On Saturday, August 16, many of the nation’s elite high school baseball players will be in Chicago to participate in the 2014 Under Armour All American Game held annually at Wrigley Field. This is like Christmas day to me. Living in Chicago, this is really the only chance I get to see the best of the best at the high school level. For the first time ever, it will be a night game, with the scheduled start time at 6:05 p.m. CT and will be televised on the MLB Network. There will also be a home run derby scheduled to start at 4:00 p.m. Last year, Jacob Gatewood, Chase Vallot and Alex Jackson put on a show during the derby with Gatewood winning the event as he sent balls out of Wrigley with ease.
In part one of my preview, I discuss the 12 players I most look forward to seeing. After researching and watching video, here are the six pitchers and six hitters who stand out to me:
Justin Hooper, LHP, De LaSalle HS (CA)
The 6’-7” southpaw has been rising as fast as anyone in the 2015 MLB draft and is in talks for the top five picks. With his height and power arm from the left side, there is much to drool over. He touched 96 mph at Area Code Games and did the same at the Perfect Game AA Game this past week. He is devastating against left-handers, with glove side run, and he can locate both sides of the plate. He adds an above-average, upper-70s curveball with nice depth and will occasionally throw in a slider. His change-up is still developing. A very good athlete, the UCLA-commit has a ton of upside.
Mike Nikorak, RHP, Stroudsburg HS (PA)
Once Nikorak hit 97 mph at the Perfect Game National Showcase, he thrust himself into the spotlight as one of the elite arms in the nation. The 6’-5”, 205 pound right-hander has maintained that kind of velocity all summer, routinely sitting in the 91-95 mph range while showing off a tight, mid-70s curveball and average change-up. He is a terrific athlete who is also a star quarterback. Committed to Alabama.
Beau Burrows, RHP, Weatherford HS (TX)
Burrows is the latest power arm from the Lone Star State. At 6’-1” and 200 pounds, the right-hander doesn’t have the size of the prototypical Texas arm like Tyler Kolek, Josh Beckett or Kerry Wood, but he can flat out sling it just the same. He hit 96 mph at the PG AA and showed off an 81-85 mph change-up that flashes plus potential. He also adds an upper-70s, 12-6 curveball. His fastball has a spin rate of 2600 rpm, which is elite at any level. Committed to Texas A&M.
Ashe Russell, RHP, Cathedral HS (IN)
Another kid who has seen his draft stock soar all summer, the 6’-4”, 195 pound, lanky right-hander can dial his fastball up to 95 mph and adds an 80-82 breaking ball with all kinds of movement. At day one of the Area Code Games, he retired all 12 batters he faced, seven via strikeout. There is some effort in his delivery, but with his stuff and size, there is a ton of upside.
Thomas Szapucki, LHP, Dwyer HS (FL)
One of the guys I am really looking forward to seeing, Szapucki is a 6’-2”, 185 pound southpaw with a wicked 81-83 mph slider that turns out a spin rate of 2800+ rpm (2250 is considered elite for a college pitcher.) He also adds a fastball that can touch 93 mph with equally exceptional spin rates. He has an easy delivery and the change-up is still developing. Committed to Florida.
Juan Hillman, RHP, Olympia HS (FL)
A teammate of 2014 fifth-overall pick Nick Gordon, Hillman is a 6’-2”, 190 pound southpaw with plus command and a fastball that can touch 92 mph with more in the tank due to his athleticism and quick arm. He adds a potential plus 1-7 curveball with great depth and his change-up is already a solid offering. He has great mound presence and attacks hitters on both sides of the plate. Over 57.2 innings this year, he had 79 K/12 BB and allowed just 28 hits showing easy swing-and-miss stuff, as well as exceptional command. Committed to UCF.
Brendan Rodgers, SS, Lake Mary HS (FL)
At the Perfect Game National Showcase, Rodgers continued to show off his total package of skills. He threw 93 mph from across the infield, which was tops in the event. He ran a 6.7/60 and impressed scouts with his power and bat speed. The 6’-0”, 185 pound right-hander is a terrific athlete and a gifted defender, which will allow him to stick at a premium position at the next level. Offensively, he has great power potential, as well as a mature approach at the plate. Over 22 games as a junior, he hit .397/.488/.823 with five doubles, eight home runs, 10 walks and 10 strikeouts. He has established himself as the best prep hitter in the 2015 MLB draft. Committed to Florida State.
Daz Cameron, OF, Eagle’s Landing HS (GA)
Like Rodgers, Cameron has all the tools and makes the game look incredibly easy with his athleticism and instincts. You can tell he grew up around it as his dad is Mike Cameron, and he carries himself like a seasoned pro. He will stick at center field and his arm continues to get stronger as he has been clocked at 91 mph from the outfield with accuracy. He has plus speed (6.61/60) and his bat speed is electric. The 6’-1”, 185 pound right-hander will gain more power as he matures and he has superstar written all over him. Over 28 games as a junior, he hit .390/.523/.695 with seven doubles, six home runs, 11 stolen bases and 18 walks to just 12 strikeouts. Committed to Florida State.
Ryan Johnson, OF, College Station (TX)
Blessed with huge power and a canon arm (94 mph on the mound), Johnson is still raw in some areas but has serious upside. At 6’-3” and 200 pounds, the left-handed hitter drives the ball to all fields and has excellent bat speed. Over 30 games this season, he hit .494/.580/.865 with five doubles, five triples, six home runs and 12 walks to 13 strikeouts, showing good pitch recognition. Committed to TCU.
Chris Betts, C, Long Beach Wilson HS (CA)
A left-handed hitting catcher, Betts uses his excellent bat speed and advanced approach at the plate to spray the ball to all fields. At 6’-1’ and 200 pounds, more power should come as he matures and his offensive potential is ahead of his defense right now. He does have a strong enough arm and the athleticism to stick behind the plate, however, and that would only increase his draft stock. He has stood out for his hitting abilities at many of the top summer events/tournaments. Over 30 games, he hit .333/.426/.556 with three doubles, four home runs and 12 walks to 10 strikeouts. Committed to Tennessee.
Ryan Mountcastle, SS, Hagerty HS (FL)
Mountcastle’s best tool right now is his ability to hit, which he does really well. The ball explodes off the 6’-3”, 180 pound right-hander’s bat and he should develop even more power as he fills out. Defensively, he has fluid actions and a strong arm but some question his ability to remain at short. The bat and arm would play well at the hot corner, however, and he is a very good athlete with 6.77/60 times. An exciting player who could put on a show in the home run derby. Committed to UCF.
Kyle Tucker, OF, Plant HS (FL)
A 6’-4” left-handed hitter with tremendous power and an advanced approach at the plate, he also has bloodlines as his brother is Houston Astros prospect Preston Tucker. Kyle has shown an incredible ability to swing for the fences while hardly missing a pitch. Over the last two years, he has hit 18 home runs and has struck out just seven times over 51 games. His size suggests even more power will come as he matures, and he has great instincts in the outfield. He hit .556/.706/1.185 with nine home runs as a sophomore and hit .425/.537/.925 with nine home runs as a junior. Committed to Florida.
Feel free to follow me on Twitter @DanMKirby for MLB draft updates, high school and college news, as well as Chicago Cubs ramblings.