BA/Perfect Game Championship showcases high school talent
By Allan Simpson
For some 1,500 players, it will represent a rare chance to be scouted on a national stage by every team in the major leagues, in preparation for the 2002 draft; and practically every major college in the country, in advance of the NCAA early-signing period that begins Nov. 14.
"It's the best of both worlds," says tournament director Jerry Ford of Perfect Game USA. "Scouts and recruiters get to see all the top prospects in the Classes of 2002 and 2003--and even 2004--in one location; and the players get a chance to be scouted by practically every major league team and every college in the country."
The players get an added bonus because they will play for a meaningful championship. For most, their previous national exposure has come at major showcase events like the Area Code Games, where an emphasis is placed on showcasing individual skills in a controlled environment. They will now experience the added pressure of playing for keeps.
Sixty-four teams will converge on Jupiter, Fla., for the four-day event that begins Friday at the joint spring training complex of the Montreal Expos and St. Louis Cardinals. Teams will be placed in 16 pools of four teams with the top two teams in each pool advancing to a 32-team championship bracket. The bottom two teams in each pool will be relegated to a 32-team consolation bracket.
It's expected that 80-85 percent of the top 100 players in the draft classes of 2002 and 2003 will be in attendance, making for the largest gathering of premium high school talent ever assembled.
Several big league teams will send upwards of six scouts to cover the tournament, which will be difficult to track because as many as 12 games will be going on at any one time.
"It's a great event because of all the talent assembled," Milwaukee Brewers scouting director Jack Zduriencik says, "but it forces you to be very organized because there are so many games going on at one time. You've got to be careful you don't miss a pitcher that you may have only one chance to see."
A team sponsored by Baseball America won last year's event, beating pre-tournament favorite Team California 2-1 in the final.
BA will be back to defend its title, with former big league lefthander Jim Morris returning as coach of the team. Morris, who retired earlier this year because of a sore arm, is the subject of a Disney movie, "The Rookie," which will be released next spring. The movie documents Morris' unlikely rise from a Texas high school coach 10 years removed from a career in the minor leagues to a major leaguer throwing 95 mph.
The only returning Baseball America player will be Camarillo (Calif.) High junior outfielder Delmon Young, the No. 2-ranked player in the Class of 2003 and the younger brother of Cincinnati Reds outfielder Dmitri Young. Dmitri will serve as an assistant coach for the BA team, just like he did a year ago.
Baseball America will field another competitive team, but the tournament favorite will be Team Florida USA '02, a collection of top high school seniors from not only Florida but all around the country.
Among players suiting up for Team Florida are lefthander Scott Kazmir of Cy Falls High in Houston, the No. 1-rated high school senior in the country; and catcher Jeff Clements of Marshalltown (Iowa) High, the top-ranked senior catcher. Several other players ranked among the Top 50 are also on the team.
"This team is really loaded," says Ford. "A lot of the top teams have picked up players from around the country to bolster their rosters, but this team has really outdone itself. There's no question they rank as the favorites."
Besides Team Florida and Baseball America, teams which were assembled just for the tournament, the event has attracted a mixed bag of entries. Traditional national summer ball powers like Georgia's East Cobb Astros and New York's Bayside Yankees are competing, as are numerous scout league teams.
High schools are technically not permitted to participate, but two of the nation's best high school programs, Westminster Academy of Fort Lauderdale and Bellaire (Texas) High, have assembled pseudo high school teams comprised almost entirely of players from those schools. The Westminster Academy team is called Hofball, in deference to coach Rich Hofman, while the Bellaire High team will be known simply as Bellaire.
HANDICAPPING THE TOP 16
Last year, we accurately predicted that Baseball America and Team California would meet in the final of the BA/PG World Wood Bat Championship. Here's how we handicap the 64-team field this year, with all reference to player rankings based on the Top 100 rankings of Prospects Plus.
1. TEAM FLORIDA USA '02. There are several top Florida players on the roster, including RHP Mark Sauls (Bay High, Panama City) and 3B Justin Tordi (Dr. Phillips High, Orlando), but the team also features the No. 1-ranked prospects from Texas (LHP Scott Kazmir), Iowa (C Jeff Clements), Ohio (RHP Jensen Lewis), Kansas (RHP Mike Pelfrey), Delaware (LHP Mark Romanczuk) and Rhode Island (C Craig Stinson).
2. BASEBALL AMERICA. Besides OF Delmon Young, the BA team features Georgia's two best pitchers, RHPs Matt Capps and Friedal Pinkston; Nevada's best pitcher, RHP Kevin Jepson; and Tennessee's best prospect, SS Warner Jones.
3. BILL HOOD (La.) BRONCOS. The Broncos have Louisiana's three best players, SS Micah Schilling, 3B-RHP Nick Tisone and C Matt Liuzza, and added Texas RHP-OF Wardell Starling, a possible first-rounder in 2002.
4. EAST COBB (Ga.) ASTROS. East Cobb is the nation's premier youth program and the Astros its showpiece club. The team features Top 100 '02 prospects such as RHP-1B Micah Owings, RHP Allen Ponder and C Brian McCann.
5. EAST FLORIDA SCOUT TEAM. OF Lastings Milledge is the nation's top-rated player in the Class of '03; RHPs Zach Greinke and Andy Putnel are members of the nation's Top 100 '02 class.
6. BAYSIDE (N.Y.) YANKEES. The Yankees normally get New York's best prep talent and went all the way to Washington to bolster their roster with that state's top two seniors: RHP Evan Meek and LHP Jon Lester, both projected early-round draft picks.
7. TEAM CALIFORNIA '02. Last year's runner-up team features RHP Chris Gruler and slugging OF Shawn Scobee, both ranked among the nation's top 50 prospects
8. ALL-STAR (Pa.) BASEBALL ACADEMY. This team features the nation's two top-ranked high school shortstops: Virginia's B.J. Upton and California's Sergio Santos.
9. MIAMI-DADE SLUGGERS. Most of Miami's top players are on this team, including SS Robert Andino, 2B Alexy Hernandez and OF Javier Socorro--all ranked among the nation's top 100.
10. DULIN'S (Tenn.) DODGERS. The Dodgers reached the championship game of both the AAU and USSSA national championships this year. RHP Conor Lalor, Tennessee's No. 2 prospect, is the team's top player.
11. NORTH CAROLINA WARHAWKS. Pitchers Jason Neighborgall and Nick Starnes are North Carolina's two top-rated players, though Neighborgall's availability to pitch remains in question. The 6-foot-5 righthander, who was clocked at 98 mph this summer, has been sidelined most of the year with an assortment of minor injuries.
12. TEAM FLORIDA USA '03. Team Florida is fielding a second team in the tournament, composed almost entirely of underclassmen. LHP James Houser (Florida), LHP-OF Ryan Sweeney (Iowa) and RHP Jeff Allison (Massachusetts) are all top '03 talents.
13. HOUSTON KYLE CHAPMAN. The winners of the 2001 Palomino League World Series feature ace RHP Mark McCormick, one of the nation's top 20 prospects.
14. TEAM ONTARIO. This team, featuring OF Chris Emanuele, is projected to be stronger than the one that lost only one game, to eventual champion Baseball America, at last year's tournament.
15. DOMINICAN JUNIOR NATIONALS. This team is somewhat of an unknown quantity, but is expected to feature a number of the top teenage prospects from the Dominican Republic.
16. PINELLAS (Fla.) PHILLIES. OF Steven Doetsch and 1B Brian Dopirak are two of the top players in the Tampa Bay area.
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