West Owns Talent, East Takes Title

SAN DIEGO’"On a field full of the most talented rising senior high
school players in the country, the most fundamental skill escaped them.

The East scored two runs on three walks, a wild pitch and a passed ball
in the ninth inning, then took the lead on a sacrifice fly to claim a
5-4 victory over the West in the fifth annual Aflac Classic at Tony
Gywnn Field in San Diego on Saturday.

Tim Beckham’s sac fly was his second of the game, and the shortstop
from Griffin (Ga.) High also walked and drove in a third run with an
eighth-inning triple on his way to MVP honors.

Nine of the 14 pitchers to appear in the matchup between the nation’s
top rising high school seniors hit 90 mph or better, and generally
showed good command in what was generally a well played contest in front of
a sellout crowd on the campus of San Diego State.

“I thought it was good,” said a veteran crosschecker with an American
League organization. “Just looking at the players, I didn’t think it
was as spectacular as last year’s game when we had all of that offense,
but overall the players showed us some clean play with a few highlights
here and there.”

West righthander Gerrit Cole (Lutheran High, Orange, Calif.) touched 96
mph in an 11-pitch third inning that included two strikeouts, and
fellow righthanders Tim Melville (Holt High, Wentzville, Mo.), Ryan
O’Sullivan (Valhalla High, El Cajon, Calif.), B.J. Hermsen (West
Delaware High, Manchester, Iowa) and Bubba Meyer (Greensburg, Ind.,
High) were among the West pitchers to show an impressive combination of
stuff and feel for pitching.

An East hitter didn’t make hard contact
until the sixth inning, and West pitchers allowed just three baserunners in the first three trips through the batting order.

Thanks to the late East rally, Beckham stole MVP honors from West
catcher Kyle Skipworth (Patriot High, Riverside, Calif.), who drove a
ball deep to right field for a sacrifice fly in his first at-bat before
depositing a Quinton Miller (Shawnee High, Medford, N.J.) fastball over
the right-center field fence for a two-run home run that gave the West
a 3-0 lead in the third inning.

It all unraveled in the top of the ninth when West
righthander/outfielder Aaron Hicks (Wilson High, Long Beach) struggled
with his command in his first pitching appearance in almost two months.
Hicks, who had been slowed by a sore shoulder, touched 93 mph and flashed a
nasty split-finger fastball, as well as an 82-83 mph breaking
ball’"some of the best raw stuff on display’"but 20 of his 32 pitches were balls, including the two wild pitches and
passed ball that allowed the East to tie it.

Beckham ended the drama when he sliced a 93 mph Hicks
fastball to right field, allowing Xavier Avery (Cedar Grove High,
Ellenwood, Ga.) to tag up and score easily with the go-ahead run.

“I battled him to a full count and had seen everything he had, so there
was no way he was striking me out at that point. I wasn’t going to let
that happen,” Beckham said. “This is so much more than a showcase. It’™s
an event where you face off against the best players from all over the
country. It feels great to finally get a win for the East Coast.”

It was the East’s first win over the West since the inaugural
event in 2003. The East
was shorthanded that year because of state high school regulations that prevented
three Floridians and two players from Tennessee from playing. Again
this year, arguably the East’s best arm, Sonny Gray (Smyrna, Tenn.,
High) was unable to appear because of the same rule, which says once the state’s academic calendar has begun, a student who plays in an event not affiliated with school would be ineligible. Classes
began in Tennessee the day before the game, so Gray sat out, along with
three other East pitchers who were injured.

So Michael Palazonne (Lassiter High, Marietta, Ga.), Miller, Brett
DeVall (Niceville, Fla., High), Scott Silverstein (St. John’s College
High, Washington, D.C.) and Jack Armstrong (Jupiter, Fla., High) teamed
up to carry the pitching workload in the absence of Gray, Riverview
(Fla.) High lefty Anthony Ferrara (shoulder), James River High
(Midlothian, Va.) righthander Daniel Marrs (shoulder) and Saint
Anne’s-Belfield High (Charlottesville, Va.) lefty Kyle Long (triceps).
Armstrong, the son of former major leaguer Jack, pitched the eighth and
ninth innings for the win, pumping his fist as he sat down Jordan
Swaggerty (Prestonwood Christian Academy, Plano, Texas) on strikes to
end the game with the potential tying run at second base.

“I’ve been very fortunate to coach and spend time around a lot of
talented players over the years,” said East coach Mike Shepard, who
most recently coached All-American righthander Rick Porcello at Seton
Hall Prep in West Orange, N.J. “And this event was full of some of the
best players I’ve seen in one setting. I was impressed with every
aspect of it, and the fact our guys stepped up when things got tight
late in the game, made it even that much more enjoyable.”


