Scouting Reports from the 2010 Area Code Games
The 24th annual Area Code Games were held at Blair Field during the past week. The summer showcase has been one of the premier national events for high school baseball prospects since it was moved to Long Beach in 1994. The wood bat tournament consists of eight teams and over 200 players invited from around the country, the vast majority of which will be offered major college scholarships and/or drafted in June 2011 or 2012 as the case may be for about 10 percent of the participants.
Unlike many showcase events, the players don't pay to play. Instead, several hundred professional scouts, scores of college coaches, and dozens of agents are charged a fee for attending these games. One of the scouts in attendance (Scott Boras) is also the father of a prospect (Trent Boras, who preps at JSerra Catholic High School in San Juan Capistrano, CA). There was an even more famous father-son combo with Wayne and Trevor Gretzky (Oaks Christian, Westlake Village, CA) prominent in the stands and on the field, respectively.
In addition, there were six sons of former MLB players and a brother of an active big-league pitcher: Alec Bankhead (Greensboro, NC), son of Scott; Brandon Bonilla (IMG Academy, Bradenton, FL), son of Bobby; Shawon Dunston Jr. (Valley Christian, San Jose, CA), son of the father by the same name; Brett Geren (San Ramon Valley, Danville, CA), son of current A’s manager Bob; C.J. McElroy (Clear Creek, League City, TX), son of Chuck; Drew Stankiewicz (Gilbert, AZ), son of Andy; and Joe Ross (Bishop O'Dowd, Oakland, CA), brother of A's pitcher Tyson.
The tournament featured eight teams: Milwaukee Brewers (California) sported Blue and White entries, Texas Rangers (Texas and Louisiana), Chicago White Sox (Midwest), Washington Nationals (Pacific Northwest), Oakland Athletics (Southeast), New York Yankees (Northeast), and the Cincinnati Reds (Southwest and Rocky Mountains). As noted, the geography of the big-league clubs and their Area Code teams don't necessarily match. Nonetheless, the players wore the colors of their MLB teams with "Area Code" in script across the front of all jerseys.
Each team played five games over six days (Thursday, August 5-Tuesday, August 10) with most contests scheduled for seven innings and a few for nine.
Day One (Thursday, August 5)
In the opening game on Thursday, Henry Owens (Edison, Huntington Beach, CA) of the Milwaukee Brewers (Blue) pitched the first two innings and struck out six of the seven batters faced. He walked the other one. The lefthander threw 31 pitches, 21 for strikes. He was throwing 87-89 mph. At 6-foot-7 and 195 pounds (with size 17 shoes), his fastball plays up a bit due to the fact that he throws on a downhill plane. Moreover, his body offers lots of projection although a scout I spoke to noted that Owens' velocity is down a couple of ticks from his sophomore season in 2009. Nonetheless, he may be the most highly regarded prep pitcher in the country and could be drafted in the top half of the first round next June.
A member of the USA Baseball 18U National Team, Owens has had a busy summer. He was 3-0 with a 2.33 ERA in five appearances and four starts, whiffing 31 batters and walking nine in 19.1 innings. He was also named to the Aflac All American Baseball Classic, which will be held on Sunday, August 15 at 5 p.m. PDT in PETCO Park. The game will feature the nation’s top 38 high school players heading into their senior year.
Baseball America offered the following report in its Aflac Classic player capsules:
Scouts love Owens' frame, which has plenty of room to fill out, and he adds to the package by showing a good arsenal—and all from the left side. His fastball sits 88-91 mph from the left side, and he also works with a sharp, two-plane curveball and mixes in a changeup.
Area Code and Aflac teammates Travis Harrison (Tustin, CA) and Christian Lopes (Edison, Huntington Beach, CA) each went 2-for-4. Harrison is a 6-2, 220-pound outfielder with big-time power, as evidenced by the 504-foot home run he jacked at the Power Showcase in January, breaking Bryce Harper's record from the previous year by two feet. Lopes, a 6-0, 185-pound shortstop, has been well known in prospect circles for several years. He and his younger brother Timmy Lopes (class of 2012) transferred from Valencia to Edison last January, joining Owens and Eric Snyder, who has committed to UCLA. All four players are on the same team in the Area Code Games, too. Their high school club promises to be one of the best in the nation next year.
