West Tops East 8-4 In Third Annual Aflac Game

ABERDEEN, Md.–In its brief, three-year existence, the Aflac
All-American High School Baseball Classic has already become a must-see
event on the baseball calendar, as the numerous scouts who baked in
100-degree weather can attest.

In the workouts leading up to Saturday’s game, this year’s crop of
38 rising seniors appeared to stack up with the prospects of the past
two years. But the game reminded everyone quickly that as talented as
the players are, even the most precocious high school stars are far
from finished products.

In a game broadcast live across the nation on Fox Sports Net, the
West outlasted the East 8-4 in a matchup that lasted nearly four hours
and featured its share of brilliant moments as well as a few best
suited for the sandlot.

Sixteen pitchers combined for 19 walks and three hit batsmen, and
the West scored five runs in the eighth inning to seal the victory.
Righthander Kyle Drabek, from The Woodlands High in suburban Houston,
tossed the final two innings, striking out four and working around a
pair of walks to give the West its second straight Aflac win after
dropping the inaugural game in 2003.

Devin Shepherd, an outfielder from Oxnard (Calif.) High, was named
MVP after he singled twice, walked twice, scored once and drove in a
run. Shepherd was one of four California players in the West lineup
with two hits apiece. Grant Green and Nathan Bridges–who play in the
same high school conference in Orange County–were each 2-for-5 and
Westlake High’s Jeff Rapoport went 2-for-4 as the foursome accounted
for eight of the West’s nine hits.

“I don’t think I deserved it tonight,” Shepherd said. “There were a
lot of guys that hit balls harder. It just happened that we were on the
winning end and I got a couple of hits.”

West lefthander Brett Anderson of Stillwater (Okla.) High
surrendered a two-out RBI single to Billy Rowell in the bottom of the
seventh inning to give the East its first lead. West center fielder
Jared Mitchell from Westgate High in New Iberia, La., made a perfect
throw to nail New Palestine (Ind.) High’s Andrew Clark at third base on
the play, ending the inning. The run counted but the lead was
short-lived as the West rallied in the eighth, making Anderson the
winner. Drabek was credited with the save.

Another bright California prospect, Fountain Valley (Calif.) High’s
Chris Tillman, was the steadiest West pitcher. Tillman needed just 15
pitches to retire the side in the fifth inning, working off a fastball
that sat at 90 mph and a 78 mph slider that has potential to be a plus

East righthander Dellin Betances was equally impressive. The
6-foot-8, 205-pounder flashed a fastball that touched 93 during a
nine-pitch, one-two-three third inning. Betances’ slider was a bit
tighter than even Tillman’s.

Performance Anxiety

East starter Matt Latos, a righthander from Coconut Creek (Fla.)
High, symbolized the way some of the top prospects for the Class of
2006 struggled in spite of their obvious talent. Latos needed 60
pitches to get through the first two innings and lacked the mid-90s
heat he flashed earlier in the summer, but he remains one of the top
pitching prospects in the draft class.

“They’re gassed,” said a scout with a National League organization.
“I thought the whole event was good, but the bottom line is these guys
are burned out. The crop of kids they put together were without a doubt
the premiere guys, we just didn’t see them at their top form based on
the long summer they’re all wrapping up and the innings those pitchers
have logged.”

The defense was a similar mix of spectacular plays and unexpected
gaffes. East third baseman Chris Marrero, out of Monsignor Pace High in
Opa Locka, Fla., made three errors in the eighth inning, though he kept
his head up after the game and said he learned from his mistakes.

“(I can’t) worry about what happened, just keep moving on,” said
Marrero, who went 1-for-4 with a double and two RBIs. “I am going to
drop balls in the future; it just happened to happen today on live TV.”

Although the teams combined for seven errors, the game was not
without its defensive gems. East middle infielder Ryan Jackson trumped
Mitchell’s pinpoint throw with a nifty catch and throw to nab Mitchell
at the plate to foil a double steal in the fifth. Jackson, who has
transferred to Miami’s Florida Christian High for his senior year, also
made a diving stab at second base to take a hit away from Huntington
Beach (Calif.) High’s Hank Conger in the first.

Bridges erased the fastest player in the class, outfielder Derrick
Robinson from P.K. Yonge High in Gainesville, Fla., on a slow roller to
third base in the bottom of the third inning. Robinson, who blazed down
the first-base line in 3.8 seconds from the left side in his first
at-bat, turned in a 3.96-second dash from the right side, but Bridges
still got him with a strong throw on the run.

Inconsistent control, long swings and the occasional botched routine
plays are indicative of high school players who were perhaps a little
tired and a little tight, but no one doubts the class was full of
players who will be premium picks next June.


When many of the favorites had trouble adjusting to the
pressure of performing in the home run derby, it was the little guys
that shined. In Friday’s qualifying round at Towson University, Torre Langley,
a 5-foot-10, 175-pound catcher from Alexander High in Douglasville,
Ga., led the way by clearing the short porch in left field six times,
pop he had not shown regularly in batting practice. “In BP, I’m putting
on a show for the scouts, trying to hit line drives,” Langley said. “In
the home run derby, I try to load up a little bit, get more of a leg

In Saturday’s finale before the game, no one could match Robbie Alcombrack
of Bear River High in Grass Valley, Calif. Drabek hit the longest shot
of the final round, but Alcombrack had six home runs while none of the
other finalists (Langley, Drabek and Rapoport) had more than two.

“I remember last year when (Jordan) Danks won it, I said,
‘Man, I’d really love to do that,’ ” said the 6-foot, 200-pound catcher
after his victory. “Now that I did, it is shocking. I’m still a little
bit shaky. It’s definitely something I’ve been wanting to do.”

• Although he went 0-for-4 with a walk, the West’s Ryan Adams
had some of the toughest at-bats of the day. In the second inning, he
fouled off six pitches from Latos before popping out to short in a nine
pitch at-bat. In leading off the eighth, the middle infielder from
Jesuit High in New Orleans had an eight-pitch at-bat and drew a walk to
spark the go-ahead rally. Adams, who has committed to Louisiana State,
saw 29 pitches in five plate appearances.

• With the West leading 6-4 in the eighth, Shepherd sealed his MVP case by blooping a single to right off Jeremy Jeffress, a
righthander from Halifax County High in South Boston, Va. “I faced
(Jeffress) in my first at-bat in the scrimmage (on Thursday), and he
struck me out on three pitches,” Shepherd said. “I fouled one off and
he blew two by me. I told him, ‘When you come in,’–and I didn’t know I
was going to face him–‘you better bring the heat.’

“I was looking dead red fastball and he threw me one on the outside and I was kind of dipping out to pull it. But it worked.”

• Clark put himself in the Aflac record book by being hit by two pitches. The East first baseman also walked and scored a run.

• After putting on the most impressive batting practice displays of the week during workouts, Cody Johnson struggled during the game. The East’s right fielder out of Mosley High in Lynnhaven, Fla., was 0-for-4 with four strikeouts and a walk. Johnson, who received the Jackie Robinson award as Aflac’s player of the year, did come on to pitch a 1-2-3 ninth inning for the East.

Contributing: Matt Meyers.