LOS ANGELES — Dedeaux Field on the campus of the University of Southern California was the site Sunday of the third-annual Jesse Flores Memorial High School All-Star Game, hosted by the Professional Baseball Scouts of Southern California (PBSSC).
Flores game All Stars are selected by balloting conducted by PBSSC members. All players have participated in fall “scout ball” in Southern California, and the showcase is free to all players chosen. This year’s event was ably organized and run by two local area scouts, Dave Keith (Yankees) and Brad Cameron (Giants).
For the first time, the contest was played in a traditional nine-inning game format, instead of the more casual scout-ball style. The South squad defeated the North squad, 14 to 3.
The annual event commemorates the remarkable accomplishments of Jesse Flores, who was the first Mexican national to play in the major leagues. A righthanded pitcher, Flores spent seven years in the majors with the Cubs, A’s and Indians from 1942-1950. After his playing career, Flores became a legendary scout for the Twins, signing major league stars such as Bert Blyleven, Reggie Smith, Craig Nettles and Jesse Orosco, to name a few.
Prior to Sunday’s contest, long-time Houston Astros scout Doug Deutsch was rightfully honored. A colorful and outgoing personality who is well respected by all in the local scouting fraternity, Deutsch recently retired after 30 years on the job. Deutsch signed 19 major league players in his outstanding career, but his most-recent signee may turn out to be his best—shortstop Jiovanni Mier, drafted by Houston in June (21st overall).
The standout player in Sunday’s game was Will Swanner, a catcher from La Costa Canyon HS in San Diego County. Swanner (South squad) is perhaps the most improved player in Southern California in the past year. Sunday he collected three hits, including two doubles and a single.
Swanner credits his improved hitting to his work with former big leaguer Deron Johnson, who led the NL in RBIs with 130 in 1965 while playing for the Reds. Not just a hitter, Swanner is an excellent defensive backstop, with an athletic and projectable frame, quick release and a strong, accurate arm.
Showcase standout Chad Lewis (South), from Marina HS in Huntington Beach was brilliant Sunday as well. A smooth third baseman with a fine arm and quality fielding actions, Lewis has hit well recently from coast to coast. He blasted a long home run into a crosswind during last week’s Jupiter, Florida WWBA tournament. On Sunday, he ripped three hits, including a double and two singles. Lewis is the prototypical third base prospect with a strong frame, powerful bat and slick glove.
Dominic Ficociello of Fullerton Union HS replaced Lewis in the sixth inning at third base for the South team and ripped the game’s only home run. Tall and lanky, Ficociello doubles as the quarterback on his school’s football team, but he confesses baseball will be his only sport after graduation.
A switch hitter, Ficociello turned on a 90 mph fastball batting lefty and drove a laser-like shot high into the trees beyond the rightfield fence. “On the 3-1 count I was looking for the fastball middle in, and when I got it, I jumped on it” said Ficociello. A natural righthanded hitter, Ficociello admits he is more of a line drive hitter batting righty and has more loft and lift to his swing from the left side.
Angelo Gumbs of Torrance HS (North) made the defensive play of the game. Racing into the gap in left center on a drive hit by Michael Lorenzen, Gumbs dove and backhanded the ball in mid air, holding onto the catch after skidding across the turf. It was a grab reminiscent of Ron Swoboda’s incredible play in the 1969 World Series.
Gumbs admitted afterwards that the bright sun made it tough to pick up the ball, but he nonetheless got a perfect jump. “The guy playing left is normally an infielder, so I knew it was my play all the way. I didn’t think about the dive, it was just instinct.” In addition to his defensive skills, Gumbs is an improved hitter, banging out two hits Sunday and causing his usual havoc on the bases. He credits his progress at bat to his recent work with former big league star Ken Landreaux at the MLB Academy in Compton.
The Flores game highlighted several pitchers. Dylan Covey (North) a righthander from Maranatha HS in Pasadena, made a quick first inning cameo before exiting stage left. A first-round candidate in 2010, Covey flashed his typical strong stuff: 92-94 mph fastball, 79 curve and 82 slider.
Despite surrendering Ficociello’s homer, righty Cody Buckel (North) of Royal HS in Simi Valley has increased his fastball velocity, jumping from the high 80s into the 90-92 mph range on Sunday.
Tall and rangy righthander Taijuan Walker (South) from Yucaipa HS did not exhibit the same free and easy arm action that he has shown in recent outings. Despite appearing to aim or push the ball, Walker still fired a 91-93 fastball and a wicked 73-74 curve.
The younger brother of San Diego State star Addison Reed, Rancho Cucamonga HS righthander Austin Reed established himself Sunday. Reed’s 90-91 fastball is complemented by a 73 change and 70 curve. He will need to do a better job of concealing his secondary pitches. Reed tips off those offerings by discernibly decelerating his arm as he releases the ball.
The 2009 Flores All Star Game brought into sharper focus the depth and quality of the 2010 Southern California High School draft class. Deep and talented, the 2010 group features an impressive stock of right handed pitching, numerous promising hitters, and several potential multi tool position players.