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2004 Baseball For The Ages
By Allan Simpson
Youth baseball players often mature at different rates, so it can sometimes be a difficult proposition predicting the worth of players as they grow older. But some players are so talented at an early age that they continue to dominate their age group every step of the way.
This year, Baseball America's annual Baseball For The Ages awards program, which began in 1998, recognizes seven players between the ages of 12 and 25 who are previous winners. And none has dominated the competition more than Devil Rays prospect Delmon Young, 18, and Cardinals slugger Albert Pujols, 24, who are being recognized for the fourth time. The Upton brothers, B.J. and Justin, are also multiple winners, with Justin, 16 and the early favorite to be the No. 1 pick in next year's draft, taking his age group for the third straight year.
The criteria for choosing our winners depends on the player's age. Older players are judged on ability and what they have achieved on the field--generally in the big leagues--while winners in the younger age groups combine their potential with their performance at major national and international competitions.
At each age from 12 to 19, except 12, we have selected a winner and two honorable mentions. In each case, the universal youth cutoff date of Aug. 1 is used to establish a player's age:
CODY POLK, lhp/1b, North Richland Hills, Texas
The 5-foot-8, 150-pound Polk was the ace pitcher for the Texas Rattlers, the nation's No. 1-ranked team in his age group in 2002 and 2003. At one point, the Rattlers strung together 57 straight wins. At 18-0, he went unbeaten this year for the second season in a row as the Rattlers went 68-6. While Polk didn't lead his team to a national title as he did in 2003, when he was the MVP of the United States Specialty Sports Association (USSSA) Majors World Series, he pitched all of his team's big games--and beat all the nation's top-ranked teams.
He was invited to join the Texas Steel at one of Cooperstown Dreamspark's weekly 80-team tournaments, and excelled as the Steel won the title. He hit .778-9-21 in 12 games and went 2-for-4 with three RBIs as the Steel beat the top-seeded Miami Mudcats 10-3 in the championship game. His most important pitching performance of the tournament came in the semifinals against California's Say Hey Kids, when he assumed a 4-0 first-inning deficit, promptly struck out the side and went on to register 12 strikeouts in a 12-4 win.
RANDAL GRICHUK, ss/rhp, Richmond, Texas
Richmond was one of the rare teams to make consecutive appearances in the Little League World Series, and the 5-foot-7, 126-pound Grichuk was the only player to be on both squads. Though the team finished third at this year's Series, Grichuk went 12-for-19 with a tournament-high four homers and 12 RBIs. He also blanked Mexico 5-0 in the third-place game on three hits, walking none and striking out 11. In the central regionals, where Richmond earned a return visit to Williamsport, Grichuk went 10-for-17 with four homers and 13 RBIs, and tossed three scoreless innings in the championship game.
KYLE KERBY, 1b/lhp, Huntington Beach, Calif.
Kerby made his mark at three prominent tournaments during the summer for the Huntington Beach Vikings, the nation's No. 3-ranked 12-year-old team. He was named the outstanding offensive player at the Pan American Games in Hermosillo, Mexico; he was named to the all-tournament team at the USSSA 12-year-old Elite tournament at Disney World; and he slugged a pair of home runs and was the winning pitcher as the Vikings hung on to win Cooperstown Dreampark's National Tournament of Champions, 14-13. On the season, Kerby hit .518.
PATRICK LEYLAND, c, Pittsburgh
The son of former major league manager Jim Leyland, Patrick always has played a year ahead of his normal class. This year, he was the catcher for Pennsylvania's successful Beaver Valley Red, the nation's top-ranked 13-year-old team. He was named to the all-World team as the Red won the USSSA 13 Elite tournament, the premier 13-year-old tournament in the country. Leyland missed almost a month of the season with a shoulder injury. With him in the lineup, the Reds went 53-1; without him, they went 11-2. Leyland threw out more than 40 percent of basestealers, hit .445 with 25 doubles and struck out just nine times in 270 plate appearances.
