GLENDALE, Calif.—The California Collegiate League has featured a nice collection of talent in recent years, a blend of Southern California college players, highly regarded rising freshmen and big-name prospects from schools like Texas and Rice, among others. On Wednesday at Stengel Field in Glendale, the league's top talent assembled for its third annual all-star game, where a number of intriguing power arms were on display. But outfielder Aaron Brown, one of the league's youngest players, stole the show—even though his CCL Nationals were crushed by the Americans, 14-3.
Brown (right), who is hitting .351 with five homers, 19 RBIs and 11 stolen bases in 12 tries for the host Glendale Angelenos this summer, was a two-way star for Southern California powerhouse Chatsworth High this spring. He ranked No. 149 on Baseball America's Top 200 Prospects for the 2011 draft, but his commitment to Pepperdine caused him to slip to the Pirates in the 17th round.
Scouts were clamoring that the Pirates had better open their checkbook after watching Brown on Wednesday. The 6-foot-2, 195-pound outfielder first showed off his easy lefthanded power in batting practice, banging a home run off the right-field scoreboard. Then, in his first at-bat of the game in the second inning, he fouled off some mid-90s heat from righthander Stephen Johnson, then laced an RBI double down the right-field line on a 77 mph slider.
In the fifth inning, Brown went the other way on an 89 mph Christian Coronado fastball, lining a solo home run over the left-field fence.
"This summer I've really been working on hitting the ball to all fields," Brown said. "Early on in the count I was looking for something out over the plate to drive. I was looking for a fastball middle-away and it was there."
But Brown dazzled most of all in center field. The Americans loaded the bases with two outs in the second inning, and Greg Zebrack hit a drive to the wall in left-center. Brown sized it up perfectly and made a leaping catch against the wall, holding the ball up with his bare hand upon landing on the ground.
"The ball carried quite a bit," Brown said. "I wasn't expecting to have to get to the fence, but I got there and just jumped for it. I didn't really feel it until I came down with it. When I hit the ground, I felt it in my hand, not my glove, so I just held it up and got the out."
If that wasn't enough, Brown's mother, Diane, sung a beautiful version of the national anthem before the game.
"She's traveled around the world and sang at a bunch of different places," Brown said. "She sang the national anthem at Dodger Stadium. She sang at one of our home games recently. She loves to do it. She's got an amazing voice, I love hearing her sing. It's really cool to have her out in this venue and have her do that for us."
Brown said he's not thinking about negotations with the Pirates right now. He's just working to improve his game this summer, and he said he'll be excited to play whether he signs or winds up at Pepperdine.
Another player under professional control, Cal State Los Angeles rising senior first baseman Andrew Allen (a 45th-rounder by the Tigers), earned all-star game MVP honors. Allen, a physical specimen at 6-4, 230 pounds, hit an inside-the-park home run into the left-field corner in the sixth inning. He followed with an RBI double to left in the seventh.
"He had a ball—that was great," said Americans coach Bill Pintard of the league powerhouse Santa Barbara Foresters. "He was well-deserved of the MVP."
Three Foresters arms, the first three pitchers to throw for the Americans, led a procession of quality arms. Righthander Austin Kubitza (Rice), probably the top prospect in the league, worked a perfect first inning, running his heavy, sinking fastball up to 92-93 mph.
Kubitza was followed by Johnson (Division II St. Edwards, Texas), who opened eyes with a 93-96 mph fastball that was moving all over the place, though his command of it was not fine. He'll need to improve his feel for his 77-79 slider and 84 changeup, but his raw arm strength makes him a very intriguing 2012 draft prospect.
And Mitch Mormann (Wichita State) looked outstanding in a 1-2-3 third inning, working at 93-95 and mixing in a power slider at 83-85. Mormann, a 25th-round pick this spring despite sitting out after transferring from Louisiana State, has been on the prospect landscape for years, first making his name in the Iowa junior college ranks and in the Northwoods League. If Wednesday was any indication, he might now be on the brink of harnessing his significant potential.
Another power righty who reached 93 mph was Nick Grim (Cal Poly), though his delivery had some effort and his secondary stuff needs refinement, according to one scout.
Scouts also praised a pair of lefthanders: Travis Radke (Portland, pictured right) and Chipper Smith (Cumberland, Tenn.). Radke, a 45th-round pick by the Reds out of high school this spring, showed very good feel for an 88-89 mph fastball, quality curveball and changeup. Smith, a transfer from JC of Southern Nevada, worked at 88-91 mph from a three-quarters slot, and mixed in a nice 81 mph changeup.
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