Under Armour Superlatives
Breaking down the top performers from Wrigley Field
CHICAGO—In one-game showcases or events, pitching tends to dominate as pitchers typically throw only one or two innings and hitters have a hard time finding a rhythm adjusting to a new arm each at-bat. That wasn't the case at the latest episode of the Under Armour All-America Game, played at Wrigley Field in Chicago. The offense stole the show and a ninth-inning rally gave the American team a 7-6 victory. This was the third year the game pitted American vs. National and the win gave the American side a 2-1 lead in the series.
By Nathan Rode
|August 21, 2012
Georgia outfielders Clint Frazier (Loganville HS) and Austin Meadows (Grayson HS) stood out the most for the performances and package of plus tools. Down 6-5 in the ninth inning, Meadows led off with a triple and came home when Frazier smoked a double to left-center field, missing a home run by just a few feet. A passed ball and wild pitch allowed Frazier to score easily and righthander Connor Jones shut the door with his second perfect inning in the bottom of the ninth.
"I just wanted to put something in play," Frazier said. "Austin has the speed where he can get home at any point in the game, on any ball put in play, so I just wanted to put the ball in play."
Taking a page from our Futures Game coverage, we spoke to scouts in attendance to point out the superlative tools from the Under Armour Game, then took advantage of our access to the players to bring you some off-the-field superlatives as well.
Best Player: The Team MVPs were Frazier (American) and infielder Jan Hernandez (National; Beltran Academy, Florida, P.R.), but Frazier was easily the player that impressed scouts the most. He has excellent speed, strength and quick-twitch athleticism. On the MLB Network broadcast, John Manuel dubbed him the "Ginger Mike Trout" because of his explosiveness and fire-red hair. Is Frazier going to be arguably one of the best players in the big leagues at 20 years old? Odds are he won't, but that's what scouting is about: projecting players' potential and evaluators didn't run away from the comparison.
"The ball comes off his bat better than any of the other guys there," an American League scout said. "Even the balls he misses and pops up. He's a different player than everybody else."
"You can punch holes in him a little bit because who plays this," an AL crosschecker said. "The red hair, the all-out approach. He proved me wrong in a lot of ways. He has a hitch and a load that is a bit of a concern, but he showed he can hit breaking balls and cover the outer half."
Teammates since they were 9 years old, Frazier and Meadows are shaping up as a friendly rivalry to be the top outfield prospect for the 2013 draft. Their tools might have similar grades, but their styles of play are almost complete opposites.
Best Pitcher: This category garnered a split decision for a few reasons. Connor Jones had the best results, pitching two perfect innings while striking out three, while righthander Brett Morales showed the best overall stuff but was the losing pitcher after giving up the triple and double to Meadows and Frazier in the ninth. He did manage to eventually strike out the side using a 90-93 mph fastball, 80 mph changeup with good sink and low-70s curveball. Jones' fastball sat 89-90 with tremendous sink and run. He already employs the squat delivery that Virginia is known for, but Jones said he started doing it before committing to the Cavaliers.
"From a performance standpoint, no question it was Jones," a National League crosschecker said.
The scouts also generally panned the draft class' pitching depth. After being spoiled with arms like Max Fried, Nick Travieso, Lucas Giolito and Lance McCullers Jr. in 2012, the 2013 class is looking to be at least a step behind.
"This is a tough crop to decipher," a second NL crosschecker said.
Best Fastball: Having a good fastball in high school typically allows pitchers to dominate their offensive counterparts and Jones proved that point. His fastball played the best, while Morales' showed the best velocity, but didn't produce the best linescore.
"He has a lot of life on his fastball," a second AL crosschecker said of Jones. "He was one that kind of shocked me as how it played. It played above-average. Those two guys were the two best fastball guys. You can send them out right now and they could get guys out in the Gulf Coast or Appalachian Leagues. With Morales' stuff, he gives you the complete package."
Best Runner: Aside from Matt McPhearson (Riverdale Baptist School, Upper Marlboro, Md.), Frazier was also considered the fastest player in the game. McPhearson—whose father and older brother played in the NFL and whose mother ran track—has shown all summer that he is probably the best runner in the class, but he struck out twice and only got to use his best tool on a dropped third strike.
Frazier was gimpy during the game, being lifted for a courtesy runner in his first two at-bats because of cramps in his legs. Yet he still showed his explosive speed expected from a guy who runs 6.4-second 60s—down from 6.9 seconds just a year ago. Frazier credits the burst in part to improved flexibility from four months focused on yoga instead of weightlifting.
"With a bad leg he was still the most explosive guy there," the second NL crosschecker said.
"It's those two and the rest are vying for third," the second AL crosschecker said. "(McPhearson) has another gear and Frazier does too."
Best Swing: Frazier's bat explodes through the zone, but beauty is in the eye of the beholder and lefty swings such as Meadows' always draw attention. It's pure and effortless and it jogged Steve Bernhardt's memory.
"I don't like making comps or throwing something on a guy that is really tough to live up to, but from my days, I spent a little time playing with Todd Helton in the minor leagues," Baseball Factory's scouting director said. "That triple with Meadows, he battled with two strikes and kind of flicked a tough pitch right down the line. It reminded me of some at-bats that Helton pulled off. It looked like kind of a flick, but he smoked that ball. I thought that was impressive."
