With the 2013 MLB Draft just a week away, the conversation is heating up on the top ranked players, most of who typically hail from the all too familiar states of California, Texas and Florida. However, another southern state – Georgia – has become a hot bed for baseball talent on a grand scale, says Albert Chen in this week’s Sports Illustrated. The Peach State is home to players such as reigning National League MVP Buster Posey, Cardinals ace Adam Wainwright, the No. 2 overall pick of last year’s draft Byron Buxton and two of this year’s top draft prospects, fiery slugger Clint Frazier and tall left-handed swinger Austin Meadows.
“This territory now is as aggressively scouted as Florida, Texas and California,” says Atlanta Braves team president John Schuerholz, , of Georgia’s growing relevance in baseball breeding. “Those were always the hotbed states. And then this talent source awakened and continues to grow and expand. It started in the immediate Atlanta area, and now it’s all throughout the state.” (PAGES 50-51)
Hot prospects Meadows and Frazier live only 10 miles from one another and are former travel teammates. While Georgia is known for its traveling powerhouse amateur program East Cobb Baseball, a surge in new traveling programs allowed the two to stay close to home while contributing to the rising power of Team Elite.
“Before I was drafted, I’d already seen the country and played against the best of the best in the country,” says Jason Heyward, a Georgia native and East Cobb alum who has been Atlanta’s starting rightfielder since he was a 20-year-old rookie in 2010. “Without those experiences, there’s no way I’d be where I am right now.” (PAGE 52)
While mock drafts have both Meadows and Frazier going at varying numbers, they consistently remain in the top 10. Frazier’s explosive homerun numbers, 14 in the 2013 regular season and only nine short of a Georgia state record, and Meadows enormous potential, he stands at 6’3” and 212 pounds and batted .535 and had 17 steals this spring, has scouts licking their chops.
When Frazier was in the seventh grade he would sometimes take batting practice with the local high school team, “He’d be parking balls over the fence. Everyone would stop what they were doing and watch him hit,” says Jeff Segars, Frazier’s high school coach. (PAGE 53)
“He’s one of those rare guys where the sound of the ball off the bat is different,” explains Jed Hixson, Meadows’ coach, of the developing star. “His power will come. And it will be big.” (PAGE 53)
Chen notes that over the last three years, Georgia high schools have had nearly as many first-round draft picks (16) as Texas (18), a state with more than double their population. Chen finds that Georgia is turning out prospects at a rate unforeseen by a state of its size before. Over the last three years Georgia high schools have had nearly as many first-round draft picks (16) as Texas (18), a state with more than double their population.
“I think scouts are wise to spend a lot of time here,” says Schuerholz. “I just wish they wouldn’t.” Says an NL Executive on scouting in Georgia, “The G.M.’s of teams that don’t are committing malpractice.” (PAGE 51).
The Manny Machado story is about a young talent coinciding with a franchise’s return to glory. In this week’s SPORTS ILLUSTRATED, senior writer Albert Chen says that while last season was the year of Trout and Harper, Machado proved to be another member from the 2012 rookie class that left his mark.
Machado, 20, got the call to the Baltimore Orioles last August. He was on a team bus, somewhere in the middle of Pennsylvania, when his Double A manager, Gary Kendall, told him he was headed to the majors. Shortly thereafter, his phone rang. “Welcome to the Show, bro…battle for D.C./Baltimore supremacy: It’s on,” said Nationals All-Star Bryce Harper (PAGE 45).
Machado didn’t set the world on fire like Trout and Harper, but he did have an early impact. Only three other third basemen who were 20 or younger since the Dead Ball era had a higher slugging percentage than Machado’s .445. Despite having played just two games at third base in the minors, he was called on to play the hot corner for a team in the middle of its first pennant race in well over a decade. “We took a leap of faith [calling him up], and what this young man has done for us? Huge,” says Baltimore G.M. Dan Duquette, whose team reached the postseason for the first time since 1997 (PAGE 46).
Machado is the youngest player in baseball history with a multi-homer game that early in his career. He also scored the winning run in the game that clinched a postseason berth for the Orioles and homered in Game 3 of the Division Series against the Yankees. “Manny Machado’s career is about to get real loud, real soon,” says Harper (PAGE 45).