DAVID PAIZ, rhp/ss, Austin Texas
A seventh-grade student at Murchison Middle School, Paiz spent most of the 2004 season with the Austin Eagles, who went 55-8 on the year and went undefeated during one of Cooperstown Dreampark's weekly tournaments. The 5-foot-9, 138-pound Paiz missed two games in that tournament because of illness, but hit .797-9-36 in the other 10. He also won three games while working 13 scoreless innings and striking out 24, and won the championship game 12-0 on a one-hitter. The Eagles, ranked No. 1 in the nation at the time by USA Sports Rankings, also won eight of 11 USSSA-sanctioned tournaments. Picked up by the Texas Express for the USSSA 12 Elite tournament at Disney World, Paiz won one game and saved two others as the Express beat 15 of the nation's top 12-year-old teams. He also hit .560 with a home run (on 285-foot fields), and earned tournament MVP honors. Just like at Cooperstown, he played an error-free shortstop. On the year, Paiz went 17-1, 0.42 and hit .542 with 18 home runs.
ZAK SINCLAIR, rhp/ss, Pittsburgh
The 6-foot-4, 175-pound Sinclair did it all for Pennsylvania's Beaver Valley Red, the nation's top-ranked 13-year-old team. He pitched, he played shortstop, he hit cleanup and he was his team's fastest runner. At the premier event for 13-year-olds, the USSSA Elite World Series, he earned MVP honors as the Red went unbeaten.
Sinclair showcased an 86 mph fastball and 72-74 mph slider, and worked only his team's most important games as the Red amassed a 61-3 record. He went 13-0 with a sub-1.00 ERA and also had four saves while striking out 178 in 82 innings. He threw five no-hitters and handily beat the East Cobb (Ga.) Astros, the national AAU champions and the nation's No.-2 ranked team, 9-1 in April, striking out the first six batters he faced. Sinclair also played a big role with the bat, hitting .608 with 28 home runs.
MILES HEAD, c/1b, Fayetteville, Ga.
At 6 feet and 195 pounds, Head is a man among boys at his age level, and he is spending the fall playing fullback and linebacker for Whitewater Middle School. He won't turn 14 until next May. Head began making a name for himself as a 12-year-old, when he spent most of the season playing for the Georgia Mud Dogs and hit 75 home runs, many against a national schedule. He spent most of the spring and summer of 2004 playing for the Knoxville (Tenn.) Yard Dogs, who finished second at both the AAU 13 and USSSA Elite 13 national championships, went 82-13 overall and were ranked third in the country by USA Sports Rankings. He was named all-tournament at the USSSA event, the nation's most prestigious tournament for 13-year-olds. Head also was selected to compete at the CABA World Series for the Bergen Beach Youth Organization, an all-star squad of players from around the country based in Brooklyn. Head hit cleanup for the team, went 12-for-22 with a homer and seven RBIs and was named the tournament MVP as the team swept to the title. On the year, Head hit .627 with 32 home runs and 125 RBIs.
RYAN KLEM, rhp/of, Chandler, Ariz.
The 5-foot-8, 140-pound Klem was our 12-year-old winner a year ago, when his accomplishments included 35 wins and 360 strikeouts in 145 innings, along with 71 home runs over a 12-month period. He wasn't quite as dominant as he progressed to larger fields, often playing against competition two years his elder. He helped the Bergen Beach Youth Organization to the CABA 13 World Series title by pitching a no-hitter against defending champion Brazil in the semifinals, while going 10-for-23 with six RBIs at the plate. With a fastball clocked at 86 mph, he also pitched a complete-game two-hitter at the Pacific Southwest regional against the Honolulu team that went on to win the Babe Ruth 14 World Series. On the year, he gave up just three runs while averaging more than two strikeouts an inning.
ROBERT STOCK, rhp, Westlake Village, Calif.
