COMPTON, Calif.—Sammy Ayala impressed scouts last June at a showcase event at San Diego State, but many scouts had to wait until this weekend to get another look at him. Ayala is not a darling of showcases or scout ball because he played defensive end for La Jolla Country Day's football team.
Ayala, a UC Santa Barbara recruit, burst back onto the baseball prospect landscape in a big way at Saturday's Southern California Invitational at the Major League Baseball Urban Youth Academy. In his first at-bat, the lefthanded-hitting Ayala ripped a hard line drive to center field against lefthander Max Fried—a potential first-round pick. The ball got by the center fielder and reached the wall, allowing Ayala to motor around the bases for an inside-the-park home run.
Ayala followed with an opposite-field RBI single later in the game against righthander Andrew Potter (shown in the video below). And the 6-foot-2, 195-pound Ayala did a solid job receiving and blocking behind the plate. Scouts came away buzzing that Ayala's performance was one of the big stories of the event.
"He's a big, strong-bodied lefthanded guy with some power and some arm strength," said an American League area scout who was in Compton. "He held his own catching; he did enough back there to be in the conversation with the other catchers there. He showed no fear against those guys—he looked like he belonged. And he made hard contact."
JUPITER, Fla. — Marucci Elite made history by winning the 2011 World Wood Bat Association World Championship. The team beat the tournament's Cinderella story, the Central FL PG Royal team, 4-3
Marucci Elite became the first team to win both the WWBA World Championship and the WWBA Underclass World Championship in the same year. Marucci Elite won the Underclass World Championship last year as well.
"The level of play at this thing, I mean it's the best players in the country," Marucci Elite program director and head coach Chad Raley said. "So to win this thing is absolutely huge. It's special to win this thing because there's some extremely talented players at this event."
Infielder Chase Nyman from Pascagoula (Miss.) High plays shortstop and second base for his high school team, but had to move off those positions for a pair of talented juniors: shortstop Oscar Mercado from Gaither High in Tampa and second baseman Chris Rivera from El Dorado High in Placentia, Calif. Nyman, a Mississippi recruit, has a sweet lefthanded stroke and came up clutch for Marucci Elite today, getting the eventual game-winning hit in both of the team's games. [...] Continue Reading »
JUPITER, Fla.—The surprise of Sunday's action at the World Wood Bat Association World Championship was the Central FL PG Royal team knocking the FTB Mizuno/Cardinals Scout Team out of the playoffs.
It was a regular David and Goliath game, as the always-loaded Cardinals Scout Team featured a handful of top prospects for the 2012 draft.
The playoffs will pick back up Monday morning with the semi-finals in which Midwest Reds Scout Team takes on Marucci Elite and the Central FL PG Royal team facing off against the Texas Sun Devils.
Even though the event is a tournament, instead of strictly a showcase, the hundreds of scouts and coaches in attendance are more concerned with individual performances and tools rather than the results of the games.
One player that continued to make a name for himself today was FTB Mizuno/Cardinals Scout Team outfielder Jamal Martin from Forest Hill High in West Palm Beach, Fla.
Martin hit a home run in the team's clinching game before the playoffs.
"I was 0-2, so I just wanted to get good wood on the ball," Martin said after the game. "I let it get deep and I just drove it. I knew it was out because I hit it into the wind. It probably would have been a double, but I squared it up pretty good." [...] Continue Reading »
JUPITER, Fla.—The World Wood Bat Association World Championship has long been a place where high school prospects can establish themselves as elite players against high-level competition. Matt Smoral, a lefthander from Solon (Ohio) High has always been considered to be among the top pitchers in the country, but he may have solidified himself as the top southpaw with an impressive outing on Friday.
Smoral took the hill for the Midland Redskins/Royals Scout Team and lit up radar guns immediately, sitting 90-92 mph and touching 94 twice in the first inning. He remained in the low 90s for the first three innings before settling in at 88-91 in his final inning. He throws from a three-quarter arm slot and has a fairly easily delivery. His second-best pitch is a hard tilting slider in the low 80s.
"I felt great, I really wanted to come down here and show my stuff," Smoral said. "Show I've been working hard. My arm felt great. I had a little trouble commanding the fastball at times, but I tried to battle through it and get the team a W."