In the second game, Owens' 18U teammate Derek “Bubba” Starling (Edgerton, Gardner, KN) led the Chicago White Sox to a victory, pitching two innings (2-1-1-1-1-2) and knocking in the first run with a ground-rule double that the left fielder lost in the sun and bounced near the warning track and over the outfield wall that measures 348 feet down the lines, 387 to the power alleys, and 400 to center. His fastball sat in the high 80s and touched 90. The righthander has reportedly thrown in the low 90s but hasn't pitched much this summer. He hit .339/.474/.532 with three HR and 16 BB and 12 SO in 78 PA and tossed 4.1 scoreless innings with 7 SO and only 1 BB for Team USA last month. The tall and lanky Starling (6-5, 195) is an outstanding two-sport athlete who has verbally committed to play baseball and quarterback at Nebraska. The five-tool player ran a 6.56 in the 60-yard dash, tied for the fifth-fastest time in the SPARQ testing on the first day of the Area Code Games. I like the Matt Holliday (who was also one of the top high school QB in the country) comp that New York Yankees Director of Scouting Damon Oppenheimer made to ESPN Rise, a part owner and sponsor of the event.
White Sox center fielder Charles Tilson (New Trier, Winnetka, IL) showed off his athleticism on Thursday by running the fourth-fastest 60 (6.54) and stealing three bases that evening. On Saturday, a scout sitting in my row clocked the lefthanded-hitting center fielder at 3.98 while an area supervisor in front of me had him at 4.0 exactly on an infield single that didn't even draw a throw. So as not to be labeled a one-trick pony, Tilson opened Sunday's game by slugging the first home run of the tournament. It was an impressive blast to right field into a slight breeze coming off the ocean. He singled and stole two more bases later in the game and threw out a runner at third to top it all off.
Teammate Johnny Eierman (Warsaw, MO) is another speedster who had the second-fastest time in the 60 at 6.41. The 6-foot-1 shortstop and quarterback is coming off a junior year in which he was an all-state selection in baseball and football. The LSU commit slugged three home runs during batting practice on Thursday but struck out in five of six plate appearances after going 2-for-3 with a triple in the first game. While Eierman doesn't lack for load or bat speed, he may need to alter his swing plane in order to make more contact at the next level.
Nicholas Burdi (Downers Grove, IL) threw three innings in relief, striking out five without allowing a walk. The 6-5, 215-pound righthander was dialing his fastball up to 90-91 while flashing a hard slider at 84-85 and a changeup with good arm action at 81-82.
Lefty Cody Kukuk (Lawrence, KS) and righty Michael Fulmer (Deer Creek, Edmond, OK) both touched 90 on the radar guns in the later innings.
The opposing starting pitcher for the Washington Nationals, Dylan Davis (Redmond, WA), threw 92-94 in his only inning of work. His heater was the fastest of the evening. It appeared as if he only threw one other pitch, a short slider that Baseball America tabs at 83-84. The smallish righthander, generously listed at 6-0, 200 pounds, gave up two runs (one earned) on Thursday but bounced back to toss two scoreless innings on Sunday. An Aflac selection, Davis has committed to Oregon State.
Cole Wiper (Newport, Bellevue, WA) topped out at 91 with his fastball, 83-85 with what a scout told me was a cutter, and a 78 mph curve he left up in the zone that was pulled for a triple down the right-field line. He has thrown three innings overall, struggling with his control on Sunday when he walked three of the seven batters faced.
Porter Clayton (Bonneville, Idaho Falls, ID), a southpaw with a pronounced leg kick, struck out three batters around a hit and walk in his only inning of work. He was 88-89 with a good breaking ball. Kevin Moriarty (Shorewood, WA) K'd five out of six batters, showing excellent command of an 84-87 mph fastball and a slow curve.
