High School Talent is Heating Up
Tied with the best records heading into the finale of the Area Code Games on Sunday, the Texas Rangers (Texas) beat the Milwaukee Brewers Blue (Southern California), 4-2, to win the tournament with a 4-1 record. The Brewers lost their final two games while the Rangers' lone defeat was at the hands of the Oakland Athletics (Southeast) on Friday.
All in all, there there were 20 contests played over a six-day span at Blair Field in Long Beach. I attended a number of them and had the opportunity to witness more than 100 players display their talents and skills in a showcase setting in front of hundreds of scouts. In addition to playing five games each, the athletes went through a player evaluation (SPARQ testing) on Tuesday and participated in a MLB Scout Symposium at the Long Beach Marriott on Wednesday.
In 22 years of existence, the Area Code Games have hosted numerous major leaguers, highlighted by current stars Ryan Braun, Prince Fielder, Dan Haren, Ryan Howard, Albert Pujols, C.C. Sabathia, and Grady Sizemore. Looking to the future, Tim Beckham (the No. 1 overall pick in the 2008 draft by Tampa Bay), Kyle Skipworth (FLA, #6), Aaron Hicks (MIN, #14), Brett Lawrie (MIL, #16), Anthony Hewitt (PHI, #24), and Gerrit Cole (NYY, #28) all played in last summer's Area Code Games.
Whether it was the wood bats, the ballpark's dimensions, the seaside altitude, or just plain ol' strong arms, the pitchers got the best of the hitters throughout the week, as evidenced by a no-hitter in the opener on Tuesday and a 0-0 tie in the morning tilt on the final day. While the pitching results were impressive, it wasn't as if all of the chosen hurlers were lighting up the radar guns all week long. Yes, there were a number of pitchers touching the low-90s, but the majority were throwing in the mid- to high-80s.
Many of the top players from the Area Code Games also participated in the Aflac All-American High School Baseball Classic at Dodger Stadium on Saturday. The Aflac game, which was televised nationally by FoxSports, tends to attract the best of the best, including several who did not appear at the Area Code Games.
Unlike the Area Code Games, all Aflac players must have completed their junior year of high school to be eligible for participation. The Aflac participants are required "to be in good academic standing and display redeeming qualities off the field that embody the ideals of the sport of baseball, including discipline, determination and hard work." The six-year-old Aflac high school classic has produced 52 first-round draft picks during the past five years, including at least eight (2005) and as many as 13 (2007).
Down 2-0 going into the ninth inning, the East staged a sterling comback victory by scoring four runs, including a game-tying-and-winning single by MVP Brian Goodwin (Rocky Mount HS, NC). The lefthanded-hitting outfielder also singled in the second and impressed me when he took an extra base on a heads-up play while center fielder Kyrell Hudson (Evergreen HS, WA) was trying to sell the umpires that he caught the speedy Goodwin's line drive.
In contrast to the Area Code Games, there were very few fastballs that didn't register in the 90s at the Aflac game. The hardest of 'em all was delivered by Mychal Givens. He threw two pitches only, a 96-mph fastball that resulted in a fly out to left and a 98-mph heater that turned into a 4-3 ground out. Givens was relieved in the bottom of the eighth by Austin Maddox (Eagle's View Academy, FL), a starting catcher-turned-pitcher (and straight-A student) whose fastball ranged from 91-96 in 1-1/3 innings of work.
All in all, there were 26 strikeouts recorded in an event that was dominated by the nation's best power arms, including five by the West's starter Jacob Turner (Westminster Christian Academy, MO). The 6-foot-4, 205-pound righthander, who struck out the side in the first after opening the game with a hit batter and a walk, was throwing loosely from 90-93 and mixing in a quality mid-70s curve and changeup in his two innings.
The remaining radar gun readings, along with brief comments, are listed below in order of appearance (West followed by the East).
Brooks Pounders (Temecula Valley HS, CA): 6-5, 225-pound RHP. 92-94. Retired all three batters but didn't record a strikeout. Also played first base. Father played Triple-A for the San Diego Padres. Verbally committed to the University of Southern California.
Tyler Matzek (Capistrano Valley HS, CA): 6-3, 185 LHP. Commands four pitches (fastball, curve, slider, and changeup), including a fastball that consistently hit 93 on Saturday. Struck out Luke Bailey (Troup County HS, GA) swinging on a four-seamer up and away that was a terrific pitcher's pitch. He retired the side in order with two punchouts. A high first-round draft pick for sure.
