Prospects Plus Showcase Tour 2006

Alan Matthews will be posting his thoughts from showcase events, high school all-star games and tournaments throughout the summer.

Aug. 9:
LONG BEACH, Calif.—As the Area Code Games came to a close Thursday at Blair Field in Long Beach, Calif., there was one big name noticeably absent from the mound: Stock.

Baseball America’s 2005 Youth Player of the Year, Robert Stock was in good spirits, enjoying his final days of summer like most other kids his age. And he spent time showing off his powerful lefthanded swing this week in Long Beach before departing for San Diego where he will appear in the Aflac All-American Classic. But the rising senior from Westlake Village, Calif., who has been clocked at 95 mph off the mound, wasn’t practicing what primarily has made him the talk of scouting circles since he was a 14-year-old.

This spring as a junior at Agoura (Calif.) High, Stock came down with a shoulder injury and decided it was best to concentrate on hitting and catching while he gave his arm some rest.

“The rotator cuff got inflamed and irritated,” Stock said after completing a workout at University of San Diego Thursday in preparation for Saturday’s Aflac game. “It feels fine now. I’ve just been focusing on catching because I don’t want to risk it again. Catching and throwing feels fine.”

Since Stock carried a no-hitter into the sixth inning of the California Interscholastic Federation Southern Section Division I championship game in May, he’s toed a rubber less than a handful of times. He missed several weeks during his junior season when his shoulder began bothering him, and his velocity hasn’t been the same since.
Stock’s last outing was in Joplin, Mo., in June when he pitched well enough to make the preliminary roster for USA Baseball’s junior national team, but he acknowledges he hasn’t been his usual dominant self this summer.

“In my first inning (in Joplin) I got roughed around, and then I went to the junk pitches and I did fine from there,” Stock said. “I might not have the same velocity on the hill anymore. I don’t know, just because I haven’t tried it in a while.

“This summer I’ve been spending much more time behind the plate working on my defense because I felt like I am a little raw behind the plate. So not pitching has given me more time to work on the defense part.”

Stock’s catch and throw skills are unrefined, but his arm strength serves him well as a catcher. He turned in times of 2.09 and 2.15 seconds from home to second base on a pair of stolen base attempts this week in Long Beach. His footwork and exchange can be cleaned up, which would improve his pop times from home to second. He’s athletic and agile enough to block balls adequately presently. His instincts, work ethic and championship-caliber makeup should serve him well as he continues to develop. The tough part for Stock this summer has been learning on the job . . . not to mention doing so in front of hundreds of scouts at almost every stop along the way.

“Sometimes it’s tough because you know when you make a mistake you know there’s going to be every scout there taking note of it when you misplay a ball,” he said. “Whereas in a high school game, it’s mostly parents there watching. So yeah, it hasn’t been the easiest thing to do, but I like catching . . . and there’s no other way to do it.”

USA Baseball still considers Stock a two-way player, and he’s scheduled to pitch the second inning of the Aflac game for the West Saturday afternoon at Tony Gwynn Stadium at San Diego State. He has narrowed his potential college choices to Southern Cal and Stanford, and those two schools, as well as 30 major league organizations, will be monitoring Stock closer than traders on Wall Street.

Aug. 9: LONG BEACH, Calif.—Blair Field in Long Beach, Calif., is notorious for being one of the best pitcher’s parks on the West Coast. That fact made the handful of home runs hit on the first three days of this year’s Area Code Games a telling sign. “Nobody hits then out here, and especially not high school players,” said a veteran American League scout in attendance. “There are some good hitters here.”

The consensus among scouts this summer has been that this year’s high school class is potentially the best in years, and the performances of many Southern California position players at the twentieth annual Area Code Games reinforced that sentiment.

Those who have not had the opportunity to see the depth in pitching from the North and Southeast could be more reserved, but given the showings of the country’s top prep pitchers this summer, combined with the bats on display in Long Beach, there’s reason to believe major league organizations will have a bevy of high-ceiling players to pick from come the 2007 draft.

The list of power-hitting position players is underscored by a trio from the same suburban Los Angeles high school. Chatsworth (Calif.) High third baseman Matt Dominguez, catcher Mike Moustakas and outfielder Bobby Coyle have all shown a combination of bat speed, power and/or a feel for hitting. Dominguez’ opening day batting practice session was impressive. He homered over the left-center field wall, 370 feet away. Coyle and Moustakas have made hard contact at least twice in each game they’ve played. Coyle is the most athletic of the trio, and he runs much better than Dominguez and Moustakas, turning in a 6.64 60-yard dash during Sparq testing.

