CARY, N.C.–USA Baseball’s Tournament of Stars is one of the best
arenas for summer high school baseball in the country, and now that the
event has a first-class venue as its new home, it is elevated to a
must-attend event for players, fans, coaches and scouts.
For more than a decade, 144 of the top 18-and-under players gathered
for seven days in Joplin, Mo., where eight teams vied for the
tournament championship and the top 32 players were invited to tryout
for a spot on the junior national team later in the summer.
Joplin’s role has changed, as it will host this year’s trials in
August, opening the door for USA Baseball to unveil its
brand new $11 million complex in suburban Raleigh, and
Tuesday’s grand opening was a huge hit.
With three immaculately-groomed practice fields flanking a 2,000-seat
main stadium, the complex is among the best of its kind, comparing
favorably to major league spring training complexes and upstaging
similar amateur facilities.
The tournament’s structure remains the same–AABC (American Amateur
Baseball Congress), American League Baseball, Babe Ruth Baseball, Dixie
Youth Baseball, NABF (National Amateur Baseball Federation), PONY
Baseball and RBI (Reviving Baseball in Inner Cities) are the seven
sanctioned organizations that pull together a team of players from
across the country that compete in the event, along with an at-large
team sponsored by USA Baseball.
A pair of diminutive Californians might have taken the first steps
toward securing a spot on the preliminary junior roster Tuesday, as
Anthony Gose and Dimiti De La Fuente both continued strong starts
to the summer.
Gose struck out the side in a one-two-three ninth inning, picking up
the save in the first game of the tournament, a 4-2 win for RBI against
Pony. He’s a high-energy athlete with a quick arm delivery, a fastball
that sits at 90 mph and intriguing skills in center
field, most notably 6.6-second speed in the 60-yard-dash.
“I like him as a lefthanded pitcher,” said an American League crosschecker in attendance.
“I think he’s going to be a prospect as an outfielder,” said a second
AL crosschecker, summing up the wide range of opinion on the rising
senior from Bellflower (Calif.) High, who is listed at 6-feet,
170-pounds. Gose was a high school teammate of Reggie Williams, an outfielder who
became the first product of MLB’s Urban Youth Development program to be drafted when he was selected in the fourth round this year by the Twins.
With Gose’s interesting two-way upside, he could be taken in the same
range, if not higher, unless he elects to go to college, where he could
certainly impact both sides of the game.
De La Fuente flashed a low-90s fastball at last week’s MLB Scouting
Bureau-organized showcase in Compton, Calif., and again Saturday night
in Cincinnati at Perfect Game’s National Showcase. He was his league’s
MVP as a wide receiver last fall as a junior on the South Hills High
(Covina, Calif.) football team, and does everything easily on the
He squared up the ball twice in three at-bats for Babe Ruth in its 16-1
loss to USA Stars in Tuesday’s second game. He’s a tick slower than
Gose, turning in 6.9-second 60-yard times, but he has a better approach
at the plate and shows solid-average defensive skills in the infield.
Versatility is always one of the first things national teams
look for when selecting their roster–that and experience–which is
another check mark in De La Fuente’s favor.
He batted .429 last August for the youth national team, which won a
gold medal in Venezuela, going undefeated in the Pan-Am Championship.
But the 6-foot-1, 185-pound third baseman/righthander appeared in just
four games, finding himself backing up the more physical Harold
Martinez (Braddock High, Miami), who again is vying for the third base
job with De La Fuente here in Cary.
“I know what they’re looking for, so I think that is the biggest
difference from last year to this,” said De La Fuente of his mindset
this week during the TOS. “They look for a leader, someone who’s going
to be able to play as well as they can lead their teammates.”
Martinez, meanwhile, made an error, doubled and scored a run for AABC
in its game against Dixie Tuesday night. He was selected as an Aflac
all-American this year, and while De La Fuente is more versatile and
plays with more energy, Martinez’ bat could fit nicely into the middle
of the junior lineup. He batted .364 (12-for-33) with two doubles and
six RBIs last year in Venezuela.
Stars And Stripes
• Not even Martinez’ tools match those of Long Beach’s Aaron Hicks,
though the outfielder/righthander won’t be able to show off his
well-above-average arm strength this week for RBI. Hicks had to leave
his pitching performance abruptly Saturday in Cincinnati at the PG
National after experiencing discomfort in his throwing shoulder. “It
was a tweak,” Hicks said after going 1-for-3 with a deep sacrifice fly
and a strikeout Tuesday as a DH in RBI’s lineup. Hicks said he had seen
a doctor, and would not resume throwing for “about a month.”
• While Eric Hosmer continued
to show why he’s among the best pure hitters in the high school class
with an RBI double off the right-center field wall in his first at-bat
of the tournament, he had his hands full when Dixie went to its bullpen
and summoned 5-foot-8, 155-pound lefty Nolan Belcher.
The rising senior from Greenbrier High (Evans, Ga.) pitched at 87 mph
with a 71-76 mph curveball that has tight rotation and tied up plenty
of hitters, including a punch out and tapper back to the mound in two
battles with the 6-foot-3, 205-pound Hosmer.