Neil Walker WPIAL Baseball Showcase gives athletes chance to shine

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Friday, June 7, 2024 | 5:40 PM


Norwin rising junior Jakob Howard toed the rubber Friday morning at No Offseason Sports in Russelton and fired 10 to 12 pitches in front of more than 40 local and regional college coaches.

A right ankle injury suffered a month ago during the high school season had healed, and, he said, he felt no lingering effects.

“It was an amazing feeling to be out here showing what I can do,” said Howard, one of several underclassmen invitees among the more than 100 rising sophomores, juniors, and seniors from all over the WPIAL who attended at the Neil Walker WPIAL Baseball Showcase.

“As soon as I saw that I was invited, I was like, ‘Heck yeah, I am going.’ Everyone is excited to get that exposure who are trying to find a college for the future. I was happy that my ankle felt really good, and I was able to get out here. This is a great start to my summer.”

The WPIAL Baseball Showcase, founded in 2005 by then-Mt. Lebanon baseball coach Mark Saghy along with the late North Allegheny coach Tim Banner, former Plum coach Tom McCarthy and West Penn Baseball Prospects president Tony Villotti, is closing in on the completion of its second decade of service to the top area baseball prospects.

Walker himself remembers similar opportunities he had at Pine-Richland before being drafted by the Pirates in the first round of the 2004 MLB Draft.

Helping lead the showcase that now bears his name with partners in baseball, fellow Pine-Richland graduate Chad Dewey and Sean Lubin, Walker said this year’s showcase continues the tradition of identifying and elevating the solid baseball talent he knows exists throughout the WPIAL.

“There is so much talent in the WPIAL, and it sometimes is hard for kids to get recognized because they’re not always able to get to an environment like this,” said Dewey, who went on to play in college at George Washington.

The showcase serves as a bridge from the high school season to the many local summer and travel league seasons throughout the region.

“This has always been the first weekend of June, and the college coaches know it,” said Walker, involved with the showcase now for a second year. “They make it a point to be here because they know what they will see from the players.”

Saghy ran the showcase up until 2022 before passing the baton to Walker and others.

“He said he was getting a little older and wanted to see if someone wanted to take it over. We contacted him and said we would love to run it,” Walker said.

“Mark’s been awesome with lending a hand with all the contacts he has. He had a great database of college coaches in the region and a good system with knowing the kids who are coming up and some high school and summer coaches who were able to recommend some players. We had about 125 kids last year and have a little over 100 this year. More than anything, it’s about giving these kids the opportunity to get in front of a lot of coaches in just one day, and the coaches can evaluate many players without having to travel all over the place.”

Walker said several players didn’t take time off and attended the showcase just one day after being eliminated from the PIAA baseball playoffs Thursday.

The only baseball teams from the WPIAL remaining in the PIAA playoffs are Eden Christian in Class A, Avonworth in Class 3A, Indiana in Class 4A and Bethel Park in Class 5A.

“Some of these kids are just now getting on the radar of college coaches, some are looking to raise their profile and others might be (verbally) committed but want to see who else they can impress.”

Some pitchers and catchers who went through drills in the morning session grabbed a bat in an attempt to showcase their hitting ability alongside position players who were tested on their fielding and throwing abilities.

“This is pretty cool to be at an event like this run by someone who I was a big fan of when he was on the Pirates,” said Plum rising senior catcher Anthony Jump, one of eight Plum players who worked out in front of the college coaches.

“Being from the WPIAL himself, he understands what it is like to want to get your name out there.”

Jump was one of at least two dozen catchers who, in addition to catching the numerous pitchers, got a chance to field his position and show off his arm strength and accuracy to second and third base.

Carter Kirsch, the starting catcher for WPIAL Class 4A semifinalist and PIAA qualifier Thomas Jefferson, was grateful for the opportunity to show what he could do.

“To be able to do what you do with coaches lined up all around, it is great,” Kirsch said. “It is so competitive.”

Kirsch also caught Hempfield’s Dane Willis during Willis’ pitching session.

“Dane was throwing really well,” Kirsch said. “His curveball was really working. His fastball got better and better.”

Walker said he was pleased with the dry and cooler conditions and the No Offseason facility for providing the setting for the showcase, which also tested the players through speed and agility drills run by a team from Allegheny Health Network.

“We love to be able to host the top kids in the WPIAL and many of the area’s college coaches,” said Joe Volloch, director of operations for No Offseason Sports.

“Now that we just finished our fourth field here, these are the type of events we are looking forward to holding. It’s about doing what we can to help these kids get to that next level.”

Michael Love is a TribLive reporter covering sports in the Alle-Kiski Valley and the eastern suburbs of Pittsburgh. A Clearfield native and a graduate of Westminster (Pa.), he joined the Trib in 2002 after spending five years at the Clearfield Progress. He can be reached at mlove@triblive.com.

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