Stock has been one of the top players in his age group for three years running. He earned runner-up honors as a 12-year-old before earning his due last year at 13, when his fastball was clocked at 89 mph. He dialed the pitch up to 91 in the spring as a freshman closer at Agoura High, to 92 at an Area Code Games tryout in Sacramento in July and to 93 at the Team USA youth team trials in August. Stock, who turns 15 on Nov. 21, was the youngest player ever selected to USA Baseball's national youth team, which qualified for the 2005 World Youth Championship by finishing second at a qualifying tournament in Mexico in September. Used as a closer, he threw four scoreless innings and also hit a walk-off home run in his only at-bat. "He's unbelievable for his age," said USA Baseball's Jeff Singer, who oversees the youth squad.
Stock also spent part of the summer playing for the West Coast Rebels, who finished fifth at the USSSA Elite 14 World Series after winning the national title in his age group as a 12- and 13-year-old. He worked 18 innings at this year's tournament, allowing one run and two hits while striking out 25.
JAKE DAVIES, 1b/lhp, Stockbridge, Ga.
Davies is following in the footsteps of his brother Kyle, a rising star in the Atlanta Braves system. As a 13- and 14-year-old, the older Davies was BA's choice as the top player at his age while starring for East Cobb, the nation's most celebrated youth program. Jake led the East Cobb Astros to the PONY League World Series title this year. He won both his starts at the tournament, including a 14-strikeout performance in the championship game, when he also went 3-for-3 with a homer and two RBIs in a 3-1 win. He homered three times in four tournament games. In a season that started in February and wrapped up in August, the 6-foot-2, 225-pound Davies hit .465-14-105 with 39 doubles and a .789 slugging percentage for a team that went 83-6. He never lost a game as a pitcher while posting a 2.49 ERA and striking out 153 in 101 innings.
ERIC HOSMER, lhp/1b, Plantation, Fla.
The 5-foot-11, 185-pound Hosmer continues to excel in his age group as both a hitter and pitcher. He's expected to pitch regularly and start at first base as a freshman for American Heritage High in the spring after earning all-tournament honors for the South Florida Diamond Kings, who finished third at this summer's USSSA 14 Elite World Series and went 28-1 on the summer. Hosmer went 11-0 and hit over .500 with four home runs. At the USSSA tournament, he got two hits off Stock, the only player to hit safely against the nation's top 14-year-old.
MICHAEL MAIN, rhp/of, Deltona, Fla.
Main was the runner-up at 14, and his skills continue to be extremely advanced for his age. He already rates as the No. 1 high school player in the Draft Class of 2007. Though only 6-foot-1 and 165 pounds, Main is extremely athletic and has excellent arm strength. His fastball was clocked at 94 mph in September, when he helped lead Team USA's national youth squad to a second-place finish in an America's qualifying tournament for the 2005 World Youth championship.
Main's skills aren't limited to the mound, however. He's been timed in the 60-yard dash in 6.6 seconds and is a superior defender, capable of playing almost any position. As a freshman at DeLand High, he led his team in hitting with a .407 average, while showing the plate discipline expected of a leadoff hitter. Main later excelled at Team USA's Junior Olympics tournament in Jupiter, Fla., for the Southeast Florida Selects and for the DeLand American Legion team that finished third in the Florida state tournament.
ERIC GOEDDEL, lhp, Hillsborough, Calif.
One of the best pitching matchups of the summer took place at the World Wood Bat Association 15-year-old summer championship in Marietta, Ga., when NorCal's Goeddel hooked up with Main, who was playing in the tournament for the local East Cobb Aztecs. Through six innings, the score was 0-0 with Goeddel allowing one hit (by Main) and striking out 14. Largely off that performance, Goeddel was named the event's outstanding pitcher. His fastball was clocked at 92 mph. He also earned all-tournament honors for NorCal at the AAU 15-year-old national championship. The 6-foot-1, 145-pound Goeddel already projects as the best pitcher to ever come out of the NorCal program--better even than Chris Gruler, the third overall pick in the 2002 draft. A sophomore at San Jose's Bellarmine Prep, Goeddel didn't pitch on the varsity until the playoffs but quickly developed into the team's best pitcher.
