Tournament Of Stars Lives Up To The Hype

Scouts and recruiters get good look at 2009 class

CARY, N.C.—The point was driven home in the official tournament flyer, on the official invitations sent to players in May and over the loudspeaker for six straight days: USA Baseball's Tournament of Stars is the nation's premier opportunity for amateur players 18 and under.

Considering the growth of the summer showcase circuit, that's a bold statement. But it also happens to be true.

Tyler Matzek
The Tournament of Stars combines the elements of a showcase and a competitive tournament, along with the incentive of playing for a chance to represent the United States on the 18U national team.

With 144 of the nation's top high school players invited and divided into eight teams, the event is a full-fledged wood bat tournament in which each squad plays five games, and an overall winner is crowned at the end of the week. At the same time, 32 players are selected to attend the junior national team trials in Phoenix, where USA Baseball will select a roster of 18 to compete in the World Junior Championship in Edmonton, beginning July 25.

"It's the best of all worlds in a combination between showcase, tournament to win and the opportunity to represent your country," 18U national team director Ray Darwin said.

The eight teams represent major amateur baseball organizations such as Dixie Baseball and the National Amateur Baseball Federation, and it was those two organizations that faced off for the tournament title. Dixie defeated NABF 3-2 in the gold-medal game to finish the tournament 5-0, and it also boasted the field's top offensive prospect in center fielder Donovan Tate.

Batting .316 in the event, Tate hit two home runs and tallied 16 total bases in 19 at-bats. A five-tool talent, Tate is a plus runner with an above-average arm and athleticism to spare. At the plate, he shows the ability to hit for average and power. Tate consistently squared up pitches during the week, making solid contact and hitting two doubles and a triple to go with his homers. He did strike out six times, walking only once.

Speeding To A Title

Also helping Dixie to the title was speedster LeVon Washington. Splitting time between the outfield and second base, Washington hit leadoff and tied Tate for the team lead with five runs. Recognized as the fastest player in the 2009 class, Washington runs 60 yards at 6.2 seconds and gets to first base in four seconds from the left side, and he stole four bases in as many attempts. Washington batted .300 in the event but does not have much power, with only one extra-base in his 20 at-bats. In the field, he's still raw but his speed plays, making him one of the top prospects in this class.

The Tournament of Stars serves as a weeklong showcase for 144 of the best high school players in the country. Here's Baseball America's assessment of the event's top 10 prospects for the 2009 draft, compiled by Matt Blood in consultation with scouts and recruiters at the event.
No. Player Pos. Hometown
1. Tyler Matzek lhp Mission Viejo, Calif.
2. Donovan Tate of Cartersville, Ga.
3. Max Stassi c Yuba City, Calif.
4. Matthew Purke lhp Spring, Texas
5. Austin Maddox c Jacksonville, Fla.
6. LeVon Washington of/2b Gainesville, Fla.
7. Jacob Turner rhp St. Charles, Missou.
8. Deven Marrero ss Davie, Fla.
9. Jacob Marisnick of Riverside, Calif.
10. Jeff Malm 1b Las Vegas
While it didn't make the gold-medal game, the second-best team in the tournament may have been the American Amateur Baseball Congress. With the best pitching staff of the eight teams, AABC finished 4-1, losing only to Dixie 1-0 on a Tate solo home run, in the semifinals.

AABC finished with a team ERA of 1.23, joining Dixie (1.80) as the only teams under 2.00, led by two of the top pitching prospects in the 2009 class. Righthander Jacob Turner was the tournament's top statistical performer, striking out 11, walking two and allowing no runs and only one extra-base hit in 7 2/3 innings. At 6-foot-4, 205 pounds, Turner has the perfect pitcher's frame and pitches at 89-91 mph with ease, topping out at 93 mph. Turner's breaking ball has two-plane movement, acting more like a slurve at 75-77 mph.

Turner's AABC teammate, lefthander Tyler Matzek, didn't perform quite as well but might be the top pitching prospect in the class. He's 6-foot-3, 185 pounds and pitches between 89-91 mph, topping out at 94, and complements his fastball with a curveball, slider and changeup—mixing them effectively with command. He pitched 6 1/3 innings, allowing two earned runs in his final inning to finish with a 2.84 ERA and nine strikeouts.

Perking Up For Purke

While the USA Baseball squad finished the tournament in sixth place with a 2-3 record, it did boast one of the top pitching performances of the week. Lefthander Matthew Purke pitched seven shutout innings against the Reviving Baseball in Inner Cities team, striking out nine and walking one. Purke faced 25 batters and did not allow an extra-base hit.

Purke is a projectable 6-foot-3, 180 pounds and pitches with a fluid and effortless delivery from a three-quarters arm slot. His first pitch against RBI was 91 mph and his last was 90, and he topped out at 92 in the second inning. Purke also throws a sweeping slider with downward tilt. Of his nine strikeouts, Purke put away six batters using the slider—and four came on swings and misses.

All five of those standouts were among the 32 players invited to the 18U national team trials. After playing at USA Baseball's National Training Center, a four-field facility that opened last summer, they and all the players involved in the Tournament of Stars had a golden opportunity to play in front of scouts and recruiters.

"The tournament is run great and gives us a chance to see kids from all over the country," Southern California recruiting coordinator Doyle Wilson said. "You get an opportunity to see games one at a time plus batting practices and infield every day."

More than 200 scouts and college coaches attended this year's event.

"The thing I like is these players are trying to win games, which is something we have lost in the showcases," a National League scouting director said. "Whenever you can put them in a tournament environment, it brings out the competitiveness in a player as opposed to just showcasing individual talents."

Evaluators also have the chance to get an up close and personal view of the players. In between games and practices, players are around the facility watching other games, eating or walking around.

"The setting is great," the scouting director said. "You can go watch them play and take batting practice with wood bats, but you're also around the kids and can get a good physical look at them."