Spencer O'Neil (Southridge, Kennewick, WA) stood out in the pre-game infield, displaying a strong, accurate arm in right field with all four throws to third base and home arriving on a clothes line with no hops. However, O'Neil, one of three returning players from the 2009 Area Code Games, has taken the collar at the plate, going 0-for-10 in the tournament.
Day Two (Friday, August 6)
Jordan Ramsey (North Davidson, Lexington, NC), Chris McCue (Ardrey Kell, Charlotte, NC), and John Hayman (Ware County, Waycross, GA) of the Oakland Athletics threw a combined, seven-inning shutout over Washington, which was forced to play the last game the previous evening and the first contest the following morning. McCue, an undersized righthander who has committed to North Carolina, had the most impressive arsenal of the trio, with an 89-92 mph fastball and a solid-average curveball and changeup.
Alex Blandino (St. Francis, Mountain View, CA) went 3-for-3 in the opener but competed for playing time throughout the tournament with several middle infielders on Oakland despite a solid swing that produced six hits in 10 trips to the plate.
Washington's Tyler Gonzales (Madison, San Antonio, TX), class of 2012, struck out the side in his lone inning of work. Teammate Dylan LaVelle (Lake Stevens, WA), another junior-to-be, hammered a triple that one-hopped the wall in center field to lead off the game for the Nats. Although LaVelle made a couple of errors at shortstop during the tournament, he was involved in three double plays and appears to have the glove, footwork, and arm to handle the position. His keystone partner, Erik Forgione (W.F. West, Chehalis, WA), was equally adept defensively, making at least one highlight reel play at second. He also doubled to right center on Saturday, one of the few hard hit balls that day.
Michael Conforto (Redmond, WA), who is playing in his second Area Code Games, stroked two hits. A lefthanded-hitting right fielder, Conforto has a powerful swing and a strong arm. Before knowing that TrackMan had measured his max exit speed at a tournament-best 105, I had written down "plus bat speed" next to his name on my roster. Keep an eye on this 6-0, 200-pounder with good bloodlines. His mother won two gold medals in synchronized swimming in the 1984 Summer Olympics in Los Angeles and added a silver in the 1988 Games in Seoul, while his father played linebacker at Penn State for Coach Paterno in the 1970s.
In the game between the New York Yankees and Texas Rangers, Bryan Brickhouse (Woodlands, TX), a 6-2, 190-pound righthander, was throwing 92-94 mph gas in the first inning, striking out the side around one walk. He allowed another free pass in the second as well as a single and triple off the bat of Rio Ruiz (Bishop Amat, La Puente, CA), a third baseman and pitcher from the class of 2012, who knocked in two runs and closed out the final inning for the Yankees, lighting up the radar guns with a low-90s fastball.
Fernelys Sanchez (Washington, Bronx, NY), another junior-to-be, ran the best 60 (6.35) on Thursday and stole two bases. Matt Dean (The Colony, TX), an Aflac selection, had a tough time at the plate, going 0-for-4 with two strikeouts. He was 3-for-17 with no XBH or BB and five SO for the tournament. The 6-foot-3, 190-pound third baseman is a two-sport athlete who has committed to Texas to play baseball but is expected to be a high draft pick next June. Teammate Daniel Mengden (Westside, Houston, TX) will also be at the Aflac game next week.
In the final game of the day, Robert Stephenson (Alhambra, Martinez, CA) led the Brewers White to a 6-1 victory over the Reds. The 6-2, 185-pound righthander struck out six batters without allowing a walk or run in three innings. The Aflac All-American was popping his fastball in the low 90s in one of the more impressive outings of the day. Teammate Billy Flamion (Central Catholic, Modesto, CA) was the offensive star of the game, banging out two hits (including a double) and stealing a base. The 6-1, 195-pound, high-energy outfielder went 5-for-17 for the tournament and his big, powerful swing will be on display next Sunday in the Aflac game.