JOSH SMOKER, lhp, Sugar Valley, Ga.
The 6-foot-3, 180-pound Smoker ranks second to Main among prospects in the prep class of 2007. A banner 2004 season began in the spring as a freshman at Calhoun High when he set a school record with 121 strikeouts while going 8-4, 0.91. It continued during the summer as a member of the powerful East Cobb Astros, who won the AAU 16-year-old Junior Olympics for the eighth time in the last nine years. He threw a perfect game in the AAU tournament and won the championship game. He also threw a no-hitter as the Astros won the Continental Amateur Baseball Association 16-year-old World Series for the third straight year. He was named to the all-tournament team in both the AAU and CABA tournaments. As the only 15-year-old on the Astros, he went 11-1, 1.16 with 74 strikeouts in 54 innings.
JUSTIN UPTON, ss, Chesapeake, Va.
Upton was the nation's best 14-year-old in 2002 and best 15-year-old in 2003, and now he completes the hat trick. He's followed almost the same career path as his older brother B.J., this year's 19-year-old honoree. B.J. surfaced in the big leagues this year, two years after being the No. 2 overall pick in the draft. Justin could do him one better as he's projected to be the top pick in next year's draft. A 6-foot-2, 190-pound shortstop, Upton has five-tool ability. He's been clocked at 6.23 seconds in the 60-yard dash and has above-average power potential and arm strength. He earned first-team All-America honors last spring at Great Bridge High in Chesapeake, while hitting .565-8-23 with 30 stolen bases. He was named the inaugural winner of the Jackie Robinson award as AFLAC's national player of the year. Upton spent most of the summer on the high school showcase circuit and appeared in the AFLAC Classic before starring for Team USA at the World Junior Championship, where he hit .417-1-5 and led Team USA with eight runs and four triples.
SEAN O'SULLIVAN, rhp/3b, Valhalla HS, El Cajon, Calif.
Recognized as the nation's best 12-year-old in 2000, O'Sullivan has continued to be one of the best players in his age group through the years. He was named the top junior in California by Cal Hi Sports News, as well as San Diego's high school player of the year by the San Diego Union-Tribune (ahead of Matt Bush, the No. 1 overall pick in the 2004 draft) after leading the county with a .617 average and the state with 16 home runs. He also went 11-1, 1.67 with nine walks and 71 strikeouts in 71 innings on the mound as he led Valhalla High to its first California Interscholastic Federation championship game. He later played on the American Amateur Baseball Congress team that won a gold medal at USA Baseball's Tournament of Stars in Joplin, Mo., and pitched a scoreless inning in the AFLAC Classic in Aberdeen, Md., while touching 91 mph. A member of the Team USA squad that won the 2003 World Youth Championship, O'Sullivan was hoping for a rare double as a member of this summer's U.S. junior squad, but the team finished fourth at the World Junior Championship. O'Sullivan injured a knee just before the tournament, limiting him to five at-bats. He also lost his only decision while striking out 10 in seven innings on the mound.
GREG PEAVEY, rhp, Hudson's Bay HS, Vancouver, Wash.
