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Under Armour game a pipeline for Draft talent

CHICAGO -- As summer nears an end for students across the country, 38 of the best high school players in the U.S., Canada, Puerto Rico and Dominican Republic are ready to close their summer event schedule with the 2012 Under Armour All-America Baseball Game on Saturday at Wrigley Field.

The game, the last of the summer-showcase circuit, has proven throughout the years to attract some of the top young names in high school baseball. And it's just as exciting for Under Armour and Baseball Factory, the organization that runs the program.

"It's a special week for us to give an opportunity to some of the best players in the country to come out and play at Wrigley Field and to have it broadcast on the MLB Network," Baseball Factory executive vice president of baseball operations Steve Bernhardt said. "It's a special thing for them, and we get excited to come out here, as well."

The game can be viewed live on MLB Network at 12:35 p.m. CT. Numerous Under Armour Game alumni have been selected in Major League Baseball's annual First-Year Player Draft, while one, right-hander Jacob Turner of the Marlins, already has made it to the Majors.

Among those selected in the first round of this past June's Draft who played in last year's game are outfielder Byron Buxton (No. 2 overall), shortstop Gavin Cecchini (No. 12), right-hander Nick Travieso (No. 14), catcher Stryker Trahan (No. 26), catcher Clint Coulter (No. 27), outfielder Lewis Brinson (No. 29) and right-hander Ty Hensley (No. 30).

Shortstop Addison Russell (No. 11) and right-hander Lance McCullers Jr. (No. 41) also were chosen in the first round after playing in the 2010 game.

Other standout alumni include Pirates right-handed prospect Jameson Taillon, the No. 5 overall prospect in's player rankings, and Royals outfield prospect Bubba Starling, the No. 12 overall prospect. Minor League right-hander Zack Wheeler ('s No. 21 prospect), third baseman Nick Castellanos (No. 40), shortstop Nick Franklin (No. 41) and outfielder Jake Marisnick (No. 46) also have participated.

There once again will be no shortage of talent in Saturday's game. Such standouts like right-hander/outfielder Clint Frazier (Loganville (Ga.) High School) and first baseman/outfielder/left-hander Dominic Smith (Serra HS (Calif.)) will be in attendance, as well as left-hander/outfielder Trey Ball (New Castle HS (Ind.)) -- the top two-way player in the class.

But one thing the Under Armour Game prides itself on is putting both big-name and unheralded talent on the field. The best example is outfielder Brandon Nimmo, who was chosen in the first round of the 2011 Draft by the Mets after earning MVP honors at the event, despite going to a Wyoming high school that didn't have a baseball team.

This year, Bernhardt said right-hander Hunter Harvey from Catawba, N.C., is one of the top under-the-radar guys. Harvey's father, Bryan, was a two-time All-Star in the Majors, but Saturday's game will provide some scouts with their first look at Hunter.

"He's a little bit of an old-school, throwback type of player," Bernhardt said. "He stays around his hometown of North Carolina, plays for the American Legion team, plays with his friends and hasn't traveled a lot on a lot of these select teams to a lot of different tournaments."

And, of course, another thing that makes the event special is the Wrigley Field factor.

Bernhardt remembers calling a young player and inviting him to the inaugural game in 2008. Bernhardt was telling the player the weekly itinerary and all that comes with the event. After he finished his pitch, the phone line was quiet for about 30 seconds.

"'Now, sir, let me just make sure I heard this right,'" Bernhardt recalled the players saying. "'I'm going to pitch on the mound of Wrigley Field?' It was neat. It's an exciting thing, and for some guys it takes a little while to sink in."

The players, who worked out for scouts Friday on the University of Illinois-Chicago's campus, already went to Wrigley Field on Wednesday for a stadium tour and welcome banquet. On Saturday, they will get to sit in the same dugout and play on the same field as some of the greatest players in the history of the game.

"I think it takes it to a different level when they get to change in the same clubhouse that guys from Babe Ruth to Lou Gehrig to these guys -- Albert Pujols has sat in that same clubhouse," Bernhardt said. "When they walk down those tunnels and are actually at field level with the green grass and the ivy, I think that's kind of that second time when it really does sink for them."