LAS VEGAS — America’s playground was the site of the second-annual Four Corners Scout Day during MLK Day weekend, January 16th and 17th. While not as spectacular as Cirque De Soleil or as flashy as the Strip at night, the talent in attendance is a much better bet to succeed than most poker hands or roulette wheel spins.
The wood bat high school showcase is capably organized and enthusiastically run by Buck Thomas, a local high school coach and part time scout for the Los Angeles Angels. In scouting parlance, “Four Corners” refers not only to the Vegas area but to the four large Southwestern states: Utah, Colorado, New Mexico and Arizona.
Initial activity in the showcase occurred on Saturday night, January 16, inside the cavernous “Bat-R-Up” batting cage facility in Las Vegas. Pitchers were on display first, with each tossing a five minute bullpen session in front of the assembled scouts and college coaches.
Two hurlers, both Area Code Game alumni, distinguished themselves. First was Nick Kingham (Sierra Vista HS, Las Vegas), a physically imposing 6-foot-5, 220-pound righthander. Kingham fired a heavy 90-94 mph fastball, adding a sharp 79 mph slider and an inconsistent but promising 82 mph changeup, which flashed late arm side movement.
On hand for the event was Bret Saberhagen, a two-time AL Cy Young Award winner who now works as a consultant for West Coast Sports Management. Saberhagen gave BA his take on Kingham: “He has improved mechanically, but he has to make sure not to overthrow. His change was really nice, and he also has a tight breaking ball. I like the fact that he has lost about 20-30 pounds, has gotten thinner but also has gotten stronger.”
Also impressive was Michael Wagner (Centennial HS, Las Vegas), who at 6’4” and 180 pounds is the classic projectable high school righthander. Wagner offers a 90-91 mph fastball with excellent natural sink, an 81 mph curveball and an 80 mph change that has some slight screwball action. In his delivery, Wagner reminds observers of Goose Gossage, with a severely bent back leg and maximum effort delivery. Like Gossage, Wagner appears to throw both himself and the ball at the hitter.
Saberhagen offered his opinion on Wagner: “He has good mechanics, and he works both sides of the plate well. He needs to work on the change, since he jerks it when he delivers it. The breaking ball is good, but not as tight as I’ve seen it before.”
On Sunday the 17th, Kevin Gausman made a brief cameo as the showcase shifted outdoors to Centennial High School in the hinterlands of Northwestern Las Vegas. Gausman, who hails from Grandview HS in Aurora, Colo., is BA’s 7th ranked national high school prospect. An Aflac game star, Gausman exhibited his low 90s fastball and his customary outstanding secondary stuff: 87-88 two seamer, 76 change and 77-78 slider.
An innovator, Gausman showed BA his unusual hybrid changeup grip. “I couldn’t get the hang of a circle change, and I couldn’t get the hang of a split” explained the lanky righthander. Gasman grips his change by placing his middle finger on the outside of the seams split finger style, then ever so slightly curls his index figure on the opposite of the ball. “I then move my thumb underneath the ball into any spot I want, depending on what type of movement I want to put on the pitch.”
The Sunday session permitted position players to grab center stage. Standouts from the class of 2010 included:
Marcus Littlewood, ss, Pine View HS, St. George, Utah: BA’s No. 32 high school prospect, Littlewood is an Area Codes and Aflac veteran. Physically mature at 6-foot-3 and 200 pounds, Littlewood profiles as a third baseman at advanced levels. He possesses a fine arm and advanced fielding actions despite taking too many steps prior to releasing his throws.
A switch-hitter, Littlewood shows both hitting and power potential. To his credit, Littlewood’s swing shows little variance from the left or right side. It should be noted that the 60-yard dash course at this event had a downward tilt, so the recorded times may vary from reality. Nonetheless, Littlewood ran a 6.63, an outstanding time for a player with his body type.
Sam Wilson, of, Eldorado HS, Albuquerque, New Mexico: Lefthanded all the way, Wilson is a strong and athletic outfielder with multi-tool ability. He ran a bookend pair of 60ss at 6.62 and 6.63, and displayed a decent arm—86 mph off the mound on Saturday.
As a hitter, Wilson’s bat hisses as it whips through the hitting area. However, Wilson is hampered by a tendency to get his weight out on his front foot, and he begins his swing with his hands in a weak position.
Dillon Meyer, of, Palo Verde HS, Las Vegas: The surprise “find” of this showcase, Meyer is an outfielder that bats and throws righthanded and reminds scouts of Cutter Dykstra, drafted in the 2nd round by Milwaukee in 2008.
Meyer has blistering speed, registering a 6.63 60 and then following with a 6.37 time that caused every timer to ask, “Did we get that right?” During infield/outfield drills, Meyer showed off an impressive arm. In BP, he hammered several hard line drives, but Meyer’s hitting mechanics are raw and need adjustment.
Johnny Field, of, Bishop Gorman HS, Las Vegas: A powerfully-built righthander, Field ran well (6.71) and threw acceptably during infield and outfield. He exhibited interesting exit speed in his BP session, but, as with most high school hitters, his swing mechanics need alteration. Field grips the bat too tightly and buckles his front knee as he follows through.
From the class of 2011, some of the top players were . . .
Jake Hager, inf, Sierra Vista HS, Las Vegas: An infielder that bats from the right side and throws righthanded, Hager resembles former big leaguer Jeff Blauser. Hager has average speed (6.91) and excellent defensive skills. As a hitter, he does an advanced job of tracking the ball onto his bat, and can drill line drives to all fields.
Darian Ramage, ss, Deer Valley HS, Glendale, Ariz.: Ramage is fast (6.75) and shows smooth fielding actions at shortstop. Exceptionally projectable, the switch-hitting Ramage will need time to develop as a hitter, for he needs to acquire substantially more strength, particularly in his hands and wrists.
Cameron Coombs, 1b, Durango HS, Las Vegas: Only 16, Coombs is already 6-foot-4 and 200 pounds. Coombs does not run well (7.50), so his future will be limited to pitching or first base. He shows potential at both spots. On the mound, he delivers an 86 to 88 mph fastball and 67-68 curve, despite a funky delivery. At bat, Coombs shows provocative power, despite his unusual stand up stance and swing in which his legs are nearly straight throughout.
The next prominent High School pre season showcase in the western U.S. is slated for Saturday, February 13 at Major League Baseball’s Urban Youth Academy in Compton, Calif. Annually a premier event, the MLB showcase will feature players primarily from the talent laden Southern California area.