Marietta, GA - With over 200 teams playing on thirty different facilities, Perfect Game’s WWBA 17U National Championship is a gigantic tournament. For one week each summer, teams fly in from all over the country to compete for the crown in suburban Atlanta.
This year’s event runs from July 9th-15th, at which I arrived on the 12th. According to Perfect Game’s website, last year’s tournament boasted two true 1st-round picks and 11 1st-round compensation choices among a whopping 181 total draft picks.
And the 2010 event wasn’t nearly as top-heavy as some in the past, like the 2009 WWBA 17U which had 19 true 1st-rounders and 13 more sandwich picks!
From walking around for just two days, it’s impossible for me to compare the depth. By looking at the rosters and knowing which players diddn’t make it, it’s impression is that there aren’t nearly as many 1st-rounders walking around as there were in 2009, but probably comparable to 2010.
The heavy majority of the players are rising seniors, to graduate in 2012 and eligible for that draft. The Houston Banditos are one of a handful of teams that are truly loaded with draft talent headlined by outfielder Nick Williams (Galveston Ball HS, TX), whom I ranked the #4 prospect at the Perfect Game National just three weeks before.
The Houston Banditos played against the Bandits on Tuesday, where Williams and fellow prospects like outfielder Courtney Hawkins (Corpus Christi Carroll HS, TX) and shortstop C.J. Hinojosa (Klein Collins HS, TX) got to face lefty Jake Drossner (Council Rock North HS, PA). Drossner is another potential early pick for 2012 and he was #23 in my prospect rankings from the PG National so it provided an exciting matchup for national-level scouts.
Williams showed the ability to make adjustments against the tough lefty and get hits going the other way. Hawkins, on the other hand, is one of those players who is lights out in a workout and showcase setting but doesn’t seem to hit in games against the topflight pitching that you see in this tournament. The 6’1”, 210 lb outfielder has a sculpted build and very quick hands at the plate, with strength in his forearms to drive the ball very hard. The material is there to become a big league hitter, but he’s carved up by good pitchers right now.
Hinojosa is a physically mature player whose present-day skills put him near the top of the 2012 Class. I had a hard time keeping him off of the Top-25 at the PG National just for that, he has a powerful righthanded swing that actually won the event’s Home Run Derby and he possesses the hands and pure infielder actions that will make him a plus second or third baseman one day. At about 5’10”, 190 lbs, there’s minimal projection on his body, Hinojosa matured a lot earlier than most kids. But the University of Texas has to be licking their chops at the possibility of such an advanced player coming to their campus in the fall of 2012.
Drossner was all over the place in his outing. Much like the PG National, he showed big upside; an athletic 6’3” lefty with a strong delivery, easy arm-action, and the makings of three big league pitches. Drossner threw 84-88 MPH and at times showed a tight-spinning curve and well-concealed change-up. But he was up in the zone and wild and it was a short outing. Committed to Maryland, Drossner’s still going to be followed closely by pro scouts in the spring. My feeling is that he’ll have to show a lot more polish and better body language when pitching in trouble for someone to put early-round money into him, but it can happen, whether by next June or after 3-4 years in the ACC.
Among the 2013 graduates, the one who stood out most in my travels was RHP/3B Travis Demeritte (Winder Barrow HS, GA) from the East Cobb Astros 16U. I watched him play third base on Tuesday and was impressed enough to put him down as a strong draft follow. At 6’1”, 175 lbs, Demeritte has an athletically proportioned and projectable frame, with a sturdy lower half and a strong torso to grow into. He showed good actions and hands at the hot corner and a smooth righthanded swing.
But I like him even better on the mound after watching him in just his last inning of work on Wednesday, after he’d thrown a complete game, 7-inning shutout against Team Georgia. Demeritte stuck out 13 and gave up just one hit to go with five walks. He was 87-91 MPH for most of the night with a quick right arm. Though his delivery is too fast and he doesn’t gather enough in back, there’s obvious athleticism and strength in his core pitching muscle groups. It’s not hard at all to see him in the low-90s consistently as a senior in a couple years and the curveball has a chance to become a plus pitch, too.
A 2013 lefty who’s gotten a lot of early notice is Stephen Gonsalves (Cathedral Catholic HS, CA) from the San Diego Show. He gets attention simply walking off the bus at 6’5”, 190 lbs, with a lanky frame that is sure to add 25+ lbs. Gonsalves isn’t particularly athletic right now, he’s still growing into his long limbs, but there’s a looseness in his actions that indicates his current 86-90 MPH fastball is going to be thrown a lot harder in the future. His curveball didn’t have a lot of bite and Gonsalves’s arm-action and high three-quarter slot may end up making him a slider guy in the end.
The playoff rounds began on Wednesday and will really heat up today in anticipation of tomorrow’s championship. I enjoy this part of the tournament most because the best teams are playing each other and you see how the top prospects handle pressure situations. You can run all the 60 yard-dashes and hit all the batting practice bombs you want, but in the end you have to put the tools to work and these games are the best barometers. A majority of the scouts have chosen to leave before this round, but I think the college coach count will be even higher than it’s been all week.
Check back for another report after Friday’s championship game.