Russell among stars at Under Armour Game
Top pitching prospect in high school Class of 2015 impressed in pitching-centric game
CHICAGO -- Forty-one top amateur prospects gathered Saturday evening at Wrigley Field for the Under Armour All-America Game, the last major event on the summer showcase circuit. In a departure from the event's history, pitchers stole the show as the American team won 2-1 while striking out 15 and limiting the National squad to four hits.
Below is a list of the players (listed alphabetically) whose performances stood out the most, which is not to be confused with a prospect ranking. For instance, Lake Mary (Fla.) High shortstop Brandon Rodgers is the top-rated high schooler for the 2015 First-Year Player Draft, but he went 0-for-3 with a walk and didn't get the opportunity to do anything special in the field.
Luken Baker, RHP, Oak Ridge High (Conroe, Texas). Scouts say he's more of a prospect on the mound, where the physical 6-foot-4, 245-pounder threw 13 of 18 pitches for strikes in a scoreless third inning. Baker pitched at 91-94 mph with his fastball, which he used to record a pair of strikeouts. However, what stands out most with Baker is his massive right-handed power at the plate. He won the pregame home run derby, hitting seven balls onto Waveland Avenue behind the left-field stands and an eighth that struck the Toyota sign atop the bleacher in left-center -- all while using a wood bat. In his lone game at-bat, he rifled a first-pitch breaking ball to left field for a single that sparked the winning rally.
Daz Cameron, OF, Eagle's Landing Christian Academy (McDonough, Ga.). The son of former All-Star and Gold Glover Mike Cameron and the most acclaimed player in the game, he turned in the defensive play of the night. Hagerty High (Oviedo, Fla.) third baseman Ryan Mountcastle hit a sharp liner to center in the second inning, and Cameron robbed him of a hit with a quick break and diving catch. He didn't get a chance to show much at the plate, getting hit in the shoulder in his first plate appearance and walking in his second. Cameron's shoulder stiffened up, and he left the game after getting caught stealing in the top of the third.
Gray Fenter, RHP, West Memphis (Ark.) High. He earned the win by finishing the game with two scoreless innings, working a perfect eighth inning and pitching around two singles (one an infield hit) in the ninth. Fenter spins one of the nastier curveballs in the high school class, and he fanned Dominican outfielder Starling Heredia with a 79-mph hook in the ninth. He pitched mainly off his fastball and it was impressive as well, ranging from 91-94 mph and racking up a pair of strikeouts.
Juan Hillman, LHP, Olympia High (Orlando). In a game in which every pitcher reached at least 90 mph with his fastball, he might have had the least overpowering stuff. But Hillman has a quick arm and the potential for three solid-or-better pitches, and he breezed through the fifth inning by throwing 11 of 14 pitches for strikes. His fastball ranged from 88-91 mph, and he also registered a swing-and-miss with a 73-mph curve. He's part of the Olympia program that produced shortstop Nick Gordon, the fifth overall pick in the 2014 Draft by the Twins, and Nick's father Tom (the former big league All-Star) serves as Hillman's guardian.
Justin Hooper, LHP, De La Salle High (Concord, Calif.). The hardest-throwing prep pitcher in the Class of 2015, he lived up to that billing by becoming the only Under Armour All-American to register 95 mph. Hooper operated at 93-94 mph in a perfect fifth inning and also recorded a swinging strikeout with a 76-mph curveball. He's intimidating with his fastball and his 6-foot-7 frame, though some scouts believe his lack of a smooth delivery and reliable command may lead him to the bullpen.
Ryan Mountcastle, 3B, Hagerty High (Oviedo, Fla.). The MVP for the Nationals, his opposite-field double in the fourth drove in his team's only run. It was a nice piece of hitting, as Mountcastle didn't try to do too much with an 87-mph fastball on the outer half and lined it down the first-base line. A 6-foot-3, 180-pounder with nice bat speed, he could have average or better right-handed power once he fills out. Mountcastle could have gone 3-for-3, but Cameron snared his liner in the second and Columbus (Ga.) High second baseman Alonzo Jones Jr. robbed him on a grounder up the middle in the seventh.
Kyler Murray, 2B, Allen (Texas) High.The top-rated dual-threat quarterback prospect in the nation and the first player ever selected for both the Under Armour All-America baseball and football games, he had football practice Saturday morning and arrived at Wrigley 90 minutes before game time. Murray missed batting practice and had to settle for some soft toss on the stadium concourse, but he still managed to deliver two singles in three at-bats, including a hard liner to left. He also showed off his considerable speed by stealing second and third base in the seventh inning, outrunning the throw after getting a less-than-stellar jump on the first attempt. Committed to Texas A&M for football, he accounted for 4,478 yards and 57 touchdowns in the fall while leading Allen to its second straight state 5-A championship. Murray's father Kevin was an all-America quarterback for the Aggies and his uncle Calvin was a two-time first-round pick who spent five years in the big leagues.
Josh Naylor, 1B, St. Joan of Arc Catholic Secondary School (Mississauga, Ont.). He draws Prince Fielder comparisons because he's a 6-foot-1, 235-pound first baseman with huge left-handed power, which he displayed in the fourth inning. Naylor got the Nationals' first hit of the game, a booming opposite-field double into the left-center gap off an 88-mph fastball. He went hitless in his other three at-bats, striking out against a wicked slider from Cathedral High (Indianapolis) right-hander Ashe Russell in the second inning.
Mike Nikorak, RHP, Stroudsburg (Pa.) High. He had a nice beginning and end to his summer, hitting 97 mph and averaging 96 with his fastball at the first major event (the Perfect Game National Showcase) and striking out the first two batters he faced at Wrigley. Nikorak's whiffs came on a 79-mph curveball looking and a 93-mph fastball swinging. Nikorak peaked at 94 mph in Chicago and also showed an improved changeup, and some evaluators think he has a better chance to be an impact starter than any pitcher in the 2015 prep class.
Ashe Russell, RHP, Cathedral High (Indianapolis). Currently the top-rated pitching prospect in the high school Class of 2015, he showed the best two-pitch mix in the Under Armour Game. Working a 1-2-3 second inning, Russell fanned Naylor with back-to-back sharp sliders and finished the frame with a swinging strikeout on a 93-mph fastball. His heater topped out at 94. Russell has a fast arm, and while his lower arm slot makes some scouts wonder if he'll last as a starter, he gets tremendous life on his pitches.