“We’ll just drive straight to Chatsworth next spring,” said a scout, making reference to the frequency some scouting directors and crosscheckers will be evaluating the trio.

The lack of quality pitching at this year’s Area Code Games is important to consider, but hitters with above-average hit and power tools and sound swing mechanics should be worth following closely next spring, with a chance to drafted highly.

Outside of the Chatsworth trio, Sherman Oaks, Calif., product Mike Stanton offers intriguing upside. He had little trouble clearing the left-field wall in batting practice. The athletic, strong 6-foot-5, 205-pound Stanton generates well above-average bat speed and has plus raw power.

With the Aflac All-American Classic scheduled for Aug. 12, a pair of So Cal hitters tuned up for their Aflac appearances with strong showings in Long Beach. Third baseman Josh Vitters (Cypress, Calif., High) and outfielder Freddie Freeman (El Modena High, Orange, Calif.) took turns peppering the Blair Field alleys during games. Freeman, one of the most powerful lefthanded hitters in attendance, has outstanding balance and extension to his swing, with an ability to drive the ball to right and left field. Vitters’ plate discipline needs to improve, as he’s aggressive in all counts, but he rarely misses his pitch.

“This is just a preliminary period, let’s remember that, but there are some guys here who have a chance to hit (as professionals),” the A.L. scout said.

Two days remained at the Area Code Games, but from the showcase’s outset, it was clear that position players from Southern California will figure prominently in next year’s draft.

Aug. 7: After four grueling days in intense heat in Wilmington, N.C., Prospects Plus has made its way across the country to Long Beach, Calif., for the Area Code Games.

It is clear that the better pitching in the high school class is on the East Coast, whereas it appears there is better depth in position players here in the West.

The East Coast Showcase featured a bevy of the top prospects from the Class of 2007. But not even the 94s and 95s that were flashing on radar guns could match the heat in Wilmington. With temperatures climbing near 99 degrees and heat indexes in excess of 105, the four-day showcase wasn’t easy to endure—for the players or the hundreds of scouts and college coaches in attendance.

The event, dubbed the “East Roast Showcase”, has never lived up to that moniker better than it did this year.

Fortunately, the talent lived up to expectations, too. An impressive collection of the nation’s best rising seniors from the eastern half of the country largely reinforced the perception that this year’s prep class is potentially one of the best this decade.

“It’s a very interesting class, and I think it’s safe to say that even after two months of seeing a lot of theses guys,” said a scout with a National League organization. “This year it seems like there’s some good depth in high school and some guys at the top who have a chance to be front-line major league players.”

The conditions at the East Coast Showcase took a toll on the position players, as well as the pitchers, but at week’s end it was the pitching on hand that stood out the most.

Righthander Michael Main (Deland, Fla. High) entered the event as the highest ranked player in the class, and he pitched well in a three-inning outing, but it was clear that he has some company at the top of the list.

Righthander Matt Harvey (Fitch High, Groton, Conn.), was the first pitcher to toe the rubber at Brooks Field, and he might have been the best. He struck out six in two innings, sitting near 90 mph, touching 93 mph. The son of a coach, Harvey’s feel for pitching and secondary stuff are advanced and refined. He shows an ability to spot his pitches to all four quadrants of the strike zone, and he overmatched good hitters.

Main was up to 94 mph, and while his athleticism is superior to Harvey’s, his delivery isn’t as clean and effortless. Harvey’s fastball command might be ahead of Main’s as well, as indicated during Main’s outing when he was touched up for two runs on four hits. He showed deft feel for a nasty changeup in his second inning, and finished stronger than he started, leaving for a compelling debate.

“Main had the best velocity, but is it the best fastball that plays? I wouldn’t say that without some hesitation,” a scout said. “And Harvey is the same way. I have seen guys get pretty decent cuts off him. Main threw some good changeups, so that is going to help his fastball, obviously, but it’s a good argument: Who pitches with his best fastball.”

Harvey won’t be the only high school hurler sending scouting directors to the Northeast next spring. Rick Porcello, a righthander from Seton Hall Prep (West Orange, N.J.), made his second appearance on a national stage in less than a week, and was as efficient as any pitcher in Wilmington. Porcello followed a poor outing at the Cape Cod Classic four days earlier with two impressive innings. He touched 94 mph and flashed a 71 mph curve that was among the best at the event. His matchup with Derek Dietrich (Saint Ignatius High, Cleveland), who hit a towering, opposite field home run on the event’s first day, was memorable. Dietrich fouled off a couple of pitches before Porcello put him away with a letter-high fastball at 94.

