By Ben Friedl
Major League Baseball scouts armed with clipboards, tripods, and cameras comprised a majority of the crowd at Curtis Granderson Stadium at UIC on Sunday, as almost every top high school baseball prospect in the country took the field for the Under Armour All-America Game scouting showcase.
“Events like this are awesome,” Cleveland Indians assistant scout Matt Czechanski said. “You have really good arms against really good bats, and guys have the chance to prove themselves against the best competition.”
With the best high school talent from across the country in one place, it’s not only crucial for scouts to identify which 17 and 18-year-olds have the best projectability, but to pick out which players’ tools stand out above the rest.
“Events like this are tool based,” Czechanski said. “Arm strength, raw power, the adjustability of their swing are all things I look for.”
According to the Perfect Game baseball high school player rankings, top prospects such as infielder Blaze Jordan (#2) and outfielder Austin Hendrick (#3) took the field Sunday to put these skills on display.
Both players would back up their respective rankings, as Jordan would hit a multitude of home runs during batting practice while Hendrick launched one ball above the batter’s eye in center field.
“Hendrick was impressive,” one scout in attendance said. “ He’s got bat speed, power, and he can throw a little bit. It says a lot when you hit the ball over the batter’s eye.”
Another factor that scouts take into consideration is what part of the country the player is from. A majority of the players participating in the All-America game grew up in states with warm climates where baseball can be played year-round, as opposed to states where winter months end up shortening baseball seasons.
“A lot of the warm weather guys from Georgia, Florida, the deep south, and California– they are lightyears ahead of a lot of the cold weather guys from Illinois and Ohio.” said Astros scout Scott Oberhelman. “They’ve played more because they’ve been playing all-year for their entire lives.”
Oberhelman has a point. The figure below demonstrates that since 1901, the mean center for where baseball talent has moved is progressively south and west. It’s no coincidence the southern and western portions of the United States are regions where baseball can be played year-round– resulting in more reps and better talent.
While this has led to some of the best baseball talent being produced from these regions, Oberhelman attests that he could never discount a player from a cold climate like Chicago.
“The reality is if you can play, you can play,” Oberhelman said.
Regardless of where each player comes from, they had a chance to exhibit their talents in an exhibition game at Wrigley Field, a game that was not only broadcast live on MLB Network, but also was a game that scouts deem important in filling out a player’s scouting profile.
“You get to see them play in a big league stadium, which is a great first look as to what they could look like in the big leagues,” Arizona Diamondbacks scout Jeremy Kehrt said.
While the raw talent on display during Sunday’s showcase may garner some interest from scouts, the exhibition game Monday was when scouts watched whether raw talent translated into live-game productivity.
“I would rather have the guy who can play when the lights are on than the guy that kills it in BP, but when game time comes around, they can’t handle the bat,” said Oberhelman.