Showcase : : Story
Sunday, December 30, 2012

A chilly conclusion to Main Event

Jeff Dahn        
Photo: Perfect Game

FORT MYERS, Fla. -- Highly ranked 2015 left-hander Max Wotell calls Marvin, N.C., home, and he's not totally unfamiliar with a late December chill in the air.

But like almost all of the other players that were invited back for a final day of Top Prospect games at the Perfect Game National Underclass Showcase-Main Event, Wotell was a little surprised by the low-40s temperature and gusting north wind that greeted him and made it seem even colder Sunday morning at the jetBlue Player Development Complex.

"You've got to come out and play in the conditions, come out and deal with it and just play the game," Wotell said. "I was expecting a little more warmer weather, but you've got to deal with it and play the game."

Wotell, a 6-foot-3, 175-pound sophomore at Marvin Ridge High School who is the nation's No. 2-ranked left-hander in his class (No. 23 overall), was one of several dozen underclass pitchers that were scheduled to throw in one of the three Top Prospect games Sunday morning.

Another was Kyle Kemp, a 6-3, 200-pound right-hander who is a junior (2014) at nearby Port Charlotte (Fla.) High School and is the nation's No. 39-ranked righty in his class (No. 114 overall).

"It bothers everybody," Kemp said of the chilly weather, "but it's the same circumstances for everybody so I really can't complain."

Perfect Game national scouting coordinator Todd Gold said such conditions sometimes bring out the best in a ballplayer, especially the pitchers.

"I think it shows you something as a scout if a kid can come out there and take the ball no matter what the conditions are," Gold said before the start of play Sunday. "It gives you that much more confidence in the kid's ability."

There were few complaints from anyone as the 11th annual PG National Underclass Showcase-Main Event completed its three-day run Sunday. Almost half of the more than 400 prospects that attended the event returned for a final game on the final day, having been given one last opportunity to put their skills on display.

"I came down here to play in another Perfect Game event and this is the best of the best; this is where it all happens and this is the place to be," Wotell said. "It's different playing in the middle of winter break when everyone else is at home. We're out here showcasing our talents and we're out here playing ball and this is where you want to be if you want to compete with the best."

Kemp, who like Wotell pitched one inning Sunday after throwing two on Friday, echoed Wotell's thoughts.

"I haven't played any baseball in about two months so I just want to try to get back into the swing of things before the high school season," he said. "It's always fun to come out and play some baseball."

PG's Gold has been in attendance for quite a few of these post-Christmas showcases, and scouted eight games this weekend, including one of the Top Prospect games Sunday morning. He likes to keep an eye on the pitchers at an event such as this.

"It was surprising how good they were for this time of year," he said. "A lot of the best pitchers have shut it down and for a guy to come and throw as well as some of these guys have at the end of December is pretty impressive. It kind of tells you that come springtime and once they get into mid-season form they're going to add a little more velocity and they're going to build upon what we've seen here."

Gold said it is not uncommon for a young pitcher that throws 85-86 mph at this event to reach 88-89 by early summer.

Wotell pitched two innings on Friday when it was also unseasonably cool, although not nearly as chilly as Sunday. He said he found few problems getting into a groove.

"I came out and threw real well," he said. "I felt good off the mound, my fastball was working from corner to corner, my (slider) was getting over the plate and I was throwing it for strikes. I had good command and it felt really good."

Both Wotell and Kemp arrived at their current station in their baseball lives by associating themselves with two of the top travel ball programs in the country. Wotell, 16, will begin his third season playing with East Cobb Baseball in 2013, while Kemp, also 16, will play his second season with SWFL (Southwest Florida) Baseball.

Those associations are important to the prospects in terms of gaining exposure in front of college coaches and professional scouts. Kemp has already committed to the University of Florida while Wotell is uncommitted. Committed or uncommitted, it's important to these players that they continue to surround themselves with other top-notch prospects and get in front of the PG scouts.

"I'm going to be out here competing with the best of the best forever," Wotell said. "That's what I want to do with my life; I want to be out here playing with the best of the best."

As another PG National Underclass Showcase-Main Event joined the history books on Sunday, Gold took a moment to reflect on how important the event is to Perfect Game's large scouting contingent, and the scouting community at large.

"This time of year, every player that's looking to get on to the national radar is coming down here and playing against each other," he said. "You can see them all side-by-side, and it really does a lot for (the scouts) instead of going to one event and seeing a couple of guys here, and then you go to another event in a different region and see a couple of guys there. You see them all on the same field and it really helps you measure them side-by-side a lot better."

The Perfect Game World Showcase, PG World Uncommitted Showcase and PG National Underclass Showcase-Session 3 will be held here (Terry Park) next weekend (Jan. 5-6). The World Showcase, which provides MLB scouts a final opportunity to see the top high school prospects that will be eligible for the 2013 amateur draft, is PG's longest running national-level showcase event, first staged in 1997.

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