This story was written by Ty Daubert and Hunter Doyle.
The first round of the Major League Baseball draft is approaching quickly, and Philadelphia-area prospects have been preparing for the chance to hear their names announced as potential top selections.
Seven players from the greater-Philadelphia region have been rated amongst the best prospects in the 2021 draft in Red Land High School’s Benny Montgomery (No. 15 in MLB Pipeline’s latest draft prospect rankings), Bishop Eustace’s Anthony Solometo (No. 17), Mainland’s Chase Petty (27), Malvern Prep’s Lonnie White Jr. (No. 72), Lehigh University’s Mason Black (No. 154), Wilson High School’s Luke Holman (No. 172) and Villanova University’s Gordon Graceffo (No. 204).
That’s a good bunch of likely high draft picks for an area not especially known for its ability to produce baseball talent. Places with warm weather year round generally see more players have success in the draft. This draft class was a bit different, both in the greater Philadelphia and the Northeastern United States as whole.
“This year in particular, I’ve spent more time from Maryland all the way up through the Northeast,” Philadelphia Phillies amateur scouting director Brian Barber said Thursday. “The amount of talent that’s here is at an unprecedented level of what it normally is. Whether it’s in Pennsylvania, whether it’s in Maryland or even farther up the coast, I spent way more time here than ever in the past, and every scouting department did as well.
“Why? I’m not 100% sure. But it is a great year talent wise. It is athletes. It is good baseball players. It is position players. It’s just really talented. I hope it continues up here, because if it does, it was every bit as talented in the Northeast as it was in Florida or Texas or California this year.”
Players recognize the talent coming from the region as well, and showing there are great local prospects is an important honor for some.
“I lived in the Northeast my whole life, and I have a lot of pride coming from there,” Graceffo told Phillies Nation last month. “A lot of great athletes come from there — not just baseball players. It’s great showing out for the Philly area. There’s a lot of teams that have a lot of history in that area, and it’s just great to represent an area that has so much history.”
Montgomery, an outfielder committed to Virginia, Solometo, a left-handed pitcher committed to North Carolina, Petty, a right-handed pitcher committed to Florida, White, an outfielder committed to Penn State to play baseball and wide receiver in football, and Holman, a right-handed pitcher committed to Alabama, are all high school prospects.
These high schoolers saw their seasons get canceled due to the COVID-19 pandemic last year, but were able to participate in some showcases again last summer and play a school season this year in preparation for the draft.
“I was blessed enough to have a lot of summer tournaments to go [in 2020] to like Area Code, East Coast Pro and the Program 15 Future Star Series in Fenway, and all that was just amazing,” Solometo said this week on the Philly Insider Podcast.
Black and Graceffo, both right-handed pitchers, are the college players of the group. Ahead of the draft, Graceffo pitched in the Cape Cod League, a wood-bat summer league for college players, for the Bourne Braves. Black played for the Brewster Whitecaps after his freshman season in 2019.
“It’s definitely a great opportunity to play alongside some great guys on my team, along with some great competition,” Graceffo said on his decision to play in the Cape Cod League. “I’ll definitely use it as an opportunity to raise my draft stock. A lot of the knocks on me have come against — the Big East being great competition but it’s not Power Five. People say it’s not the same competition as Power Five, and this is a good chance to prove myself.”
With Graceffo playing for Villanova in the Big East and Black pitching in the Patriot League for Lehigh, they don’t come from baseball powerhouses. However, both succeeded in the Cape Cod League. Graceffo had a 0.69 ERA in three starts this season, and Black had a 1.47 ERA in eight pitching appearances in 2019.
The two were both juniors in college this year and could return for another NCAA season if they don’t sign, but there’s a good chance each would enter professional baseball because of where they’re projected to be taken.
“My goal right now is definitely to sign and go into the minors,” Graceffo said in June, “but I definitely weigh the pros and cons of each. But, as of right now, I think I’ll be signing.”
For the high school prospects, the draft — which starts with the first round on Sunday night and continues with the remaining 19 rounds on Monday and Tuesday — will provide a spotlight on the players’ talent and effort, regardless of their choice between pro ball or playing collegiately.
“The opportunity on Sunday, whether it’s between me going to college or me going to the draft, it’s a great opportunity to have, and it’s awesome to see that I’m getting some recognition for all the hard work that I constantly put in,” Solometo said.
For each one of these players, high school or college, the upcoming draft will serve as the start of a new chapter in their careers.
“That’s the key to unlock the door and finally see my dream of getting drafted,” Solometo said. “It’s not like, ‘Oh, thank God, I got time to relax now.’ This is the opportunity.”
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