12 players to watch at the Tournament of Stars
CARY, N.C. -- The summer showcase schedule is well underway. The Perfect Game National Showcase wrapped up on Monday, and attention now shifts to the USA Baseball National Training Complex in Cary for the annual Tournament of Stars.
The event, running Wednesday-Sunday, brings together 109 of the nation's best high school players who are eligible for the 18U National Team (born in 1997 or '98). Participants form the main pool of talent from which USA Baseball will select that National Team, which will compete at the 2015 WBSC 18U World Cup in Osaka, Japan, later this summer.
It also creates one-stop shopping for scouts as they continue to evaluate the top talent for next year's Draft class. The summer is crucial for all organizations to get as many looks as possible. It's often when opinions are cemented, seeing these prepsters against good competition and in good weather, neither of which are guarantees during a high school season. The TOS certainly had tons of talent a year ago. Six first-round picks (and many others in the early rounds) participated a year ago:
No. 5 Kyle Tucker, OF, Astros
No. 14 Kolby Allard, LHP, Braves
No. 15 Trent Clark, OF, Brewers
No. 22 Beau Burrows, RHP, Tigers
No. 32 Ke'Bryan Hayes, 3B, Pirates
No. 36 Ryan Mountcastle, SS, Orioles
And it's not like last year was the only time this event, or the 18U National Team, has been talent-rich. The squad has won gold at five of the last six international 18U events. Alumni of the 18U National Team include recently elected Hall of Famer John Smoltz as well as No.1 overall picks in the Draft -- Joe Mauer (2001), Delmon Young ('03), Justin Upton ('05), Luke Hochevar ('06) and Bryce Harper ('10). Additionally, '05 American League Rookie of the Year Huston Street played in the '01 TOS and Harper, the '12 National League Rookie of the Year, played in the '09 event.
In other words, it makes sense to keep an eye on this year's Tournament of Stars rosters. MLB.com is making that easier this week with a series of broadcasts that will allow fans to see each of the six teams. The broadcast schedule starts on Wednesday and runs through Sunday's Gold Medal Game.
Wednesday, June 23
Pride vs. Free, 10 a.m. ET
Thursday, June 24
Brave vs. United, 10 a.m.
Stripes vs. Free, 4 p.m.
Friday, June 25
No games scheduled
Saturday, June 26
Stripes vs. Pride, 10 a.m.
Stars vs. United, 4 p.m
Sunday, June 28
Gold Medal Game, 12:30 p.m.
Nearly every year, players jump onto the radar at Tournament of Stars, but several are already there. Here's a primer of players to watch when you tune in:
Braxton Garrett, LHP, Florence (Ala.) High School: The southpaw really knows how to pitch, with a fastball that can touch the low-90s (he was 88-90 mph at the PG National Showcase) and a very good curveball. He's a strike thrower who knows how to set up hitters well.
Kevin Gowdy, RHP, Santa Barbara (Calif.) Senior High School: The Californian right-hander is tall (6-foot-4) and projectable. At the Perfect Game National Showcase last week, he threw his fastball in the 91-94 mph range with outstanding command along with a very good low-80s slider.
Nicholas Quintana, INF, Arbor View High School (Las Vegas): Quintana's older brother, Zach, was a third-round pick of the Brewers and is now pitching in the Braves' system. Nicholas is a good defender at shortstop and has good bat speed at the plate.
Forrest Whitley, RHP, Alamo Heights High School (San Antonio, Texas): If you like big, hard throwers, then Whitley is the guy to watch. The 6-foot-7 right-hander can crank it up to 95-96 mph regularly.
Cooper Johnson, C, Carmel Catholic High School (Mundelein, Ill.): The 6-foot, 200-pound backstop is one of the better catch-and-throw guys in the high school crop. His glove is ahead of his bat right now, but he has some strength, with more of a middle-of-the-field approach right now.
Alex Speas, RHP, McEachern High School (Powder Springs, Ga.): Athletic and projectable, Speas can dial it up to 95-96 mph with ease and might have the best pure arm strength of this group. He combines it with a hard slider and is extremely projectable.
Jason Groome, LHP, IMG Academy (Bradenton, Fla.): He's originally from New Jersey and now plays for IMG Academy. He's projectable at 6-foot-6 and could very well be the best lefty in the class, one who maintains his 90-94 mph velocity with good secondary stuff and command.
Blake Rutherford, OF, Chaminade College Prep (Canoga Park, Calif.): Rutherford played for the 18U team last year as an underclassman. He can really hit, with a smooth swing and raw power from the left side of the plate.
Thomas Dillard II, C/1B, Briarcrest Christian (Eads, Tenn.): If Johnson is glove over bat, Dillard is his opposite. Dillard is a switch-hitter with big power from both sides, but his offense is ahead of his work behind the plate.
Reginald Lawson, RHP, Victor Valley High School (Adealnto, Calif.): Lawson is another tall and projectable right-hander. The 6-foot-4 hurler has a loose arm and was up to 93 mph at PG National last week.
Austin Bergner, RHP, Windermere (Fla.) Prep: Bergner is big and athletic, and also a good position player, and he played for the 18U squad last year as an underclassman. The 6-foot-4 right-hander can touch the mid-90s now with a good breaking ball, and there's room for more.
Hagen Danner, RHP, Huntington Beach (Calif.) High School: We'll throw in one underclassman for good measure. Danner loves pitching here at the USA Baseball complex, having turned in a 13-strikeout gem in March's National High School Invitational with an outstanding fastball and a better curve than an incoming junior should have.