Image credit: Max Clark (Photo by Mike Janes/Four Seam)
The Perfect Game Junior National showcase from June 12-16 in Marietta, Ga. gave one of the first big previews this summer of the top players in the 2023 high school class, as well as a look at some key 2024 players.
We covered some of the big standouts from the event already, including several players who look like potential first-round picks in a couple of years. Today, we pick the players with the best tools at the event, along with honorable mentions for different categories.
In the bigger picture, the best pure hitter in the 2023 class is probably Georgia third baseman Cam Collier, who has an excellent lefthanded swing, bat speed and understanding of the strike zone. But we’ll give the nod for this event to Indiana outfielder Max Clark, who had the best combination of PG Junior National performance and projected future hitting ability. The Vanderbilt commit didn’t swing and miss once at the event, with a fluid, compact swing from the left side, good bat path and a keen eye for the strike zone. California outfielder Dean West also showed a quick, short lefthanded stroke with good contact skills.
There was some loud damage happening in BP from strong, physical hitters like Mississippi third baseman Kaden Irving, Virginia outfielder TayShaun Walton and Florida infielder Braden Holcomb. Then there was 2024 George Wolkow, a 6-foot-7 third baseman/outfielder from Illinois and a lefthanded hitter with a chance to develop 70 or better raw power in the future. Florida shortstop Arjun Nimmala was an exception from the group as a wiry 6-foot-1, 165-pound righthanded hitter who drove the ball out both to his pull side and to center field. Collier also has big power, as does Alabama infielder Walter Ford, who added to his BP blasts with a home run over the left field wall in a game. Strictly on present raw power shown at PG Junior National, the nod here goes to Miami commit Daniel Cuvet, a third baseman from Florida who used his size (6-foot-4, 220 pounds) and strength to consistently hammer the ball in BP, including one ball that went high up into the trees in left field.
Best Defensive Infielder
From the 2023 class, Dylan Cupp (Georgia), Sammy Mummau (Florida), Jonathan Gonzalez (Florida) and Jorge Gonzalez Febo (Florida) all stood out defensively. So did a couple of 2024 shortstops in Florida’s Adonys Velez, who showed smooth actions, and Texas’ David Hogg, who played a clean, under control game in the middle infield. The best defender of the group was Darnell Parker Jr., a shortstop from Virginia who goes to IMG Academy in Florida and is a Georgetown commit. Parker is 6 feet, 170 pounds and showed easy defensive actions. He’s light on his feet, moved fluidly at shortstop with good body control, soft hands and a good internal clock.
Best Defensive Outfielder
This category is a bit tricky given the circumstances. Each player only got into two games, and with the amount of players there, it’s more like the equivalent of one full game of defensive innings per player. For shortstops, you can at least see their actions when they take infield, but you don’t have as much to go on for outfielders unless they happen to have a challenging play in a game. Clark showed the tools to be a plus defender in center field between his speed, range and arm strength. So did A.J. Garcia, an uncommitted 5-foot-10, 165-pound center fielder from Illinois. Garcia has outstanding speed and quickness (he ran the 60-yard dash in 6.37 seconds) and ranged well to catch a fly ball in shallow right-center.
Best Defensive Catcher
We’ll start with an honorable mention for Mark Gialluisi, a New Jersey catcher committed to Boston College. Gialluisi caught a runner stealing at second, another at third and snared another with a back pick at first base. But every catcher here was just competing for second place behind Colton Wombles, an Auburn commit from Alabama. Wombles threw out all three runners who tried a straight steal of second base against him with ridiculous pop times of 1.80, 1.82 and 1.77 seconds. Wombles has a good arm but he gets rid of the ball so quickly and efficiently that it looks like a magic trick, helping him shut down the running game.
Best Infield Arm
Collier, Ford, Holcomb and Florida infielder Aidan Miller all have plus or better arms. The best infield arm, though, belonged to uncommitted Florida shortstop Jorge Gonzalez Febo, who showed at least a 70 arm—and that might be a conservative grade.
Best Outfield Arm
Drew Burress from Georgia showed a strong arm both from the outfield and the infield. Cole Eaton from Nebraska helped his stock at PG Junior National by running a 6.5-second time in the 60-yard dash, performing well in games and showing the best outfield arm at the event. Eaton is a Tennessee commit.
Garcia was fast. And Georgia shortstop/outfielder Bryce Clavon showed excellent speed for a 2024 player with a 60-yard time of 6.53 seconds, displaying quick-twitch athleticism and actions in several facets of his game. Nobody was faster than Kyle Henley, a 6-foot-2, 175-pound uncommitted outfielder from Georgia with 80 speed who ran a 6.27.
Florida infielder/righthander Aidan Miller was the second-hardest thrower of the event, topping out at 94 mph. But Walter Ford didn’t throw a fastball under 95 mph, sitting at 95-96 mph and pumping 97 for his final pitch.
Best Breaking Ball
At this age, you don’t typically see even the best pitchers throw or even flash a true plus breaking ball. Often it’s a slurvy, in-between pitch, so you’re looking to see if a pitcher has feel to spin a breaking ball that you can project to be a future above-average offering with more development. The breakers that stood out the most here came from Ford, who flashed sharp bite on his 77-81 mph slider, and lefthanders Dylan Loy (Tennessee) and Tyler Smith (Pennsylvania). Neither one is a flamethrower—Loy touched 87, Smith was up to 89—but Loy got whiffs on seven of the 10 curveballs he threw, while Smith’s slider got empty swings five of the seven times he threw the pitch. Loy is a Tennessee commit, while Smith is committed to Auburn.
Most Exciting Player
Pick your flavor here. Ford is a two-way talent who would be one of the top prospects in the class strictly as an infielder or as a pitcher only. West is a quick-burst athlete with excellent speed, the defensive skills to stick in center field and the hitting ability to get on base at a high clip. I’ll go with Max Clark, who made a strong case that he’s the best player in the 2023 class with a chance to be an impact player at the plate, on the basepaths and in center field, with a broad set of tools and skills.