Batter, catcher, umpire, runner, shortstop, left fielder, all focused at Garden State Games.
The 8th Garden State Underclass Games at Diamond Nation certainly had a unique kind of energy. It was the kind of energy 100 college prospects and more than 100 college coaches can generate at a showcase. But it was more than that.
There was an energy added to the mix that can only be created by loss. There clearly was much anticipation for the annual event that attracts college scouts from dozens of states. The pandemic wiped out high school baseball and the Underclass Games a year ago and that created a mood at this year’s event that can only be equated with a class reunion.
“It was surreal,” said T.J. Hunt of Prep Baseball Report. “It had been a long time coming and even the coaches were chomping at the bit to get out. It was almost like reuniting with old friends.”
Division 1 college coaches had been just released on June 8 from their recruiting shackles placed on them by the NCAA at the advent of the pandemic in March of 2020. It was a recruiting purgatory, if you will, that lasted a ghastly 15 months.
While the coaches enjoyed a jovial night of reunion, it was still an evening at the office, their preferred office, to evaluate the deep well of baseball talent New Jersey supplies each year to the college ranks. And Diamond Nation, with its expansive facility of seven turfed diamonds, five of them for high school level ball, provides the perfect venue and sightlines for the type of evaluation college coaches rely upon to find that talent that fills their rosters.
“Some guys I’ve seen, some I haven’t,” said Hunt. “So, it’s cool to see them all come together in one spot.”
The Underclass Games brings together the top high school baseball prospects to form four 25-man teams that play a pair of 10-inning games, showcasing their talent for the college audience. The void in college recruiting last spring and summer made the event organizers make some changes on which prospects were invited.
“We’ve invited the most uncommitted players ever to the games to showcase their skills in front of the college scouts,” said Diamond Nation recruiting coordinator Steve DiTrolio. “We were intent on filling that void in college recruiting caused by the pandemic. Everyone was pleased. Talent was at an all-time high and T.J. and major league scout John Kroeger made huge contributions toward the success of the event.”
DiTrolio said his team invited Prep Baseball Reports Top 25 New Jersey recruits, then concentrating its efforts on players who had yet to commit to a college. There were a total of 83 uncommitted high school players competing in the games.
“I think Steve was trying to keep a feel for it being a top prospect event,” said Hunt, “but also being a major recruiting event. There was a good mix of guys competing against non-commits, which gave us a real good look at the non-commits.”
There were 57 juniors, 50 sophomores and one freshman competing in the event. On top of that, Diamond Nation brought in 40 of the top 7th- and 8th-graders in the state to compete in the Futures Game.
Hunt and DiTrolio were thrilled with how the new format worked out and that feeling was reciprocated by the college scouts.
There were many memorable performances, for sure, as well as some eye-openers, in regard to a number of the uncommitted prospects.
“There were a ton of guys with pitchability,” said Hunt, who shared his thoughts below on what he saw.
Nazier Mule, SS/RHP, Passaic Tech (Miami): The Miami recruit sat at 95. He hit 97 during the high school season. He has a different arm. It’s like the torch has been passed from Jack Leiter (Delbarton/Vanderbilt)-to-Chase Petty (Mainland/Florida) to Naz’.
Kyle McCoy, LHP, Hunterdon Central: He was outstanding. He was at 90-91. He and guys like Zach Crotchfelt, LHP, Jackson Memorial, showcased why they are top guys.
Jack Renaud, RHP, Ranney: We didn’t know much about him. He’s a 2023. He was pretty clean on video and looked good at the games. He was 89-90.
Other pitchers who stood out were guys getting some early press, such as Jason Cozzi (2023), Bridgewater-Raritan, Colin Dowlen (2022), Middletown North, and Andrew Goldan (2022), St. Joseph (Met.).
The hitters who turned heads were Jack Cannizzaro, a catcher/first baseman, 2022 from Don Bosco Prep. He had a grand slam and a double and really raised his stock, and Andrew Fischer (2022) of Wall, a Duke commit, was launching in BP.
Chase Fischer of Hunterdon Central, an uncommitted 2022, was a physical bat. He is always on the barrel and he’s a guy who had a successful high school year. We’ve seen him a bunch.
Part of the Underclass Games evaluation occurs before the games begin when the players take their swings in batting practice and are worked out in Infield/Outfield drills. That gives the college coaches a chance to evaluate players’ physical mechanics and how they react to a in a little more intense environment.
There were a handful of standouts out in the pre-game workouts.
Chris Maldonado, SS, Seton Hall Prep, is always smooth in the field and looked good again. Lorenzo Meola, SS, Watchung Hills, plays hard and you can see that right away. Both are 2022s. Maldonado is committed to Clemson and Meola is bound for Stetson.
Dom Bello, Pope John, has really improved to become a legit guy in his class (2023). He throws well and he’s gotten stronger. He’s already maturing into that guy we knew he could be.
Drew Wyers, Northern Burlington, is a guy we knew a little about and who stood out at third base, shortstop and at bat. He’s a very physical kid. He’s committed to Stetson.
We also liked Dan Ciprian, Linden. He’s an uncommitted 2023. He’s slender, has smooth hands, moves well in the middle infield and barrels the bat.