SEBRING, Fla.—The 18th annual Florida Athletic Coaches Association Baseball Classic kicked off today as nearly 80 players (and about that many scouts) reported to Firemen's Field in Sebring, Fla. for on-field batting practice, infield and outfield and the 60-yard dash. The event is an all-star game for high school seniors in Florida and this year's players follow in the footsteps of guys like Alex Rodriguez, Chipper Jones, Gary Sheffield, Prince Fielder, Zack Greinke and many more.
The players are split into four teams—North, South, East and West—grouped mostly by region, although some players are shuffled around a little bit.
Here are some of the standout players on this year's rosters (subscribers can read full scouting reports on all of these players more in our Florida draft preview):
North: The North team's highest-ranked player is righthander Karsten Whitson, who had a little bit of an up-and-down spring, but has some of the best stuff in this year's class. The team also features righthander Wes Mugarian, but the team should feature some offense too. First baseman/catcher Rock Shoulders stands 6-foot-3 and 220 pounds. He's very strong and launched several balls high over the right field wall today in batting practice.
Outfielder Ben Gamel is the younger brother of Brewers' third baseman Mat and has a sweet swing from the left side of the plate. Although Mat didn't play in this game when he was in high school, Ben said he doesn't have bragging rights just yet.
"He was a lower-profile guy, but no, he's a stud," Gamel said.
Gamel hit really well during his batting practice session. He hit a few balls over the wall, but mostly sprayed hard line drives all around the field. His frame looked a little leaner than what I remembered of him at the East Coast Professional Showcase last summer. He said he hasn't lost any weight, but may have gotten a little taller.
Gamel said he wants to turn his good BP into good at-bats during the games.
"I just want to hit well," Gamel said. "I want to see the ball and have good at-bats, stay within myself and have a good approach at the plate."
The North team also has outfielder Sean Dwyer, catcher Ladson Montgomery and shortstop Taylor Ratliff.
South: The South team features only one player in Baseball America's Top 200, righthander Johnny Barbato. But it has many others that will likely be drafted, like righthander Jonathon Crawford, lefthander Bryan Radziewski, shortstop Jessie Pintado and outfielder Julian Santos.
Outfielder Javi Marticorena is only 5-foot-9 and 185 pounds, but muscled up for a lot of home runs during batting practice.
East: The East team is stacked with Top 200 prospects. Most recognizable are righthander A.J. Cole (who actually got autograph requests today) and third baseman Yordy Cabrera. Cabrera lifted some balls deep out of the yard, but it was done with a pretty distinct uppercut.
Actually, one of the most impressive batting practice sessions of the day was put on by first baseman Trey Mancini, a 6-foot-5, 215-pounder from Winter Haven High. Mancini bats and throws righthanded and obviously has a big, strong frame, and it showed during his BP session. He hit a lot of hard line drives and several balls clanked off the tin roof beyond the left field wall. He is committed to Notre Dame.
The East team also features lefthanders Justin Nicolino and Jimmy Hodgskin, as well as center fielder Mason Williams—who also took some ground balls at shortstop, but is expected to play outfield during the games. He's still very thin and didn't show much power, but was driving some line drives to the gaps in batting practice.
West: The West team has the most players featured in our draft write-up of Florida. On the mound will be lefthander Daniel Gibson and righthanders Blake Perry and Ricky Knapp. In the field, the West squad will feature Shane Rowland behind the plate, J.D. Williams at second base, third baseman Sean O'Brien, shortstop Wendell Soto and outfielders Kyle Waldrop and Jose Dore.
Williams, son of ex-pro Reggie Williams, ran the fastest 60 of the day at 6.5 seconds, and Rowland (son of Yankees scout and former Angels scouting director Donny) showed some nice throws down to second base during infield drills.
While it was fun to watch the players take batting practice today, without shortstop Manny Machado and third baseman Nick Castellanos here, the real focus is on the pitchers and scouts are excited to see them start lighting up the radar guns when games begin tomorrow.
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