Chen notes that sometimes teams need to take that leap of faith when grappling with the difficult decision of when to call up a prized prospect. In 2012, the average age of position players was 28.5, the lowest since 1993. As baseball’s best talent gets younger, teams are facing tougher choices over when to fast-track prodigies. “If we want to win, he needs to be up,” says Baltimore’s minor league infield coordinator Bobby Dickerson (PAGE 48).
Machado says his work ethic comes from his mother Rosa Nunez, a single mother who worked long hours at an export company to provide for him and his sister. “We’d have practice at 3:15, and he was out there before everyone else at 1:30 doing his work. Later at night he’d hit at the cages, and then go to the park and take more ground balls,” says Lazaro Fundora, Machado’s high school coach (PAGE 49).
Machado has arrived in the big leagues because the Orioles had faith. “I’m thankful every day that I got a chance,” says Machado (PAGE 49).
The Cleveland Indians lost 94 games last season playing in one of the most tortured sports cities in America, but after the hiring of a new manager and some Yankees-like offseason spending, senior writer Albert Chen says that the club has improved and could even be October material.
Chen compares the new-look Indians to their fictional counterparts from the movie Major League, who after a horrible season rebounded to win the World Series with a tribe of eccentric personalities. There’s new manager Terry Francona (a Cleveland native), the signing of Nick Swisher (The highest paid free agent in Indians history), the late signing of speedster center fielder Michael Bourn, and the acquisition of young pitcher Trevor Bauer, who a year ago was thought to be the future of the Diamondbacks rotation. The Indians were “The boldest team in the American League this winter” a rival executive tells Chen. (PAGE 52)
When Bourn signed three weeks ago, the Indians sold more season tickets than they did in any other single month over the last four years. “There weren’t many scenarios where we thought we would get both Swisher and Bourn, but we saw an opportunity that we had to take,” Says Indians GM Chris Antonetti. (PAGE 54)
After four straight losing seasons, maybe this is the kind of team that will bring winning back to Cleveland. “I tell these guys, let’s start winning and bring the magic back. The city is so hungry for this,” says Jason Giambi, who is trying to make the team at age 42. (PAGE 55).
So far in spring training, this new tribe has been refreshing, eccentric, and entertaining. Nick Swisher, a guy who constantly spreads good karma around the clubhouse will give the Indians lineup that was ranked second to last in the league last season the punch it needs. “This is just the beginning,” Swisher says, “of another great made-for-Hollywood story, bro.” (PAGE 55)
They’ve never met each other and made their millions playing different sports, but Hall of Fame basketball player David Robinson and Detroit Tiger right fielder Torii Hunter are now linked together in a very special way. In this week’s SPORTS ILLUSTRATED, Staff writer Albert Chen (@albertcchen) describes how both fathers will be watching their talented sons, both of them wide receivers out of Texas high schools and prized prospects, play football together next season at Notre Dame.
Corey Robinson, an honor student (4.4 GPA, in the top 10 of his class) who also has a love for music and the hopes to become a doctor or lawyer never had much athletic ability growing up. He bloomed into an incredible and talented athlete at a late age just like his father, who has had reservations about his son playing on the gridiron:
“I’ve always thought football was crazy, to be honest,” David says. “A sport with a 100-percent injury rate for pro players?” (PAGE 54)
Similar to Corey Robinson, Torii Hunter Jr. was eager to make his own path and did so by excelling at both football and baseball. Torri Jr. will always have a passion for baseball and will continue playing next year at Notre Dame as well. Torri Jr. says:
“I wanted to make my own path…I just happen to be good at football” (PAGE 55)
Tori Sr. too has concerns about his son’s health with football. He says “Eventually he’ll have to make a choice. He went to Notre Dame to play football. But if he’s a first-round pick in baseball? Who Knows?” (PAGE 56)
Their fathers may have complicated feelings about their sons playing the dangerous game of football, but they also see how hard their boys have worked and how badly they want to establish their own identities.
