USA Baseball Prospect Classic begins Friday

USA Baseball Prospect Classic begins Friday

USA Baseball Prospect Classic begins Friday
CARY, N.C. -- The USA Baseball Prospect Classic, a two-game exhibition series pitting the 18 and under trials team against the Collegiate National Team which begins here on Friday is an idea that fans of amateur prospects may have wished had been created years ago.

A 2010 Prospect Classic would have had 13 players taken on Day 1 of this year's First-Year Player Draft, including eight of the top 20 picks and the No. 1 overall pick, Gerrit Cole.

Had the Classic existed in the summer of 2009, for instance, the top five picks in the following June's Draft would've been on the field at the same time. Bryce Harper, then a catcher, could have been behind the plate to catch No. 2 pick Jameson Taillon. The third pick, Manny Machado, was the shortstop on that 18U squad, facing the collegiate shortstop Christian Colon (No. 4) and lefty Drew Pomeranz (No. 5). Pomeranz, by the way, would have been throwing to the 12th overall selection, Yasmani Grandal.

Those names are more known among prospect fans now, but those in this inaugural Prospect Classic will become the Harpers and Pomeranzes of the 2012 Draft class. Those who come to Durham Bulls Athletic Park on Friday at 7 p.m. ET or the USA Baseball National Training Complex in Cary on Saturday at the same time, watch live scoring at www.usabaseball.com or watch on one-day tape delay on MLB Network at noon ET on Friday and Saturday will undoubtedly see a large majority of next year's first round.

"I think guys will be very excited," said former big leaguer Scott Brosius, who is in his first year managing the 18U team. "I hear them talking about getting to the college guys, getting the opportunity to play against different competition. A lot of these guys go from one event to another, they play each other. They don't play in the summer in what we would call meaningful-type games. They're more workout-type games.

"I'm really looking forward to it. I think the intensity is going to pick up and the guys are very excited to have the opportunity to play the college guys."

Brosius and his staff are still in decision-making mode and the two-day Classic will serve as the end of the first round of evaluations. The roster is currently at 40 and will be trimmed down to 28 after the conclusion of the two exhibition games. A total of 20 will go to the Pan Am Games in Colombia in late September. Results for these games may seem a bit secondary, but the 18U coaches will be watching carefully to see how the high schoolers deal with the level of competition they will face.

"I think you look to see which guys can handle the platform," Brosius said. "Being in a meaningful game like this is not much more different than what we'll be doing come October in the Pan Am Games. You look to see which guys feel comfortable in those types of moments and which guys can stay within themselves, be the players they are and not try to do too much. "

Among the teenagers who should gather the most interest are right-hander Lucas Giolito, perhaps the top prep arm in the Class of 2012, top lefty Hunter Virant, infielder Addison Russell and outfielders like Nick Williams and Albert Almora. Almora, who's playing with Team USA for the sixth time, is no stranger to advanced competition, both in playing against older kids for a number of years at home in Florida and in international competition. Still, when he learned about the Prospect Classic, he couldn't help but get fired up about it.

"I'm very excited," Almora said. "When I first found out we would be playing against the Collegiate Team, I had my eyes wide open. We're going to be in that position some other day. To see that kind of competition is going to be great. It's going to be one of the best experiences of my life, no doubt."

The college team will send some first-round talent in its own right, highlighted by Stanford's Mark Appel, considered by many to be the top college pitcher in the class. A starter normally, the right-hander is pitching in relief for Team USA. Texas A&M's Michael Wacha is also on the team and the 18U hitters might not find Duke closer Marcus Stroman, who has struck out every batter he has faced in four innings leading up to the Classic, very easy to hit. Arizona State shortstop Deven Marrero leads the college bats.

All of that talent from advanced college programs seemingly gives the College Team a decided advantage on paper in these games. And while the experience is the main thing -- the fact these games are televised will no doubt attract more talent to USA Baseball in future years -- there's no question that even the underdog teenage club would love nothing more than to surprise people with a win or two.

"It's going to be tough; I'm not going to say it's going to be easy," Almora said. "It's going to be one of the best competitions we've ever faced in our lives. We have to just go out there, play hard, have fun and let baseball do the talking. Baseball is a weird game; anybody can win one day."

Jonathan Mayo is a reporter for MLB.com and writes a blog,B3. Follow @JonathanMayoB3 on Twitter. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.