It began innocently enough with a phone call, a professional baseball scout working his sources looking for talent.
The end result is a summer Heritage High School sophomore Trevor Clifton won’t soon forget, one that has the Mountaineer right-hander now being touted as one of the top young pitching prospects in the nation.
Clifton wowed a host of college scouts with a 15-strikeout, no-hit performance in a win over powerful East Cobb (Ga.) at the 14-under Continental Amateur Baseball Association World Series last week in Lebanon. The 6-foot-2 Clifton hit 90 mph on the radar gun on one pitch — routinely throwing in the upper 80s — en route to tournament most valuable player honors for eventual champion Bergen Beach of Brooklyn, N.Y.
In the championship game a couple of days later, Clifton added two strikeouts in two innings relief to finish with a total of 17 in nine innings pitched.
“It feels pretty good,” Clifton said. “It feels like I’m getting my name out there.”
Bergen Beach is rated one of the top traveling baseball teams in the country. Its list of former players includes major leaguers Alex Rodriguez, Todd Helton and Johnny Damon, among others. A nephew of Rodriguez is one of Clifton’s current teammates with Bergen Beach.
Clifton found his way to the Brooklyn club by means of professional baseball scout Jared England. England is friends with Heritage coach Robbie Bennett. Following the high school season this spring, England called Bennett to let the latter know he was working a high school regional showcase at Middle Tennessee State University. He wanted to know if Bennett knew anyone locally worth having a look at.
“Jared asked me if I had any 14-year-olds,” Bennett said. “I said, ‘I’ve got a freshman that’s pretty good.’”
After the camp, “He (England) called me back and said, ‘This kid’s the real deal,’” Bennett said.
Clifton had thrown sparingly for the Mountaineers during his freshman season, all the while striking out 35 batters in 29 innings pitched. In his most impressive outing, he’d shut down Knox West in a three-hitter in a 9-1 Heritage win. By the end of the season, Clifton could reach the mid 80s on the gun with little trouble.
“We brought him along kind of slow,” Bennett said. “He did some relief stuff. Toward the end, he was right there near the top of our staff.
“He works at it. He loves to throw. He’s just a hard worker, and he loves the game of baseball. He’s got a chance to be a special kid. He’s obviously got the talent.”
Clifton’s work at the MTSU showcase impressed England enough for the longtime scout to encourage Bergen Beach coach Steve Bort to come down and have a look. Bort had Clifton in a Bergen Beach uniform in a week’s time.
“They took a liking to him somehow, and it’s worked out wonderfully ever since,” Dennis Clifton, Trevor’s father, said.
Clifton’s play at the Lebanon tournament — which included batting .516 (16-of-31), a .580 on-base percentage and the “zero” earned run average — earned him a spot with Bergen Beach’s 17-under team. At press time Wednesday, Bergen Beach was unbeaten in pool play at the 17-under CABA World Series in Euclid, Ohio.
With Clifton’s ascension, the Mountaineer roster will contain at least three major college prospects when the high school baseball season opens next spring. Seniors Brandon Malone (catcher) and Justin Teffeteller are already receiving considerable interest.
“I’m excited about the coming year,” Bennett said.