Matthew Purke (Klein HS, TX): Listed at 6-3, 170, the lanky lefthander looks much taller. Heavy 92-93 two-seam sinking fastball and a four-seamer that registered 95. 81-82 curve plus a circle change. He projects as an Andrew Miller-type but with perhaps a more effortless, free-and-easy delivery. Has an electric arm from the 3/4 slot. Was 12-1 with a 0.37 ERA and 147 Ks in 76.2 IP as a junior. Recorded a 1-2-3 fifth inning with two Ks. Another high first-round draft selection next June.
Chad Thompson (El Toro HS, CA): 6-8, 215 RHP. Sat at 89-91 and topped out at 93. 78-mph curveball. 1-2-3 sixth with one whiff on what looked like a generous call by the home plate ump.
Scott Griggs (San Ramon Valley HS, CA): 6-2, 185 RHP. 92-95. 76-78 curve. Reminded me of A.J. Burnett in terms of fastball, hump curveball, movement, and erratic control. Walked two and struck out one while allowing no hits and no runs.
Matt Graham (Oak Ridge HS, TX): 6-3, 195 RHP. 91-94. He induced Michael Heller (Sarasota Mooney HS, FL) to hit a grounder to short on what appeared to be a dynamite sinker.
Slade Heathcott (Texas HS, TX): 6-1, 195 LHP. 89-93 in the Aflac game and 87-91 at the Area Code Games. Struggled on Saturday and was saddled with the loss. Struck out the side with one infield single mixed in during the opener of the Area Code Games. A two-way player who drove in the first run of the game for the West on a line-drive single to left, Heathcott is one of the most athletic players in the class of 2009. He performed a cartwheel and back flip before the Aflac game in honor of Chairman Ozzie Smith, who gave him a "7 1/2" when he saw it on a TV replay.
Zack Wheeler (East Paulding HS, GA): 6-4, 175 RHP. Consistently 92-95. Mostly fastballs. Projectable pitcher's build. Would have recorded a scoreless first inning, if not for a passed ball third strike that allowed David Nick (Cypress HS, CA) to reach base and eventually score the first run of the game. Brother Adam was drafted in 2001 by the New York Yankees and played for four years with the organization before getting hurt. Should be a first-round draft choice next year.
Keyvius Sampson (Ocala Forest HS, FL): 6-1, 185 RHP. 93-94. Almost all fastballs. Three-sport athlete. Recorded a couple strikeouts.
Christopher Jenkins (Westfield HS, NJ): 6-7, 230 RHP. 90-94. Low-80s slider. Big kid. Long. Lots of legs and arms. Black belt in karate. Struck out two and walked one in a hitless and scoreless third inning.
Daniel Tuttle (Randleman HS, NC): 6-2, 185 RHP. Sinker, slider type with a fastball that registered upwards of 93-94. Projects as a groundball machine as a starter or reliever if he learns to keep the ball down. Allowed back-to-back doubles for the West's second run before striking out his final two batters.
Ethan Carter (Menchville HS, VA): 6-5, 200 RHP. 89-90. 3/4-arm slot. Pounded the strike zone with his fastball and breaking ball. 1-2-3 with two punchouts. Verbally committed to the University of South Carolina.
Michael Heller (Sarasota Mooney HS, FL): 6-2, 180 RHP. 91-94 with a 78-80 curve. A third baseman/pitcher somewhat reminiscent of Ethan Martin, drafted in this year's first round by the Dodgers. Committed to the University of Florida. Retired the side in order with a strikeout, flyout, and groundout.
Ian Krol (Neuqua Valley HS, IL): 6-1, 175 LHP. Hit 92 on Saturday although fastball sat in the high-80s during his one appearance in the Area Code Games (starting pitcher in the opener). Changes speeds well. Although not as tall as Cole Hamels, he reminds me of the Phillies' ace southpaw in terms of stuff and pitchability. Threw two no-hitters and a perfect game in high school. Got two pop fly outs, including a spectacular running, diving, and over-the-shoulder catch by shortstop Richie Shaffer (Providence HS, NC).
Mychal Givens (H.B. Plant HS, FL): 6-1, 185 RHP. Hit 96 and 98 on the radar guns. Both pitches were fairly straight despite 3/4-arm angle. Also throws a changeup. Outstanding two-way athlete. Started the game at shortstop, where he made a nice stop and throw on an infield single in the second inning, and led off. Was named the recipient of the Jackie Robinson Award. One of the top ten high school prospects in the country.
Austin Maddox (Eagle's View Academy, FL): 6-3, 220 RHP. 92-96. Big, strong, thick body. Was in starting lineup as a cather in the fifth spot. Won a gold medal as a member of the 16-and-under USA Baseball Youth National Team. Verbally committed to the University of Florida.
We will follow up later in the week with some additional highlights of the Area Code and Aflac games, including a focus on the offensive side of the ledger.