LOS ANGELES — The Southern California class of draft eligible high school righthanded pitchers in 2010 is the most talent laden in many years. In this crowd, infielders have as much chance of getting noticed as the comedy act that followed the Beatles on the Ed Sullivan Show in 1964.
Nonetheless, this past week I took a peek at two of the best prep infielders in the area, as well as the nation: shortstop Tony Wolters of Rancho Buena Vista High in Vista and third baseman Chad Lewis of Marina High in Huntington Beach.
Wolters was named MVP of last summer’s Aflac game, and is ranked No. 22 on Baseball America's list of top high school prospects for the June draft. His undersized, 5-foot-10, 170-pound build and 7.15 speed may depress his draft stock, but scouts are intrigued by Wolters excellent glove, quick bat and sharp baseball instincts. On Saturday, Wolters played shortstop for RBV in a doubleheader at El Camino High of Oceanside.
Wolters is an advanced defensive player who will probably shift to second base as a professional. Smartly, he has dropped his earlier tendency to show off or “hot dog” in the field, sticking to basic fielding fundamentals. His fielding actions are quick and fluid, and Wolters can make any play you can dream up—turn the pivot, charge the ball, short hop, go in the hole, etc.
One of Wolters primary strengths is his understanding and execution of finer technical parts of the game. As one example, before tagging a sliding runner Wolters catches the ball directly above the bag and then drops his glove straight down–instead of extending his glove outward in the direction of the throw, which adds unneeded milliseconds.
A lefthanded hitter, Wolters employs a kind of modified Jeff Bagwell stance. He begins in a wide crouch, with his hands held just above his waist. As the pitch approaches, Wolters moves his hands into a launch position and then attacks the ball with a sweeping uppercut. After hitting the ball solidly early in the day Wolters struggled later on, possibly due to sore wrist, which was heavily taped.
Wolters' finish is inconsistent—on some swings he releases his top hand too soon, in effect swinging with one hand. On others, he will whip the bat around his head in an awkward circular motion.
Pigeonholing Wolters for the upcoming draft is tricky. His short, non projectable frame and lack of overwhelming tools will no doubt cause Wolters to drop downward on many clubs draft boards. Teams that like Wolters—and there is one in particular—see potential in his bat, admire his wonderful defensive skills, and are enamored with his baseball sense and leadership qualities.
On Wednesday, Chad Lewis squared off against Edison High of Huntington Beach and their three top 2011 prospects: lefthander Henry Owens, shortstop Christian Lopes, and outfielder Eric Snyder. Owens pitched Edison to victory in bitterly cold and windy conditions.
A standout on the showcase and scout ball circuit, Lewis blasted a long wood bat home run into a crosswind during the WWBA championships at Jupiter, Florida in October of 2009. He followed that effort with an outstanding performance at the Jesse Flores Memorial All Star game last fall at USC. Lewis is ranked No. 34 on Baseball America's top 100 high school prospects list.
Lewis, who bats and throws righthanded, has the prototypical big league third baseman’s frame at 6-foot-3 and 200 pounds. Concentration lapses affect his fielding consistency, but Lewis profiles as a plus defender. His range may be a tad short, but Lewis has buttery smooth actions, outstanding play making ability and a strong, accurate arm.
While his running speed is below average, Lewis shows interesting potential as a hitter, for he possesses both power and bat speed. At this stage, Lewis struggles with pitch recognition and has a habit of over striding and pulling his front side off of the ball, resulting in weak ground balls to the left side. He managed a single off of Owens, but did not hit the ball hard Wednesday.
Nonetheless, it is not difficult to imagine Lewis becoming an impact hitter as he progresses through pro ball, which will provide him the chance to play every day and get his swing in a groove.
In Southern California, 2010 is a tough year to be a position player, particularly an infielder. One prominent scout summed it up best: “With all the pitching out here this year, we may not get to the position guys until the 3rd or 4th round."