A Canadian righty, 6-foot-7, 225-pound Phillippe Aumont, dovetailed Porcello’s performance with a dominant one of his own. While his delivery has improved significantly since the spring, it still requires refinement, but his command was at least average and his fastball was up to 92.

Lefthanders Madison Bumgarner (South Caldwell High, Hudson, N.C.) and Jack McGeary (Latin High, Roxbury, Mass.) also impressed, with Bumgarner matching up with righthander Jarrod Parker (Norwell, Ind., High) is a showdown of differing styles.

Parker’s velocity was down from the mid-90s he flashed earlier in the summer, and he was touched for seven hits in three innings. He’s lean and athletic, with a good delivery and feel for his breaking ball and changeup. Bumgarner, 6-foot-5, 220 pounds, struck out five with a hit in three shutout innings. His delivery and arm action are exquisite, helping make up for the fact he threw just one below-average breaking ball in his stint.

“The one thing he showed us he could do was pitch off his fastball, and he did that effectively,” said a crosschecker with a National League club. “And it looked like if he needed to get some more, he could go get it.

“It’s so early that he has got to be one of the top guys in the country, at least the top lefty . . . but eventually he’s going to have to throw (a usable breaking ball).”

McGeary’s feel for pitching could be the best in the class. His fastball sits in the mid-80s, but because of his smooth delivery and athleticism, his upside is apparent.

Commitments to summer league teams precluded three of the top position players from the East Coast from attending the showcase. Noteworthy was the absence of outfielders Michael Burgess (Hillsborough High, Tampa) and Jason Heyward (Henry County High, McDonough, Ga.) and shortstop Justin Jackson (Roberson High, Asheville, N.C.), leaving the position players with high-round draft potential thin.

Drew Cumberland (Pace High, Milton, Fla.), Kentrail Davis (Theodore, Ala., High), Hunter Morris (Grissom High, Huntsville, Ala.), Danny Rams (Gulliver Prep, Miami) and John Tolisano (Estero, Fla., High) were among the best position player prospects on display.

July 25:
We’re a week away from the next big scouting event on the high school showcase circuit—the East Coast Pro Showcase in Wilmington, N.C. Wilmington is a small port city located in the southeast corner of the state, right on the Atlantic Coast.

This is always a good event, mostly because it’s managed by scouts, for scouts and college recruiters. Area scouts across the Southeast, Northeast and Midwest invite the top 25-30 players from their region and place them on one of six teams. Almost all the players are rising seniors (Class of 2007) and almost all of them will have Division-I caliber tools or better.

Last year’s ECPS field was strong, as five of the 13 high school players drafted in the first round were in attendance. We nailed the top three last year, but then again, it was relatively clear Jeremy Jeffress, Colton Willems and Kasey Kiker were going to be pretty good picks when June rolled around.

Among the headliners scheduled to appear this year (in no particular order):

Josh Smoker
Chris Epps
Jiwan James
Madison Bumgarner
Justin Poovey
Neil Ramirez
Carmen Angelini
Austin Bailey
Robbie Broach
Kentrail Davis
Brandon Hamilton
Chad Jones
Hunter Morris
Yasmani Grandal
Michael Main
Danny Rams
John Tolisano
Matt Harvey
Rick Porcello
Jarrod Parker

Here’s this year’s schedule:

Tuesday, August 1

9:00 – 9:10    Red Sox, Brewers 60-yard times

9:15 – 9:45    Red Sox Batting Practice

9:45 – 10:15    Brewers Batting Practice

10:25 – 10:35    Red Sox Infield (Pro-Style)

10:35 – 10:45    Brewers Infield (Pro-Style)

11:00 Red Sox vs. Brewers (7-inning game)

1:30 – 1:40    Indians, Reds 60-yard times

1:45 – 2:15    Indians Batting Practice

2:15 – 2:45    Reds Batting Practice

2:55 – 3:05    Indians Infield (Pro-Style)

3:05 – 3:15    Reds Infield (Pro-Style)

3:30    Indians vs. Reds (7-inning game)

6:00 – 6:10    Padres, Yankees 60-yard times

6:15 – 6:45    Padres Batting Practice

6:45 – 7:15    Yankees Batting Practice

7:25 – 7:35    Padres Infield (Pro-Style)

7:35 – 7:45    Yankees Infield (Pro-Style)

8:00    Padres vs. Yankees (7-inning game)

Wednesday, August 2

10:00 AM    Brewers vs. Indians

2:00 PM    Yankees vs. Red Sox

6:30 PM    Reds vs. Padres

Thursday, August 3

10:00 AM    Red Sox vs. Padres

2:00 PM    Yankees vs. Indians

6:30 PM    Brewers vs. Reds

Friday, August 4

10:00 AM    Reds vs. Yankees

2:00 PM    Padres vs. Brewers

6:30 PM    Indians vs. Red Sox

July 12:
Attending summer tournaments composed of high school underclassmen can be tedious. The days are long, typically uncomfortably hot and the brand of baseball can be worse than the weather. Add variables such as wood bats and rigorous schedules where teams play as many as six games in just over 24 hours, and the uninspiring play could drive one to retreat for any other source of entertainment, even soccer . . . almost.