On the other side of the diamond, Blake Swihart (Cleveland, Rio Rancho, NM), a 6-1, 175-pound switch-hitting catcher, had two hits and drew rave reviews from many talent evaluators for his offensive and defensive prowess. He is another Aflac selection who hit a team-leading .448 AVG (26-for-58) and .845 SLG (6 2B, 1 3B, and 5 HR) for the USA 18U club. He has also committed to play for the Texas Longhorns. Swihart caught Bonilla, a lefthanded pitcher whose line (2-3-3-3-3-4) left a lot to be desired. However, the University of Southern California commit, who works out of the stretch, flashed good stuff with a fastball that sat in the upper 80s and reached 90 as well as a curve that showed some promise. Interestingly, he walked Dunston, a lefthanded-hitting, fleet-footed outfielder, on four pitches. The latter drew four free passes in 19 plate appearances while stealing two bases and scoring five runs, including a jaw dropper from second base on a dropped third strike and throw to first.
Day Three (Saturday, August 7)
With all of the teams having played at least once heading into the weekend, the biggest names were generally covered in the recap of the first two days. Nonetheless, there were new pitchers who stood out and a few hitters who jumped to the forefront such as Aaron Brown (Chatsworth, CA), who went 4-for-4 in the morning game on his way to a tourney-leading eight hits in 15 at-bats. The L/L outfielder-pitcher has excellent bat and foot speed and flashed a strong arm on Monday when he struck out five batters over just two innings. Milwaukee White teammate Tyler Goeddel (St. Francis, Mountain View, CA), a 6-4, 170-pound third baseman, jacked a stand-up triple into the gap in right center, showing both power and speed on the same play. He has also displayed a great approach at the plate, drawing seven walks while striking out just once. Desmond Henry (Centennial, Compton, CA) sparkled in the 60-yard dash on Thursday with the third-fastest time of 6.47 before transferring his athleticism to the baseball field on Saturday with two doubles. He went 5-for-13 with two BB and two SO overall.
Lots of radar guns went up in the second game when Jerrick Suiter (Valparaiso, IN), a 6-3, 210-pound righthander with a smooth delivery, entered the contest in the fifth. He worked two innings on Saturday and came back and tossed two more on Monday. The three-sport star allowed only one hit, one walk, and no runs while punching out seven of the 14 batters faced in his two outings. Suiter coupled an 88-92 mph fastball with a 73-74 plus curveball. Patrick Hope (Broken Arrow, OK), a 6-3, 185-pound righthander, was 90-91 with a 72-73 hammer curve that was without question the best breaking ball I saw all week. Fellow righty teammate Clayton Blackburn (Santa Fe, Edmond, OK) was 89-90 with a sweeping breaking ball.
In the third game, Lucas Giolito (Harvard-Westlake, North Hollywood, CA), class of 2012, just turned 16 in July, yet matched the best fastball of the tournament by consistently hitting 91-93 and touching 94 on at least one occasion according to the scoreboard display facing the press box. (Note: TrackMan registered his average fastball velocity at 95.8, or 3-4 mph faster than the consensus of the dozens of handheld Stalker Sport radar guns employed by scouts. TrackMan may measure the velocity at the pitcher's release point whereas radar guns and PITCHf/x estimate velocity at about 50 feet from home plate. There may be an additional explanation as well, which I would enjoy receiving from any expert in this area. In the meantime, the TrackMan leaders can be viewed here.) Giolito was wild with his entire repetoire of pitches (which included a 76-80 mph slurve and what appeared to be either a hard change or a two-seamer with more than decent arm-side run). With additional experience, the 6-5, 215-pound righthander may be able to improve upon his command, which was lacking on Saturday as evidenced by the 24 balls against 23 strikes and four free passes in only two innings. If so, he projects to go early in the 2012 draft.
Teammate Adam McCreary (Bonita, La Verne, CA) entered the game in the sixth inning and was announced as Henry Owens due to the lefty's handedness, similar number (38 vs. 36) and size (6-8 vs. 6-7). The PA announcer corrected his mistake, noting the "even taller" McCreary, who pitched a scoreless inning by exhibiting a mid-80s fastball, a 78 mph slider, a 72 mph curve, a 75 mph change, and a good pickoff move to first base. The combination of his polish and projection makes him an intriguing prospect.
