SARASOTA, Fla.--The White Sox created the Amateur City Elite program back in 2007 with the goal of providing inner city kids with opportunities in baseball. The ACE program has quickly developed a reputation in the Midwest; so far, 18 ACE alumni have been drafted and more than 150 have received college scholarships.
ACE's travel teams typically play in regional tournaments in the Midwest, but they took on another challenge this week when the White Sox 2019 graduates played in the Wilson Premier East Championships in Sarasota.
Kevin Coe, the White Sox director of youth baseball initiatives, felt that his crew was ready for another challenge.
"We usually stay in the Midwest and play our games in the Midwest," Coe said. "But we wanted to come down and see if we could hang with the South Florida big boys. I think we did pretty well down here."
ACE went 2-1 in pool play, then won two playoff games to advance to the quarterfinals, where they matched up against Power Baseball and rising junior lefthander Bryce Hubbart (West Orange High, Winter Garden, Fla.). Hubbart was dominant, showcasing projectable athleticism, advanced command of a mid-80s fastball (that bumped 88 mph) and a tight breaking ball that he was able to spot to either side of the plate.
Still, ACE battled. In the top of the seventh inning, trailing 3-1, nine-hole hitter Mike Bolton Jr. poked a ground ball through the right side of the infield. Following Bolton, Kendall Pettis came to the plate a smoked a hard line drive to left field for a double.
"He's got a bright future," Coe said of Pettis, a rising junior at Brother Rice High in Chicago. "He plays the game hard. He can really play."
Following Pettis, Damon Gladney Jr. hit a fly ball down the right field line that hooked foul by a matter of inches. A ground ball and a popup later, ACE was eliminated from the tournament.
"This is a very competitive group, they refuse to lose," Coe said. "It's one of our best groups yet. It's probably our best group since that 2013 group that had Corey Ray, Ro Coleman and Darius Day. We think a lot of these guys are going to go play big Division I baseball."
Wilson Premier Baseball national director Matt Bliven wasn't surprised to see the Chicago kids compete at a high level.
"They normally just play in regional tournaments and they always do well in those so I think this was kind of exciting for them to be on a bigger stage," Bliven said. "I knew that they could compete and I think that their kids knew once they stepped on the field that they could compete with anyone in this tournament."
It hasn't exactly been overnight, but ACE's development has been quick, and it doesn't appear to be slowing down any time soon. 2018 graduate Alek Thomas plays for ACE, and he's established himself as a potential early draft pick with a strong showing against elite competition so far this summer.
ACE players practice four to five days per week in the winter. The program rents an indoor facility in the southern suburbs of Chicago where players can hit and take ground balls. The players also have access to a weight room, and in the fall they work on ACT prep.
Coe says the program has had several players score high on the ACT, with some prospects scoring as high as 28s and 30s. For context, a 28 on the ACT is in the 90th percentile of all of those who take the test. College coaches like recruiting players with good test scores and good grades because their institutions can often provide more in the way of academic scholarships to supplement athletic scholarships.
Ten years after its inception, the ACE program is still developing; Coe hopes that they'll someday be able to provide a facility where ACE players can go on a daily basis. But the ACE program is well on its way. It's a well-oiled machine, competing on the national stage and churning out top prospects with regularity.