Braylon Bishop Steals Spotlight At 2019 Perfect Game MLK Tournament
GLENDALE, Ariz. — All eyes were on Sticks Baseball Academy outfielder Braylon Bishop at the Perfect Game MLK Upperclass Tournament at the Camelback Ranch facility in Glendale, Ariz. For the second straight year the Sticks organization, based in Little Rock, Ark., came to town with the tournament's most talent-laden roster, this time made up of 23 Division I college commitments.
But it was Bishop, who at just 15 years old is the Sticks' youngest player, who drew the most attention from scouts and other observers. One of nine Arkansas commits on the Sticks' roster, Bishop was one of only two Sticks' players from the 2021 high school class playing in this year's Perfect Game MLK tournament. The lefthanded-hitting center fielder is already ranked among the top 10 prospects for his class, and playing against older competition is something that Bishop has been doing all his life thanks in part to having older brothers who also play baseball.
Bishop was satisfied with his performance over the weekend in Arizona, and he expects that the event will give him a head start on his upcoming high school season. He especially liked facing better pitching than he normally sees during his regular season at Arkansas High School in Texarkana.
“I feel like I’m hitting the ball really well now,” Bishop said. “I’m squaring everything up, looked good tracking down balls and just seeing the balls better.”
The twitchy athleticism is easy to see when Bishop is on the field. Multiple comparisons to Ken Griffey Jr. were being tossed around by observers, and while it’s unfair to put that kind of label on a 15-year-old kid, Bishop has a lot of the same qualities as Griffey, according to Chase Brewster, Director of Player Exposure and Coach for the Sticks Baseball Academy.
“(He’s) one of the best players we’ve ever seen,” Brewster said. “By all accounts he’s the best player a lot of people have seen at that age . . . the power, the hand strength and the quickness are just incredible.”
At 6-foot-1, 180 pounds, Bishop has a strong, muscular body with broad shoulders that wouldn’t be out of place on the gridiron, thus it’s no surprise that Bishop is already the starting quarterback for his high school football team. But if there’s ever a decision as to which sport he’ll choose, Bishop knows what direction his sports career will take, stating, “I’ve got a love for baseball more.”
Taking the field in Arizona with other eight other players who also have committed to play baseball at the University of Arkansas was a bonus for Bishop.
“The bond will be already there,” Bishop said, “so we won’t have to build it.”
The Sticks Baseball Academy connection with the Razorbacks' baseball program is more than just a coincidence, according to Brewster, with upwards of 30 Arkansas commits having played in events and tournaments over the three-year history of the academy.
“The majority of the better players in the state play for us,” Brewster said. “It’s a good relationship with those guys (University of Arkansas coaches). A lot of kids want to play there just because of the facilities and the way they treat the kids.”
Brewster added that the young athletes heading to Arkansas in the future know that the outstanding coaching they’ll receive there will improve their skills.
“Those guys know development is key in Fayetteville right now,” Brewster said.
In addition to the Arkansas natives on the Sticks roster, there were also a couple of promising prospects from the left half of the country in the lineup, both of whom are also Razorback commits. Jesse Pierce, a 2019 infielder/outfielder from Las Vegas, and Ethan Long, a 2020 infielder/righthander from Phoenix, were both excited at the chance to meet and play alongside players who may be their college teammates in the future. Pierce has especially boosted his prospect stock lately, showing off above-average athleticism and raw power while also admitting it's the mental part of the game that he's working on most.
“Whether I got 0-for-4 or 4-for-4,” Pierce said, “I need to stay on the same plane . . . not get too high or not get too low. Just kind of feed off everyone else.”
Long, who attends Mountain Pointe High School in Phoenix, was playing his first event with the Sticks, and he could already see the value in getting to know his future Arkansas teammates.
“We’ll have good team chemistry when we get down there,” Long said. “We’re going to be pretty special for the next few years.”
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Cole Hinkelman also looks like quite the physical specimen when he steps foot on a baseball field. Playing for the Pacific Northwest Regional Baseball Upperclass Royals, the 6-foot-4, 215-pound Hinkelman showed a quick bat with loose hands and a good, clean stroke. While he is a touch below-average runner, the lefthanded-hitting Hinkelman moves well in the outfield and his average arm will give him a chance to handle either corner position.
Hinkelman enjoys playing in events like the Perfect Game MLK Tournament, not just to get in his reps but also seeing different competition and getting the eyes of pro scouts on him.
“In high school, you’re playing the same guys over and over,” Hinkelman said. “You don’t get to see a big variety of different arms.”
He added that getting out of the frequent rain in the Northwest was also a bonus in coming to Arizona.
Hinkelman has already been accepted to Stanford for next year. It only took a couple of visits to the Palo Alto campus to convince him it was the right fit.
“I went down there a couple of times,” Hinkelman said. "And just combining the atmosphere of the campus and also connecting with the coaches, it was a perfect fit. I could really see myself playing there.”
While Hinkelman’s physical tools and baseball abilities are obvious, what really stands out is his excellent makeup, according to Pacific Northwest founder and coach Rhett Parker who has had Hinkelman in various programs since the age of 13.
“Whether he played baseball tomorrow or not,” Parker said, “I’d probably know him the rest of my life because he’s a great kid, a student and an athlete. He’s meant a lot to me personally . . . a very special kid.”
The North East Baseball National team captured the 2019 Upperclass trophy by winning all six of its games over the four-day weekend, including three consecutive victories on the final day. Coached by veteran coach Jeff Sullivan, who made it through the final day despite struggling with a bout of the flu, the National team scored three late runs in the final game to down Sticks Baseball Academy, 5-2.