MARIETTA, Ga.—Most of the scouts and college recruiters at the Perfect Game World Wood Bat Association summer championship are concentrating on rising seniors, attempting to evaluate the top players in the high school Class of 2006.
But the 18-and-under format also allows clubs to get a look at players they currently control—players who were drafted last month but have yet to sign.
This week's crop of prospects in suburban Atlanta includes about 50 such players, as almost every major league organization has at least one player in the event; others have as many as six or seven.
The Florida Bombers boast a handful of players who were drafted this year and are unsure if they'll be buying books on campus or taking batting practice in instructional league this fall.
Bombers middle infielder Jemile Weeks continues to show improvement, and the Brewers have undoubtedly taken notice. Milwaukee drafted the younger brother of their current second baseman, Rickie Weeks, in the eighth round this year. While he remains a work in progress—much like his older brother at the same age before he starred at Southern—Jemile has been impressive this week. He homered, singled and stole a base in two at-bats Thursday and has made all the routine plays up the middle, in part because of a completely different perspective he's taken into the summer.
"It's definitely different," Weeks said. "Coming in here as a junior, all you wanted was to be seen and make a good impression, but now that everything is out of the way, you're so much more relaxed. There is not as much pressure."
Weeks entered the tournament as the only one of the Brewers' first nine picks yet to sign. His performance might be giving the Brewers a little something more to think about before they watch Weeks walk off to Miami.
"They've talked to me on a number of occasions, so nothing is settled," Weeks said of the negotiations. "I've talked to them, I've talked to my college coaches, who are all here watching me play this week . . . so whatever happens, happens."
Preston Paramore is in a different position. The switch-hitting catcher from Allen (Texas) High found his name near the top of follow lists a year ago after impressive batting practice displays at several high-profile events, including the Aflac All-American Game. But 658 names were called before Paramore's until the Mets took him in the 22nd round, based on signability and scouts' uncertainty about his future position.
"It's heartbreaking," he said. "It was the toughest baseball experience I've ever been through."
But Paramore, who says he'll happily take his game to Arizona State if the Mets fail to make him an offer he's seeking, has been on a power binge this week in the heart of the Bombers lineup. He belted a deep home run from the right side in a win Tuesday and connected on a tape-measure blast Thursday from the left side, success he believes comes from relaxing in the box.
"If you do bad, no one cares. You go to college, work hard and maybe you come out in three years and become a first-round pick," Paramore said. "If you do well, you can improve your stock and get more money, maybe you sign."
One scouting director was evaluating as many as seven players his organization drafted last month and was optimistic about making an offer to at least one of them. "At the end of the week we'll sit down and make a determination whether these guys are ready to sign or if we feel they need seasoning at a junior college next spring," the scouting director said.
Chaps Vs. Trunks
One of amateur baseball's eternal debates played out during the third round of the tournament Thursday. A top team from Texas hooked up with one of the event's best Florida-based teams, with Dallas-based DBAT edging Crusader Baseball 1-0 in one of the event's most entertaining games.
Clayton Kershaw, a live-armed lefty from Highland Park (Texas) High, flashed low-90s heat and earned the win with 5 2/3 innings of two-hit ball with seven strikeouts and three walks. Kershaw is considered one of the top five lefthanders in the rising senior class and he pitched with poise, despite Crusader righthander Casey Coleman matching him pitch for pitch.
Coleman, the son of Devil Rays minor league pitching coach Joe Coleman, graduated from Mariner High in Cape Coral, Fla., and was drafted by the Devil Rays in the 49th round. He showed the feel for pitching of a much higher pick in five-plus innings. He filled the strike zone with a mid- to high-80s fastball with good arm-side run.
DBAT scratched across an unearned run and made it hold up, as a pair of righthanders including Jordan Walden slammed the door in relief.
Walden, a rising senior from Mansfield (Texas) High who touched 97 mph earlier this summer, has good arm strength and an aggressive approach. He hit 92 mph in one inning of work, surrendering a double before DBAT cut down the potential game-tying run at the plate to preserve the victory.
Both Kershaw and Walden will appear in the Aflac game next month.
• Not all the graduates at the event were drafted, and at least two were performing well enough to garner interest from pro scouts as nondrafted free agents before they enroll in college. "You never know, someone might slip through," a scout said. "In fact, we're on a guy that went undrafted, slipped through and we've liked what we've seen here and we might just make an offer to that guy later this week."
• A pair of prospects showed advanced power tools Thursday. Cody Johnson, a lean, 6-foot-4 lefthanded hitter from Panama City, Fla., homered twice in the East Cobb (Ga.) Astros 17's second-round win. Johnson, a rising senior, also played in last week's 17-and-under event, earning tournament MVP honors with a 12-for-18 performance including three doubles, two home runs and a triple. This week he took a two-strike fastball off his shoetops over the left-center field wall with a flick of his wrists. "That young man's made himself a couple million the past two weeks," one scout said. "He's the best hitter at the whole deal--was last week and I think he is this week, too."
John Tolisano of Estero (Fla.) High also connected for a two-run home run. One of the best position players in the Class of 2007, Tolisano has added muscle to his frame and has a sound approach at the plate, using all fields and showing natural loft power.
• Righthander Nick Fuller, one of the top pitchers for East Cobb's Braves 17-U team and rising senior at Lassiter High in Marietta, didn't make it out of the second inning as the Braves spotted the Bellaire (Texas) Offseason Cardinals five runs in the first two innings, falling 5-4. "It looks like he's got too much stuff going on in his mechanics," one Division I recruiting coordinator said of Fuller, who had a four-walk first inning. "He's got a stab toward the ground and then his arm isn't making it through, causing his command to suffer. He's got excellent raw stuff, so there's no reason to think if he can get it together he won't be a dominant pitcher down the road."