All of which makes remarkable the fact that this year’s showcase and tournament circuit has featured highlights at every turn.

After the rising senior high school class established itself potentially as one of the best of the decade in two wide-scale events held in the Midwest in June, many of the class’ top prospects gathered in suburban Atlanta for the World Wood Bat Association summer championships.

“I think once you sit down and digest all that we’ve seen so far, this group has some really good players,” said a scout with an American League organization. “It does have talent at the top, and there are a lot of players here who aren’t in the top tier yet, but have a chance to be very good players.”

The 17-and-under tournament in Marietta began on the eve of the Fourth of July, and offered fireworks right away. Radar guns were lighting up when Austin Bailey and Kevin Eichhorn met, with both pitchers running their fastballs into the low 90s. Bailey got the better of the younger Eichhorn, as his East Cobb (Ga.) Braves beat Eichhorn and the California-based NorCal Blast 2-0.

A year after Alabama produced a trio of premium high school righthanders in Caleb Clay, Cory Rasmus and Kasey Kiker, Prattville High’s Bailey is establishing himself as a suitable successor from the Heart of Dixie. His fastball touched 93 mph and he complemented it with a hard-biting 75-78 mph breaking ball.

Bailey looks like a baby next to Stanhope Elmore High rising senior Brandon Hamilton, a ripped 6-foot-3, 195-pound righthander from Millbrook, Ala. Hamilton also pumped in fastballs between 91-93 mph, drawing comparisons to Blue Jays righthander A.J. Burnett for his frame, arm speed and laborious delivery.

Eichhorn, a rising junior righthander from Aptos (Calif.) High and the son of former major leaguer Mark Eichhorn, bumped 90 mph and showed an advanced feel for pitching.

Following five days of pool play, the 110-team field was whittled to 40, with the top two seeds from each of 18 pools, along with four at-large clubs earning bids to the single-elimination bracket.

The Blast, which carried just 11 players—nine rising juniors and two players from the Class of 2009—got another chance at the East Cobb Braves during the playoffs, and beat them 4-3 during one of the event’s most memorable sessions. NorCal’s acclaimed amateur program brought three entries to the tournament, and its older, more experienced team took on East Cobb’s younger, yet equally talented Astros team with the Blast and Braves playing simultaneously on an adjacent field at the four-field main complex.

The stage featured the nation’s best high school players from Northern California battling East Cobb’s best—players primarily from Georgia and Alabama—on two separate fields with both games going extra innings before being decided.

NorCal outlasted East Cobb in both games. A few minutes after the Blast rallied to beat the Braves, rising junior third baseman Nicolas Hom stole the show in the ninth inning against the Astros by squelching a bases-loaded rally with a diving catch in the eighth, then plating a pair of runs with a double in the next half-inning.

Hom, a third baseman out of De La Salle High (Concord, Calif.), righty Erik Goeddel (Bellarmine Prep, San Jose), outfielder Aaron Westlake (Shasta High, Redding, Calif.) and righthander Kyle Blair(Los Gatos, Calif., High) were among more than a half-dozen rising seniors on NorCal’s roster that profile as Division I college prospects. Blair’s fastball was up to 93 mph, he adds and subtracts from it, and his loose, three-quarters arm action could land him among the top high school draft picks next June.

“One of the most impressive parts about this high school draft class is that so many of these arms aren’t just big throwers with velocity. These guys can pitch a little bit, too,” said another scout. “Right now, I don’t think you’d be incorrect to say there could be more high school pitching in the first round next year than college guys.”

Righthander Matt Harvey may have climbed to the top of the list with an outstanding performance during the 18-and-under event. A throng of scouts and coaches gathered to observe Harvey’s smooth, balanced delivery and plus-plus stuff. The 6-foot-4, 190-pound rising senior from Mystic High in Groton, Conn., touched 96 mph and pitched between 91-93. Harvey’s 75-76 mph curveball has true, hard 12-6 action and he commands both it and his fastball well.

One of the nation’s most talented travel programs lived up to its billing, as the Florida-based All American Prospects completed an impressive seven-day run with a 6-2 win over a game North Carolina-based Dirtbags team in the 17-and-under championship game.

