LONG BEACH, Calif.—With many of the biggest names at the Area Code Games already in San Diego getting ready Sunday’s PG All-American Game, some rising stars had a chance to take center stage Friday.
The Area Codes are always dominated by rising seniors, but a few top juniors also get opportunities to increase their profiles, as Alex Jackson and Jacob Gatewood did last year at Blair Field. This year’s breakout junior: catcher Chris Betts (Long Beach), a physical 6-foot, 210-pounder who has already committed to play for Dave Serrano at Tennessee.
The lefthanded-hitting Betts doubled to left-center Thursday to drive in a run for the Brewers, then continued to hit lasers to the opposite field Friday. He lined a hard single to left-center in the first against talented Nationals righty Chance Kirby. In the sixth, he smacked an RBI double to left field on a 78 mph left-on-left slider from Kyle Pate.
“I just came here expecting velocity, and I’ve been adjusting, just trying to hit the ball the other way,” Betts said. “I’ve just looked gap-to-gap, and whatever I get, hit it.”
Over the course of the week, Betts has also squared up balls to deep-center and to right field, and he has shown plenty of patience at the plate, especially for his age. On Wednesday, for instance, he entered the game in the fifth inning and walked in both of his late-game at-bats.
“He kind of resembles Alex Jackson last year when he put on a show and kind of put himself on the map,” Brewers manager Josh Belovsky said. “Betts is doing the same thing. He’s wearing out the gaps. As you know, Blair Field is a tough place to hit, and he’s making it look a little smaller right now. He’s got some big power, and he’s definitely using all parts of the field with some authority.”
Betts said the part of his game that has really progressed is his defense behind the plate.
“I’m just trying to focus on receiving, blocking—the stuff that will make you a good catcher,” Betts said. “Everybody can throw; you’ve got to be able to do the little things.”
Betts can really throw, but that’s not all he can do.
“He’s a solid receiver, he’s got a plus arm back there, and he’s shown some versatility playing first base,” Belovsky said. “I didn’t even know he could do that. We’re only carrying one first baseman, so I asked him, and he’s done a nice job over there as well.”
Betts was already a well-known prospect heading into this summer, but he has established himself as a blue-chipper. Brewers teammate Kevin Padlo (Murrieta, Calif.) had a lower profile before Area Codes, where the rising senior emerged as a legitimate third base prospect.
Like Betts, Padlo had a big Friday, lining an RBI single up the middle in his first at-bat, and ripping an RBI triple that one-hopped the left-field wall in his third trip. On Thursday, the San Diego recruit had an infield single and a deep flyout to left. He has good strength in his 6-foot, 176-pound frame, and a sound righthanded swing.
“Padlo was a bit of a surprise for us,” Belovsky said. “Going through the tryout process, I didn’t know much about him. He made a name for himself during the tryouts, and he’s continued to showcase himself out here. He’s a solid defender at third base, and he’s got plenty of bat speed. And he’s been making solid contact in the game. I think he’s a guy we’ll definitely be keeping an eye on. There are always those guys that come here and aren’t really on the map yet, and he’s one that I think guys are going to walk away having him on their list.”