Three Yankees pitchers combined for 17 strikeouts in the nightcap with Aflac All-Star Tyler Beede (Lawrence Academy, Groton, MA) and Karl Keglovitz (Nazareth, PA) leading the way with six each. John Magliozzi (Dexter, Brookline, MA), another Aflac selection, chipped in with five Ks. The Florida commit worked in the low 90s. Keith Law, whom I chatted with in between games on Saturday, noted that Magliozzi might be more suited for a relief role due to his arm slot. I agree and believe his lack of height (5'11") may also work against him at the professional level although I overheard one scout liken him to Tim Hudson. Beede (3-2-0-0-0-6) exhibited outstanding command of a low-90s fastball and solid secondary pitches. The 6-4, 200-pound righthander has committed to Vanderbilt.
Day Four (Sunday, August 8)
The two early games were low-scoring affairs with Phillip Evans (La Costa Canyon, Carlsbad, CA) the only player to produce two hits in the opener. He plays hard but is not the best-bodied or most toolsy athlete in the tournament. However, he did make an over-the-shoulder catch that turned heads earlier in the week.
Although he gave up two runs, righthander Mathew Troupe (Chaminade, West Hills, CA) fanned seven batters without allowing a walk in three innings. The Oregon State commit, who is now up to 6-1, 185 pounds, consistently pounded the strike zone (41 strikes and 14 balls) and may turn out to be an effective, if unspectacular pitcher.
In the third game, the White Sox's Mason Snyder (Marquette, Ottawa, IL) followed Tilson's aforementioned dinger with a double high off the 348-foot mark on the left-field wall. Dylan Delso (Broken Arrow, OK) went 2-for-2 en route to a 6-for-9 tourney with three BB and no SO. He topped all hitters in the Triple Crown of rate stats, putting up a line of .667/.750/1.000. Kyle Shaw and Ty Hensley (both from Santa Fe, Edmond, OK) touched 90 but generally worked in the mid- to high-80s. Kevin Comer (Seneca, Tabernacle, NJ) of the Yankees was the most impressive pitcher of the game as he whiffed nine in four innings while allowing only one hit, one walk, and one run. The righty's fastball sat at 87-89 and peaked at 90 but it was his secondary pitches that caught my eye, including a 76-78 mph slider with good tilt, a changeup with fade, and a two-seamer with tailing action that he used primarily against LHB.
In the finale, Elliot Richoux (The Woodlands, TX), a lefthanded-hitting first baseman, bombed a double off the top of the wall in right field (although it should be noted that the pitch was an 80-mph "fastball" from someone who will most likely stick at his more natural first base position). McElroy picked up a couple hits en route to a 4-for-7 tourney with two stolen bases. The righthanded lead-off hitter and a bunt single and ran a 4.39 to first base on a broken bat groundout to the second baseman. Nick Williams (Ball, Galveston, TX), a 6-2, 185-pound outfielder, deserves mention for recording the best SPARQ test results on Thursday despite being a member of the 2012 class. Only 16, his baseball skills are still a bit raw but his athleticism coupled with his tall, projectable body suggest he could be one of the top players in the Area Code Games next summer.
Zac Freeman (Lowndes, Valdosta, GA) was, for me, the most impressive player on Oakland's squad. He went 3-for-10 with a double and a triple plus three walks and made an outstanding diving catch going to his left in shallow center field. Disregarding his poor pitching performance on Monday, the only criticism is perhaps an overly aggressive swing that led to six whiffs in 13 plate appearances.
Parker French (Dripping Springs, TX), a big righthander, started for Texas and pitched two shutout innings with four Ks. He was popping the catcher's glove with a 90-93 mph fastball and threw several 76-78 slurves, as well as at least one plus changeup. Hayman was 90-91 but lacked consistent command in his second appearance and Darren Whatley (Bibb County, Centerville, AL) was 88-90 with his four-seamer and generally 85 with his two-seamer.
