High school prospects put on display

All-American Game at Wrigley provides showcase of draftable players for big league scouts

Who doesn't like to window shop?

That's what I was doing Saturday at Wrigley Field, along with maybe 5,000 hard-core baseball fans and almost 200 scouts. We were watching Alex Jackson, Nick Gordon, Jacob Gatewood, Tyler Kolek and other baseball players entering their senior season of high school — guys who will be under consideration at the top of the board in next June's amateur draft.

Oh, also Dazmon Cameron, son of the center fielder the White Sox traded for Paul Konerko. He's only a junior, so pro teams will have to wait until 2015 for him.

Cameron, like the others, made his presence felt in workouts leading up to the annual showcase as much as in the UnderArmour All-American Game itself.

It's hard to see a whole lot in any one baseball game. Jackson, who is regarded widely as the best high school hitter in the class of 2014, was hitless in a sloppy game his American team won 8-7 over the National squad, and the imposing Kolek was all over the place with his fastball.

But to quote the MLB Network's Billy Ripken, it's easy to see "glimpses of what you can imagine.''

Byron Buxton, the 19-year-old Twins outfielder currently considered one of baseball's best minor-league prospects, stepped onto the national stage with his performance in this game two years ago.

"He had everything,'' said Ripken, who for the third year joined Larry Bowa as the game's managers. "When you talk about five tools, most of the time it's a myth. Most guys might have one or two and then carry a hammer and a wrench. But there are guys here that are that good. They're high school guys hitting with wooden bats, and it sounds like big-league batting practice. That's impressive.''

Never have teenage players meant so much to fans of Chicago's two teams. The White Sox are currently in line to pick third in next year's draft; the Cubs (who had the second pick this year), fourth.

You have to go back to 1987, in the Ken Griffey Jr. draft, to find a time both Chicago teams picked in the top five. That year the Cubs jumped on Mike Harkey with the fourth pick and the White Sox got Jack McDowell fifth.

North Carolina State lefty Carlos Rodon is a strong early favorite to be the first overall pick next year but it's anybody's guess what happens after that.

I would conjecture that with their first-round picks both the White Sox and Cubs will be looking more toward college players than any of the ones at Wrigley on Saturday, with the Sox crossing their fingers that an Evan Longoria or Troy Tulowitzki emerges during the season and the Cubs falling in love with the second-best college arm. I wouldn't put it past the Cubs' triumvirate Theo Epstein, Jed Hoyer and Jason McLeod to add one more high-profile position player if Jackson or Gordon are available but at some point they have to address pitching, right?

Some quick impressions:

•Gordon, a shortstop who is the son of longtime pitcher Tom Gordon and brother of the Dodgers shortstop Dee Gordon, was the best player on the field. He had three singles and ran wild on the bases while looking good in the field.

•Gatewood's power sets him aside as a shortstop prospect. He had put on a show in an exhibition at MLB's All-Star Home Run contest and won this one in the finals over Youngsville, La., catcher Chase Vallot. Gatewood hit at least two balls onto Waveland Avenue. He had trouble with some breaking pitches in the game, however.

•Kolek, is of interest to the White Sox (despite their need for hitting), had the day's best velocity, hitting 99 once and 98 three times, but never really settled in, allowing one run in a wild inning.

•Jackson was just lucky to survive. He collided with the 200-pound Vallot near first base and almost got drilled with a foul ball standing in the on-deck circle. Like all the other prospects, he had to be worn down as this event is the last of a busy summer before school resumes.

•No one had a better time than Simeon Career Academy's Darius Day, who started in center field and batted leadoff for the Nationals. He got a hit and stole a base before a large section of supporters, which should put him in a good mood before school starts.

"I never dreamed I'd have the opportunity to play at Wrigley,'' he said.

Glimpses of what you can imagine, indeed.

CHICAGO