The Tournament of Stars began Wednesday morning and the setting was typical: hot, humid weather with plenty of talent, scouts and college recruiters on hand. The TOS is put on by USA Baseball at the National Training Complex in Cary, N.C. The participants play in an eight-team tournament and are evaluated by USA Baseball staff members. A group of 32 players is then selected for a trials roster and that group is whittled down the the 18U National Team roster that will travel to Thunder Bay, Ont. for the IBAF 'AAA' 18U Junior World Championship at the end of July.
Righthander A.J. Vanegas started the game for PONY and shut down the RBI team, as PONY went on to win, 12-1. Over his four innings of work, Vanegas allowed one run on three hits. He walked four, but also struck out eight. His fastball was mostly in the 89-91 mph range and he mixed in a 74-75 mph curveball.
"I felt good. It was really hot since I'm from the West Coast, of course, but I felt really good," Vanegas said. "I was locating my pitches really well and everything felt good. I had a little trouble with offspeed a little bit, but I battled through it and got the strikes I needed."
Vanegas was on last year's 18U team that won gold medals against Cuba, but he is not taking anything for granted.
"I'm just coming out here and attacking the zone and keeping an open mind," Vanegas said. "I don't want to be over aggressive, I just want to keep an open mind because I know I learn something all the time from baseball. You never know everything about baseball, so I'm just going out and working hard and trying to work as hard as everyone else here."
Talent-wise, Vanegas projected as a top-three-round talent, but fell to the Padres in the seventh round because of a strong commitment to Stanford. As a relative elder statesman at an event featuring mostly 2011 graduates, Vanegas said he is happy to give advice. But it's also a two-way street.
"If they ask me, I'll give it to them, for sure," Vanegas said. "I'm open to talk to anybody. They can learn from me, but I learn from them a lot of stuff. If I see somebody around me throwing really good, I'll be like, 'What'd you do there?' and just keep learning the game."
PONY's offensive standout was Jesse Winker, an outfielder from Olympia High in Orlando. Winker went 2-for-5 in the game with a two-RBI double.
"The first pitch was an inside fastball," Winker said. "I didn't want to swing at that early, I was looking for something more over the plate. The next pitch was a fastball away and I just went with it and took it to center. I got behind it good and it felt great."
Winker is a rising junior and one of the top hitters in the 2012 class. He's already 6-foot-2 and 180 pounds and offers power from the left side of the plate. Baseball America saw him play last October in Jupiter, Fla. at the World Wood Bat Championships and noticed that he has toned down the leg kick in his swing.
"They're throwing a lot harder and, with that, I have to get my foot down early and think up the middle and fast hands, especially with wood," Winker said. "I look fastball early and if it's a good pitch, you've got to take it because you don't want to get yourself out and then you've just got to battle because everyone out here has a good curveball, too. I think 'back foot, top hand'—load on the back foot and then just swing my top hand hard."
The first game of the day pitted the USA Stars squad against Dixie. The starting matchup was intriguing with righthanders Dillon Maples and Joe Ross taking the mound, but both didn't look their best. Instead, lefthander Cody Kukuk raised some eye brows. Kukuk stands at a long and loose 6-foot-4, 185 pounds. He attends Free State High in Lawrence, Kan. Kukuk sat 88-90 mph with his fastball that had good tailing action to it. He also spotted the pitch well and racked up three strikeouts in two innings of work. He also mixed in a solid slider at 78 mph.
"I felt good, a little tight at the beginning, but got loosened up," Kukuk said. "I try to get ahead with my fastball. I usually go with a changeup or slider after. I'd say my out pitch is my slider."
Kukuk, who is verbally committed to Kansas, throws a four-seam and two-seam fastball and usually starts with the four-seamer before going to the two-seam for movement. He also mixes in a curveball but says it's more of a show-me pitch.
CONTRIBUTING: NATHAN RODE
Comments will be monitored prior to being added to the site. Comments that include profanity or personal attacks or other inappropriate comments or material will be rejected. Additionally, entries that are unsigned or contain "signatures" by someone other than the actual author will be removed.
We have chosen to open up commenting to everyone, so comment away! We want to hear from each and every one of you! Leave a comment.
About This Blog
Syndicate This Blog
Search This Blog