Prep prospects display tools in Under Armour game
CHICAGO—In its second year at Wrigley Field, the Under Armour All-America Game yet again put on a major league event that saw the nation's top high school players put their tools to the test.
The Baseball Factory team prevailed once again, defeating Team One 11-6, but there was more than just offense packed into this weekend event.
Players began arriving two days before the Saturday contest and were immediately given some major league treatment. One of the hotel's conference rooms was turned into a lounge where the players were given their gear for the weekend and could just relax with TVs, a ping pong table and video games. Players were given a tour of Wrigley Field that evening and then attended a banquet with a keynote speech given by Hall of Famer Cal Ripken and his brother Billy, a 12-year major leaguer himself.
Day Two featured a walk-through with the Ripkens and an afternoon session that catered to the scouts.
Though soggy from constant rain, the players got some major league instruction before showcasing a little for the scouts in attendance. Steve Bernhardt, executive vice president of baseball operations and the coach for Baseball Factory, was extremely pleased with the outcome.
"It was a great weekend," he said. "It's first class for these players. Under Armour does a great job. We, at Baseball Factory, are always excited to give 36 guys this opportunity. It's been special from start to finish with everything that was done from the tours of Wrigley Field to Cal and Billy speaking the first night and again at the walk through with Doug Glanville and Gary Bennett and Chris Perez coming over.
"We battled through the rain in the workout to try and get them in front of the scouts. It worked out. It wasn't ideal but we made it work."
The clouds began to part the morning of the game as players prepared to play at Wrigley. ESPNU televised the game for the second straight year and ESPN analyst Steve Phillips roamed the batting practice session meeting with all of the players. Hall of Famer Ernie Banks made his rounds as well, talking baseball and throwing out the first pitch.
Once the game began, it didn't take long to realize the talent that would be on display.
In the bottom of the first inning, righthander Jameson Taillon (The Woodlands, Texas, HS) struck out the side with an electric 94-95 mph fastball and filthy mid-80s breaking ball. He threw 16 pitches, 10 of which were strikes.
"I felt incredible," Taillon said. "I don't even remember who I faced. I had so much adrenaline out there. My heart was just pumping. I had to step off, take a deep breath there for a second.
(My) arm felt good. I had a few weeks off in July so I felt really good. All my teammates kept coming up to me and telling me how awesome it was, how hard I was throwing and all that. It'll sink in later on, I guess."
Team One was first on the board after a laser home run by outfielder Austin Wilson (Harvard-Westlake HS, Los Angeles). Up against righthander Karsten Whitson (Chipley, Fla. HS), whose fastball was sitting 92-93 mph, Wilson was looking for a fastball in a 3-2 count and got exactly that. He deposited the 93 mph heater into the bleachers in left-center field to give Team One a 1-0 lead.
"I was having a good at-bat and hoping for a fastball," Wilson said. "I got it, put a good swing on it and it took off. It felt good to hit a ball like that. (It's) always good to start off like that. It's even better here. There's history here. It was amazing."
Baseball Factory tied the score in the third on a passed ball, but Team One retook the lead briefly in the fourth on a sacrifice fly from shortstop JaCoby Jones (Richton, Miss., HS). In the bottom of the fourth Baseball Factory tied the game at two when outfielder Trey Griffin (King HS, Stockbridge, Ga.) doubled home third baseman Nick Castellanos (Archbishop McCarthy HS, Southwest Ranches, Fla.) and took the lead for good as Griffin caught Team One catcher Jacob Felts (Orangefield HS, Orange, Texas) and stole home on a lazy throw back to the pitcher.
Baseball Factory extended the lead to 8-2 in the fifth inning. Castellanos stroked his third double of the game to drive in two and was followed by an Alex Lavisky (St. Edward Prep, Lakewood, Ohio) infield single and Kevin Koziol (Brother Rice HS, Chicago) double.
Quite A Day
Castellanos, who also won the pregame home run derby, was the unquestionable MVP for Baseball Factory as he went 4-for-4 with four doubles, a walk, three runs scored and three RBIs. He had a massive grin on his face after the game and isn't sure of when he'll lose it.
"Probably a long time," he said. "It was great, man. I woke up this morning too nervous to eat breakfast. I don't know, it just worked out perfectly. Once I won the home run derby I relaxed, ate something because I was hungry, and everything just went from there. Everything just clicked at the right time."
Castellanos used all parts of the field to collect his hits, driving balls in each gap and sending one down the right-field line. He also mixed in a stolen base and made nice backhanded play on the first play of the game.
"That kind of set the tone because guys are a little nervous, whether they want to admit it or not," Bernhardt said. "They're playing at Wrigley Field, playing against the best guys in the country. It kind of relaxed us a little bit just to have one out, and it wasn't necessarily a routine play. So he started us off there and then offensively he hit the ball to all parts of the park. It was a great day for him. He's a talented guy.
"We've seen him since he was an eighth grader in an event down at Dodgertown. You could see then that he had talent and now he's starting to grow into that body. He's going to get stronger, he still has some room to grow out. He's a great kid and I'm happy for him to have such a great day."
Infielder Yordy Cabrera (Lakeland, Fla., HS) added a home run of his own for Baseball Factory in the sixth. Reggie Golden, an outfielder from Wetumpka (Ala.) High, had the most impressive home run, an absolute bomb to left-center that came just a few feet short of landing on the famous Waveland Avenue.
While this event was held in the middle of the Area Code Games, the talent on hand was undeniably good. Taillon and Castellanos were named MVPs of their respective teams while others stood out as well. Griffin is a physical player with intriguing raw tools, but his swipe of home showed good instincts and speed. Stetson Allie, a righthander and third baseman and prep teammate of Lavisky, had some impressive batting practice rounds and lit up the radar guns as usual. He exhibited better command than in recent showcases, as his fastball ranged from 92-96 mph and touched 97.
"There are a lot of talented guys out here, there's no doubt about it," Bernhardt said. "As always in these kind of events, there's guys that have terrific days and are leaving very happy. And there's some guys that didn't perform quite their best, but still, scouts are paid to see current ability and project future ability. They're not out here to make a decision on an 0-for-4 or a bad inning. They can see the ability these kids have and see how projectable these guys are."