August 13, 2007

The Aflac All-American High School Baseball Classic is the last major stop on the summer baseball circuit, and a pecking order among the elite players usually begins to take shape around that time.

This year's crop of prospects is top heavy with positional players but very deep with pitchers. RISE will unveil its list of the Top 50 prospects come January, but here's an early rundown of the names you can expect to see at the top of that list.

1. Tim Melville, Holt (Wentzville, Mo.), RHP/3B, 6-foot-5, 205

Analysis: Melville needed an extra suitcase to carry home all the hardware he picked up in San Diego. Named the Top Pitching Prospect, the Top Overall Prospect and the Jackie Robinson Award winner as the Player of the Year, Melville clearly separated himself from the field. As the West starter, he pitched a perfect inning with one strikeout and he flew out in his only at-bat of the game.

2. Eric Hosmer, American Heritage (Plantation, Fla.), 1B, 6-foot-4, 210

Analysis: Hosmer was a late arrival at Aflac, but the manner in which he arrived gives a good indication of how much talent he possesses. After leading his summer team, the Midland (Ohio) Redskins, to the Connie Mack World Series championship on Friday, Hosmer hopped on a private jet to ensure he arrived at Aflac on time for Saturday's game. He went 0-for-2 in the contest, but drew a leadoff walk in the ninth inning to get the East's rally started. He simply has the aura of a future major leaguer.

3. Tim Beckham, Griffin (Ga.), SS, 6-foot-2, 190

Analysis: The Aflac Game's MVP thanks to his three-RBI performance, Beckham falls into the Jose Reyes/Hanley Ramirez mold of speedy shortstops with some pop at the plate. Beckham's RBI triple was a good indication of his talent, as the right-handed hitter ripped the ball on a line to right-center that one-hopped the wall. Even though the hit was a laser, Beckham had the wheels to reach third base before the ball even reached the cutoff man.

4. Isaac Galloway, Los Osos (Rancho Cucamonga, Calif.), OF, 6-foot-3, 190

Analysis: Galloway was the only player to record multiple hits in the contest, and could have had a couple more if he wasn't taken out of the game in the fifth inning. As the West's designated hitter, Galloway wasn't able to showcase his defensive prowess or arm in the outfield, but all of his hitting tools were as good as advertised.

5. Ethan Martin, Stephens County (Toccoa, Ga.), 3B/RHP, 6-foot-3, 200

Analysis: Martin was the co-champion of the Home Run Derby thanks to an easy, fluid swing that produced some monster shots to left field. Certainly not the flashiest player at the game, but he's got the makeup of a clutch player who a team would want at the plate with the game on the line.

6. Aaron Hicks, Wilson (Long Beach, Calif.), OF/RHP, 6-foot, 160

Analysis: Yes, he took the loss for the West by giving up three runs in the ninth, but his East opponents couldn't stop raving about his stuff. Jordan Swagerty of Prestonwood Christian (Plano, Texas) faced the impossible task of catching Hicks in the ninth, and a catcher more experienced with Hicks' cut fastball and nasty splitter may have prevented a few of the wild pitches that helped keep the East's rally alive. Hicks, who won the Best Tools Award earlier in the week, remains the player with the most upside in the Class of 2008, even if he's not currently the most polished.

7. Michael Palazzone, Lassiter (Marietta, Ga.), RHP, 6-foot-4, 190

Analysis: The first true pitcher on the list, Palazzone flashed one of the best breaking balls at the Aflac Game. The East starter went two innings and allowed one run but also froze some of the West's best hitters with his fastball-curveball combination. Coming off a junior season in which he pitched just 30 innings as he battled an arm injury, it's clear Palazzone is back to full strength.

8. Kyle Skipworth, Patriot (Riverside, Calif.), C, 6-foot-3, 195

Analysis: Skipworth had the MVP swept out from under him thanks to the East's rally, but that hardly diminished his overall performance. The left-handed hitter, who earlier in the week won the Best Hitting Prospect Award, smoked a two-run home run down the left field line and added a sacrifice fly to match Beckham's total of three RBI for the game. Also the class' best defensive catcher, Skipworth may have saved his MVP if he had been catching Hicks in the ninth rather than Swagerty.

9. Gerrit Cole, Lutheran (Orange, Calif.), RHP, 6-foot-3, 190

Analysis: Cole boasted the best fastball of the day, touching 97 according to one scout's radar gun. He fanned two in his inning of work thanks to his heater and a filthy slider.

10. Sonny Gray, Smyrna (Tenn.), RHP, 6-foot, 185

Analysis: Gray chose not to pitch in the Aflac Game because it would have meant forfeiting his senior year of eligibility under a Tennessee Secondary School Athletic Association rule that bars participation in out-of-state All-Star games during the school year (school began Aug. 9 in Tennessee). Nevertheless, Gray proved over the course of the summer that he belongs in the discussion as the nation's top pitcher.

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