JUPITER, Fla.—Though a large portion of the scouting community took to the road before playoff baseball began at the World Wood Bat Championships, those who stuck out the long weekend were rewarded with five one-run playoff games.
No nail-biter may have had a more exciting atmosphere than that of the first-round matchup between the Atlanta Blue Jays and Florida Burn. The Burn won the see-saw affair, 9-8, and then later advanced to the semifinals with another comeback victory against Palm Beach PAL, 4-3.
Despite throwing highly touted 2016 righthander Austin Bergner (West Orange HS, Windermere, Fla.), highlighted earlier this weekend, and owning a better pool-play record than the Blue Jays, the Burn entered the game as underdogs because of Atlanta's stark talent advantage. The Blue Jays featured some of the 2014 class' toolsiest youngsters, including outfielders Raphael Ramirez (Pace Academy, Atlanta, Ga.), Luke Bonfield (IMG Academy, Skillman, N.J.), and Roberto Gonzalez (University HS, Orlando, Fla.), as well as catcher Benito Santiago, Jr. (Coral Springs Christian Academy, Pembroke Pines, Fla.).
After notching six runs in the second inning, however, the Burn had already forced Atlanta's backs to the wall. All looked to be fine in the hands of Bergner, who sat 89-92 with his fastball, 72-75 with his curveball, and 77-81 with his changeup. But the Blue Jays fought away, scoring six runs in the next two frames to stake themselves a one-run lead. First baseman Brent Diaz (Gulliver School, Miami, Fla.) delivered the biggest blow, a two-run double down the left-field line.
The Blue Jays turned the ball over to Kevin Steen in relief (Oak Ridge, Tenn., HS), also highlighted previously, who worked between 85-90 with a 72-75 curveball to keep the Burn at bay for nearly four innings. Finally, Florida broke through again in the sixth upon a pitching change to score three runs on a walk following an intentional walk, a sacrifice fly, and a line drive off the tip of the third baseman's outstretched glove.
In the top of the seventh and the bases loaded, the Burn's Michael Byrne (Olympia HS, Orlando, Fla.), a 6-foot-3, 180-pound 2015 righthander, closed the door with consecutive 73 mph changeups to strike out Ramirez swinging.
Among the game's standouts was Brandon Elmy (Venice Senior HS, Nokomis, Fla.), who smacked a double and made loud contact all day for the Burn. The 6-foot-2, 185-pound Furman commit also pitched in relief of Bergner sitting between 83-86. Most likely, the lean, long-limbed Elmy's future rests at the plate, where he reached 99.3 mph off the bat via TrackMan. He hits with his weight shifted on his back leg and relaxed hands near his collarbone, before barring his arm a bit en route to impressive bat speed.
• In another first-round playoff matchup, the Orlando Scorpions/Mets Scout Team defeated Chet Lemon's Juice, 9-3, before also later advancing to the semifinals via a 9-0 rout of Team Rawlings.
Pitching in relief, 6-foot-4, 185-pound Weston Davis struck out four and yielded no hits in three innings. The righthander impressed onlookers with his 88-92 mph sinker, touching 93. He also mixed in a 73-77 mph slider that was inconsistent, though still flashed the ability to be a back-foot, swing-and-miss offering at its higher velocities. A Florida commit, Davis had a deep arm action and effort to his delivery.
• Prior to playoff action, most teams were forced deeper into their corps of arms, allowing more bats to shine. However, such was not the case for Marucci Elite, who had yet to throw Under Armour All-American Alex Lange (Lee's Summit West HS, Mo.). The 6-foot-3, 210-pound righthander wasn't at his sharpest, sitting 85-90 with boring action, but he still managed to strike out three in two innings. Lange has thrown a lot this summer and looked tired to some scouts who also said pitching at 8 a.m. certainly didn't help matters.
Lange's bread-and-butter secondary was his 80-82 mph changeup that netted him four of his six swing-and-misses. Typically, his curveball supersedes his change, but he had trouble commanding the 76-80 mph breaker.
• Greg Pickett (Legend HS, Aurora, Colo.), also for Marucci Elite, provided some run support in the bottom of the second, crushing a home run to deep right field. The 6-foot-4, 210-pound member of the Class of 2015 has a big, sturdy frame and loft in his lefthanded swing. He hits from a slightly open stance with slight knee bend and his feet roughly shoulder width apart, while his hands are relaxed in front of his collarbone.
Using a downward pump load, Pickett has some length in his swing and had trouble with a steady diet of lefthanded breaking balls his next at-bat, but his raw power is undeniable.
• Chandler Baseball also had a few hitters stand out in their 13-1 win. Shane Benes (Westminster Christian Academy, Town and Country, Mo.), the son of former No.1 pick and 14-year big league veteran Andy Benes who was highlighted earlier as a pitcher, showed why many scouts actually prefer him as a hitter. The Missouri commit crushed a first-inning grand slam, then rifled a line drive down the third-base line in his next at-bat. Benes owns the hardest-hit ball of the tournament, a 108.1 mph foul ball. A righthanded swinger with bat speed, leverage and an aggressive approach, Benes went 2 for 3 with five RBIs. He was the extra hitter and did not play the field.
Another interesting righty Chandler bat was 5-foot-11, 165-pound Dazon Cole (Pontiac, Mich., HS). Cole's athletic build stands out and he showed above-average speed and arm strength. Offensively, the Central Michigan signee remains a bit raw, but there's no denying his other tools.