Tucson, Ariz.—The list of players winning USA Baseball’s Player of the Year honor includes easily recognizable names like Stephen Strasburg (2008), Justin Smoak (2009), Ryan Zimmerman (2004) and Ben Sheets (2000).
Then there’s Alex Bregman, who received the award in 2010. How did an unknown teenager from Albuquerque, N.M. wind up on this list?
Bregman is the first youth player to be named USA Baseball Player of the Year. The high school junior qualified for the honor by leading USA Baseball’s 16U team to the COPABE 16U Pan American Baseball Championship in Lagos de Mareno, Mexico last October. The righthanded-hitting infielder batted .564 with 17 runs, 17 RBIs and two home runs in nine games to lead Team USA to the gold medal.
“The greatest experience in baseball that I’ve had thus far,” Bregman said about his time with Team USA. “It was amazing winning the gold medal with the team … a great group of guys, great group of coaches, and I learned a lot about the game. It really made me a better person going down to Mexico. It was a great experience all around.”
Bregman is not one to rest on his laurels. He was back on the field this past weekend at Baseball Factory’s 2011 Under Armour Preseason All-America Baseball Tournament in Tucson, Arizona. Bregman was perhaps the most heralded young prospect among the approximately 270 high school athletes drawing attention from major league scouts in attendance.
Despite the recent USA Baseball experience, Bregman sees value in participating in events like the Baseball Factory tournament.
“They do a great job,” Bregman said about the Baseball Factory instructors. “They help us out with our fundamentals and how to approach the game ‘¦ You see great pitching and it really helps get ready for the high school season and helps to play against really great competition.”
The Baseball Factory team is also glad to have a player with Bregman’s reputation participate in their event, according to Steve Bernhardt, Executive Vice President of Baseball Operations. It’s Bregman’s second time at this event and he represents the type of player they want affiliated with their organization. His Team USA experience also adds credibility to the event.
“To have a player wear that USA across their chest and represent the country is a great honor for them,” Bernhardt said, “and it’s really a great honor for us to have them participate in our events, especially someone that had the year that Alex had ‘¦ It’s a neat thing for us, and it’s also good for us to see that after the accolades and great summer, he comes back and he’s the same guy he was last year before he had that placed on him.”
Back home in New Mexico, Bregman works out at the highly regarded Albuquerque Baseball Academy, a training facility that sponsors traveling teams in various showcases and tournaments around the country. It’s another of the programs that allows Bregman to experience better competition than he would see during his regular high school season.
Bregman was the second baseman for Team USA and plays shortstop for his high school team. But he also has experience behind the plate. He enjoys catching and gets good instruction at the Albuquerque Baseball Academy, but is also perfectly content in the infield. His ultimate position will no doubt be determined after he gets to college or signs with a major league organization.
Regardless of where he plays, it’s Bregman’s offense that will carry him to the next level of baseball. He’s considered an advanced hitter for his age.
“He’s relaxed in the box, he’s confident—obviously some of that’s probably from the success that he’s had—but he’s just one of those guys that can flat out hit,” Bernhardt said. “His swing is short and quick, he squares balls up off the barrel, he uses the whole field, he’s disciplined at the plate, and he’s a mature hitter beyond his years for being a junior in high school.”
Despite the acclaim for his hitting, Bregman doesn’t consider it the strongest part of his game.
“I know the game pretty well,” he said, “and I enjoy the mental side of the game.”
He also likes having the label “grinder” attributed to his style of play, especially when his style of play is compared to that of Boston Red Sox infielder Dustin Pedroia.
“He’s a dirt bag and I like to pride myself on playing hard and getting dirty,” Bregman said. “It’s an honor to be compared to him.”
Northwestern Dual Threat
Carson Kelly, a high school junior from Portland, was another member of the gold-medal winning USA 16U team at the Tucson event. Already 6-foot-1, 190 pounds with room to fill out, Kelly has the projectable profile of a power-hitting third baseman or a hard-throwing righthander on the mound.
Kelly isn’t in any hurry to decide which position he prefers.
“I like doing both,” Kelly said. “I’m just going to do both until someone decides where I should go and just follow what I love. I’m going to just keep playing the game.”
Kelly already has a trail of college suitors following him. If he goes the college route, he believes it’ll be at either Arizona State, Stanford, Oregon or Oregon State. But he knows that going to school isn’t his only option.
“I’m going to sign in the fall for college and then I’ll wait for the draft,” Kelly said.