Fort Myers, FL - The 2011 WWBA Underclass World Championship came to a close Monday with Marucci Elite taking home a second consecutive trophy. It takes both talent and teamwork to beat 143 other teams to the title and Marucci had it in spades.
I was able to watch them in parts of three games and saw a number of future draft picks. The best pro prospect among their position players is a familiar name, Preston Palmeiro, a 3B/OF from Heritage High School in Colleyville, Texas. Preston is the son of Rafael Palmeiro. As much as I dislike comparing sons to their fathers, the younger Palmeiro has a similar body and lefthanded swing path.
He’s an advanced hitter who used the field and hit the ball hard the other way. Palmeiro doesn’t have big raw power yet, but there’s natural loft in his swing and he’s sure to grow into it. At 6’0”, 185 lbs, his frame is similarly proportioned to Rafael’s.
I expect him to be one of the best hitters for the Class of 2013. His hands and actions are a little shy for the infield, but have a chance to work at the corners. I personally envision Palmeiro as an outfielder.
Catcher Andrew Dunlap (Westbury Christian HS, TX) earned the Tournament MVP; he’s a lefthanded slugger himself with plenty of loft power. I got a good look at Dunlap at the PG National back in June and he showed an advanced bat back then. He’ll get some High-D1 college offers, but lack of projection at 5’10”, 185 lbs, and lack of a pro position may keep him from being a high draft pick. Dunlap has a chance to become a solid D1 defensive catcher.
Marucci had several big name pitchers, but Bryce Welborn (Northland Christian HS, TX) showed the best arm-strength I saw all weekend. The 5’10”, 170 lb righty dealt at 91-92 MPH for an inning with good arm-action and a smooth delivery. He threw over-the-top and though I didn’t see a breaking ball, his arm is live enough to throw a good one. Lack of size hurts him as a pro prospect, but by the time the 2013 Draft comes around, Welborn’s arm might be too god to ignore.
An impressive team that came out of nowhere for me was Hitters Baseball, a squad of Illinois and Wisconsin players. Almost half the team plays in the inner-city Chicago Public Schools League and several have pro and D1 potential. Hitters Baseball made it all the way to the semifinals, beating powerful Florida-based programs like the Orlando Scorpions and South Florida Elite along the away.
Centerfielder Corey Ray (Chicago Simeon HS) is a junior lefthanded hitter who can run and handle the bat. At 5’10”, 165 lbs, he’s athletically proportioned and strong in his hands and forearms. Ray can generate a little bat-speed with wood and hit line-drives. He’s definitely one to watch, there aren’t many speedsters with a chance to hit.
To his left in right field is his high school teammate Darius Day. Day is just a sophomore, a little bigger than Ray (6’0”, 185 lbs) and not quite as fast but an above-average runner and promising left bat nonetheless. Day is not nearly as polished as a hitter; he chased too many pitches out of the zone, but takes a good cut.
One of the most effective pitchers I saw all weekend was the Hitters Baseball closer, Jacob Sparger, from Eau Claire Memorial HS in Wisconsin. Sparger threw 84-87 MPH with big running/sinking action on his fastball out of a high three-quarter slot. Sparger was murder on righties and is a broad-shouldered, projectable 6’5”, 180 lbs. There’s definite effort in his delivery and arm-action, but he’s just a junior and growing into his body. Sparger also showed a big, barrel-missing 74 MPH slider.
With Ray, Day, and Sparger, keep in mind they are cold climate kids who haven’t had nearly the repetitions as the players down south nor the experience against top competition. The fact they can come down here in October and lead their team to the semifinal round is quite impressive.
The South Florida Elite team that was eliminated by Hitters Baseball in the quarterfinals was loaded with future pro prospects, none more impressive than outfielder Willie Abreu (Mater HS) from Miami. The 6’2”, 190 lb Abreu has a lightning lefthanded bat with power and a future plus arm. He has a chance to be a high pick in 2013.
Zack Collins is an offensive-minded catcher from powerhouse American Heritage HS (Pembroke Pines, FL) who has committed to Miami. Collins loads up nicely and has an aggressive stroke from the left side with natural power. Collins probably moves to first base in pro ball, but has a chance to catch in the ACC.
Perhaps the most impressive pitcher I saw all weekend was from the East Cobb Braves. Righty Travis Demeritte is listed as a primary third baseman, but I like him a little better on the mound. From Winder Barrow HS in Georgia, Demeritte has very good arm-action and an athletic delivery. At a strong 6’1”, 185 lbs, he looks more like a position player in the uniform but he shows me some pitching instincts and an 88-91 MPH fastball on the mound. Demeritte also puts a hard spin on his curve and I can see it becoming a big league pitch down the road.
Demeritte is no slouch at third base, he can be drafted there as well. He’s solid all-around with the bat and glove, but I don’t see a standout tool as a position player nor quite the upside he has on the mound. With two more springs of high school ball, it’ll be interesting to see how Demeritte develops at both.