USA Baseball’s Tournament of Stars is an annual event held in Cary, N.C., that serves as a tryout for the 18U national team trials roster. Six teams that include more than 100 players compete in a tournament-style showcase over six days, and USA Baseball selects 40 players for the trial roster who then compete for 20 spots on the team that will go to the World Baseball Softball Confederation 18U World Cup, set for Aug. 28-Sept. 6 in Japan.
For scouts, TOS represents the No. 2 stop on the high-school summer showcase circuit after PG National, and it’s a prime opportunity for evaluators to watch many of the nation’s best draft-eligible high-school players do battle against each other while hitting with a wood bat. Often, showcase performance factors heavily into a prep prospect’s evaluation and helps put relatively unknown players on the map. This was the case for Cardinals first-rounder Nick Plummer, whose outstanding play on the summer circuit carried more weight since he played in a Michigan high-school league that starts the count at 1-1, thus complicating the evaluation. Another recent example is Manny Machado, who emerged from relative obscurity and turned heads at the 2010 TOS and East Coast Pro showcases. He became a high-level follow for Florida area scouts entering the spring, and you know the rest.
Obligatory caveat: It’s much too early to forecast round-selection ranges for any draft prospect. But narrative summaries of what happened at TOS don’t provide any useful context for which players are separating themselves, and that’s what a ranking does. From my looks at these players over five days, the first 12 seem like solid candidates for the first round at this moment in time, while the rest should garner top-three rounds consideration.
P.S. Sorry for the 30-grade quality of some of these videos. For a few of the games, USA Baseball staffers set up nets behind home plate so they could evaluate from the field, so I was filming through their nets as well as the netting in front of my seat and thus had unfortunate focus issues.
1. Jason Groome, LHP, IMG Academy (FL) | Commitment: Vanderbilt
Groome firmly established himself as an early 1-1 candidate at TOS, working 94-96 mph with a feel for pitching that goes well beyond his 16 years of age. At 6-foot-6, the ball comes out effortlessly from a clean arm action and mid-3/4 release with good downhill angle. He paired the heater with a 75-78 mph curveball that spun tightly in its 1-to-7 orbit with two-plane depth (you can’t miss it in the video, even through the double netting), mixing in a promising changeup with good arm speed. The scout section was atypically mum throughout his three-inning start, which concluded with six strikeouts as he threw 30 of his 48 pitches for strikes. With more physical strength coming and a chance for three plus pitches, Groome is as advanced as a 16-year-old pitcher can be and has no discernible ceiling with these tools at this age.
2. Will Benson, RF, The Westminster Schools (GA) | Commitment: Duke
Like Machado in 2010, Benson was a relative unknown before TOS who’s now in the running to be considered the best prep position player in the class. You’re going to hear infinity comparisons to Jason Heyward before next June, as he bats left, throws left and screams projection with an athletic 6-foot-5 frame. The bat speed is premium, producing echoes throughout the USA Baseball training complex whenever he squared up in batting practice. He’s also a plus runner (6.58 60-yard dash) and showed loose, fast-twitch actions in the field to go along with at least above-average arm strength, giving him a clean right-field profile as he adds bulk and loses a step. Over four games Benson hit .357 (5-for-14), anchored by a 4-for-4 performance on Saturday during which he turned on an 87 mph fastball up the first-base line for a stand-up triple before tripling again on Sunday. The plate approach is raw and he’s very pull-oriented at this stage of his development, but the tools are loud and his performance validated them.
3. Blake Rutherford, CF, Chaminade College Prep (CA) | Commitment: UCLA
Rutherford has a lithe, athletic build with strength projection in his 6-foot-2 frame, and like Benson, has a chance at five average or better tools. He has a pretty swing from the left side with a line-drive path and very good bat speed, which resulted in some loud batting practices and could one day translate to 55 game power. With above-average run times (6.67 60-yard dash, 4.13 home to first), fluid actions and at least average arm strength, it’s a true center-field profile with a raw skill set that recalls Grady Sizemore, except he throws with his right hand.
4. Forrest Whitley, RHP, Alamo Heights HS (TX) | Commitment: Florida State
Whitley also fell into the relatively unknown category before his TOS put him in the conversation as a darkhorse to compete with Riley Pint for best prep righty in the class. With workhorse specs of 6-foot-7, 240 pounds, he has an impressive combination of physicality, stuff and pitchability. His fastball registered between 92 and 94 mph and peaked at 95, velocity born from lower-half leverage that also helps create downhill plane. The most impressive secondary is a 78-80 mph hook with good rotation that projects as an above-average pitch, mixing in an 89-90 mph cutter and an 82-85 mph changeup.
5. Mickey Moniak, CF, La Costa Canyon HS (CA) | Commitment: UCLA
Moniak has the most advanced hit tool on this list with a quick, contact-oriented stroke and advanced pitch recognition that helped him hit .400 (6-for-15) with just one strikeout in four games. He’s also a plus runner (6.63 60-yard dash) with maybe average future pop whose athleticism and instinctive approach to the game shows in all phases. The quintessential Moniak sequence came on the second day of the tournament when he knocked his way on base, stole second, then stole third and did the same thing all over again in his next time at-bat. The arm strength is well below-average, but it’s a fun center-field package to watch.