Smoral's command did come and go, and he occasionally got around his slider, making it more slurvy. He also flashed a changeup at 82. [...] Continue Reading »
JUPITER, Fla. — Texas Sun Devils catcher Peter Pizarro has a muscular 5-foot-11, 190-pound frame. The senior from Byrd High in Shreveport, La. has a strong arm behind the plate, recording a 1.83-second pop time to second base in Friday night's game at the World Wood Bat Association World Championship event.
But Pizarro also likely has something no other high school baseball player has. . . a wife.
Pizarro said he moved from San Juan, P.R. about two and a half years ago for a better education and more baseball exposure. After meeting at his new high school, Pizarro got married this summer to Brittany Lafitte, who played softball at Centenary in 2011.
"Everything started in high school," Pizarro said. "I went to Calvary Baptist Academy and that first look, you know, I fell in love with her. And she's also a catcher. She played softball at Centenary and she was amazing. She threw from her knees and threw runners out and I said, 'Wow! Who is that girl?' So, I liked the way she played and we became close friends and then after that I started feeling something for her."
The couple now lives together—with a baby on the way—in a house that Pizarro helped build as an after-school employee at his father-in-law's construction company.
Pizarro is hoping that playing in this event will get his name out there among scouts and coaches.
"One thing that I learned is that no matter what happens in my life, I just have to stay positive," Pizarro said. "Right now it's a challenge to be married and being in high school. It probably seems really hard for a 17-year-old, but it's going to work and I'm working hard to become a better baseball player."
JUPITER, Fla.—Several marquee pitchers drew large masses of scouts to their games today, as the World Wood Bat Association World Championship kicked off with an abbreviated schedule.
One standout pitcher, however, was relatively new to the scene: lefthander Anthony Seise from West Orange High in Winter Garden, Fla.
Seise, who is currently uncommitted, is a bit of a pop-up since he didn't pitch at many other big events this summer. He also missed all of last summer with shoulder soreness, but said everything feels fine now.
With an athletic, 6-foot-3, 185-pound build, Seise sat in the 89-91 mph range with his fastball and mixed in a 12-6 curveball that showed sharp break at times. He also threw a couple changeups, though he admitted after the game that it's his third-best pitch.
Seise showed a nice line to the plate, threw his fastball for strikes to both sides and was aggressive with pitching inside.
"I felt good, I felt really good, I felt like I controlled everything," Seise said. "The first couple innings my curveball wasn't working, but then I calmed myself and my curveball was working good."
Despite his athletic build, Seise has always been focused only on baseball—a sport he's loved since he was 5 years old.
"If I'm not playing baseball, I like to help little kids develop and become a little better," Seise said. "My high school has some camps during the week, so I just help with them. It feels good." [...] Continue Reading »
PEORIA, Ariz.—Many players give up football to focus on baseball. Some, like Matt Kemp, give up basketball. Tom Glavine chose pitching over a professional hockey career and Twins prospect Aaron Hicks was a talented golfer before he starred on the diamond.
Chris Shaw from Holy Trinity High in Calgary, Alberta, gave up curling to focus full-time on baseball.
"It's always been on the back burner to baseball, but it's something I do with my friends," Shaw said. "It was two times a week in the winter to just keep me busy because we get all the snow in Manitoba, but my dream has always been to become a professional baseball player."
The 6-foot-1, 180-pound catcher stood out over the past few days at the Arizona Senior Fall Classic with his strong hands behind the plate and a quick righthanded bat.
Originally from Winnipeg, Manitoba, Shaw moved to Okotoks, Alberta, last month to train at the Okotoks Dawgs training complex under former California catcher Brett Thomas. [...] Continue Reading »
PEORIA, Ariz.–Fernando Perez will be moving schools again, but he's already proven he's up to the challenge.
The third baseman from Otay Ranch High in Chula Vista, Calif., said he has enough credits to graduate early and will be enrolling at Central Arizona JC in January.
"I really want to challenge myself," Perez said. "So I want to go there and play with older guys and wood bats and the longer season."
Perez will share the left side of the diamond with an old friend. Central Arizona's shortstop, Jorge Flores, is also from Mexico and he and Perez played together when they were younger.
Changing schools and challenging himself is nothing new for Perez.
