Marrero's Strong Showing Headlines First Day At Aflac

BALTIMORE--The third annual Aflac All-American Classic revelry began in earnest Wednesday morning as most of the 38 players selected to play in Saturday afternoon's nationally televised game took infield and batting practice.

While it was business as usual for most of the players who have been taking their hacks all summer at numerous other showcases and tournaments, the session took on added significance for Chris Marrero, a third baseman from Monsignor Pace High in Opa Locka, Fla.

Marrero, who is considered by many scouts as one of the top position players in the rising high school senior class, was recovering from a hamstring injury that has held him out of action since early June. He injured himself while breaking out of the batter's box on a ground ball in Joplin, Mo., during USA Baseball's Tournament of Stars.

Marrero took almost a full month off before he tweaked the injury again two weeks ago as he loosened up in preparation for the East Coast Showcase in Wilmington, N.C., which he missed as well.

But Wednesday the 6-foot-3, 195-pounder shook of the rust, as well as some nerves, admirably, showing the loose, fluid stroke in the batting cage that helped land him on the prospect landscape during his youth baseball career.

"I hadn't swung a bat in quite a while, so today I was mostly just trying to get my timing down," Marrero said following the two-hour workout the players completed in front of about two dozen scouts. "I'm still not 100 percent, and I did (consider sitting out the Aflac event), but I wanted to be here to play with all these other outstanding players and be able to participate."

Marrero admitted being somewhat apprehensive before the workout, but he appeared to gain confidence and comfort with each swing. He was one of more than 15 players to connect on home runs with wood bats, and he also showed good balance and a swing he repeats well during the brief session.

Back In Action

Marrero wasn't the only player in attendance attempting to shake the cobwebs from a recent injury. His teammate on the East team, first baseman/lefthander Andrew Clark from New Palestine (Ind.) High was relegated to soft tosses during infield practice as he continues to recover from a sore left shoulder.

Clark injured the shoulder last week during the East Coast Showcase when he stumbled rounding the first-base bag. He left that game only to return the following day with a 4-for-4 performance as a DH.

"I had an X-ray yesterday at home before I left, and the doctor said there was no need for an MRI yet, but I'm still trying to (shake it off)," Clark said.

The sore shoulder hasn't hindered his stroke in the batter's box, though, as Clark drove a handful of towering fly balls over the right-field fence Wednesday afternoon, combining with Cody Johnson of Moseley High in Lynnhaven, Fla., to draw plenty of jaw-dropping gazes from many of those in attendance.

East righthander Jerry Sullivan was optimistic about pitching in the Aflac game, and said he felt better following his second outing at the East Coast Showcase last week. Sullivan, a 6-foot-4, 195-pound rising senior from Mount Olive High in Flanders, N.J., has flashed a lively fastball in the mid 90s in June, but saw his velocity dip to the low 80s in his first of two outings last week, only to dial it back near 87 mph three days later in Wilmington, N.C.

"It's kind of one of those things where my back was a little tight . . . and I think I was just favoring it, which might have made my arm a little sore," Sullivan said. "After I threw a bullpen (session Wednesday in Wilmington), I felt stronger the next day and am really looking forward to (this weekend)."

West pitchers Chad Robinson and Gavin Brooks will not have a chance to pitch this week, as both pitchers honored their commitments to the Aflac events but will be unable to play in Thursday's scrimmage or Saturday's game.

Brooks, a lefty from Rancho Buena Vista High in Vista, Calif., had minor shoulder surgery earlier this year and expects to be cleared to resume pitching in the near future. Robinson, a righthander from Las Vegas' Silverado High, had surgery in July to repair a torn labrum and a partially torn rotator cuff.

"I got the results back from the MRI the day after the (Aflac selection) tour announcement (in Las Vegas)," Robinson said. "It's tough to be here and not have a chance to play. It's always been one of my dreams to be an all-America.

"I haven't thrown a ball in four months and all the waiting and rehab sucks right now, but later on I just think about how it's going to make me an even stronger pitcher."

Short Notes

• With the Area Code Games wrapping up in Long Beach, Calif., Tuesday, many of the West players arrived to Baltimore after midnight Wednesday. Jeff Rapoport, an outfielder from Westlake (Calif.) High, did not arrive until approximately 8 a.m., only to find himself shagging balls and showing off his arm from the outfield less than two hours later. "Getting off the plane was nerve-racking," he said. "I was pulling up (to the hotel) and the bus was pulling out (for practice).

"Once I got to the field, a Hershey bar and my teammates got me loose so now I'm good to go."

• While Rapoport was skipping across the country from one showcase to another, many of the East players from Florida and Georgia were juggling their first week of school with this week's affairs. Righthander Colton Willems from John Carroll High in Fort Pierce, Fla., went to his first two classes of his senior year Tuesday morning, only to cut out in time to catch a flight to Baltimore.

• Catcher Torre Langley from Alexander High in Douglasville, Ga., was also missing much of his first two weeks of school to fulfill baseball commitments, and could miss additional classes next month if he's selected to compete with USA Baseball's junior national team in Mexico. Langley, one of the top defensive catchers in the class, took the workload and pending homework in stride, saying, "I got it all excused."

Contributing: Matt Meyers