SANTA BARBARA, Calif. — The final 2010 Milwaukee Brewers Area Code tryouts were held July 15 at Westmont College in Montecito, Calif., near Santa Barbara. Yesterday’s event blended the best players from separate previous workouts in Northern and Southern California.
During the regional Brewer Area Code tryouts, numerous rumblings have been heard from scouts and coaches about the diminished talent level this summer. No doubt the overall talent pool is lower, but long time baseball people understand that can be cyclical.
Talent levels can also be relative. There are doubtless several gifted players in the California class of 2010, but perhaps not as many as scouts are accustomed to. The local talent haul in the past four drafts—2007 through 2010—has been remarkable. Don’t be surprised if a least a dozen California high school players from those drafts appear on All Star Game rosters from 2015 to 2020.
A highly placed source within the Brewers organization told Baseball America that one of the purposes of the Area Code tryouts is to provide—at no cost to the player—the best possible chance to attend a tryout attended by scouts and college coaches.
“Talent is the determining factor,” said the source. “We have no limit on the number of underclassmen on the two (Brewers Blue and Gray) teams, and region within the state is not a factor. The final tryout encompasses the highest concentration of talent of any (high school) event in California.”
Indeed, of the 10 California players named to the Aflac game, five were present at Westmont. Righthander Joe Ross, righthander Robert Stephenson, outfielder Billy Flamion, outfielder Shawon Dunston and catcher Austin Hedges showed off their skills.
Ross, who attends Bishop O’Dowd HS in Oakland, is the younger brother of Tyson Ross of the Oakland Athletics. At 6-foot-2 and 180 pounds, Joe is a smaller version of his older sibling. He comfortably fires a 91-93 mph fastball and adds a severe 11-5 high 70s curveball.
Ross is an early candidate to be selected in the top two rounds of the 2011 draft.
Stephenson, who hails from Alhambra HS in Martinez, Calif., is also an early round possibility for 2011. A 6-foot-3, 185 pounder, he delivers a 92-93 mph fastball and wicked 77 slider.
At this preliminary stage, Ross and Stephenson are the best high school pitchers in California for the 2011 draft, with righthander Lucas Giolito of Harvard Westlake High in Los Angeles the top Golden State prep pitching prospect for the 2012 draft.
Hedges was the most intriguing of the position players. A 6-foot-1, 185 pound catcher from JSerra High in San Juan Capistrano, Calif., Hedges does not run well (7.46 in the 60 yard dash) and, to be diplomatic, his bat is a work in progress.
However, Hedges displays the most remarkable catch and throw skills of any high school catcher in recent California history. My stopwatch recorded three consecutive throws by Hedges to second base during pre game drills—the so called “pop” times—at 1.84, 1.78, and 1.87. Those times are well above average for a major league catcher (around 70-75 on the 20 to 80 scouting scale) but are staggering results for a high school receiver.
In addition to the well-known Aflac players, several relatively unknown youngsters were impressive. They included:
Desmond Henry, OF, Centennial HS, Compton, Calif.
Henry is shockingly fast—around 6.4 to 6.5 in the 60—and has an arm that is adequate for CF or LF. Henry is the prototypical speedy outfielder that minor league player development types attempt to make a switch hitter.
For now, Henry will stick to batting righthanded. If he develops more strength in his hands, wrists and forearms, Henry could become a decent righthanded hitter, given his recently improved hitting mechanics.
Alex Newman, OF, Gahr HS, Cerritos, Calif.
Newman was the top “sleeper” at Westmont. Strong and athletic, Newman runs extremely well (6.75). He flashed promising defensive skills with a nifty catch during the game portion of the event. While Newman does not throw well, his bat during BP exhibited provocative flashes of quickness and bat speed.
Within the next several days, the Brewers will announce the rosters for their Blue and Gray Area Code Squads. Normally, 48 players are selected with 24 assigned to each club.
In addition to the players described above, here are a few of my early favorites to make the final cut:
Ryan Keller, RHP, West Ranch HS, Castaic, Calif.
Rouric Bridgewater, 1B/3B, Diamond Ranch HS, Diamond Bar, Calif.
Taylor Sparks, 3B, St. John Bosco HS, Bellflower, Calif.
Dante Flores, INF, St. John Bosco HS, Bellflower, Calif.
Brandon Martin, INF, Santiago HS, Corona, Calif.
Shawon Dunston, OF, Valley Christian HS, Fremont, Calif.
Nigel Nootbaar, OF/RHP, El Segundo (Calif.) HS
Aaron Brown, OF, Chatsworth (Calif.) HS
Eric Snyder, OF, Edison HS, Huntington Beach, Calif.
Billy Flamion, OF, Central Catholic HS, Modesto, Calif.
Wallace Gonzalez, OF, Bishop Amat HS, Duarte, Calif.
The Area Code Games are scheduled for August 5-10 at Blair Field in Long Beach.