Unlike O'Sullivan and Upton, who have turned 17 and are high school seniors, Peavey is a sophomore and doesn't turn 17 until next July. Though he didn't win a game at the Pan American Youth Championship in September in Mexico, which served as a qualifier for next year's World Youth tournament, Peavey started both games against gold-medal winner Cuba, including a 3-0 loss in the final game. "He wanted to be out on the field against Cuba more than any Team USA player," USA Baseball's Jeff Singer said. "He got better as the game progressed and situations became more important." Peavey went 0-1, 1.88 against the Cubans, striking out 15 in 14 innings. He also hit .400-0-6 overall while playing third base. Prior to joining Team USA, Peavey went 9-1, 2.17 with 85 strikeouts in 48 innings for the Seattle Stars, with many of his victims being 18- and 19-year-old teams. As a high school freshman in the spring, Peavey's fastball was clocked at 89-91 mph. He went 8-1, 1.95, and among his victims in the first round of the Washington 4-A playoffs was nationally-ranked and previously unbeaten Auburn High. Peavey is used to the national stage as he played in the Little League World Series as a 12-year-old, and led Vancouver to the Babe Ruth 13 and Babe Ruth 14 World Series championships the next two years.
CAMERON MAYBIN, of, T.C. Roberson HS, Arden, N.C.
Justin Upton is the top prospect for the 2005 draft, but Maybin went a long way to closing the gap on the Virginia high school shortstop in 2004. He hit .536-8-41 for T.C. Roberson High, which lost its only game in the North Carolina 3-A playoffs. He put on an impressive show at Perfect Game's National Showcase in June, consistently putting balls out of St. Petersburg's Tropicana Field from both sides of the plate while running the 60-yard dash in 6.40 seconds. He also stood out at the AFLAC Classic in Aberdeen, Md., in August. In between those events, he starred for Cincinnati's Midland Redskins, who went 57-7 and went on to win their ninth Connie Mack World Series in 21 years. Maybin was named the series MVP after winning the batting title (.571), tying a series record with five home runs and setting a single-game mark with three. He hit .464-11-61 overall for the Redskins.
IKE DAVIS, 1b/lhp, Chaparral HS, Scottsdale, Ariz.
The 6-foot-4, 190-pound Davis is the son of former big league righthander Ron Davis. A two-way player who excelled on the mound and at the plate, Davis and his brother Ryan led Chaparral High to its fourth Arizona 4-A title in the last six years. Davis ranks as the top power-hitting first baseman in the 2005 prep class. He was named MVP of the second AFLAC Classic after his home run gave the West a lead it didn't relinquish. Davis was a key member of Team USA's World championship youth squad in 2003, when he hit .464-0-10 and went 1-0, 0.00. He also played a key role for this year's junior national team, which finished out of the medals for the first time in 20 years. He hit .316-0-6 and pitched a complete game in a 2-1 win over host Taiwan.
BRANDON SNYDER, c/ss, Westfield HS, Centreville, Va.
Snyder, the son of former big league lefthander Brian Snyder, excels as both a catcher and shortstop, a combination which speaks volumes about his athleticism and versatility. Along with Upton and Justin Bristow (Mills Godwin High, Richmond), he is one of a trio of top prep shortstops from Virginia for the 2005 draft, though scouts say his higher upside is behind the plate. Snyder teamed with Maybin as Cincinnati's Midland Redskins rallied from a first-round loss to win the Connie Mack World Series. The two shared the tournament RBI lead with 11 RBIs, and Snyder went 4-for-6 with five RBIs as the Redskins won two games on the final day. On the season, Snyder hit .446-10-51. He also was a member of the American Amateur Baseball Congress all-star team that won USA Baseball's Tournament of Champions in Joplin, Mo. That led to his selection to USA Baseball's junior national squad, and he went on to lead the team in hitting with a .421 average while hitting cleanup and playing second base at the World Junior Championship.
DELMON YOUNG, of, Devil Rays
One of the most celebrated youth players of this era, Young was recognized as the nation's top 13-, 14- and 16-year-old while at California's Camarillo High and as a member of Team USA's national youth teams. He was the first player selected in the 2003 draft and after sitting out the remainder of that season while negotiating a $5.8 million major league deal, he broke into pro ball this year with an outstanding season at low Class A Charleston, S.C. He led the South Atlantic League in RBIs with 116 while hitting .322 with 25 homers, and was selected as the league's top major league prospect.