Rising seniors catcher Danny Rams (Gulliver Prep, Miami) and outfielder Anthony Boza (Braddock High, Miami) connected on back-to-back home runs in the semifinals and rising junior righthander Ryan Weber (Clearwater Central Catholic) handled the rest, turning in a dominant pitching performance in the finals to give the All American Prospects yet another title. The program’s 16-and-under team won USA Baseball’s Junior Olympics East in Jupiter, Fla., a week earlier.

Weber was one of 36 players chosen to participate in this year’s USA Baseball youth national team trials. USA Baseball selects its trials roster from two 72-team tournaments which were held recently in Phoenix (the Junior Olympics West) and Jupiter, Fla., (JO East).

Of the 36 players, aged 16 and under, that received invitations, 25 were member of the high school Class of 2008, with the other nine representing the Class of 2009. There were 18 players chosen from each JO site.

Last year’s youth national team boasted a handful of power pitchers, most notably righthanders Blake Beavan (Irving, Texas, High) and Robert Stock (Agoura, Calif., High), but this year’s preliminary crop of talent is deeper in players in the mold of Weber, who throws in the low- to mid-80s but carves up hitters with an advanced feel for pitching.

“We really don’t have . . . a Beaven and Stock, that real fireballer, but we just have a lot of really good pitchers,” said USA Baseball’s Jeff Singer, who oversees the selection of the youth national team. “We like the pitching across the board.”

Following the weeklong trials, which will be held in Fort Lauderdale July 21-28, a final cut will be made of 18 players chosen to compete in the COPABE AA Youth Pan-Am Championship in Barquisimeto, Venezuela in August. Those 18 players will participate in additional week of workouts and games in Fort Lauderdale before departing for South America Aug. 3. This year’s event serves as a qualifier for the 2007 World Youth Championship, which will also be held in Venezuela. The top three countries and Venezuela qualify for next year’s competition.

Since its inception in 1997, the youth national team has claimed the gold medal in all but three of its annual international competitions, but has finished second behind Cuba in each of the past two years.

“That extra week of training to keep the unit together really helps when you’re battling (teams such as) Cuba that has been together for four months and 80 days heading into the tournament,” Singer said. “Our No. 1 goal is to qualify for next year, but certainly we want to win the event this year.”

July 10:
The month of July wasn’t two weeks old but it had already featured more than enough highlights to make for a memorable year for the All American Prospects.

One of the nation’s most talented travel programs lived up to its billing, as the program’s 16-and-under team won USA Baseball’s Junior Olympics East in Jupiter, Fla., and a week later claimed the title at the World Wood Bat Association 17-and-under summer championship in Marietta, Ga.

The Prospects completed an impressive seven-day run with a 6-2 win over a game North Carolina-based Dirtbags team in the championship game of one of the summer’s largest amateur tournaments. Approximately 2,000 players, age 17-and-under gathered in suburban Atlanta in the 110-team event, which was attended by more than 125 college coaches and scouts.

The Prospects title came with a hint of irony. Righthander Ryan Weber, a rising junior from Clearwater (Fla.) Central Catholic High who is listed generously at 5-foot-11, 160 pounds, never delivered a pitch harder than 85 mph in six head-shaking innings against the Dirtbags.

“Pitching isn’t just velocity,” said Prospects coach Mike Adams. “It’s changing speeds and . . . keeping hitters off-guard and off-balance.”

Weber’s low-three-quarters arm slot and three-pitch repertoire induced plenty of choppy swings and poorly-hit balls during his performance in the championship game. His modest velocity and frail frame could might not land him on the top of scout’s follow list, but they’ll be a bevy of Division I college recruiters charting his progress as he matures. Weber’s showing in the Junior Olympics landed him a spot on the youth national team’s trials roster, as well.

The Prospects’ top two prospects—infielder John Tolisano (Estero, Fla., High) and catcher Danny Rams (Miami’s Gulliver Prep)—played integral roles in the teams’ success, but lesser-known outfielder Joey Hage of Douglas High in Parkland, Fla., and infielders Anthony Boza (Braddock High, Miami) and rising junior Rolando Gomez carried the Prospects offense.

July 7:
After wrapping up the first leg of this summer’s showcase and tournament trail, Marietta, Ga., is the location for back-to-back weeks of constant games between some of the nation’s best travel teams.

The week of July 4, it’s the World Wood Bat Association17-and-under summer championship tournament. There are 110 teams made up of approximately 2,000 players from the high school Classes of 2006, 2007, 2008 and even a handful of rising sophomores, competing in the event.