6. Alex Speas, RHP, McEachern HS (GA) | Commitment: Mississippi State
There were lots of interesting arms at this event, but Speas was my favorite to watch and kicks off a pitcher run here. He’s a little unusual: a 6-foot-4 loose athlete who grips it, rips it and throws enough strikes for someone with such good arm speed and velocity. He sat 92-95 mph in each of his two outings, touching 96 in the second one while mixing in a cutter, slider, curveball and changeup. The cutter, slider and changeup tend to bleed together, as they all feature similar cut action and velocity bands, prompting whispering inquiries among scouts as to which pitch was which. But there’s a whole lot to work with here, as he appears comfortable with the basic ideas of pitching and has the raw athletic composition to make adjustments more seamlessly than the average bear.
7. Braxton Garrett, LHP, Florence HS (AL) | Commitment: Vanderbilt
Garrett has a wiry, narrow build at 6-foot-3 with looseness in his low-effort, athletic motion. The ball comes out easily from his mid-3/4 release point, with his fastball sitting in the 89-91 mph range, peaking at 92 with occasional arm-side run. He has an impressive feel for offspeed and pitching in general, as he throws a 1-to-7 curveball at 79-81 mph that projects above-average and shows good arm speed on an 81-83 mph changeup that fades when it’s thrown right. The next frontier is throwing more strikes, as his fastball command suffers due to a back leg that’s slow to get over the front side.
8. Kevin Gowdy, RHP, Santa Barbara Senior HS (CA) | Commitment: UCLA
Gowdy works easily from a loose yet repeatable delivery, which helped him locate 54 of his 84 pitches for strikes and stand out for having the best command on this list. His fastball settles in at 90-92 mph and features occasional tail, with more velocity coming as he fills out an athletic 6-foot-4, 170-pound frame. His 81-83 mph slider projects as at least an average pitch thanks to tight spin with some bite and tilt, and his changeup also shows promise.
9. Austin Bergner, RHP, Windemere Prep (FL) | Commitment: North Carolina
Bergner goes a very lean 6-foot-4 with plenty of natural strength on the way. He got roughed up a bit after struggling with control in his first outing, but showed a better version of himself in the second outing with a fastball that ranged from 90-92 mph and touched 93. He also mixed in an 11-to-5 spinball at 74-75 mph with good rotation and a beginner’s changeup, both projectable offerings. The delivery is an upright one that reduces angle, but it’s a quick arm with feel to pitch as part of an overall package upon which it’s easy to dream.
10. Ian Anderson, RHP, Shenendehowa East HS (NY) | Commitment: Vanderbilt
Anderson is the third Vandy commit on this list and yet another righty with both physical and spin projection. He bumps 94 mph before parking his heater in the low-90s, and he should tick up as he adds strength to a 6-foot-3, 170-pound frame. With a quick arm that works well, he pitches with minimal effort while getting solid fastball plane. He also has two promising secondaries that include his 78-80 mph curveball, an 11-to-5 breaker with some bite and average or better potential, as well as an 83-85 mph changeup.
11. Cooper Johnson, C, Carmel Catholic HS (IL) | Commitment: Mississippi
Johnson may be the best defensive backstop in this year’s prep class with athletic receiving actions, plus arm strength and advanced instincts for the position. He also looks the part thanks to strong wrists and lean, muscular legs that are the defining attributes of his compact 6-foot, 200-pound build. His soft, quick hands transfer the ball reliably on the way to a short arm action, which helped him produce multiple pop times under 1.85. At the plate, he stays short to the ball with very good bat speed that should produce future average raw power.
12. Jeffrey Belge, LHP, Anthony Henninger HS (NY) | Commitment: St. John’s
Belge’s physicality really jumps out with strong, broad shoulders and a muscular lower half that altogether measure 6-foot-4, 235 pounds, which makes his present polish feel unexpected. It’s an effortless motion that produces a fastball that registers between 88 and 90 mph and reaches 91 with good angle, which he complements with an 85-87 mph two-seamer that features darting sink. He changes his arm slot when throwing a 1-to-7 curveball that arrives at 74-77 mph, but it has at least average potential, as does his 78-80 mph changeup.
13. Erik Miller, LHP, De Smet Jesuit HS (MO) | Commitment: Stanford
Miller’s fastball never got above 90 mph at TOS, but then he was selected as part of the 40-man team trials roster and later peaked at 93 while sitting in the low-90s. Sloped off at the shoulders, he measures 6-foot-5, 210 pounds and has an easy – albeit somewhat stiff – delivery with a clean release from his high-3/4 release point that creates solid angle. His low-70s curveball is a bit slow, but it will snap at the plate and flash average from time to time. It’s not as pretty as you want to see, but a physical lefty with average or better velocity and rudimentary feel for spin is something you’re forced to like.
14. Max Kranick, RHP, Valley View HS (CA) | Commitment: Virginia
Kranick has a high-waisted, 6-foot-3 build that’s ideal for lean muscle gain with some intriguing athletic attributes. There’s some effort in his release, but he’s got a fast arm and enough looseness in his delivery to expect his fastball to step forward from its current 90-92 mph velocity band. His 75-78 mph curveball shows depth in its 11-to-5 shape, and he’s got the basic idea of throwing his 83-84 mph changeup.
15. Nick Quintana, INF, John W. North HS (CA) | Commitment: Southern California
Quintana is a polished hitter who made hard contact to both power alleys, hitting .429 (6-for-14) with two doubles. At 6-foot, 200 pounds, he plays with relative ease and is close to developing average raw power, which his balanced, compact swing is already converting to games. A fringy runner who alternated between shortstop and second base in games, his limited range is better suited for the latter where his average arm strength and smooth fielding actions will play just fine.