• High school baseball in the state of Iowa drew more scouts than usual this summer, as two of the state’s top prospects squared off
in the state’s 3-A title game. After Hermsen and West Delaware High
held off traditional power Xavier High and outfielder Brent Warren
in an 8-0 victory to claim the crown, both players teamed up on the West
squad for the Aflac game, marking the first time two players from the
Hawkeye State appeared in the Aflac game the same year. The two players
have played together outside of their high school teams since they were
12, making their reunion in San Diego extra special.

“We hadn’t seen a pitcher like him all year; all we saw were guys
throwing 65-70 miles an hour,” said Warren, who was hitless in three
plate appearances against Hermsen in the championship game. “He’s a
great pitcher, and it’s nice for the state of Iowa to get a little bit
of the respect I think it really is beginning to deserve.

“We’re never going to pump guys out like California and Florida, but
with (White Sox prospect Ryan) Sweeney a few years ago and Johnny
(Gilmore, an Aflac participant in 2006 who was drafted 34th-overall by
the Braves) this year, I think you’re starting to see the area
producing some special players.”

Warren went 1-for-4 with an infield single in the game, and admitted he
was only about 75 percent back from open-heart surgery in
December. He had the operation to repair a rare congenital heart condition that initially
prompted several doctors to declare his playing career over before the surgery. “It feels great to be here, to have my health and to be
able to have so much to look forward to,” Warren said.

• For Skipworth, his success wasn’t coincidental. After working out for
three days with a bat that was provided by an event sponsor, he
switched to his usual model before the game, and said after
batting practice that he felt much more comfortable with his more
familiar lumber. “They said they can’t make us use their bats, but
they’d like for us to, so I gave it a shot, and it’s a nice bat. I
just like the way the weight’s distributed so much more with mine,”
Skipworth said. “The barrel’s bigger and balls jumped off my bat way
better during BP. My swing feels a lot more natural and comfortable.”

• Some scouts believe Eric Hosmer
has as good a chance to play in the major leagues as any player in
the Aflac game this year, and while his skills need a lot of development,
he’s already got one big league road trip under his belt. The first baseman from American Heritage High in Plantation, Fla.,
was playing in Farmington, N.M., the week leading up to the Aflac game,
which caused him to miss the East Coast Showcase, Area Code Games and
three Aflac workouts. After winning tournament
MVP honors in Farmington and leading the Midland Redskins to the Connie
Mack title, Hosmer boarded a private jet provided by the Midland
program Saturday morning and arrived in San Diego in time for batting

“I was glad I was able to make it, and I even got an extra
hour of sleep because of the time difference,” Hosmer said.

• Because of an injured elbow, Hosmer’s high school teammate, switch-hitting catcher Adrian Nieto,
missed time during his junior season and spent much of this summer in a DH role. His play behind the plate in the later innings
of the Aflac game not only helped secure the win for the East, but
also showed scouts that his catch and throw skills are
on par with his quick, powerful bat.

Nieto picked off two baserunners
with accurate, strong snap throws, though his effort was spoiled on the
first one when third baseman Ethan Martin (Stephens County High,
Toccoa, Ga.) mishandled the throw. Nieto then gunned down Chris
(Servite High, Anaheim) at second base from his knees on a
stolen base attempt to end the eighth inning.

• Ferrara was one of the first selections to the team, being named to
the East roster back in May, but he hasn’t pitched in more than
two months and was one of four pitchers in attendance unable
to throw. Ferrara has experienced shoulder pain that hasn’t subsided as
quickly as he’d hoped, and he visited Dr. James Andrews in Birmingham,
Ala., two days after the game to have his shoulder examined.

was hard. Knowing I could have been a part of that, but not able to,
was tough,” Ferrara said.

Andrews determined that Ferrara’s shoulder did not require surgery,
and the lefthander will continue rehabilitation.

Jarred Cosart (Clear Creek
High, League City, Texas) was scratched from the West rotation when he
strained a muscle in his back during pregame warmups. He said he could have pitched if needed, and didn’t believe there
was any long-terms concern as he walked off the field after the game
carrying his equipment bag.

• It’s been an up-and-down summer for Houston outfielder Robbie Grossman,
but the rising senior from Cypress-Fairbanks High (Cypress, Texas) made
a pair of splendid catches in center field, twice robbing Harold Martinez
(Braddock High, Miami) of extra-base hits. Grossman and Martinez were
two of nine Aflac All-Americans whose next stop was Joplin, Mo., where
they will compete for a spot on the U.S. junior national team.