The biggest challenge for many of the scouts and college coaches in attendance this week might be figuring out where to be, when. Beginning at 9 a.m. each day, there are as many as 13 games being played every two hours. Three fields at the main East Cobb Baseball complex host games and there are another 10 high school fields located within a 20 mile radius of the complex that also host games.

Of course, the hundreds of coaches and scouts here are busy making evaluations of the rising seniors, with some college recruiters making scholarship offers on the spot. Each coach has a follow list of players they have earmarked for potential recruitment, so their picking the games featuring those players.

Some area scouts deploy a similar philosophy, making sure they get as many looks as possible at the players in attendance who are from their respective coverage areas.

The enormity of the event can be overwhelming, but once you settle in at a field, you stand a strong chance of seeing some of the nation’s best prospects.

The aptly named All-American Prospects is the favorite to win this year’s tournament. The Florida-based team has assembled an impressive collection of talent, and each of its games draws dozens of coaches and scouts.

All-American Prospects coaching staff—Mike Adams, Bill Lockwood and Frank Schaeffer—know that the most important aspect of this week’s competition is the exposure their players will receive. They hope to have each of their rising senior players committed to a college program by the end of the week. Winning the tournament isn’t the primary goal, but the staff discussed strategy following a 4-3 win Wednesday that kept in undefeated through four games in pool play.

“It’s more a marathon that a sprint, that’s for sure,” said Adams.

“The key is the first two days,” Schaeffer said. “You line up your four horses, you let ’em loose and you hope you’re in good shape to bring them back on Sunday.”

While the Prospects strength is in its lineup—catcher Danny Rams (Gulliver Prep, Miami) infielder John Tolisano (Ester, Fla., High) and outfielder Joey Hage (Douglas High, Parkland, Fla.) were all driving in runs at an impressive clip—Schaffer knows in order to survive the seven-day gauntlet that includes as many as 12 games leading up to Sunday’s championship game requires good, and timely pitching.

His four horses include righthanders Kevin Quackenbush (Jesuit High, Tampa) and Derek Sejnoha (Palm Beach Gardens, Fla., High) and lefthanders Mark Peterson (Lincoln Park High, Fort Pierce, Fla.) and Chris Hernandez (Monsignor Pace High, Opa Locka, Fla.).

Like most teams hopeful of being the final one standing Sunday night, their top starting pitchers have to perform well in pool play early in the week, then come back for their second appearances when the brackets are set on the weekend.

The top two seeds from each of 18 pools, along with two at-large seeds, earn bids in the single-elimination, 40-team tournament that begins Saturday, once pool play has been completed.

The All-American Prospects brought 11 pitchers to Marietta this week, with two reinforcements on the way from Florida.

“It’s not the type of tournament you can just get hot and turn around and walk away with the title,” Lockwood said.

Indeed, the marathon has begun, and the last one standing has an arduous road ahead.

June 22:
After hosting USA Baseball’s junior national team trials in 1996, 1997 and 2000, in 2001 Joplin, Mo., became the host of one of the summer’s best amateur tournaments, USA Baseball’s Tournament of Stars. For the past six years, eight teams have gathered in the town of 46,000, located in the southwest corner of the state, for a week-long competition that features some of the country’s best 16, 17 and 18-year-old players.

The tournament serves as a preliminary tryout for the junior national team, and play is rich with competition, as the players seem to grasp what Team USA’s selection committee is looking for—good skills and tools but most importantly an understanding of how to play the game. The players that are chosen for the junior national team, which this September travels to Cuba for the World Junior Championship, will not only be among the nation’s best players in their age group, but must be able to translate their talent to a winning brand of baseball—something that isn’t always assimilated with every talented player.

With that foundation, the players this week effectively shed the showcase mentality and the event takes shape as an intense, spirited series of games.

Joplin’s Joe Becker stadium is a setting conducive for that atmosphere. The 93-year-old park oozes character. It’s eccentricity—complete with plenty of unique sightlines and a grass embankment in right field—is best described with a creative tongue and clever whit, someone like Joplin’s most famous native, late poet Langston Hughes.

Hundreds of fans, many of whom volunteer as host families for the players, fill the stands in the evenings and the park is abuzz with activity and revelry. They were soaking it all in with a hint of sorrow, however, this year. Beginning next June, the event will move from Joplin to Cary, N.C., where USA Baseball will officially unveil its $10 million training facility.

The list of players who have competed in Joplin is long and distinguished. Chad Billingsley, Jeremy Bonderman, Scott Kazmir, Joe Mauer, Lastings Milledge, B.J. Upton and Delmon Young are just a few of the alumni. And the fans in Joplin will likely have plenty of stories to retell from the memorable crop of players from the final TOS held in their quaint city, located near the foothills of the Ozarks.

