E.A. Sports Today

Time to shine

Top prospects in the South put their game on display for MLB scouts at Choccolocco Park Tuesday

By Al Muskewitz
East Alabama Sports Today

OXFORD — Big-league scouts are always on the go. No sooner has Major League Baseball put the wraps on this year’s Draft than the scouts are back out there beating the bushes for their 2018 picks.

To that end, there’s an event in town this week that could identify a first-rounder in next year’s draft and raise the profile of Choccolocco Park even higher.

Nearly 80 high school players from parts of six Southern states will take part in the East Coast Pro Sectional Trials Tuesday. From this pool, 25 players will be chosen for the Deep South (Marlins) team at the six-team national event Aug. 1-4 in Tampa.

Unlike similar showcases where players pay for the chance to be exposed to scouts and coaches, Tuesday’s event is run by major-league scouts and players are invited to participate at no cost besides the expense of getting there.

“There’s not a better event you can come to to be evaluated; you’re coming right to us,” said Mark Willoughby, the Miami Marlins area scout in charge of this year’s event. “Some of these showcases the players pay to attend, but we’re paid by our employers (teams) and we’ve identified players that someday we might want to be paying money to.”

The players, mostly seniors with a few highly promising underclassmen, will go through batting practice and infield/outfield, running and prospect development testing early in the day and then play a series of modified games in front of scouts from every major-league team. Approximately 70 college coaches and a handful of player agents are also expected to be in attendance.

The pool is expected to have a heavy Alabama presence, but players from Arkansas, Louisiana, Mississippi, West Tennessee and the Florida panhandle also will be here.

Among the players invited are Hattiesburg, Miss., outfielder Joe Gray Jr.; Brandon, Miss., right-handed pitcher J.T. Ginn; Mobile shortstop Jeremiah Jackson; 6-7 Corner right-hander Sam Knowlton; T.R. Miller 1B/OF Drew Williamson, an Alabama commitment; Hoover catcher Peyton Wilson; Hartselle left-hander Garrett Wade, an Auburn commitment; and Maurice Hampton, a rising junior from Memphis committed to LSU for baseball and football.

Gray played at Choccolocco Park last May in the Excel Memorial Wood Bat Classic with his Biloxi-based TPL National 17U team that included signed 2016 Texas Rangers’ first-round pick Bubba Thompson.

“We’re inviting a universe of players because we’re trying to promote the game at all levels,” Willoughby said. “There are a lot of good players here and most these kids are known names. You’re going to see some really good arms, some good bats, some good athletes.”

Two Oxford players also have places in the pool – outfielder/pitcher Brody Syer and pitcher Jarin Turner. Syer is an uncommitted rising senior recently named to the Class 6A All-State first team (utility). Turner is a rising junior who remains committed to Alabama even through the Tide’s coaching change.

“For Brody to get out there and perform in front of 50-70 (college) coaches is huge for his future in baseball,” Oxford coach Wes Brooks said. “Of course Turner being already an Alabama commitment and the (new) Alabama coaching staff have already said they were going to be there it will give them a chance to see him and, like, re-recruit him because they really don’t know him.”

It was kind of a roundabout way Choccolocco Park got the event in the first place. It originally was going to Hoover, where the final stage of next year’s East Coast Pro will be held, but the Hoover Met was booked and outfitted for a 7-on-7 football tournament. The alternative date offered conflicted with the Draft, so the scouts looked elsewhere.

That would have been Biloxi, but another conflict nixed that choice. Willoughby and his peers had been in Choccolocco Park on Opening Day and thought with its location, proximity to the interstate and lodging options it made a great alternative.

Willoughby already has booked the event for the Big House next year and there’s talk of making it a more permanent relationship.

“They’ve rolled out the red carpet and we’re indebted to them,” he said. “They’ve really stepped up and gone out of their way to help us put this event on. I think it’s something we can grow in the future. Based on what interaction we’ve had so far there, between the hospitality and communications, I don’t see why it won’t be a big success.”

Tuesday’s Game Schedule
All games at Choccolocco Park Signature Field

Noon – Team Louisiana/Arkansas vs. Team Mississippi/Tennessee
3 p.m. – Team Alabama/Florida vs. Team Louisiana/Arkansas
6 p.m. – Team Mississippi/Tennessee vs. Team Alabama/Florida

FORMAT: Each pitcher will throw to five hitters or 35 pitches; hitters will stay in batter’s box after HBP or BB; runners at first must steal within first three pitches first time on base; if first four hitters of an inning are retired, leadoff man goes to first and must steal second; each game will be six innings.

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