Originally from Ensenada, Mexico, Perez first started playing baseball when he was 8 years old. He said he comes from a baseball family–his father and uncle played semi-pro baseball in Mexico.
PEORIA, Ariz. — Each of the 61 teams at the Arizona Senior Fall Classic have talented players, but the teams with the biggest collections of talent are generally the regional teams organized by scouts.
Such was the case today when the SC Rays Scout Team rolled out a trio of intriguing righthanders–Nolan Gannon from Santa Fe Christian High in Solana Beach, Calif.; Jake Pintar from San Juan Hills High in San Juan Capistrano, Calif.; and Zach Jemiola from Great Oak High in Temecula, Calif. [...] Continue Reading »
SAN BERNARDINO, Calif. — Chris Kohler originally committed to Southern California as a hitter back in January. But this weekend at the Baseball America Scout Ball Tournament in San Bernardino and Upland, Kohler showed why his pitching stock is on the rise.
Kohler, a junior lefthander at Los Osos High in Rancho Cucamonga, has been overpowering for the Red Sox Scout Team this fall. A week after he struck out 13 batters in five innings in a start, Kohler fanned eight in three innings of work against an overmatched Cardinals Blue team on Saturday. His out pitch was a sharp 71-73 mph curveball that he can throw for strikes or use as a chase pitch.
"My curveball was working good. It's usually my strongest pitch," Kohler said. "Usually I start batters off with that pitch, then go to the fastball, then maybe finish with the curve again. I brought the fastball up a little high, but felt good overall. I tried to elevate it on some, because they were chasing it."
Kohler has an easy delivery and plenty of projection in his 6-foot-2, 170-pound frame. He sat around 85-86 mph on Saturday and topped out at 87, but he figures to add significant velocity as he continues to get used to pitching and keeps maturing physically. [...] Continue Reading »
LONG BEACH, Calif. — Everything players did at the Area Code Baseball Games presented by New Balance was being dissected—and not just by the mass of scouts behind home plate.
The players were also being measured by an eye in the sky—a radar system mounted behind home plate that records all kinds of information about how the baseball is moving around the field and turns it into useful data for major league teams. The company behind the information is called TrackMan.
"It's actually a Danish company," TrackMan's manager of baseball operations and data Josh Orenstein said. "It was founded in 2003 and the radar is a 3-D Doppler radar system and it's actually a military-grade technology."
This is the company's second year at the Area Code Games, but TrackMan's roots are on the golf course.
"Our founders are golfers," Orenstein said. "Our CEO was the top amateur golfer in Denmark and they built the radar in a garage to measure how far the ball went, they could measure club speed and other numbers that you see here. They took it to golf manufacturers and it was an immediate success. We're the leader in ball-flight technology in golf. We work with the PGA Tour, individual players have the radar and there's one radar at every PGA event."
Baseball has been slower to adapt—currently, just a handful of major league organizations have TrackMan systems installed in one or more of their parks—but the company is growing quickly as more teams realize the differences between TrackMan and the industry standard, PITCHf/x.
"It's similar in scope, but theirs is camera-based, while ours is radar," Orenstein said. "And we do some things that they don't. We measure extension—how far the pitcher's hand is when he releases the ball, how close he is to home plate. And we also measure the spin rate in revolutions per minute."
TrackMan shared its data with Baseball America so, first off, let's look at which pitchers showed the highest velocity at the event. . . [...] Continue Reading »
LONG BEACH, Calif. — Lefthander Trey Ball had his work cut out for him this morning. Ball was the White Sox starter today against the Southern California Brewers squad and the 6-foot-6, 175-pound rising junior from New Castle (Ind.) High carved them up for three innings.
"I felt pretty good, I felt relaxed," Ball said after the game. "It could have been different, but I came from the East Coast [Professional Showcase] and I had a chance to get this atmosphere before coming here, so I was nice and relaxed. That helped out a lot. I had better command here than I did down there and everything felt good."
Over the three shutout innings, Ball gave up one single and walked another runner, who he promptly picked off, while also striking out four. He mostly did it with a fastball in the 87-88 mph range, topping out at 89, and a 77-81 mph changeup. But Ball also had a secret weapon in his arsenal. . .
