Major League Baseball will conduct its 57th draft next week, starting with the first round Sunday in Denver, the revised site of this year’s All-Star Game. If you’re a fan of the game in our region, you will want to pay attention the first day.
According to Baseball America, both Pennsylvania and New Jersey are four-star states in terms of draft talent. The magazine lists 26 players from Pennsylvania who could be drafted, including Lonnie White Jr., the star outfielder from Malvern Prep who also has a scholarship to play football at Penn State. White is listed as BA’s No. 31 prospect.
BA lists 27 players from New Jersey who could be drafted, including Bishop Eustace Prep lefty Anthony Solometo, the 28th-ranked prospect, and Mainland High School righthander Chase Petty, who is listed at No. 29.
It is unquestionably the most talented group of players in our area’s history and there’s a reason behind the growth. Training sites like the Baseball Performance Academy in Pleasantville, N.J., which sits about two miles off the Atlantic City Expressway, have sprung up around the area over the last five years and offered instruction geared specifically toward making better baseball players.
Petty, a Linwood, N.J., resident, started working out at the Shore-area site co-owned by Mike Adams and Ed Charlton as a freshman in 2017 and developed into one of the best high school pitchers in the country with a fastball that consistently sits between 95 and 97 mph, but he has also lit up radar guns as high as 102.
“When he started with us, he was probably 83 to 85,” Adams said during a recent interview from Allentown, where he is a member of the Phillies’ triple-A Lehigh Valley pitching staff. “When we first got him, there obviously was a really good arm talent there and he was really skinny and frail, so for us we decided we are really going to take our time in order to move him properly.
“We had to clean up some mechanical issues that he had and then we worked on his base strength. From there, we implemented PlyoCare balls and then weighted balls and we implemented philosophy-based training stuff in an effort to give him good mechanics and a good strength base.”
While the draft figures to be a dream come true for players like Petty, Solometo and White, it is also a realization of a dream for Adams and Charlton, two kids who grew up near the Jersey Shore playing baseball together. After their college careers ended in 2015, they played together in Rockland, N.Y., in the Cam-Am Association and discussed starting their baseball business.
“Basically when I was in college [at Wagner], Driveline was first starting up and I was kind of following them and I was trying to figure out what kind of stuff they were doing,” Adams said. “It led me down a path of wanting to know why and how in terms of what they were doing. Obviously, pitching over the last couple of years has really taken a step forward and I think there are a lot of smart people out there and there are a lot of smart facilities that are helping guys get better.”
Driveline, a training facility in Kent, Wash., founded in 2012 by Kyle Boddy, has revolutionized the way players train while opening the door to a generation of pitchers with increased velocity.
“It made me watch guys who could throw 100 mph and I studied their training modules,” Adams said. “From there, I implemented certain things into what I was doing and I tried to figure out what similarities they all had with each other. Driveline definitely led me down that path to figure out what we were trying to do.”
As it turned out, it also led him back to professional baseball. During personal workouts, which were supposed to be test trials for his teaching, Adams’ velocity spiked to 98 mph, leading to a tryout and minor-league contract with the Phillies in January.
Thanks in part to the draft hoopla surrounding Petty during the South Jersey high school season, Adams’ business is also booming. The result, according to Charlton, is a better brand of baseball in the area.
“Baseball is a sport that if you only do it for three months out of the year, you’re not going to be good at it,” Charlton said. “It’s a really hard sport because there are so many things involved — fielding, hitting, pitching and the mental side of the game. There’s so much to work on if you actually want to get way better. When Mike and I were in high school, there was nothing like this for us that really specialized in the development of our baseball skills.
“When I was at St. Augustine Prep, we had one Division I kid on our team. Now it seems like every team has at least three Division I kids. Don Bosco Prep in North Jersey had 16 D1 kids this year. That’s insane.”
Charlton works with the hitters at the Baseball Development Center and among his clients is Joey Loperfido, an outfielder from Haddonfield who hit a team-high .374 with 8 home runs and a 1.085 OPS at Duke this season. He is listed at No. 243 on BA’s top 500 list and is also likely to be drafted.
The Baseball Development Center is also the workout home for Jake McKenna, a pitcher from Ocean City High School who signed with the Phillies after last year’s five-round draft. Minnesota Twins pitcher Sean Mooney (Ocean City) is also among the many professional players who work out at the facility, and Baltimore’s Matt Harvey stopped in for some training advice over the winter.
Adams said the center is different than Driveline because it is more geared toward high school and college kids. He also believes it offers a lot more than a method for adding velocity to a fastball or swing analysis.
“I know when I went to high school the way to train for baseball was to play other sports, and now there is something that you can do the entire year to make yourself a better player, so that is definitely playing a huge role,” Adams said. “But I think the biggest thing we do with young kids is set the standard for a work ethic that these guys will need to have going forward.
“We expect guys to come five days a week and we expect them to be there for two or three hours. If they do that, they are going to get marginally better no matter what else they are doing. And then we also implement the knowledge and the specific training with different modules and all that kind of stuff.”
A huge addition to the Baseball Development Center came in November when Adams and Charlton purchased a TrackMan, a system used to evaluate all sorts of data designed to help a pitcher improve mechanics, velocity and spin rate.
“It gives you every piece of data,” Charlton said. “It is pretty advanced and it ain’t cheap. For us, TrackMan took everything to the next level. It confirmed things that we thought and it showed us other things that were wrong.”
For Petty and the other pitchers at the facility, it is a game changer.
“It gives answers about how to use pitches and how to pair them,” Charlton said. “If you have a coach who understands what he is looking at, the TrackMan can tell you if a fastball is a good fastball. Just because it’s a hard fastball doesn’t make it a good one. Based on what kind of fastball you have, it will tell you if you need more of a 12-6 curveball or a hard slider that moves horizontally.”
It sounds complicated, but it’s obviously working because the pitchers are way ahead of the hitters these days and places like the Baseball Performance Center are producing more good players than ever from our area.