The Dream Team’s Legendary Scrimmage: Michael Jordan vs. Magic Johnson
Royce White’s Fear of Flying Makes Him the NBA Draft’s Mystery Pick
Giancarlo Stanton Leaves His Imprint on Outfield Walls and Scoreboards
Drug-Free Cyclists Prepare for the Tour De France and Olympics
(NEW YORK – June 28, 2012) – Twenty-nine teams should be very afraid, because LeBron James has breached the championship levee, just as Michael Jordan did in 1991. Jordan was 28, and he won five more titles in the next seven years, even with a break for baseball. James is 27, and for the first time, he will get to play, as Heat president Pat Riley acknowledged, “with freedom.” LeBron making good on his promise to bring an NBA Championship to South Beach is the cover story for the July 2, 2012 issue of Sports Illustrated, on newsstands now.
James punctuated one of the best regular seasons in the modern era with one of the best playoffs, leading the Heat with 30.3 points, 9.7 rebounds and 5.6 assists, while shooting 50% and guarding everyone from Carmelo Anthony and Rajon Rondo to Russell Westbrook and Kevin Durant. In the series clinching Game 5 versus the Thunder he scored 26 points with 11 rebounds and 13 assists, eight of which led to three-pointers by five different teammates, accounting for 60 points in a 121–106 throttling of the Thunder.
“It’s time to make a new challenge. I’ve got to figure out what that is. I know I can get better. And I know I’m not satisfied with one of these. That’s the next challenge to do it again.” said LeBron James.
Senior writer Lee Jenkins points out that the championship could not have been won without a change in philosophy from one of the team’s best players. LeBron couldn’t carry the Heat if Dwyane Wade was going to claim the load.
“He basically looked at me one day and told me, ‘I need you to lead this team now,’ ”James says. “And then he did it during games. He’d say, ‘I need you to lead us right here.’ ” By the time the playoffs began, roles were defined. James was the headliner. Wade, suffering from an injured left knee, was the sidekick. “It was hard for me to do it,” Wade admits, “but it was easy for me to do it for the team.”
THE GREATEST GAME NOBODY EVER SAW – JACK MCCALLUM (@JackMcCallum)
The Dream Team, arguably the most dominant squad ever assembled in any sport, played 14 games 20 years ago, and their smallest margin of victory was 32 points. The toughest competition faced by the best team in basketball history was at a closed scrimmage in Monaco between sides led by Michael Jordan and Magic Johnson. The details of the game remained a secret to the world for nearly 20 years, until now.
Most of the 12 names on the roster remain familiar to fans decades later, and all are members of the Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame. The common matrices of statistical comparison are simply not relevant in the case of the Dream Team, whose members could be evaluated only when they played each other. The video of that scrimmage, therefore, is the holy grail of basketball.
“You have a tape? Of that game? Man, everybody asks me about that Game. It was the most fun I ever had on a basketball court,” said Michael Jordan.
THE MYSTERY PICK IS ROYCE WHITE – PABLO TORRE (@SIPabloTorre)
Iowa State’s Royce White was the only player in Division I to lead his team in points, rebounds, assists, steals and blocks. College coaches around the country praise his all-around game, but his spot in this Thursday’s NBA draft remains a mystery. He has been projected to be a lottery pick or end up in the second round. The main reason for this is that White has a generalized anxiety disorder and suffers from a severe fear of flying, which worries many NBA executives.
White was allowed to drive to a few games last season, but in sit-downs with White, NBA officials have warned him that the pros will be less accommodating. The Heat informed him that they won’t allow a player to drive from even Miami to Orlando. White said, “It’s understandable. But in my head, I’m going, you want me to drive. You’re paying me millions of dollars to perform … the point is, we’re not all alike.”
Royce’s talent is not lost on his contemporaries as none of the projected top 15 picks have agreed to work out against White for NBA teams. During the second round of the NCAA tournament against Kentucky, a game that was close into the second half, White had 23 points, nine rebounds, four assists and three steals. Projected No.1 pick Anthony Davis said after the game, “Royce was beating us by himself.”
NAME CHANGER, GAME CHANGER – ALBERT CHEN
Long before he became Giancarlo Stanton, the young Marlins slugger left an unmistakable imprint – on scouts, not to mention countless outfield walls and scoreboards. The outfielder was called up to the big leagues as a 20-year old along with the legend of having bludgeoned baseballs out of ballparks and into parking lots, golf courses and lakes. Before games opposing players and coaches linger to watch Stanton take batting practice. This past May, Stanton had historic month, hitting .343 with 12 home runs and 30 RBIs to become the youngest player since Joe DiMaggio to reach those totals in any month.
