CHICAGO—As a prelude to Saturday’s Under Armour All-America Game, powered by Baseball Factory, in Wrigley Field at 7:05 p.m. EST, the players had an afternoon workout at the recently renovated Curtis Granderson Stadium of the University of Illinois-Chicago.
The position players took batting practice and showed their defensive skills and arm strength during infield-outfield drills. A number of players impressed with their hitting ability.
“I thought there were a lot of good swings today even without necessarily ideal conditions throughout the day for balls carrying,” said Steve Bernhardt, executive vice president of baseball at Baseball Factory. “You could tell off the bat that there were some guys who could hit and had some feel for the barrel with some juice.”
One of the hitting standouts was third baseman Ke’Bryan Hayes (Concordia Lutheran High, Tomball, Texas), who has been one of the most consistent prep hitters in the class and is finishing the summer strong.
The son of 14-year big leaguer Charlie Hayes, Ke’Bryan consistently produces some of the most professional batting practices of any prep player. The righthanded hitter has an easy stroke and works inside the ball, serving the ball from gap to gap with an accurate barrel.
“For a high school player, he is someone that you would call a professional hitter,” Bernhardt said. “His approach is outstanding. He knows what he can do and his strengths. He knows the proper way to take BP. He finds the barrel with everything. It just looks easy for him. Some guys can just naturally hit and every time I see him he squares balls up. It seems like no matter where the pitch is in BP it is a hard line drive somewhere. He is a confident, polished hitter at this age.”
Each player was allotted five swings during three rounds of batting practice. Hayes maintained his line-drive-centric approach throughout his first two rounds and then lofted two home runs in five swings in his third round, showing more power than he did earlier this summer.
“He showed more of an ability to drive balls out of the ballpark than I had seen in the past,” Bernhardt said. “He had backspin with a little bit of loft, which isn’t necessarily something that you see from him all the time. But it was great to see that it was in there, too. Just another tool to add to his total package.”
Hayes said he, “stayed with my normal approach in the first two rounds, so then I saw the wind blowing out to left and I said why not try to show some power. It felt good but still tomorrow I will go with that same right-center-to-center field approach and then if I get a pitch to turn on, I will do it.”
Some scouts have said Hayes has a similar offensive approach to his father, who led the National League in doubles in 1993.
“A lot of people say that we are similar hitters because he hit balls hard a lot to the right side,” Hayes said. “Ever since we got in the cage when I was young he taught right field, right field, right field. He has taught me a lot.”
Hayes showing additional power helps his profile at third base, where he has shown hitting ability but not necessarily above-average raw power most evaluators seek in a third baseman. His arm strength has improved over the last year and shows above-average potential.
His body has undergone a transformation over the last year. The 6-foot-1, 205-pound Hayes has shed more than 15 pounds over the past year, leaning up his lower half and core significantly. The Tennessee commit’s speed has improved appreciably, posting fringe-average run times out of the box.
“Believe it or not the main way I lost my weight was with mountain bikes,” Hayes said. “My mom and I started riding mountain bikes a lot. I started to get into the weight room with a guy from Tomball named Dennis Fay. We have a class with the Koleks, (Texas A&M outfielder) Nick Banks, and a lot of major leaguers go to him.”
• Alonzo Jones is documented as the fastest player in the prep class on a national level and showed additional power with the bat on Friday. Jones is a plus-plus runner who ran the 60-yard dash in 6.17 seconds at Perfect Game National and 6.25 at East Coast Pro (both were electronically timed).
The Columbus (Ga.) High product has a strong, powerful build with physicality throughout his lower half, traps and forearms at 5-foot-9, 197 pounds.
The switch-hitter showed bat speed, hard-hit, line-drive ability and home run, pull-side power from both sides of the plate, though scouts say he cuts off his righthanded swing. Jones hit balls into the second deck down the left field line last week at the Perfect Game All-American Classic.
“Power and speed are hard enough to find but then when it is in a switch-hitting package it is even rarer,” Bernhardt said. “He squared the ball up from both sides. I thought he showed a little more power from the left side but hit balls hard from both sides. It came off pretty loud. He is a versatile. I am not sure where he ends up down the road five years from now. But the speed, bat and power all play anywhere on the field.”
He showed at least an average arm from shortstop during infield drills.
“He has arm strength and I thought he showed well in our infield workout,” Bernhardt said. “Obviously he has quick feet that lend itself to good range. I thought his hands looked good today. I thought he threw the ball well today from shortstop. It was accurate with carry. I don’t think that will be a limiting factor for him.”
• One of the breakout stars of the last two weeks, lefthanded-hitting outfielder Nick Plummer (Birmingham Brother Rice, Bloomfield Hills, Mich.) continued to show hard line-drive ability with an up-the-middle approach and easy power.
“I think Nick Plummer has a natural swing,” Bernhardt said. “He is short to the ball and there aren’t many holes for a young hitter. He shows easy power too. He doesn’t have to crank it up. It was the same swing that produced a hard line drive up the middle and the next it was a lofted home run to right field. He was impressive swinging the bat.”
• The winner of the MLB Junior Select Home Run Derby, righthander/first basemen Luken Baker (Oak Ridge HS, Spring, Texas) put on a show in the preliminary round of the Home Run Derby that will host the remaining players before the game in Wrigley. The big, powerful Texan hit five home runs in 10 swings, hitting a few majestic shots with booming sound off the bat to left-center field.
• Baker’s counterpart in the Junior Select Home Run Derby, first baseman/outfielder Josh Naylor (St. Joan of Arc, Maple, Ontario, Canada) hit arguably the farthest hit ball of the day. Naylor, who offers plus bat speed, hit a ball off the building that lies well beyond the fence in right field. He showed at least an average arm that flashed above-average when on top of the ball, though his arm slot tended to drop, thereby creating more arc to his throws.