LONG BEACH, CALIF.—Nearly all of the prominent prep arms in the country had been seen this summer by the first week, save for lefthander Justin Hooper, who was up to 93 at last year’s Area Code Games as a rising junior. He made his national summer showcase debut Monday at the ACG and was electric, flashing the stuff that could make him one of the top arms in the class.
Hooper, who entered in relief after a three-inning stint to start the game by righthander Joe DeMers, did not throw a fastball below 92 in his first inning, sitting 92-94 while touching 96. His velocity largely sat in the 90-93 range the rest of the way. Hooper offered a two-seam fastball with greater sink at 88-91 in his second and third frames.
Working from the third-base side of the rubber while throwing slightly across his body, Hooper has a fast arm and the ball jumps out of his hand. His delivery also offers deception because of his arm slot, which is below three-quarters, and extension.
“It looks like the ball is coming out of his arm pit and just jumps at hitters,” a National Crosschecker said.”Lefthanded hitters had no chance against him.”
Hooper generates glove-side run to his fastball and showed the ability to locate to either outer-third of the plate. The UCLA commit relied on his fastball-curveball combination in his first frame, throwing another offering (a slider) only once in 19 pitches in his opening frame. His curveball showed at least above-average potential with considerable depth and shape, as he demonstrated feel for the offering by throwing it for a strike more than two-thirds of the time. In the second and third innings he used his newly added slider more frequently.
“In the bullpen they were both spinning pretty well,” Hooper said. “I started throwing my curveball first, so I have been throwing it forever. My dad taught me how to throw it like a football. My slider I just picked up. I started messing around with a slider a couple of months ago. I didn't even throw it until the end of the season. I thought about it and said that using the smaller laces, a cutter/slider thing would work. I just said, ‘Let’s throw a slider today.'”
Although some area scouts said they have never seen him use a changeup in game action, Hooper demonstrated feel for the offering by throwing it for a strike four of the five times he threw it.
“It has developed really well,” Hooper said. “I have been working out with Tom House at USC. I stayed down there for a week in the dorms and then I came down there for a day. He really showed me how to have a good feel for my changeup.”
The 17-year-old showed feel for locating his heater to both sides of the plate with a delivery that has been tweaked.
“We changed my leg kick and (House) closed off my shoulder so I could be more accurate and go in and out more,” Hooper said. “He changed me a little bit, and I had been throwing that way for as long as I have been throwing. Then he said, ‘Do it like this.’ Then I was kind of iffy about it. But it works for me.”
Hooper threw three frames without allowing an earned run. He walked one and struck out five on four swinging strikes.
The 6-foot-7, 230-pound Hooper has an extra-large frame and lots of room to get stronger within his athletic build.
“I could add some more muscle in my legs,” he said. “My upper body seems fine but I want to add some strength and drive in my legs. I don't want to turn into my brother, who is so massive and can’t lift his arms above his head.”
Hooper hails from a very athletic family. His 6-foot-4, 249-pound older brother, Austin, is slated to start at tight end at Stanford, which has produced five tight ends drafted in the top four rounds since 2003, including Zach Ertz and Coby Fleener. His father played football at San Diego State. The athletic Hooper stopped playing basketball entering high school, then stopped playing football following his freshman year to focus solely on baseball. His time on the gridiron was spent at tight end and defensive end.
Hooper will be very busy over the next month, going from ACG to the Perfect Game All-American Classic to the Under Armour All-American Game less than a week later. His summer will end with a trip to Houston as part of USA Baseball’s 18-and-under National Team.
“I am really excited though, because I really want to see how I pitch to the kids who are the other best kids in the class,” Hooper said. “I want to see how I match up.”
• The breakout star of the East Coast Pro Showcase, outfielder Nick Plummer (Birmingham Brother Rice, Bloomfield Hills, Mich.), began the Area Code Games with a bang. Hitting leadoff for the White Sox in the first game of the day, Plummer launched the second pitch of the event, a fastball on the inner third, for a towering home run to right field that caused quite a reaction from scouts. The batted ball was very similar to the home run he hit during ECP.
“You almost never see amateur players hit balls like that, and he has done it twice in the last week,” a national crosschecker said.
In his next trip to the plate, Plummer worked himself into a leverage count of 3-0 and came out swinging hard, fouling off an 89 mph fastball on the inner third. He then fouled off six straight before taking ball four. But in that string of foul balls was another screaming line drive, this time down the right-field line that was called foul, but many in the scout section thought was a fair ball that would have likely resulted in a double. The muscular, chiseled Kentucky commit walked on four pitches in his next time up. He was thrown out at second base on a steal attempt that scouts clocked in the 3.5-second range. Plummer did not swing-and-miss Tuesday on seven swings.
One scouting director said that Plummer, a Michigan commit, is positioning himself as one of the better high school hitters in the entire class because of his physical tools, advanced feel for the strike zone and performance over the last week. His performance going forward will be monitored closely.