"For my out pitch, I'll usually sneak in a knuckleball that I've got," Ball said. "I throw it kind of hard, so it kind of dances, but it also dives. I've also got a cutter, but I didn't throw that today because it wasn't working in the bullpen, and I'll be working on a slider here in the fall."
The pitch does have drop and acts like a curveball in the 72-74 mph range and he's been throwing it for several years now.
"It started back in Little League, actually," Ball said. "I was just messing around in the backyard with my dad, throwing, and I've been throwing it ever since."
[...] Continue Reading »
LONG BEACH, Calif. — For the third-consecutive day at the Area Code Baseball Games presented by New Balance, it was a catcher that stood out the most. Clint Coulter from Union High in Camas, Wash. was actually the Royals' designated hitter today, but he's normally a catcher that's still learning the ropes back there.
Aside from Area Codes, Coulter spent time with his summer team, the Vancouver Cardinals and had the opportunity to tour the country on and off for several weeks with the Bobby Valentine All-American team. That experience was comparable to life in the minor leagues and helped Coulter prepare for an event like this, going up against some of the best talent in the country.
"I'm just looking for a good pitch to hit," Coulter said about his approach when facing a pitcher for the first time. "I think I've gotten one pitch on the inside part of the plate, so I'm not really sitting on that inside pitch as much as I would usually, because I know these guys aren't going to give me the best pitches to hit. I'm just looking for a ball I can drive hard."
He got those balls today, going 3-for-3 with two singles and a double. On the first single, Coulter aggressively took second base when the center fielder bobbled the ball. The double was absolutely crushed to the left-center alley and would have been a home run in most parks, but Blair Field is another story and there hasn't been a home run at the event yet. He ound up scoring on the same play as the double, thanks to a couple errant throws.
[...] Continue Reading »
LONG BEACH, Calif. — Stryker Trahan was born to be a catcher.
His parents—middle school sweethearts Chad and Donna—were both catchers growing up at Acadiana High in Lafayette, La., the same school Stryker attends now.
"I come from a long line of baseball players and catchers," Trahan said. "I started out when I was just a little boy. I remember my parents telling me stories about me walking in the room, when I could barely walk, and I'd give the baseball to my mom and I'd have my bat and she'd toss me the ball and I'd hit it right back at her all night long."
Trahan has been a catcher his whole life. At a rock-solid 6-foot-1 and 220 pounds with muscular thighs and huge, strong hands, he's certainly put together well for the position. Trahan has a quiet demeanor, but also exudes no-nonsense toughness and enjoys taking on a leadership role on the field.
"It's just like with football and being the quarterback," Trahan said. "I like having the ball in my hands and being able to control everything. You get to control the game, call pitches, control the tempo. . . it keeps me in the game and keeps me focused."
Although he's built like a linebacker or fullback, Trahan is actually the quarterback for Arcadiana, though he's having reservations about returning to the gridiron for his senior season.
[...] Continue Reading »
LONG BEACH, Calif. — Scouts here at the Area Code Games will have to bear down on Wyatt Mathisen, especially if they want to see him behind the plate. The rising senior from Calallen High in Corpus Christi, Texas shows good tools behind the plate—and catcher is his natural position—but he mainly pitches and plays shortstop for his high school team.
"I play shortstop and pitch at my high school, because that's just what we needed," Mathisen said. "This last year, we had a really good catcher that's going to Tulane or something, so we had a good catcher and they didn't need me there, but next year I think we might have a couple transfers coming in from different schools and they play middle infield, so when I'm not pitching and they have enough time to get me rest, I might get a couple games in [at catcher]."
Mathisen caught during Friday night's game and showed a strong arm, ripping off a 1.94 pop time down to second base.
"I've been catching since I was about 10 years old," Mathisen said. "Me and the other pitcher on our Little League team just switched back and forth and that's when I really started catching. It's been my main spot since I was like 13, but in high school I haven't caught that much.
"I come out here and I haven't caught in five months. I was a little rusty. Everything is good except for my blocking. Blocking's tough because you have to practice it and get used to it and get in the groove. I still work on my throws when I'm not catching, so the only thing that's hard is blocking, basically."
Mathisen, who verbally committed to Texas last November, also shows good strength at the plate. As the Rangers' designated hitter today, he went 2-for-3 with a double that he hammered down the left field line and a jam shot single over the shortstop's head.
