Seasons are slowly, but surely, getting underway for varsity teams around the country. Florida schools are several games in, while Texas kicked things off last week and Georgia and California are up next. As we pointed out a couple weeks ago, there are plenty of big tournaments and games to keep an eye on throughout the spring. Two of those matchups happen this weekend at the 2013 LaGrange Invitational Tournament in Georgia. Hosted by LaGrange High, this event attracts schools from the immediate region, but has been known to get a few to travel a little further.
At this year's event, it's worth watching how Crisp County High (Cordele, Ga.), Cullman (Ala.) High, Russell County High (Seale, Ala.) and Grayson High (Loganville, Ga.) make out. Grayson begins the season as the No. 9 team in the Baseball America/National High School Baseball Coaches Association Top 25, and the Rams have the country's top draft prospect in Austin Meadows, a sweet-swinging outfielder with at least plus speed and power.
Crisp County features righthander Robert Tyler, the No. 98 high school player. Tyler has a skinny, projectable frame at 6-foot-3, 185 pounds, and he can run his fastball into his low 90s, though his arm action and lack of secondary stuff gives scouts pause right now. Cullman High features one of the state's best athletes in righthander Keegan Thompson (No. 43), who can pitch with an average to plus fastball and flash a good curveball. Cullman is scheduled to play Grayson on March 1 so keep your fingers crossed for a Meadows-Thompson duel. Crisp County will face Russell County on March 2, which could see Tyler face outfielder Anfernee Grier (No. 88). Grier has excellent bat speed and a plus arm.
It's exciting to anticipate matchups like this and plenty of scouts are sure to be on hand. This is nothing new for LaGrange as five years ago the tournament featured four teams from the Preseason Top 50 and several top prospects including Eric Hosmer, Deven Marrero, Nick Castellanos and Ethan Maritn. Baseball America was in attendance as Matt Blood, now an area scout with the Cardinals, took in a weekend of drama.
The highlight was Ethan Martin getting the start against American Heritage High (Plantation, Fla.). American Heritage started the season as the No. 4 team in the country, took over the top spot in late March, briefly dropped to No. 2 and returned to No. 1 before wrapping up a state and national title. The Patriots' lineup was loaded with talent. Take a look at the starters in the game against Martin's Stephens County High (Toccoa, Ga.):
Note: Players are in alphabetical order. Pictured to the right are Deven Marrero (left) and Nick Castellanos.
Eric Acevedo: Junior infielder went on to play two seasons at Miami-Dade CC and is now a senior at Nova Southeastern (Fla.).
Joe Belviso: Senior outfielder went to Jacksonville for his freshman year, but transferred out to Palm Beach State CC.
Nick Castellanos: Sophomore infielder transferred to nearby Archbishop McCarthy High (Southwest Ranches, Fla.), where he became the 44th overall pick in 2010 and signed for $3.45 million.
Greg Conver: Senior righthander got the start against Stephens County. He was committed to North Carolina State, but never logged an inning for the Wolfpack.
Jonathan Diaz: Junior outfielder.
Eric Hosmer: Senior first baseman/lefthander was committed to Arizona State, but signed for $6 million as the third overall pick in 2008 and made his big league debut in 2011.
Deven Marrero: Junior shortstop was actually listed as a Miami signee at the time, but he wound up at Arizona State where he became the 24th overall pick in 2012 and signed for $2.05 million.
Adrian Nieto: Senior catcher signed for $376,000 as a fifth-round pick in 2008, but got busted for a performance-enhancing substance in 2011. He hasn't played above high Class A but played for Spain in the World Baseball Classic qualifier in September and will again next month.
Brandon Sedell: Freshman DH/catcher spent freshman season at Florida before transferring to Nova Southeastern.
Austin Yager: Senior outfielder was committed to College of Charleston, but never played for the Cougars.
Also on the team was Juan Carlos Sulbaran, a righthander who signed with the Reds for $500,000 as a 30th-round pick in 2008. He played for the Netherlands in the 2009 World Baseball Classic, pitching in the upset win over Puerto Rico. Sulbaran was traded to the Royals last summer in a deal for Jonathan Broxton. Eight players were committed to Division I schools at the time with two more committing to D-II and D-III programs.
At the time, Martin was considered a top prospect as a third baseman, but the game against American Heritage served as his coming out party as a righthander. Martin struck out 12, walked four and hit one and earned a win in the 6-4 decision. He gave up five hits. Hosmer got the best of him, smoking a home run to left field, which can be seen in the video below. Martin would go on to be named the High School Player of the Year by Baseball America after hitting .509 with 18 home runs and going 10-2, 1.50 on the mound with 162 strikeouts in 89 innings. He then signed with the Dodgers for $1.73 million as the 15th overall pick. This game was one of American Heritage's two losses on the season.
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