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Vukovich wins with mentality

July 19, 2019 | Annika Wall

Vukovich UPDATED

There’s been a lot of buzz at the new Prospect Meadows Sports Complex at the 17u WWBA National Championship. But one player has garnered attention and accolades like no other. 

AJ Vukovich sure has the talent to be named a PG All-American. The 6-foot-5, 210-pounder plays both the infield and outfield corners. His bat is a thing of beauty; his hands travel to the ball and fire it right back.

It’s inside? He’ll single into the five-six hole. 

Outside? He’ll fire it into the right field alley for a stand-up triple.

Right down the middle? He might just fire it over the fence.

“He sets the tone every time he gets up to the plate,” Hitters 2020 head coach Brendon Hayden said. “The team expects something good to happen, which is a good thing for a guy in the middle of the order.”

It’s not just what he does at the plate, though. The East Troy, Wis. rising senior is the top-ranked player in the state of Wisconsin and ranked No. 28 in the nation. He boasts an outfield velocity of 93 mph and 92-mph from the infield. His 90 mph fastball ranks in the 98thpercentile of the 2020 class. 

At the WWBA 17u Prospect Meadows National Championships in Marion, Iowa, Vukovich showed not only his All-American talent but his All-American mentality. Against the Illinois Indians, Vukovich struck out in his first two at-bats. However, when the bottom of the sixth came along, he was more than prepared.

Leading off the inning, in a 1-1 count Vukovich fired the next pitch over the fence, breaking a 2-2 tie and helping Hitters win, 5-2.

“When I was younger, it was definitely tough. No one wants to be that out at the plate,” Vukovich said. “It’s really helped me realize you’re not going to get ahead every time. The ups and downs make the successes a lot better. It’s an imperfect game. The struggles bring out the greatness in you.”

Vukovich’s greatness just keeps piling up. He committed to Louisville, following Hitters alumni Jarred Kelenic and Alex Binelas, who was named a first-team Freshman All-American by five organizations, including Perfect Game. Vukovich also was one of eight semifinalists in the Home Run Derby during MLB All-Star weekend. 

In the semifinals, Vukovich hit 18 home runs across two rounds, second only to fellow PG All-American Blaze Jordan, who shot 20 over the fence. Jordan barely edged Vukovich 7-6 in the finals.

“A couple months ago if you had said I’d been in that position, I wouldn’t have believed you at all. Being on that field with 40,000 fans, going up against Blaze Jordan, who’s another great hitter, it was amazing,” Vukovich reflected. “It didn’t even feel real. You dream of that as a kid, taking batting practice out on a major league field, and doing it at All-Star weekend was incredible.”

In addition to the home run derby, Vukovich was selected to play in the PG All-American Classic out in San Diego. Just a week ago, he learned that his best baseball was enough to earn him a spot on the 27-man West roster.

“It’s a great feeling, just because I grew up watching the game on TV, watching Gavin Lux and Jarred Kelenic play in it,” he said. “Now that I get a chance to do it and play with the best kids in the country on TV, it’s going to be a great experience and I’m excited to be a part of it.”

Vukovich has only one year left until he begins fighting for a starting spot at Louisville. But, if you ask his coach, he’ll fit right in with the rest of them. 

“They’re a perennial power and he’s another piece of the puzzle for them,” Hayden said. “Having all of this attention with the pro scouts and being committed at a very young age, he holds himself to a higher standard. His approach to the game is advanced compared to a lot of high school guys. It’s very good for him, especially because he’ll be playing at that high level, to learn all of this as such a young age. He’s only going to go up from there.”

Be sure to catch all the scouting info from the Perfect Game WWBA National Championship at Prospect Meadows on the Perfect Game website, www.perfectgame.org.

Annika Wall