Tuesday’s tournament opener was highlighted by an appearance by righthander Michael Main, one of the hardest throwers from the high school Class of 2007. Main (DeLand, Fla., HS) was up to 97 mph last weekend in Fayetteville, Ark., but pitched near 91-93 mph Tuesday. He allowed three earned runs off four hits in four innings, although he did strike out six.

Outfielder Evan Chambers (Lakeland, Fla., HS) turned around a 94 mph fastball from Main and ripped it over the left-field fence for a home run. Main’s stuff is electric, but he wasn’t as sharp as was three nights earlier in Arkansas. His command was just ok, and the ball Chambers hit was wasist high and right over the heart of the plate. Main gathered him composure relatively well, blowing away Matt Dominguez (Chatsworth, Calif., HS) with another mid-90s fastball to end the inning.

June 19:
We’re not yet to July, but already there are plenty of pro clubs and major Division I college coaches who are eager to get their hands on the high school Class of 2007.

More than 200 of the best players in the class were in attendance at Perfect Game’s National Showcase this weekend in Fayetteville, Ark. After three exhaustive days of batting and infield practice and 10, 10-inning games, the early returns on this year’s high school class were promising.

“Considering we’re right out of the shoot early in the summer, there definitely seemed to be a high-quality group of guys,” said the Twins’ Mike Radcliff, one of a handful of scouting directors among more than 75 scouts and 150 college coaches in attendance.

There’s pitching in this high school draft class—starters, relievers, short righthanders with big stuff, big righthanders with lots of projection, hard-throwing lefties and everything in between.

Want position players? There are plenty of those to pick from, too. Corner guys with big lefthanded power are represented, as are several middle infielders with an advanced feel for hitting. If speed is your thing, there are some burners in this group, too.

Many of the players who were in attendance in Arkansas were scheduled to appear at USA Baseball’s Tournament of Stars in Joplin, Mo., this week. And many of the coaches and scouts who got a taste test of the talent were making the trip, too. Prospects Plus will be there, too, and will continue to evaluate what appears to be a spectacular crop of prep prospects.

Compiling accurate rankings based on a handful of at-bats or two-inning stints on the mound is tougher than finding a coffee shop in Arkansas, but here’s a sneak peak at the top 50 prospects from the Class of 2007 in attendance at the summer’s first major showcase:

