SAN DIEGO—The 15th Perfect Game All-American Classic is set to take place in just a few days, kicking off Sunday afternoon at Petco Park—the 11th year the event has been held at the stadium.
The event is one of the top showcases in the country and caps off a summer showcase schedule by putting 53 of the best high school players in the nation under the the Padres’ lights.
Pitching has long been thought of as the strength of the 2018 class, and that should continue to be the case this Sunday.
“Obviously, it's great players all around, but the one thing standing out in the class in general is the pitching,” said Greg Sabers, Perfect Game’s VP of Scouting and Showcases. “The power arms, especially. It’s insane, the guys that throw 94 plus now, even higher.
“At our 17U WWBA one day we had 84 guys throw 90 or better, and you have guys like Kumar (Rocker) and Ethan Hankins throwing 97-98, you have Mason Denaburg. It's just insane what 94 is these days. It's still special and it's fun to watch.”
With the three pitchers mentioned above, along with other talented arms from across the country—including Mississippi righty J.T. Ginn, Arizona lefty Matthew Liberatore, Florida righty Carter Stewart, Ohio righty Austin Becker and Georgia righty Cole Wilcox—it will be quite the challenge for the game’s hitters, which includes top up-the-middle position players California shortstop Brice Turang, Georgia catcher Will Banfield and Florida shortstop Nander De Sedas, just to name a few.
In addition to the names already well-known on a national level, the game offers talented players who might still be a bit under the radar a chance to showcase their talent against the best in the country. Chief among these players this year is Prairie High (Cedar Rapids, Iowa) outfielder Levi Usher.
“He came in and it was my first time seeing him in the field,” Sabers said. “All of the sudden we are running the 60 and it was one of those things where you have to double check your watch. You're getting high 6.20s—he ran it two times and threw 96 from the outfield.
“He's a football star, has the bat, has all the tools to hit. He’s not as experienced as everybody else, but he's the one guy in this game that really could explode as he plays more baseball.”
But while many people are waiting for game day—which includes a home run derby prior to first pitch—Usher and the other players will begin their experience Thursday morning by visiting kids at the Rady Children’s Hospital, which is the beneficiary of the proceeds of the Classic (as well as fundraising from the players) which is expected to surpass $1 million dollars in support of pediatric cancer research.
“This is a seed for so many of these guys,” said Perfect Game CEO Brad Clement. “It gives them the opportunity to give back . . . It gives them an intrinsic reward that you can't get in any other way.
“And so they're already using their given abilities for a cause greater than themselves. And when they see those kids, and how those kids look up to them, it changes them.”
Jerry Ford, the founder and president of Perfect Game, echoed those feelings. While the All-American Classic itself is obviously important on its own right, giving players the opportunity to use baseball to give back is what the event is all about.
“To me, this game is about the cause,” Ford said. “That's what it's about. And almost to a man, if you went back and interviewed these guys now, the guys that are in the big leagues that played in this game, they'll remember the game and it will be a highlight for them—but they all remember the cause.
“That's the one thing they'll never forget.”