SAN DIEGO–Reggie Jackson was a fitting choice as the honorary chairman for the fourth-annual Aflac All-American Classic. Jackson spoke to 38 of the best rising high school seniors before Saturday’s game at San Diego State, and they clearly listened closely.
Jackson, who slugged 563 home runs, quipped about his 2,597 career strikeouts, a line mirrored during the West’s 9-8 victory over the East at Tony Gywnn Stadium Saturday.
There were plenty of extra base hits (11), and plenty of strikeouts (29), as 10 different pitchers hit 93 mph or better. The unpredictable, high-energy action was representative of the extreme talent awaiting the 2007 major league draft.
“The pitching was a pleasant surprise here, especially from the East, and they had the better ones from the West and I think they showed us some impressive bats here today,” said a crosschecker with a National League organization.
Facing one of the nation’s most electric pitchers, the West scored four runs off Deland (Fla.) High’s Michael Main in the first inning, keyed by back-to-back RBI doubles by Cypress (Calif.) High’s Josh Vitters and Jon Gilmore (Iowa City High) and a run-scoring triple by Brett Kill (Aliso Niguel HS, Aliso Viejo, Calif.). The West, which has won three Aflac games in a row, would not relinquish the lead.
Main had plenty of velocity, touching 95 and pitching at 93, as well as control, finding the strike zone with 31 of his 45 first-inning pitches, but he lacked command, something the adept West lineup wouldn’t let him get away with.
“They sat on the fastball and they turned it around for some quality hits,” Main said. “I mean, they really hit the ball with some intensity.”
Vitters blistered a double into left field off a 93 mph Main fastball to plate Christian Colon, and Gilmore followed suit with a sharp double of his own before Krill served a Main offering to the right-center field alley to make it 4-2.
Following an impressive showing at the Area Code Games in Long Beach, Calif., earlier this month, Vitters, who tacked on two more doubles as part of his 3-for-4 afternoon, was one of a handful of West position players that looked right at home facing the hardest throwers in the high school class.
“The pitchers are probably supposed to dominate us because they’re just a higher level than we’re used to facing, so it feels really good to come out here and hold my own,” said Vitters, a rising senior from Cypress (Calif.) High. “I just make sure I get the front foot down early so I’m not late and just kind of look dead red.”
The strategy worked, as the West piled up 13 hits, even touching up East righthander Rick Porcello, who ran his fastball up to 96, for a pair of runs in the sixth inning.
“People (might have been) trying to do too much, especially the pitchers,” a scout said. “There was very little command today, but there are some good arms, just very fair pitchability until the end. And that happens when you try to grunt up and muscle up, play for the (radar) gun or play for the power.”
Colon, who like Vitters hails from Orange County, went 2-for-3 with three stolen bases and three runs scored and was named MVP, an award he sheepishly accepted. “I really thought that (Vitters) was going to get it, and you know we both played really good,” Colon said.
This year’s crop of high school players could be the best of the decade. They have made positive impressions all summer on showcase and tournament circuits, and unlike in years past when most of the teens seemed exhausted by the time the summer’s most high-profile event rolled around, swings were crisp and pitchers had plenty of heat.
Righthander Neil Ramirez (Kempsville, Va., High) breezed through the third inning off a low-90s fastball and pinpoint command, an inning trumped in the top of the fourth by Tim Alderson, a 6-foot-6 righthander from Horizon High in Scottsdale, Ariz. Alderson struck out two of the three batters he faced, dealing seven strikes in an eight-pitch inning.
Two of the classes’ most decorated prospects rose to the occasion. Robert Stock (Agoura, Calif., High) ripped Porcello’s 92 mph fastball over the center-field wall for a solo homer to lead off the seventh. An inning later John Tolisano (Estero, Fla., High) took Tomball, Texas lefty Drake Britton deep.
“I thought it was a joke when they said they were going to have a home run derby,” said West manager Dennis Pugh, a 33-year coaching veteran from San Diego. “But these kids can flat-out hit.”