High school pitching looks like the strength of the 2018 Draft, and it certainly appeared that way at the Under Armour All-America Game on Saturday night.
Eighteen of the best pitching prospects in the country combined to strike out 21 batters and allow just 13 hits in 11 innings, as the American squad eked out a 2-1 win over the Nationals when two-sport star Jordyn Adams (Green Hope High School, Cary, N.C.) grounded an RBI single up the middle. Mountain Ridge High School (Glendale, Ariz.) left-hander Matt Liberatore, perhaps the most polished prep pitcher in his Draft class, earned the victory and MVP honors with three shutout innings.
Scheduled to pitch only one inning, but pressed into overtime when the crisply played game went into extra innings, Liberatore was up to the task. He retired nine of the 10 batters he faced, five on strikeouts with four of the whiffs coming on 70-73 mph curveballs with nice depth. He also displayed a knack for throwing off hitters' timing by varying the tempo of his delivery, helping his lively 89-93 mph fastball play above its velocity.
Liberatore was one of several players who made positive impressions in front of a crowd of scouts at Wrigley Field. Here are 11 more, listed alphabetically:
Blaze Alexander, INF, Bishop Verot High (Fort Myers, Fla.)
Alexander played shortstop, second base and third base, and he looked sharp at all three positions. He showed off the strongest infield arm among high schoolers in the middle of a 4-6-3 double play in the first inning and ended a seventh-inning threat with a heads-up play at third base. Alexander cleanly fielded a hard grounder behind the bag and tagged out Jordan Groshans (Magnolia High School, Texas) after he had wandered too far up the line.
Braxton Ashcraft, RHP, Robinson (Texas) High
The most efficient of the game's pitchers, Ashcraft required just 10 pitches to work a perfect fifth inning. He struck out the first two batters he faced on 80- and 86-mph sliders. Ashcraft only threw three fastballs, averaging 91 mph and getting swings and misses with two of them.
Tristan Casas, 1B, American Heritage School (Plantation, Fla.)
Casas might have the best raw power among the 2018 prepsters, and he showed it off by launching an opposite-field double to left in the eighth inning that drove in the Nationals' only run. He smoked a ball to the warning track in right in the third inning and hit a hard shot to left in the 10th, though both were caught. Casas also put on an impressive display during the pregame home run derby, finishing second in the first round with eight bombs.
J.T. Ginn, RHP, Brandon (Miss.) High
Ginn's first eight pitches in the eighth inning were fastballs: 96, 97, 95, 95, 95, 95, 95 and 96 mph. In addition to velocity, his heater stood out with its life and his ability to spot it on both corners. Ginn fanned Adams on a 97-mph heater and broke as many bats as he allowed hits (one) in two scoreless innings.
Nolan Gorman, 3B, Sandra Day O'Connor High (Ariz.)
The only hitter to solve Ginn, Gorman smashed a 96-mph fastball up the middle for a single, and he also drew a pair of walks. After winning the High School Home Run Derby at the All-Star Game, he added the Under Armour Home Run Derby title to his belt with a dramatic finish before the game. Gorman smashed his final pitch off the video board in right field to edge Nander de Sedas (Montverde Academy, Fla.).
Jordan Groshans, INF, Magnolia (Texas) High
Groshans jumped on a 92-mph fastball in the seventh inning, sending it the other way for a triple to right-center. He should have had another hit when he drilled a line drive to center in the second, but Alex Thomas (Mount Carmel High, Ill.) made a quick read and robbed him with a diving catch. Groshans also made one of the game's best defensive plays in the fifth, fielding a ground ball at second base after it had struck Ashcraft and throwing to retire Alexander.
Ethan Hankins, RHP, Forsyth Central High (Cumming, Ga.)
Hankins came out throwing fire in the top of the first inning, unleashing 12 fastballs -- none of which were under 95 mph. There were 10 pitches clocked at 97 mph in the game, and five belonged to Hankins. He also used his improving curveball to induce Kevin Vargas (International Baseball Academy, Salinas, P.R.), who had two of the Nationals' seven hits, to ground into a double play.
Jarred Kelenic, OF, Waukesha (Wis.) West High
One of the more polished hitters in the high school crop, Kelenic lived up to his reputation by lacing an opposite-field single and drawing two walks, coming around to score the winning run after his second free pass. He looked good going the other way against a 95-mph fastball from Kumar Rocker (North Oconee High, Bogart, Ga.), though all he got out of that at-bat was a lineout. Kelenic also stole two bases and would have had a third if he wasn't called out on a play in which replays indicated he was safe.
Kumar Rocker, RHP, North Oconee High (Bogart, Ga.)
The son of former NFL defensive lineman Tracy Rocker, Kumar is built for football at 6-foot-4 and 250 pounds. He followed Hankins, whom he's battling for the title of 2018's best prep pitching prospect, by sitting at 95 mph and recording a strikeout with an 83-mph slider. Thomas reached against Rocker on an error, but he shook it off to throw 10 of 13 pitches for strikes, generating five swings and misses.
Cole Wilcox, RHP, Heritage High (Ringgold, Ga.)
The third pitcher to hit 97 mph, Wilcox did it twice during the same at-bat while striking out Alexander. He zipped through a perfect third inning with 11 pitches, averaging 96 mph with his fastball and sitting at 83-85 with his slider.
Cole Winn, RHP, Silver Creek High (Longmont, Colo.)
Winn showcased the best curveball, using it to record all three of his outs in the sixth inning. Two of those came on strikeouts, including a called strikeout against Casas when his breaking ball bent back over the plate. Winn also operated at 92-93 mph with his fastball.