COMPTON, Calif.—El Camino JC, the site of the MLB Urban Youth Academy, played host to the 2012 Jesse Flores Memorial All-Star Game on a beautiful Sunday afternoon in Southern California. In what has become an annual event, the game is presented by the Professional Baseball Scouts of Southern California (PBSSC) and is designed to honor the late Jesse Flores as well as showcase the top high school amateur talent in Southern California. Flores, the first Mexican national to play in the major leagues, had a long, successful scouting career with the Twins, signing more than 70 major leaguers, including Bert Blyleven, Rick Dempsey, and Craig Nettles
The day kicked off in typical showcase format with batting practice and infield/outfield in the morning culminating in an afternoon 11-inning offensive affair with the North edging out the South 7-6. Overall, the position players outperformed the pitchers from a prospect standpoint, as the event was lacking the elite arms that SoCal typically produces.
The most impressive of the position players was Lakewood (Calif.) High shortstop J.P. Crawford. The 6-foot-2 180-pound Southern California commit is a four-year starter for the same powerhouse program that produced top catching prospect Travis d'Arnaud and Phillies 2012 supplemental first-rounder Shane Watson. Offensively, the lefthanded-hitting Crawford utilizes an open stance with his hands held high that bears a striking resemblance to that of Dodgers outfielder Carl Crawford, a distant cousin of J.P. Although he does not possess the present strength that Carl does, J.P. has strong barrel awareness and the ability to lace line drives to the gaps. He shows good weight transfer and potential for more pop but must continue to keep his lower half in sync.
With the glove, Crawford is a premium quick-twitch athlete who projects to play the position long term. While he is not a burner, Crawford is a plus runner with enough range and the fluid actions to handle the position. He did a good job of coming through the ball and getting his feet in position to allow his soft hands and plus arm to work seamlessly.
Scouts are plenty familiar with Crawford, a showcase veteran. But on Sunday, he flashed a tool scouts have long been looking for: power.
"Besides playing well, I wanted to show them my power," Crawford said. "I've been going to the gym and I've been working on my speed, my strength, and my quickness."
Rather than working out with a trainer, he worked out with his high school teammates after school to build camaraderie. The offseason work was evident as he showed the ability to backspin a ball to the pull side during batting practice as well as during game action, when he squared up a high-80s fastball to deep right-center for a triple.
Shortstop proved to be the deepest position at the event, as El Dorado's Chris Rivera and Great Oak's Terrian Arbet were both very impressive for the opposing South team.
Rivera possesses clean actions and a strong arm packed into a 6-foot, 185-pound frame. The Cal State Fullerton commit is extremely consistent and gobbles up everything hit to him. At the plate, the righthanded-hitting Rivera's quick hands allow for good bat speed and the ability to drive balls when he stays compact through the hitting zone. He is at his best when he gets to his power naturally and does not try to muscle up. He can get in trouble when he expands the zone and overswings. Despite being the last pitcher to throw after a long day, he showed a bulldog mentality, hitting 91 mph off the mound while flashing a good curveball.
Arbet (6-foot, 180 pounds, also right/right) is much less of a known quantity than the highly rated Crawford and Rivera, but he is very interesting in his own right. After showing well in the Arizona Fall Senior Classic, Arbet carried the momentum over to this event. The San Diego commit stands out primarily for his athleticism and defense, showing great range to both sides as well as the quickest transfer and release of any middle infielder in Compton. His arm is average to a tick above but plays up due to the quick transfer. Offensively, Arbet's hit tool is more of question mark, as he swung through some average fastballs Sunday. However, he displayed a solid bat path and good bat whip during batting practice as well as a line-drive triple to left-center during the ninth inning of game action. He is a plus runner and showed good speed underway.
Here are some other players who stood out in Compton:
Dominic Smith, Serra HS, 1B/OF, 6-foot, 195 pounds, L/L
A big, physical lefthanded hitter, Smith showed the best bat speed at the event. He's a smooth defender at first base with good hands, an accurate arm, and nice scooping ability. The Southern California commit has future plus power potential.
Jacob Nottingham, Redlands HS, C, 6-foot-3, 180 pounds, R/R
The Oklahoma recruit has an impressive frame, and explosive wrists with good bat speed. Nottingham has quite a bit of pre-load movement but produces a lot of loud contact. His footwork and arm accuracy need some work behind the dish.
Kevin Franklin, Gahr HS, 3B, 6-foot-1, 205 pounds, R/R
The Arizona State commit displayed good present power during batting practice, as he went deep several times to left-center. He has great strength and more usable power once he learns to stay on his back side better. He displays soft hands in the field along with solid instincts. Franklin's long-term position may be in question due to a thick lower half and lack of foot speed.
Austin Grebeck, Mater Dei HS, CF, 5-foot-10 160 pounds, R/R
The son of former big leaguer infielder Craig Grebeck, Austin has a cannon for an arm and is a joy to watch throw. He needs repetitions in center, as he drifted to some balls he could have gotten to. The Oregon commit is a plus runner with a good approach at the plate. A gamer, Grebeck has a great feel for the barrel and has surprising strength in his swing.
Chris Kohler, Los Osos HS, LHP, 6-foot-3 195 pounds
Kohler was 86-89 mph with a big sweeping curveball in the low 70s and was not particularly sharp Sunday. He has been up to 92 mph in the past. Kohler has a big frame with more room to add weight and velocity, and he is still relatively new to pitching.
DeAndre Simpson, Rock Academy, RHP, 6-foot, 205 pounds
Simpson is an intriguing arm who showcased an 89-90 mph fastball with good arm-side run. He is raw with inconsistent mechanics, as his arm gets outside his body and he falls off to the first-base side of the mound frequently. Although inconsistent, he displayed a nasty 76 mph curveball with some sharp bite.
Blake Taylor, Dana Hills HS, LHP, 6-foot-3 210 pounds
Taylor sat at 87-88 mph with the ability to locate the fastball to both sides of the plate. His velocity plays up as he hides the ball well. Taylor also showed a mid-70s curveball with sharp break that was effective in getting hitters out from either side of the plate.