Stanton mashed 56 home runs after his first two seasons in the majors, only Ken Griffey Jr. and Alex Rodriguez had as many before age 22 in the last 45 years. His teammates call him by his nickname: Bigfoot.
“He does things no human should be able to do. The only guy I have ever heard players talk about like they talk about [Stanton] is Darryl Strawberry,” said teammate Randy Choate.
“People have said that homegrown power arms is the most important commodity in the game, but the middle-of-the-order, 30-home-run guy is becoming almost as valuable, given how few of them there are now,” said an American League G.M.
I SEE LONDON, I SEE FRANCE – AUSTIN MURPHY (@si_AustinMurphy)
Cycling has been plagued by doping scandals for years, but recent USADA regulations have made cheating much more difficult. Today’s top cyclists are minutes slower than athletes in EPO’s heyday. And with the 99thTour de France and 2012 London Olympics quickly approaching, spectators are bound to see a more authentic competition than in previous Games.
“Performances are less predictable, more human and, – as a result, more exciting,” write Austin Murphy.
In this article, Austin Murphy evaluates the top Olympic and Tour riders. Despite injuries and training challenges, Brad Wiggins and Mark Cavendish, two Brits on a British-based squad called Team Sky should dominate the field at both major events.
“Ten days after the Tour, Wiggins will roll down the ramp at Hampton Court Palace, hard by the Thames, as one of the favorites in the Olympic 44-km time trial around London,” writes Murphy.
SCORECARD: RINGING MOMENT ON CENTRE COURT – S.L. PRICE
It can be argued that tennis at the Olympics holds little weight in the game. Majors aside, there are 10 other tournaments this year that count more in the rankings than the London Games. This time however, the normal math can’t apply, because the Olympics will be held at Wimbledon and Wimbledon is where tennis gods are made. It’s no accident that Novak Djokovic of Serbia and Rafael Nadal of Spain will serve as their nations’ flag bearers in the opening ceremony—and that Roger Federer is an odds-on favorite to do likewise for Switzerland.
If the Olympics are indeed the showcase for the planet’s best athletes, it’s only right that the three who’ve pushed the men’s game to unprecedented heights will be out front.
POINT AFTER: LIGHT FROM THE DARKNESS – PHIL TAYLOR (@SI_PhilTaylor)
Last week, Jerry Sandusky was found guilty on 45 of 48 counts of sexual abuse, the two-week trial reminded us all of over again of the revolting nature of his crimes. But from that darkness came some light. A groundswell at the legislative level, university level and the grassroots level has emerged to fight back against pedophiles. Victims have been emboldened to come forward.
Dan Rost, a sophomore from Franklin County, Pa., along with three other students founded the One Heart Campaign to raise money and awareness to help fight child abuse. Rost said, “I had no clue how prevalent an issue this was until then. Then I did some research and realized this was not just a Sandusky issue, not just a Penn State issue, but a national issue. I decided I didn’t want to live in a culture in which this was such a widespread problem, so I decided to see what could be done about it.”
INSIDE THE WEEK IN SPORTS
- NHL (page 31): Value Added – NHL free agency begins this Sunday and some big names could be changing teams. But the player most likely to reap the richest rewards is a defenseman many hockey fans have never heard of. (@MichaelFarber3)
- MLB (page 30) East or Famine – With interleague play done for the year, the game’s balance of power tilts decidedly to the right side of the map. (@joe_sheenhan)
- Soccer (page 32) The Case for Cristiano – Lionel Messi may be more beloved, but the Euros confirm the claim of his rival, Cristiano Ronaldo, to the title of 2012 world player of the year. (@GrantWahl)
THIS WEEK’S FACES IN THE CROWD (page 22)
- Matt Nesmith (North Augusta, S.C./North Augusta High) – Golf
- Danielle Aragon (Billings, Mont./Billings High) –Track and Field
- Bakawsu Kinteh (Suwanee, Ga./Lambert High) – Soccer
- Gina Medina Van Arsdall (Glendale, Ariz./Phoenix College) – Softball
- Dayton Silva (Manhattan Beach, Calif./MiraCosta College) – Surfing
- Gabrielle Clark (Chicago, Ill./Emory University) – Tennis
- Dillon Pottish (East Quogue, N.Y./Emory University) – Tennis