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Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Bonus babies, past and future

Posted by on Wed, Jun 24, 2009 at 7:25 PM

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NATIONAL TRAINING COMPLEX/CARY Today I'm at USA Baseball's "Tournament of Stars," an 18U event that matches all-star teams from most of the major national youth baseball organizations.

It's certainly a showcase, but another key reason for it is to identify players for the 18U National Team, which will play in something called the COPABE Pan Am "AAA" (18U) Championships in late September in Barquisimeto, Venezuela.

The most certain pick of all is Bryce Harper, who was MVP of the 16U National Team last year. Harper, who won't turn 17 until the day before I turn 54 in October (think that isn't scary?) is being called the best prospect in a generation by just about everyone who gets paid to keep up with such things. He plays for the American Legion's team, which will take on the stars of the AABC (All-American Baseball Congress) in the first game today.

And there's good news - at least for me - when I get to the park. The 1 p.m. opener of the day, which was supposed to be played on one of the auxiliary fields, has been moved to the showcase stadium with the air-conditioned press box. They're estimating about 300 total pro and college scouts showing up for Harper's games, and they are in evidence again today.

Meanwhile, the National Team is playing its final scrimmage before the roster is cut to 22.

In the press box I renew acquaintances with Matt White (pictured), the former Durham Bulls pitcher from 2000-01 and big-time bonus baby with the then Tampa Bay Devil Rays who is now a volunteer assistant coach at Georgia Tech. White, who once played on the 18U team, will be its pitching coach this summer.

Fried chicken sandwich, cole slaw, some carrot cake that just hits the spot, and here we go.

In the first at-bat for Harper, who is batting third, he beats out an infield single in which the second baseman has to go into the hole and try to make the tough throw. But AABC lefty Griffin Murphy, from Redlands East in San Bernardino, Calif., catches him stealing.

AABC scores in the third as Scott Frazier of Upland, Calif., triples to right center and scores on a grounder by Ryan Ford from Plano West, Texas.

The alphabet boys score three more in the fourth. Frazier reaches on a throwing error to second baseman Marcus Littlewood of Pineview High in St. George, Utah, after Littlewood makes an athletic play to grab the grounder before his wild throw. Ford follows with a single to left center, and then with two out catcher Alex Lavisky of St. Edward in Cleveland, Ohio, rips a two-run double and Manny Machado of Brito Miami Private in Hialeah, Fla., adds an RBI double.

That rally chases Legion starter Logan Ehlers of Nebraska City and brings on Austin Wilson of Harvard-Westlake in Los Angeles, and AABC tacks on another run in the fifth on a walk, a wild pitch, a grounder and a sac fly.

The Legionnaires finally get on the board in the sixth, as Marco Gonzales of Rocky Mountain in Fort Collins, Colo., hits a one-out single to right and scores on a triple to right from Littlewood.

Legion reliever Michael Wacha of Texarkana strikes out four AABC boys in the eighth, with Frazier reaching on a two-out wild pitch.

Harper doubles to left to lead off with eighth and hustles on the basepaths, taking third on a wild pitch and scoring on a throwing error from catcher Lavisky. That starts a two-run rally.

Frazier strikes out Harper to end the game with nobody on and AABC wins 5-3.

Drew Woodall, a rising senior catcher from Athens Drive High who is committed to Charleston Southern, is Harper's backup behind the plate. He goes 0-for-2 with a fly ball and a strikeout.

Here's what they said:

Harper: "I think I did all right. My throws were good. I went 2-for-5 today and 1-for-3 yesterday against some great pitching. Baseball's a game of failure. You can't hit a home run every time. A-Rod goes 0-for-4 sometimes. 3-for-10 puts you in the Hall of Fame."

Woodall: "This is the biggest event I've ever been in. Obviously I'm not mad about not playing because I'm behind (Harper). He's a really nice guy."

Frazier: "I was just trying to keep (Harper) off balance. I gave him changeups, and then fastballs up in the zone."

What does it all mean?

That AABC is 2-0 and the Legionnaires 0-2 in pool play for the tournament, which ends Sunday.

Stars of the game

1. Murphy, for the solid start.

2. Frazier, who had the only triple, the save and scored two runs.

3. Lavisky, for his two-run double.

Play of the game

Lavisky's two-run double in the fourth.

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