2017 Under Armour All-America Game Preview
The 10th installment of the Under Armour All-America Game will take place Saturday at Wrigley Field, offering evaluators a glimpse at some of the top high school talent.
The event, powered by Baseball Factory, has become one of the premier showcases of the summer circuit and has the number of drafted players (284) and first-round picks (83) who participated in the game to back that up. In the 2017 draft, nine former Under Armour All-Americans were selected in the first round, including Nos. 1 and 2 picks, Royce Lewis and Hunter Greene.
"We’ve tried to for years to make this a game that has the best amateur players in the U.S., Puerto Rico and Canada," said Baseball Factory executive vice president of baseball operations Steve Bernhardt, who oversees the player selection committee. "We’ve had a pretty good history of quality players who now are starting to make an impact at the highest level.
"For several years we’ve had some guys who have gone to college and done well and top prospects in the minor leagues—and we continue to have that—but it’s been nice to see some guys break through to play real well at the major league level."
Two former Under Armour All-Americans who have broken out in a big way in the bigs are righthanders Jameson Taillon (a 2009 All-American) and Jose Berrios (a 2011 All-American). Taillon leads the Pirates' starting rotation in fWAR (1.7) despite throwing just 73 innings this season, while Berrios cut his walk rate almost in half to lead the Twins rotation in fWAR (1.4) with 79.2 innings under his belt.
In the mind of Bernhardt, the purpose of the Under Armour All-America game is twofold: 1. to reward the top players who have been working hard from a young age and 2. to give the players a taste of what playing at the big level is like, and to continue motivating them to strive for that goal.
While the game on Saturday is the main event, players invited to Chicago take part in a four-day experience that includes gearing up with Under Armour, creating their own Bowman baseball cards, working out with former major leaguers and participating in a home run derby. Additionally, the event gives players the opportunity to participate in community outreach, which this year consists of working with kids at Northwestern's baseball field.
With only 40 players invited—38 members of the 2018 draft class and two members of the 2019 class—the selection process can be difficult, but it's one that Bernhardt and Baseball Factory have become increasingly comfortable with thanks to Baseball Factory events in every state and a help from evaluators within the industry.
"We try and get as much history on these players as possible," Bernhardt said. "We’ve been watching several of these guys for a couple years now. A majority of them attend Baseball Factory events where our scouts can see them in person.
"We certainly try and do our due diligence because we want to reward the best players at this event. We certainly go with our conviction as a scouting staff, but we do have a lot of resources out there from scouting directors, cross checkers, area scouts, summer ball coaches, college coaches, high school coaches—there are a lot of people we try and speak with to get background on these players, both on and off the field so ultimately we make what we feel are the right choices."
While each player is a prospect worth paying attention, the 2017 roster illustrates some interesting patterns, both regionally and by position, that are shaping the 2018 high school class as a whole.
"It seems extremely deep with pitching. The quality of arms at this point seems to go on and on," Bernhardt said. "The other interesting thing is the demographics shift geographically each year. Last year was really heavy with a lot of players from Southern California with Royce Lewis and Hunter Greene.
"Our roster is not very heavy with players from California this year. Just a couple. But a lot of players from Georgia and Florida. Not that that’s a big surprise, it just seems like it’s shifted back to the East Coast."
Scouts raved about the apparent pitching depth of the 2018 high school class after the Perfect Game National Showcase in June, and have long been aware of the amount of depth that resides in the Southeast. Three of the top four high school players in the class are Georgia products who Bernhardt mentioned specifically, in righthander Ethan Hankins (Forsyth Central High, Cumming, Ga.), righthander Kumar Rocker (North Oconee High, Bogart, Ga.) and catcher Will Banfield (Brookwood High, Snellville, Ga.).
And while those three are players who have been on the radar for some time, Bernhardt is also excited about other players who are talented but haven't received quite as much attention. Players such as Green Hope High (Cary, N.C.) outfielder Jordyn Adams, who is committed to North Carolina to play baseball and football, and Canadian outfielder Denzel Clarke.
We’re excited to see them," Bernhardt said. "It’s hard to say who’s going to shine on the big stage and throughout the fall and next spring leading up to the draft.
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"This is a nice time for those guys to be put in front of decision-makers and high-level scouts."