Lighter international schedules created openings that USA Baseball needed to fill this summer, and one of its ideas was to pit its top college players against its top high school players.
The so-called Prospect Classic, a two-game series pitting the college national team against the 18-and-under national team trials roster, turned out to be such a hit, however, that it's likely to become a fixture on the summer schedule.
"Necessity is the mother of invention sometimes," USA Baseball executive director/CEO Paul Seiler said. "So, it was just one of those things where we sat down and saw we may have a unique opportunity here to create something special."
The event was a success on several levels. It was a unique experience for the players; it gives USA Baseball the chance to evaluate its players against each other, which can help the organization make decisions when it's time to trim the roster down; and it's beneficial for scouts (and draft watchers) who got to see many of the top prospects for the 2012 draft playing against each other.
"The Prospect Classic was amazing," New Mexico prep second baseman Alex Bregman said. "It was such a great opportunity to play against the best college players in the country. It was a battle and they beat us heavily both games, but we feel like we competed. If we executed a little better, it would have been a closer ballgame, but it was definitely a good experience."
The 18U team clearly was overmatched, falling to the college team 12-1 in the first game at Durham Bulls Athletic Park, and 8-1 at the USA Baseball National Training Complex in Cary. As the underdogs, the younger team may have had more to gain from playing well. College team shortstop Deven Marrero didn't agree with that assessment, however.
"I think it's beneficial for both of us, because we're playing great players out here" said Marrero, the 2011 Pacific-10 Conference defensive player of the year at Arizona State. "It's not like we're playing a rinky-dink high school team. We're playing guys that throw lower 90s, you know? This game's probably one of the best games we've played so far. It's a great experience for both of us."
He said the difference between the two teams wasn't tools or skills, but maturity.
"Playing against the best definitely gets you better," Marrero said. "This is a great opportunity for these kids out here to play against college guys who are mature, and they can learn from us how we play the game and how different it is as you get older.
"The difference in the games is just the maturity level, but these are great players. They're just like how we were when we were younger—they all have great tools, they're just going to mature and get better as they go on."
Something else that stood out at the wood bat event was the power the college players showed. Several players—including Marrero—put on hitting displays in batting practice, which led to discussions about the difference between hitting with a wood bat compared to the new BBCOR metal bats that were used in college this season.
"I think wood bats definitely have a little bit more pop," Marrero said. "If you get a good piece of wood, I think the ball definitely goes farther."
Seiler said he expects the Prospect Classic to become an annual event.
"This was the first step in what we think may ultimately have a really interesting future as a profile event for USA Baseball and for these athletes," Seiler said. "When you look at what we're using as a tagline now—'Our Pastime's Future'—that's exactly what it is. Because our national pastime is baseball, so you look back and ask where are those players coming from? A year from now in the 2012 draft, you're going to pull out your program and see that 50, 60, 70 percent of the first and second rounds will have played in these games, so that will help it gain traction as an elite event moving forward."