Pack, Willits take home States Play Invitational MVP honors

September 24th, 2023

TEMPE, Ariz. -- The curtains closed on the 2023 States Play Invitational from Tempe Diablo Stadium with a similar takeaway from what has been evident to any fan watching the Major League season: the next generation of ballplayers is young, fast and supremely talented.

Anthony Pack (Long Beach Millikan HS, Long Beach, Calif.) and Eli Willits (Fort Cobb-Broxton HS, Fort Cobb, Okla.) were named Co-MLB Develops MVPs presented by Chevrolet for the West squad, which won the series on the back of a resounding 10-2 victory on Sunday.

Pack topped all players with five stolen bases and five walks drawn, all while showcasing the defensive skill that has established him as one of the premier talents in the 2025 Draft class. Willits was the youngest player in attendance at the invite-only showcase, but he showed a skill set well beyond his years by collecting at least one RBI knock in all three games against some of the top arms from across the country.

“It was great just to be around all this good talent," Pack said. "Just to compete out here is great. Not just right now, but for the future. These guys are going to be big leaguers one day. So just to face these dudes and face them early is great for me.”

Five players who appeared in the 2018 and ‘19 iterations of States Play have gone on to make their Major League debuts, including the Royals’ Bobby Witt Jr., who is the first player in AL/NL history to record 20+ homers and 30+ steals in his first two seasons in The Show.

“I knew there was an MVP, but I didn't know I had a chance,” Willits said. “I saw Bobby Witt Jr. won it. So I just wanted to go out and produce and play the way I play.”

Pack was one of five players on hand in the desert to have appeared at the 2023 Hank Aaron Invitational in July, an opportunity for amateur players from diverse backgrounds to further their development both on and off the field. Currently uncommitted, the 16-year-old left-handed-hitting outfielder impressed evaluators with his ability to spray the ball to all fields, in addition to his quick hands and considerable bat speed.

The 5-foot-10 Pack rode his “speed never slumps” mentality to the award, while Willits embraced the underdog mentality.

“I knew coming in I was the youngest one, and I had nothing to lose because I was the youngest one,” Willits said.

The 6-foot switch-hitting middle infielder tore up East pitching. He swatted a pair of triples during Game 1 before icing a Game 2 victory on a hustle two-RBI double. A run-scoring knock in Game 3 was a capper on his weekend, with his six RBIs leading all participants. He even added one of the Invitational’s must-see defensive plays Friday, ranging into foul ground down the left-field line to make a catch.

Where States Play took place this year was even more special for Willits, as he starred for three days on the same diamond that his father, Reggie, did for the Los Angeles Angels during Spring Training from 2006-11. The two are on track to remain linked at the baseball hip, as Reggie currently serves as the associate head coach at Oklahoma, where Eli is committed as part of the 2026 class.

But for all the excitement Eli drew from playing under the illuminated big A, it was the presence of his mother in the stands that showcased what was best about the three-game series: unbridled support and passion for the game.

“She's the real one,” Willits said of mom Amber. “She's always there. She's been by my side ever since I was little, she takes me everywhere. So she's the real hero.”

After the final out was recorded, players from both sides came together for handshakes and hugs. Camaraderie was established over the weekend as the group bonded through various activities, including ping-pong and video games. Monday morning, all the participants will be back in class, no matter where in the country they traveled from. But they’ll take with them more than just the memories of playing on a big league Spring Training field, a stage they all hope to one day reach.

“I love each and every one of those guys over there,” Willits said of his fellow States Play participants. “We only got to play for three days, but it's like I have new brothers -- it's fun to make new friends and be able to compete with them.”

In addition to earning the praise and recognition of their peers while shining on a national stage, Pack and Willits were gifted one last surprise: tickets to a 2023 World Series game.

“Going to the World Series has always been a dream,” Pack said. “Just all those people, the surroundings, the atmosphere -- I can't wait for it, I'm excited.”