Scouts also brought up first baseman Dominic Smith (Serra HS, Gardena, Calif.) for his easy stroke and ability to control the barrel that led to a pair of hits, as well as outfielder Billy McKinney from Plano (Texas) West High.
Best Arm: Navarreto made his presence known early by throwing out Meadows trying to steal in the top of the first and outfielder Ivan Wilson (Ruston, La., HS) trying to swipe third in the second. Navarreto had a 1.9-second pop time when he nabbed Meadows.
"He's the guy I circled that has really improved," the second AL crosschecker said. "He's grown on me. I wasn't a huge fan early. After watching him play, I'm really starting to like the guy. He can catch and he can really throw. The bat is going to come. The guys that are athletic, they tend to make the adjustments."
Frazier also stands out for his arm strength, but he got two chances to show it off in the game and both throws were up the line, the second sailing way off target.
"I need to work on my accuracy a little more," Frazier said, laughing after the game. "The second one I threw was a two-seamer and it kept running on me. I can't blame it on my grip. It was a bad throw from the start and I had no shot at him. I didn't want to look lazy and not throw it in so I threw it anyway."
Best Showcase: Two names were brought up unsolicited—Wilson and Jonathan Denney, a catcher from Yukon (Okla.) High—and will have scouts taking a closer look from now through next spring. Wilson looks to be a late-bloomer who is behind in at-bats compared to others in the game, but scouts loved the strength in his swing. Denney has been lauded for his defensive skills, but his bat has been a question. He went 2-for-3 with a double, run scored and RBI despite an aggressive approach that saw him put each of the first two pitches he saw in play.
And now for some offbeat categories:
Best Diplomat: The Under Armour Game invites underclassmen to its event. Sticking with its tradition in 2012, San Diego natives Alex Jackson (Catcher, Rancho Bernardo HS) and lefthander Brady Aiken (Lefthander, Cathedral Catholic HS) were this year's young participants. While Jackson's bat was tardier than during his strong showing during the Area Code Games, the rising junior had a mature approach to his pregame interview session with the BA crew. For example, he dodged repeated inquiries about which college he's even considering, carefully avoiding mention of any specific schools. Most 16-year-olds brag about who's recruiting them; Jackson kept it on the down low.
Best Campaigner: It's a presidential election year in President Obama's adopted hometown, so maybe there was something in the air. Zack Collins, a catcher at American Heritage High in Plantation, Fla., took advantage of one conversation about the 2012 spring high school season to lobby for Heritage's spot in the rankings, albeit more than two months late.
"How did you not rank us No. 1," he asked. "We beat Lance McCullers!"
However, one of the other players quickly pointed out that they won by scratching a run out against lefthander John Kilichowski, who relieved McCullers after six scoreless innings.
Who says no one pays attention to rankings? These guys still do even with the season over.
Best Mascot: Don't get us wrong, Memphis University School's Dalton Dulin can play. He's a switch-hitting middle infielder committed to Mississippi and puts pressure on the defense with his speed, but onlookers are just as likely to notice him because of his antics, bleached-blond hair and boisterous presence. He's always at the center of a conversation whether it's about baseball or just good-natured trash talking. He's also spry, doing back flips on command, though they're not quite Courtney Hawkins quality. Do it on concrete, Dalton, then we'll talk.
Best Curveball (video-game variety): Hometown hero Corey Ray got to play at Wrigley Field for the first time Saturday; in fact, the Chicago native's first trip to Wrigley came Wednesday when players started reporting to town for the Under Armour Game. Ray's father filled requests for 200 tickets and he got the loudest cheers out of the approximately 4,000 fans and scouts on hand. He soaked in the experience all week, shining during an afternoon camp with youth players from Chicago and playing with enthusiasm during camp—running outfield routes with the kids and teaching them proper footwork—and in the workouts and game itself.
He also didn't hold back when challenged to a game of MLB The Show, letting me hear it every time I bit on an 0-2 curveball. Alas, Ray went hitless in Saturday's game and was scoreless in our challenge game, which ended scoreless in the 10th (power cord trouble).
Best Interview: Kacy Clemens can't hide that he's the son of Roger Clemens, not with that delivery (a copy of his old man's), not with No. 21 and Clemens on his back. And Kacy in no way runs from being his father's son, even with his father having run through the PED-rumor wringer for years and coming off a recent acquittal on charges of lying to Congress after testifying that he did not use any performance-enhancing drugs.
We didn't plan to talk about the sins of the father with the son, but PEDs came into the conversation anyway and Kacy couldn't have handled it with better class and maturity. He defended his father with genuine passion; if his answers were scripted, his emotion wasn't.
He never mentioned the accuser, Brian McNamee, by name and instead focused on the fact that he trusts and loves his father and any public, negative opinions won't change his feelings. At the same time he was sure to state that he plans on going out to the field every day to work hard, improve and not try to get ahead simply because of his last name.
Then he went out and pitched a scoreless inning in Saturday's game. Maybe that's what inspired his old man's comeback.