Young, the younger brother of Detroit Tigers first baseman Dmitri Young, possesses outstanding power to all fields along with an above-average right-field arm. "The ball just sounds good off his bat," Hickory manager Dave Clark said. "I thought I saw a lot of Albert Belle in him as a hitter."
HOMER BAILEY, rhp, Reds
Bailey excelled at the high school level in 2004, going 15-0, 0.68 with two saves for La Grange ( Texas) High to earn Baseball America's High School Player of the Year award. In 20 appearances spanning 93 innings, he struck out 201, walked 19 and posted a .117 average against. He did not allow an earned run until his eighth outing and was the winning pitcher as La Grange High won the Texas 3-A state title for the second time in Bailey's high school career. After signing with the Reds for $2.3 million as the seventh overall pick in the 2004 draft, Bailey was placed on a strict pitch count by the Reds in the Rookie-level Gulf Coast League, but still flashed his customary 97 mph fastball and major league quality breaking ball.
FELIX HERNANDEZ, rhp, Mariners
Though only 18 yet with two minor league seasons in the U.S. under his belt, Hernandez has been the No. 1-ranked prospect in his league three times. He earned that designation a year ago in the short-season Northwest League, and was selected the best talent this year in both the high Class A California and Double-A Texas leagues. Overall, he went 14-4, 2.96 with 47 walks and 172 strikeouts in 149 innings. The 6-foot-3, 170-pound Hernandez has excellent stuff, with command of a 96-97 mph fastball and a mid-80s power curveball. "To see an 18-year-old with that kind of stuff come in and dominate was very impressive," El Paso manager Scott Coolbaugh said. "There was nobody else throwing like him in the league."
B.J. UPTON, ss, Devil Rays
Upton became the first teenager to homer in a big league game since the Pirates' Aramis Ramirez in 1998, when he homered Aug. 17 against the Angels. He hit .258-4-12 in 158 at-bats in his first exposure to big league pitching. Prior to his promotion to Tampa Bay, Upton sizzled in both the Triple-A International League, hitting .311-12-36 in 264 at-bats for Durham, and Double-A Southern League, where he hit .327-2-25 for Montgomery. Upton, the older brother of 16-year-old winner Justin Upton, has been one of the best players in his age group for years, and earned the designation as best 17-year-old in 2002. He has five-tool ability and 30-30 potential, but must settle on a position after struggling defensively at shortstop in 2004.
MATT CAIN, rhp, Giants
Cain is on the fast track to San Francisco. He was the Giants' first-round draft pick in 2002 and finished the '04 season at Double-A Norwich, where he went 6-4, 3.35 with 72 strikeouts in 86 innings and was named the Eastern League's third-best prospect. He spent the first half of the season at high Class A San Jose and was selected the California League's second-best prospect after going 7-1, 1.86 with 89 strikeouts in 73 innings. "He uses both sides of the plate and commands his pitches well," Visalia manager Stu Cole said. "He's just going to shoot through the minor leagues."
IAN STEWART, 3b, Rockies
Stewart, the 10th player drafted in 2003, had a breakout 2004 season for the Rockies' low Class A affiliate at Asheville. He hit .319-30-101 and was selected the South Atlantic League's second best prospect after Young, our 18-year-old winner. Stewart generates his power with a short, powerful stroke and made significant strides defensively.
BIG LEAGUERS--BY THE AGES
The best big leaguers under the age of 25:
19: *B.J. Upton, ss, Devil Rays
20: *Zack Greinke, rhp, Royals
21: *Miguel Cabrera, of, Marlins
22: Carl Crawford, of, Devil Rays
23: Jake Peavy, rhp, Padres
24: *Albert Pujols, 1b, Cardinals
25: *Adrian Beltre, 3b, Dodgers
*Previous Baseball For The Ages winner