[...] Continue Reading »
LONG BEACH, Calif. — The 25th-annual Area Code Baseball Games presented by New Balance got underway today at Blair Field in Long Beach, Calif. While most of today's action consisted of batting practice, there were also two games played. One pitcher that stood out was Reds pitcher Tony Blanford from Boulder Creek High in Phoenix.
Blanford, a 6-foot-3, 180-pound righthander, hasn't pitched in any other big showcase events this summer, and it looks like his outing today may have been his biggest chance.
"After this, I go back to school," Blanford said. "So, my summer's pretty much over after this."
Blanford has a nice, athletic body and showed good balance in his delivery. He showed a loose arm and pounded the lower half of the strike zone with a fastball in the 88-90 mph range, a good 74-76 mph curveball with 11-5 break and he flashed an 81 mph changeup.
He got hit around a little in his second inning of work, giving up a pair of runs to the Royals, but still showed enough stuff to be an interesting player to follow this fall and spring.
"I felt pretty good," Blanford said. "The ball was coming out pretty good and I had good command. One guy squared it up pretty well—I thought I made a good pitch, but he squared it up and he's a pretty good hitter."
Long Beach Leftovers
• Righthander Ty Hensley from Santa Fe High in Edmond, Okla. looked a little tired in the first game. Hensley, who was up to 95 mph earlier this summer, was more in the 88-91 mph range today, though he still mixed in a good, 76-77 mph curveball.
• Righthander Grayson Long from Barbers Hill High from Mont Belvieu, Texas has a projectable frame at 6-foot-6 and 190 pounds. He had good life on his 89-91 mph fastball and mixed in a 75-76 mph curveball.
• The Reds threw two other righthanders with good stuff. Zach Quintana from Arbor View High in Las Vegas was 89-91 with a sharp, 77-78 mph slider and Brady Lail from Bingham High in South Jordan, Utah was mostly 86-89 with a 74-75 mph curveball that he threw for strikes.
• All four games set for Tuesday, Aug. 9 will be broadcast live on ESPN3.com.
LONG BEACH, Calif. — Today's action mainly consisted of batting practice sessions for each team. Here are the players that stood out in BP . . .
• The Athletics team consists of players from Northern California and a few new names stood out. Outfielder Giovanni Brusa from St. Mary's High in Stockton has a physical build at 6-foot-3 and 195 pounds. His swing has a lot of moving parts, which can affect his timing, but he showed some strength from both sides of the plate and hit a home run from the left side. . . Outfielder Brody Russell from Centennial High in Bakersfield is a 6-foot-1, 185-pound right-handed hitter with a nice, simple swing that hit everything hard during his BP session. . . One name to keep an eye on for next year is first baseman Ryan Tellez from Elk Grove High. Tellez is anchored to first base because of his hulking, 6-foot-4, 220-pound frame, but he showed impressive strength from the left side of the plate.
[...] Continue Reading »
By Mike Kanen
For the second consecutive summer, the Breakthrough Series was hosted by USA Baseball in Cary, N.C. after a two-year term at the Urban Youth Academy in Compton, Calif. Once again, the event was a rousing success.
Since its inception in 2008, the Breakthrough Series has served as an opportunity for many kids in urban areas around the country to showcase their skills in front of college recruiters and major league scouts that may not get a chance to see them play otherwise. This year, 80 players were selected to compete in the event by the Urban Youth Academy, Major League Scouting Bureau, Mentoring Viable Prospects (MVP) and Chicago White Sox. The four organizations competed in a round-robin tournament from Monday through Thursday.
In the championship contest, MVP dominated the White Sox, 17-2, scoring 11 runs in the second inning. The game was played at Durham Bulls Athletic Park and will be aired on MLB Network at 2 p.m. on Saturday, July 30. [...] Continue Reading »
Once again, Perfect Game saved the best for last at PG National.
Last year, it was Daniel Norris who pitched on the last day. This year, it was Jesuit High (Tampa) righthander Lance McCullers Jr. who took the mound in front of a thinned-out crowd, after many scouts left to catch flights to the next assignment.
McCullers fumbled a few plays at shortstop this week, but it doesn't matter. His future is undoubtedly on the mound and today's two-inning stint was dominating, as usual.
