Summer Circuit: On the Road Day 10–Aflac Recap

LOS ANGELES—The date of the Aflac All-American Game has been circled on my calendar since the day it was officially announced, and on Saturday the event did not disappoint. My day started at 8 a.m. with a 35 minute drive through Los Angeles to Dodger Stadium which is just north of the city. In the morning, the teams took batting practice and then infield/outfield before giving way to the finals of the home run derby. Matt Davidson ended up taking home the derby crown, hitting three balls into the left field bleachers.

The game itself was a real treat. It is always exciting to watch the best players compete against each other, but today there was an added bonus as the contest was close and decided in the ninth inning. The first eight innings were fast paced and dominated by some impressive pitching. The West squad pushed across a run in the first inning on a RBI single from right fielder Slade Heathcott (Texas HS, Texarkana, Texas) and a run in the fourth inning on back-to-back doubles from Max Stassi (Yuba City (Calif.) HS) and Matt Davidson (Yucaipa (Calif.) HS).

The West pitchers completely dominated the East hitters for eight innings, allowing only one hit and striking out 12. However, the East had success on the mound as well and was able to keep it close for the rest of the game, setting up a dramatic four-run explosion from its offense in the top of the ninth inning. With two outs in the final frame, Brian Goodwin (Rocky Mount (N.C.) HS) drove in the tying and go ahead runs with a single to left field. Richie Shaffer (Providence HS, Charlotte, N.C.) scored the winning run, and crossed the plate while letting out a burst of elation. Shaffer was pumping his fists, chest bumping and celebrating with teammates as if they had won the seventh game of the World Series. 
“Yeah, I was pretty excited,” Shaffer said. “I really didn’t want to lose to those guys.”

It was refreshing to see Shaffer’s energy as it displayed the desire to win and team pride that is so often lacking from these types of games that are built around showcasing each individual player,

Goodwin was given the MVP award, in a no-brainer decision, as he had two hits, drove in two runs and scored a run in the game. Goodwin’s performance on the field over the past nine days (East Coast Pro and Aflac All-American Game) has vaulted his prospect status. Every scout I talk to about Goodwin really likes his speed (In the fifth inning of the game on Saturday, I clocked him at 3.94 seconds from home to first base—the fastest time I have gotten all year), defense, bat and especially the way he plays the game. I’d have to agree. I have now seen Goodwin play in eight games this summer and have liked him more and more every time he takes the field.

To note some other highlights from the game:

– There were 26 total strikeouts in the game, and it wasn’t because the hitting in this game was weak. One scout was telling me, before the game, that it is common for events like this to be drawn out by poor pitching performances. He said that the quality of the game will be determined by the pitching, and it absolutely was. I was impressed with almost every pitcher that entered the game, but these five hurlers stood out to me the most:

Tyler Matzek, lhp, Capistrano Valley HS, Mission Viejo, Calif.

Matzek pitched one inning, faced three batters, flashed his two best pitches and was un-hittable. His fastball was 90 to 93 and his curveball was 75 mph (he commanded it for a strike all three times he threw it). Matzek struck out two batters in the inning, needing only seven total pitches. He threw nine pitches overall. Matzek was my number one prospect from PG National and from the Tournament of Stars, and he will remain that way from the Aflac All-American Game.

Jacob Turner, rhp, Westminster Christian Academy, St. Charles, Missou.

Turner was the only pitcher to throw two innings on Saturday. He seemed to have some nerves as he was the starter for the home West team. After hitting the first batter and walking the second, Turner settled down and struck out the next five that he faced. His fastball was up to 92 mph and he showed a quality breaking ball and changeup as well. For me, Turner stays as the top righthanded pitching prospect in the 2009 class.

Matt Purke, lhp, Klein HS, Spring Texas

Purke followed Matzek in the pitching rotation and kept the strikeouts coming. Just like Matzek, Purke punched out two batters in only seven pitches and threw nine total. His fastball touched 95 mph once. Purke was the recipient of BA’s 2008 Pitching Prospect of the Year Award—an award that I presented to him at the Aflac awards banquet Friday evening.

Zack Wheeler, rhp, East Paulding HS, Dallas, Ga.

Although he allowed a run, Wheeler continued to impress as he ran his fastball up to 94 mph, showed a plus breaking ball in a power slider and struck out two batters in his one inning of work. Like Goodwin, Wheeler’s performances at both the Aflac All-American game and the East Coast Pro Showcase (where he was ranked the no. 1 pitching prospect by BA) have made him a high follow for next year.

Keyvius Sampson, rhp, Ocala (Fla.) Forest HS

Sampson also had great stuff on Saturday, including a fastball up to 93 mph and a solid curveball. He struck out the first two batters that he faced (both swinging) in his inning of work.

I have to mention that Mychal Givens (Plant HS, Tampa) made an appearance on the mound in the eighth inning. A top two-way prospect, Givens is both a righthanded pitcher and a shorstop. He entered the game with his team (the visitors), losing in the bottom of the eighth inning. Givens faced two batters and threw only two pitches—the first of which was 95 mph, drawing a fly out to left field, and the second 97 mph, leading to a groundout. Givens was then removed so that Austin Maddox (Eagle’s View Academy, Jacksonville, Fla.)—who is also a legitimate two-way prospect—could get a shot on the mound. It was a precautionary measure to guard against the case that if the East didn’t score any runs in the ninth inning, the bottom half of the ninth would not be necessary and Maddox wouldn’t have gotten his chance. Regarless, Givens needed only two pitches to registered the highest radar gun reading (97 mph) that I have seen this summer on the high school circuit.

– The web gem of the day was produced by Shaffer. While typically a third baseman, Shaffer was playing third base and made a running over the shoulder catch, half-diving into shallow left field.

This evening, I quickly ran down a top-10 prospect list of my own from the performances I saw out of these kids on Friday and Saturday.

1.    Tyler Matzek, lhp
2.    Donovan Tate, cf, Cartersville (Ga.) HS
3.    Matt Purke, lhp
4.    Jacob Turner, rhp
5.    Mychal Givens, rhp
6.    Brian Goodwin, cf
7.    Zack Wheeler, rhp
8.    Austin Maddox, c
9.    Matt Davidson, 1b/3b
10.    Slade Heathcott, of/lhp

After the game, I took a stroll underneath the stadium and walked through the tunnels, past the clubhouse and into the dugouts. The history at Dodger Stadium is almost unparalleled, and I couldn’t help but get goose bumps thinking about how many great players had made the same walk that I had just done. Following that was my real treat of the day—some of the event workers, sponsors and myself were granted access to the field for batting practice and ball shagging. We stayed out there for two hours, enjoying the pristine field, beautiful weather and exercise. I took a few balls in the outfield, crashing into the wall to rob a couple as if I were the Andruw Jones of past—that the Dodgers haven’t seen much of this year. I also took an hours worth of ground balls at shortstop, pretending I was Rafael Furcal (minus three and a half grades on the arm, range and hands). Lastly, I took 15 hacks at the plate, driving a few balls into the outfield and only fouling one off my foot—yeah, it hurt.

There is no doubt that Saturday was a dream come true for every high school player that participated in the Aflac All-American Game. It wasn’t far from that way for me either.

Although Sunday is supposed to be a day of rest, for me it’s back to doing real work. The Area Code Games wrap up its final three games beginning at 8:30 a.m.