E.A. Sports Today

Chance to impress

Top Southern prospects will get exposure to all 30 MLB teams, dozens of college coaches at today’s East Coast Pro trials; organizers praise Choccolocco Park

By Al Muskewitz
East Alabama Sports Today

OXFORD — For some 80 of the top high school baseball prospects in the south, the clock to becoming a future big-league draft pick starts today.

The majority of the high school seniors here certainly are set up to play Division I or junior college baseball, but the East Coast Pro Sectional Trials at Choccolocco Park will be for most their first exposure to scouts from all 30 major-league teams in one place in a competitive environment.

After a day of testing and modified games, the top 25 players will be selected for the Deep South team headed to the East Coast Pro Showcase in Tampa in August.

“If your goal is to play in the big leagues and you don’t (show up), shame on you,” said Miami Marlins area scout Mark Willoughby, the director of this year’s trials. “There are going to be some guys here (Tuesday) you’re going to know six months from now.”

Indeed. At least four players taken in the first three rounds of last week’s MLB Draft played in the East Coast Showcase last year – first-round Rangers signee Bubba Thompson of McGill-Toolen, second-round Brewers signee Caden Lemons of Vestavia Hills and third-round picks Jacob Heatherly of Cullman (Reds) and Jacob Pearson of Monroe, La., (Angels). Toronto Blue Jays’ 2015 AL MVP Josh Donaldson wasn’t drafted out of high school, but he also played in the ECP showcase.

“We as area scouts see these players locally, but for them to go to that event … it gives them a chance to compare themselves to the other players in the East Coast of the country,” said longtime Chicago White Sox scout Warren Hughes. “The best professional prospects, the high school prospects on the eastern side of the country, are at that East Coast event.

“It’s a premium event and it gives these kids, really, a chance to see for themselves where they stack up to the other better players in this part of the country and maybe what they need to do to improve or it spurs them on to really go back and work harder and get excited about the possibility of professional baseball. … It’s really hard to get a high school player taken high unless he’s seen in a venue like that where your bosses can come in and see them against the better guys.”

The main showcase has moved around in its lifetime, but it has only been recently the East Coast scouts have collectively held sectional workouts to choose their showcase teams. The event has been held in Wilmington, N.C.; Lakeland, Fla.; Syracuse, N.Y.; and now Tampa. Next year it goes to the Hoover Met.

The Deep South trials were headed to Hoover this year, but the Met was booked for a summer football event. Organizers then looked at Biloxi, but a conflict there kept it from happening.

Willoughby and Hughes were among two dozen scouts to visit Choccolocco Park on the opening weekend of the Alabama high school season and thought it would be a quality alternative. They hadn’t returned since that day, but the facility already has exceeded their expectations.

They plan to bring the sectional trials back to The Big House next year, possibly as a two-day event.

“It’s first class,” Willoughby said. “Really, it’s a big-league facility other than the size and the stands. It’s got everything you need – and more. It’s above and beyond anything we expected. Everything we’ve seen so far, I don’t see any reason why we can’t be here for a long time.”

Today’s activities begin at 8 a.m. Games start at noon.

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