The summer baseball circuit is about to heat up and for a trio of local 2020 prospects, there’s no hotter town than Naples, Fla.
Hayden shortstop Ben Abernathy is entering his third summer playing for the Perfect Game Baseball Association and he convinced his head coach, Artie Clyde, to take a look at a couple of his crosstown rivals. Mortimer Jordan pitcher Griffin Busby and right fielder Garrett Pannell joined others in a tryout at Hayden High School last summer, and both rising seniors scored an invitation to play for Clyde’s U18 club this summer.
“We ran our 60s, fielded our positions, hit in the cage a little bit and I threw off the mound,” said Busby of the tryout process that landed him an opportunity for great exposure.
According to Abernathy, a West Virginia pledge, scouts and coaches show up in large numbers to summer tournaments in South Florida.
“We played in a tournament last year in Jupiter, Fla. and it’s the biggest tournament in the country as far as exposure. The top teams in the country are there. Last year there was over 1,000 golf carts, each rented by a university or an organization—MLB organizations, minor league, NAIA, juco, DIII, DII, DI—there were 1,000 golf carts there,” said Abernathy.
“The competition down there is the next generation of MLB baseball players, no doubt,” he continued. “Everybody down there is next-level, so it’s probably the best competition you can get.”
Pannell, Busby and Abernathy will play for the Southern Squeeze Organization for more than a month this summer, and Mortimer Jordan head coach Shayne Carnes sees an opportunity that high school baseball simply can’t provide.
“As a high school coach, you always want to be protective of your guys but I can’t provide, during the high school baseball season, the type of exposure they can get from going and playing during the summer,” said Carnes. “College coaches have the ability during the summer to watch these guys play because their season is not in at that time.”
For Carnes, summer baseball programs represent another opportunity for his players to take the field and see more pitches, which could translate to more wins come next April.
“Of course you as a high school baseball coach would like to be able to coach your guys all summer, but playing travel ball is really a great thing because they’re getting seen by coaches from all over the country,” said Carnes.
“The more reps they get, the more games they play, the better off they’re going to be,” he continued. “The opportunity for these guys to go play against some really, really good competition is definitely going to make them better because when you play against people that are equally as good as you or maybe a little bit better, that elevates your game.”
Busby (2-1) pitched 21 1/3 innings for the Blue Devils in 2019 while striking out 27 batters to go with 10 walks. Pannell missed most of the season with an injury, but finished with two hits and an RBI in his three at-bats for Mortimer Jordan.
Both return to Carnes’ roster next spring, as the Blue Devils look to get back into postseason play after missing the playoffs last season.