"I think the last few days I was playing a little bit outside myself and I was trying to do a little bit too much, but there was no reason to," McCullers said. "I went out on the mound today and was really focused, trying to get ahead early, so I could throw my off-speed pitches. But I really felt good out there. I felt my stuff was coming out of my hand really well, so overall it was a successful day."
McCullers threw 22 fastballs today: five at 94 mph, seven at 95, six at 96 and four at 97. He throws both a curveball and a slider. There is a subtle difference in the velocity—the curveball is 83-84 mph and the slider is 86-87—but the pitches blend together a bit with hard, late break.
McCullers said he has been hitting the gym to add muscle to his 6-foot-1, 190-pound frame, mostly focusing on strengthening his legs and core. The improved strength showed up on the mound today, as McCullers looked more balanced than he has in the past. He was sticking his landing pretty well instead of falling off or overthrowing and the adjustment allowed him to throw more strikes.
"I worked for about six months with Orlando Chinea, who is the guy that worked out Jose Fernandez," McCullers said. "Me and Jose are really good friends and work out together all the time and I've really transformed into an athletic thrower and a guy that can be looked at as more of a complete pitcher. I have much better control down in the zone now. I don't leave as many balls up for guys to take good hacks at. My curveball is much sharper and I'm working on that changeup now."
For the rest of the summer, McCullers will be pitching with the Tampa Bay Warriors, skipping out on a chance to pitch again for Team USA this summer.
"I'm really sorry I can't be there, it was an amazing experience last year," McCullers said. "USA (Baseball) puts on an amazing week at the Tournament of Stars and playing with the USA team was one of the best experiences I'll ever experience. But I just can't get away from school that long or I would suffer too much in the classroom. I regret not being able to do it, but it's just something I have to deal with."
• Scouts that did grind it out and stay for the entire showcase got a little treat in the last game with lefthander Nathan Kirby from James River High in Midlothian, Va. Kirby has an athletic, 6-foot-2, 185-pound frame and showed a 89-91 mph fastball that topped out at 92. His fastball had good downward angle and a lot of late life. Kirby showed good rhythm in his delivery, but did fall off to the third base side a little bit. The Virginia commit mixed in a nice 78-82 mph slider.
• Righthander Nolan Gannon from Santa Fe Christian High in Solana Beach, Calif. has a nice projectable frame at 6-foot-5 and 195 pounds. He utilizes a full windup, but has a short arm stroke and threw his fastball in the 90-92 mph range with arm-side run. His curveball was inconsistent—he got around a few of them—but it showed flashes of being a quality pitch in the 73-77 mph range.
• Righthander David Gonzalez from Gainesville (Ga.) High has a stocky, 6-foot-1, 200-pound build. There's a little funk to his delivery, but his stuff was legit. Everything was down in the zone, including his 90-93 mph fastball, his 76-77 mph 12-6 curveball and his slider and changeup, which were both in the 82-84 range and blended together in shape because his changeup has splitter action.
• One rumor swirling around the stands today is that outfielder Fernelys Sanchez and catcher Nelson Rodriguez will be moving south this spring. The duo played for Washington High in New York this spring, but will reportedly spend 2012 at Bucky Dent's Baseball School in Delray Beach, Fla.
Lefthander Hunter Virant has been one of the best arms so far through the first three days of PG National. Virant has a lean, projectable 6-foot-3, 172-pound frame and threw four pitches for strikes.
Virant's fastball sat in the 90-91 mph range, but he touched 93 and threw the pitch for strikes to both sides of the plate.
"I felt great," Virant said after his outing. "My arm was a little tight in the beginning, but I loosened up quick. The heat helps out a lot. It's way different than what I'm used to. It's nice and humid—different than the nice, cool climate of California.
His arm can get a little sweepy in the back, but he oozes projection and commanded his fastball to both sides of the plate. The UCLA commit mixed in a 77-79 mph slider, a 78-79 mph changeup and a 71-73 mph curveball.
"Usually I stick with the fastball, that's my main pitch," Virant said. "After that, I go to my slider. Then I use the changeup to get hitters off balance and get them thinking. And if I need to, I can go to the curveball and use that big hook." [...] Continue Reading »
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