in workout. Drives the ball with authority from both sides, more polished from the left, could make a strong case as top catcher in the event that featured numerous high level catching talents."

In a little less than two years, Jones will be taking his talents to Coral Gables, Fla., depending, of course, on how the 2014 MLB amateur draft plays out. Of his decision to commit to Miami, Jones said:

"It's close to home and it's a very relaxed atmosphere, being in South Beach. Its track record is great and a lot of pro baseball players came out of there."

Of their trip to far southwest California, Karsten said:

"We talked to some people and they said to go out there because you're going to see a lot of different kids that you don't see on the East Coast. Since some of these kids don't travel east and not many of us travel west, we figured this was a good year to do it, so let's do it."

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