1. Michael Main, rhp, DeLand (Fla.) HS

2. Michael Burgess, of, Hillsborough HS, Tampa

3. Justin Jackson, ss, Roberson HS, Asheville, N.C.

4. Neil Ramirez, rhp, Kempsville HS, Virginia Beach

5. Matt Harvey, rhp, Fitch HS, Mystic, Conn.

6. Tanner Robles, lhp, Cottonwood (Utah) HS

7. John Tolisano, ss, Estero (Fla.) HS

8. Jason Heyward, 1b/of, HenryCountyHS, McDonough, Ga.

9. Kyle Blair, rhp, Los Gatos (Calif.) HS

10. Greg Peavey, rhp, Hudson’s Bay HS, Vancouver, Wash.

11. Paul Demny, rhp, East Bernard (Texas) HS

12. Madison Bumgarner, lhp, South Caldwell HS, Granite Falls, N.C.

13. Blake Beavan, rhp, Irving (Texas) HS

14. Danny Rams, c, Gulliver Prep, Miami

15. Rick Porcello, rhp, Seton Hall Prep, West Orange, N.J.

16. Hunter Morris, 3b, Grissom HS, Huntsville, Ala.

17. Christian Colon, ss, Canyon HS, Anaheim

18. Evan Danieli, rhp, Seton Hall Prep, West Orange, N.J.

19. Kyle O’Campo, Poly HS, Riverside, Calif.

20. Brian Dupra, Greece Athena HS, Rochester, N.Y.

21. Chase Withrow, rhp, Midland Christian HS, Odessa, Texas

22. Freddie Freeman, 1b, El Modena (Calif.) HS

23. Kentrail Davis, of, Theodore (Ala.) HS

24. Erik Goeddel, rhp, Bellarmine Prep, San Jose

25. Josh Smoker, lhp, Calhoun (Ga.) HS

26. Derek Dietrich, ss/of, Saint Ignatius HS, Cleveland

27. Philip Gosselin, 2b, Malver Prep, West Chester, Pa.

28. Tommy Toledo, rhp, Alonso HS, Tampa

29. Jonathan Kaskow, 1b, Coppell (Texas) HS

30. Garrett Nash, Jordan HS, Draper, Utah

31. Iden Nazario, of/lhp, Southridge HS, Miami

32. Tim Alderson, rhp, Horizon HS, Scottsdale, Ariz.

33. Nick Noonan, ss, Francis Parker HS, San Diego

34. Kevin Rhoderick, rhp, Horizon HS, Scottsdale, Ariz.

35. Greg Sherry, ss, Delbarton HS, Mensham, N.J.

36. David Stewart, of, St. John Vianney HS, St. Louis

37. Kevin Patterson, OakMountain HS, Birmingham, Ala.

38. Gary Bulman, rhp, GreenbrierChristianAcademy, Virginia Beach

39. Kevin Aherns, 3b, Memorial HS, Houston

40. Todd Brazeal, 3b, Chamberlain HS, Tampa

41. Carmen Angelini, ss, Barbe HS, Lake Charles, La.

42. Kyle Greenwalt, rhp, Souderton (Pa.) HS

43. Mark Adzick, lhp, William Pen Charter HS, Haverford, Pa.

44. Seth Blair, rhp, RockFalls (Ill.) HS

45. Brett Krill, of, Aliso Niguel (Calif.) HS

46. Justin Poovey, rhp, South Caldwell HS, Granite Hills, N.C.

47. Jose Rodriguez, of/1b, Hialeah (Fla.) HS

48. Tyler Wilson, rhp/3b, Midlothian (Va.) HS

49. Cole Cook, rhp, Palisades Charter HS, Los Angeles

50. Sam Runion, Reynolds HS, Asheville, N.C.

June 17:
If you stuck it out to the 29th inning of the first day in Arkansas, your dedication was rewarded. Shortly after 11 p.m., Evan Danieli climbed atop the mound and awoke any scouts and coaches who might have—justifiably—drifted into a baseball comma.

The 16-year-old righthander, listed at 6-foot-8, 225 pounds, pitched at 90 mph and showed one of the top-five breaking balls of the 30 pitchers who threw Friday.

And there were plenty of other good-looking arms on display:

There were 11 high school lefthanders drafted in the first three rounds of the 2006 draft, and there were a handful of 2007 southpaws who might make their way into that range of next year’s draft.

Madison Bumgarner (South Caldwell, N.C., HS), Mark Adzick (William Penn, Pa., HS), Tanner Robles (Cottonwood, Utah, HS), Sammy Solis (Agua Fria, Ariz., HS), Chris Hernandez (Monsignor Pace, Fla., HS) and John Gast (Lake Brantley, Fla., HS) all featured at least one present above-average pitch and some feel for pitching.

Robles performed the best of the group, and Bumgarner might be the most interesting. He was up to 94 mph with a deceptive delivery that he repeats well. His secondary stuff has a ways to go, but he has a live arm and pounded the zone with his fastball.

June 16: Ifthe opening day of Pefect Game’s National Showcase is any indication of the depth and talent in the upcoming high school draft class, there should be a wide array of players available next year.

Batting practice this morning—almost four full hours of it—was relatively uninspiring but the game action has been better. Most of the hitters in attendance spent BP attempting to hit everything as far as they could, but when facing live pitching, swings were shorter and quicker.

The best pure hitter in attendance might be John Tolisano (Estero, Fla., HS), who recently polished off a junior season that landed him second-team All-America honors.

A switch-hitter with a level, balanced and line-drive swing from both sides of the plate, Tolisano has shown outstanding patience and an advanced feel for the strike zone. He’ll use all fields, and has raw power, too.

His showdown with Utah lefty Tanner Robles (Cottonwood HS) was the event’s highlight through the first two 10-inning games.

Robles got him on a comeback to the mound, but Tolisano worked the count and was not overmatched, despite Robles’ nasty 91 mph fastball and downer 72-73 mph curveball.

There are more than 11 months remaining before next year’s draft, but players like Tolisano and Robles could be early-round factors if they follow up their big-stage performances with similar success.

June 16: While the College World Series has begun up the road in Omaha, the high school showcase season also got its unoffical start today.

Perfect Game’s National Showcase began in earnest this morning, with more than 200 of the top high school players from the high school Class of 2007 and a handful of players from the Class of 2008 in attendance at Baum Stadium at the University of Arkansas.

Our Prospects Plus blog will feature news, rankings, scouting reports and other features on all the sights and sounds of the summmer showcase and tournament schedule.

Beginning with the PG National event and continuing next week in Joplin, Mo., for USA Baseball’s Tournament of Stars and winding throughout the summer to the Area Code Games and Aflac all-American game, we’ll have all the highlights and dope from amateur baseball’s biggest stages.