Day Five (Monday, August 9)
I didn't make it out to Blair Field on Monday in what was the final full-day schedule of the six-day tournament. The primary attraction was the all-California matchup between the Milwaukee Brewers Blue and White teams. Of note, all of the players on the Blue side are from Southern California while the majority of the players on the White are from Northern California. As it turns out, the Blue beat the White, 5-1.
Owens made his second start of the Area Code Games, hurling two hitless, scoreless innings while striking out and walking two. With four innings of no-hit, no-run ball and eight Ks, Owens was probably the star of the showcase event. Assuming good health, the sky is the limit for this special talent.
Aflac All-American Daniel Camarena (Cathedral Catholic, San Diego, CA) knocked in the first run for the Blue with a long double to straightaway center. The 6-2, 200-pound L/L is a two-way threat who has committed to University of San Diego. Baseball America sees him as a "high average, low strikeout, gap-to-gap, line drive hitter." Teammate Austin Hedges (JSerra, San Juan Capistrano, CA), also an Aflac selection, had two hits and was 4-for-10 overall. He is an outstanding defensive catcher with a strong arm that was obvious to anyone paying attention before and during the games. Flamion just missed jacking a home run down the RF line for the White, a blast that TrackMan recorded at 385 feet or what would have been the longest hit of the tournament had it gone fair.
The Brewers White team played back-to-back games, coming off a 10-1 win over the A's before facing their Blue rivals. Dante Flores (St. John Bosco, Bellflower, CA), Blake Grant-Parks (Yuba City, CA), and Kevin Kramer (Turlock, CA) each contributed two hits in the victory. The 5-10, 160-pound Flores (5-for-10 with three 2B, two BB, and only one SO) is a highly skilled SS/2B, a local favorite who is likely to honor his commitment to USC.
Cincinnati's Kavin Keyes (Alta, Sandy, UT), a switch-hitting infielder, led the offense, going 2-for-3 with a double and finishing the tourney with a .500 AVG (7-for-14). Stankiewicz, meanwhile, sparked the defense with two web gems at second base. The switch hitter has committed to Cal State Fullerton. The Nats' Clint Coulter (Union, Camas, WA) and Austin Diemer (Rocklin, CA), a late add to Washington's roster, produced all five of their team's hits in 2-0 victory over the Yankees. Seven pitchers threw one inning each with only Blake Snell (Shorewood, Shoreline, MA) striking out two.
Day Six (Tuesday, August 10)
On the final day of the Area Code Games, the manager of the A's let McCue stretch out his arm by throwing 69 pitches over the first four innings (4-4-1-1-1-4). He led all pitchers with six innings of work.
Cameron Gallagher (Manheim Township, Lancaster, PA), an Aflac All-American catcher, went 2-for-3 with a double, raising his overall average to .273 with three hits in 11 AB. The 6-3, 215-pounder has committed to East Carolina.
Although hope and change has been a popular phrase the past two years, it's really Hope and his curveball. The Chicago righthander threw two scoreless innings, once again using his put-away breaking ball to strike out five batters to give him a total of eight in just four frames. Kukuk, Fulmer, lefty Brett Lilek (Marian Catholic, Chicago Heights, IL), and Shaw followed Hope to the mound, combining to pitch six innings while allowing just one hit two walks, and one run. Lilek struck out the side in the seventh. It was a bit of redemption for the junior-to-be as he allowed three runs (two earned) in his only other outing of the tourney. Eierman was the offensive star, going 3-for-4 and lifting him into the top ten for H, AVG, SLG, and RBI.
The following players were the most notable in my judgment:
Top 5 Hitters
Top 5 Pitchers
For those of you who are interested in following high school prospects, be sure to tune in to the 2010 Aflac All-American Baseball Classic on Sunday, August 15 at 5 p.m. PDT. The game will be broadcast live nationally by Fox Sports Net.