LOS ANGELES — Cody Buckel of Royal High School in Simi Valley, Calif., threw a 7-inning, complete-game no-hitter in a Wednesday afternoon contest at Westlake High of Westlake Village, Calif.
A righthander, Buckel is ranked No. 38 on Baseball America’s list of Top 100 high school prospects for the 2010 draft. Approximately 60 scouts watched as Buckel came within one solitary walk of a perfect game.
Christian Yelich, ranked No. 50 on the list, provided Buckel’s foremost obstacle in the Westlake lineup. Possessor of one the sweetest prep swings in the nation, Yelich entered the game hitting a robust .625 on the season.
Batting in the leadoff spot, Yelich barely missed squaring up a 94 mph Buckel fastball in the first inning, instead hitting a towering fly to left field. In the fourth inning, Yelich dribbled a soft grounder to second base and was tossed out.
Understanding that the lefthanded hitting Yelich was the primary threat to his no-hitter, Buckel engaged him in an epic battle with one on and two out in the sixth inning.
Buckel barely missed the outside corner with a 73 mph curve for a ball on the first pitch. Yelich then fouled off an 88 mph fastball and took another curve, running the count to 2-1. Fooled by an 84 mph change, Yelich swung and missed to even up the count. Buckel then reached back for a 90 mph fastball, which Yelich rapped to second base for an inning-ending groundout.
After the game, Buckel explained his battles with Yelich.
“We’ve played travel ball with each other for many years, and we’ve been teammates,” Buckel said. “I know him inside and out and he knows me inside and out. I wanted to mix up my pitches with him.”
Any chance for a perfect game by Buckel in Royal’s 6-0 win vanished with a full count walk in the sixth inning. Working quickly, Buckel struck out 10 hitters and was aided by two fine defensive plays: a diving catch of a line drive by his right fielder and Buckel’s own nifty snag of a high chopper over the mound, in which he whirled and threw the runner out comfortably.
As a professional prospect, Buckel physically resembles Ian Kennedy. A 6-foot-1, 170-pounder, Buckel began the game firing a lively 92-94 mph fastball, while mixing in his excellent arsenal of secondary pitches: 73-75 curve, 78 change, and a 84-88 pitch he calls a cutter, which acts like a slider.
Committed to Pepperdine, Buckel uses a modified Orel Hersheiser type of sideways leg kick at his balance point, and his overall delivery resembles that of Doug Drabek. Both of those pitchers, of course, are way before Buckel’s time: “My favorite pitcher is Tim Linecum, definitely, no doubt,” he stated.
In every one of his pitching appearances, Buckel begins his first inning warm up by standing on the grass between second base and the mound with the ball in his hand. He then races up the backside of the mound, down the front side, and fires the ball toward the plate.
A talented actor and singer when he isn’t throwing no-hitters, Buckel certainly has a distinct sense of the theatrical. If Wednesday’s game is any indication, Buckel will spend most of his professional baseball career squarely in the limelight.