Summer Rivalry Classic Puts Spotlight On Northeast Talent

The New York Yankees dropped their Thursday, August 16th matinee with the Texas Rangers, 10-6, but baseball in the Bronx was far from over. Just an hour after the big leaguers left the field, 32 high schoolers spread around the diamond to kick off the fourth-annual Summer Rivalry Classic.

In recent years, the Rivalry Classic—a one-game showcase in which players don the spring training jerseys of the Yankees and Red Sox—has become a favorite of scouts in the Northeast. The event marks a final chance for evaluators to watch players before they head back to school. This year, Yankees Northeast area scout Matt Hyde, alongside Anne Marie Yastrzemski, the daughter-in-law of Red Sox great Carl, organized the event.

“This is the fourth year that we’ve did it, and it all came to be as a result of Anne Marie Yastrzemski as kind of an addition to the Area Code games in the Northeast,” Hyde said, who managed the Yankees team. “It’s kind of grown into an event held in Yankee Stadium or in Fenway Park—we’ve had it both places—where the best players in the Northeast can play against each other. With the Area Codes and East Coast Pro Showcase, there are some guys that may not have made those teams, but we have heard about or we’ve seen and we want to get another look at. I think what [the Summer Rivalry Classic] does well is it gives us one more look at these guys.”

Scouts around the Northeast and Mid-Atlantic selected the two teams, providing plenty of East Coast talent to the game, but the event has attracted greater geographic diversity with time. Whereas four years ago the rosters were entirely filled with cold-weather prospects, this year seven players made the cross-country trip to play in Yankee Stadium.

“[The game] has now branched off to kids from California, Arizona, Louisiana, Texas,” Hyde said. “It’s really evolved in the last couple of years, so that we’re now able to get some kids from all over. I think it’s great for the kids in the Northeast to play against those guys, and I think it’s great for the other guys to come up and play in New York and play in a big league ballpark and get a chance to be in a big city.”

The Classic included rounds of batting practice, pre-game infield/outfield, and a 10-inning game where each pitcher threw two innings. Lineup substitutions were made freely. And unlike at some other showcases, perks—like Yankee and Red Sox apparel—were kept to a minimum, keeping the night’s focus on the field.

“It’s one of those things that doesn’t have a lot of bells and whistles to it,” Hyde said, “but it’s about getting the guys in here and in the big league uniforms and playing the game. No TV, no scoreboards going, it’s just playing ball on the field and I think that’s pretty neat.”

For players like Matt Thaiss—a catcher from Jackson, N.J., who played for the Yankees team—keeping attention on the event’s atmosphere is just fine.

“Getting to play in Yankee Stadium was awesome. Just unbelievable,” said the Virginia recruit. “Most of us just came from two great tournaments, out in Syracuse for East Coast Pro and at Area Codes, and so to come here after those two really tops the summer off.”

The Rivalry Classic is still relatively new to the showcase landscape, but there are hopes that it will one day grow to become a fixture on scouts’ radars. Pushing the game to late August so it does not interfere with All-American games should help stimulate even more interest within the scouting community. That said, the event always figures to emphasize Northeast players.

“It’s a tough time because we run into the Under Armour and Perfect Game games, and now Team USA, because they’re already reporting now. But I think if we put it later we can keep on growing and get even better players,” Hyde said. “I think it always has to have a little Northeast flair to it because it’s so great for these kids from up here to play in [Yankee Stadium]. . . but I do think it would be nice to keep on improving the level of talent that we have.”

The Summer Rivalry Classic also features a charitable component, raising some money for the American Heart Association.

Notable Performances

• Several players at the Classic stood out, but maybe none more so than Thaiss. A 6-foot, 190-pound backstop, Thaiss has a stocky, well-proportioned frame with strong hands and wrists. He has a short, quick lefthanded swing that produced several home runs into the second deck of right field in batting practice, and he knocked two doubles in the game. The first two-bagger one-hopped the centerfield wall and came on a lefthanded breaking ball.

“[In that at-bat], I was surprised he came back with a curveball because I was late on his fastball, but I stayed back long enough to take the ball and drive it up the middle,” Thaiss said. “I felt smooth today and felt like I was getting the [bat] head out early and was just driving the ball well.”

Defensively, Thaiss received well and showed off impressive arm strength and footwork with in-game pop times between 1.95-to-2.09 seconds. He played for Tri-State Arsenal this summer and will next be headed to the World Wood Bat Championships in Jupiter, Fla.

• Cody Bellinger, the son of one-time Yankee Clay Bellinger, hit the game’s lone home run, a high-fly to right. Bellinger is long and lanky and has an aggressive lefthanded swing. The lone player from Arizona at the event, the first baseman is committed to Oregon.

• The game’s biggest breakout player may have been Joshua Palacios, a lanky switch-hitting outfielder from the High School of Telecommunication Art and Technology in Brooklyn. Palacios squared line drives from both sides of the plate, made a diving catch in right field, and took off on an all-out sprint to first base when he walked in his final at-bat.

• Errol Robinson (Boyds, Md.), Willie Calhoun (Benicia, Calif.), and Stephen Alemais (New York, N.Y.) all impressed as middle infielders. Robinson, a righthanded hitter committed to Ole Miss, stole home with a nifty slide and also showed a loose swing. Defensively, he owns quick hands and feet and he has carry on his throws from shortstop.

Calhoun, an Arizona commit, sprayed line drives around the stadium in batting practice with impressive bat speed, though he stands just 5-foot-8, 170 pounds.

The switch-hitting Alemais stood out for his overall athleticism and above-average arm strength from shortstop. He has a commitment to Tulane.

• On the mound, Mark Armstrong and Chris Oakley continued their strong summers with a pair of scoreless innings apiece. Armstrong sat 88-90 with arm side run and threw strikes with a 73-75 mph curveball and 77-78 mph changeup. The Pittsburgh commit hails from Clarence, N.Y.

Oakley, committed to North Carolina, stands out with his 6-foot-6, 220-pound frame, and he hit the game’s highest velocity at 92 mph. He also threw a curveball and changeup, but missed up in the zone most of the evening.

• Southpaws Ben Bowden, a Vanderbilt commit, and Tyler Allen, a Louisiana State commit, both were roughed up a little in their outings but still managed to flash intriguing stuff. Bowden is 6-foot-4 and 235 pounds and ranged from 87-90 mph with arm side run. He had a loose delivery and clean arm action with a developing curveball and changeup.

Allen also has good size—6-foot-2, 195 pounds—but struggled to throw strikes consistently. The native of Deer Park, Texas, sat 88-89 with his fastball and was 73-74 with a sharp slider.

• Another Vanderbilt recruit, Tyler Green has size (6-foot-6, 225 pounds) and pop in his right-handed bat. Despite his long arms, he showed an ability to hit the ball where it’s pitched, lacing three line drives around the outfield. The Williamsville, N.Y., native also proved agile around the first base back and added a nice pick on a ball in the dirt.

• Steven Farinaro was the lone pitcher from California at the event. The UCLA commit sat 88-90 from a high 3/4 arm slot. His curveball was slow at 71 mph, but he can spin it and it flashed two-plane depth. He also threw a changeup at 72.