Baseball America

Lefties Highlight 2013 Prep Class

SAN DIEGO—Lefthanded and breathing is an expression popularized by the inclination to give a lefty chance after chance after chance, even when his best days are well behind him.

Imagine, then, the giddiness of a scout when he gets a glimpse of a lefthander with low mileage on his arm, high velocity on his fastball, a projectable frame and seemingly bright future.

The 2012 edition of the Perfect Game All-American Classic was played August 12 at the Padres’ Petco Park. Righthanders outnumbered lefthanders two-to-one on the rosters. But with no singular performance upon which to focus, it was left to the lefties to dominate the discussion during the West’s 7-6 victory over the East.

“They’re always at a premium,” said an American League scout perched along Petco’s first-base line. “It’s a commodity. And it’s a plus to be lefthanded. Those guys move faster, it seems like, professionally.

“A righthander has to go out there and be a power guy, whereas a lefthander you can get by with a finesse guy sometimes. This year it does seem like there’s more power lefthanded arms.”

The eight players with LHP next to their names drew much of the attention from scouts and recruiting coordinators. Seven of the eight already are spoken for, having previously made their college commitments known. Their names will become more familiar in coming months.

Baseball America’s top 50 prospects for 2013 includes four of the lefthanders who took the mound in the All-American Classic  — No. 9 Trey Ball (New Castle, Ind.), No. 21 Stephen Gonsalves (San Marcos, Calif.), No. 22 Robert Kaminsky (Englewood Cliffs, N.J.) and No. 42 Ian Clarkin (San Diego, Calif.). Two others of note were Jonah Wesely (Tracey, Calif.) and A.J. Puk (Cedar Rapids, Iowa).

“Most of these guys are 6-3, 6-4, 6-5 and they pitch downhill,” noted the AL scout. “So now they have an arm angle from the other side of the plate and it’s an advantage.”

Ball and Puk are both 6-foot-6 and Gonsalves is 6-foot-5. They—as well as the others—possess fastballs that sit in the low 90s.

“We have some strong lefthanders,” said Gonsalves, who picked up the win for the West after pitching a scoreless sixth inning. “They’re not putting up 96, 98 (mph), but they have filthy movement on their balls and are able to locate two or three pitches. Lefties are starting to stand out.”

Improving their offspeed offerings was the priority for several of the pitchers.

Said Ball: “My fastball is up to 94, so that’s my go-to pitch and my changeup is looking pretty good. During the offseason my curveball is the top priority.”

Added Clarkin: “One thing I need to improve on is the consistency of my offspeed stuff. Everything’s looking good so far, but I’ve got some more work to do to make it a plus pitch.”

And Gonsalves: “Scouts know I have a fastball with good movement on it, but they’re always saying, ‘He’s got weak offspeed.’ That’s something I keep in mind all the time. I’ve got to be able to locate both my changeup and my curveball.”

It’s interesting to note that although the country was scoured for talent for this game, two of the top pitchers grew up just a few miles from where the event took place.

Clarkin attends San Diego’s Madison High, which is located within 10 miles of Petco. Gonsalves goes to Cathedral Catholic High, which is located some 10 miles further in North San Diego.

Gonsalves and Clarkin both have verbal commitments to San Diego. It remains to be seen over the next 10 months how high they move up on draft boards and complicate their college decisions.

“Education comes first,” Gonsalves said. “You’re always looking at the draft to change your mind on things. We’ll just see when that time comes.”

In keeping with the lefthander theme, Gonsalves teams with two other talented lefties at Cathedral—the 6-foot-3 Brady Aiken, a rising junior, and 6-foot-4 Andrew Wright, a rising senior. The pair joined him earlier in the month at the Area Code Games and next season will give the Dons one of the nation’s most formidable starting rotations.

It gives scouts something to look forward to as they follow Gonsalves—as well as the others they took note of during the Classic.

“They didn’t dominate as they have in the past in other Perfect Game events like this,” said an NL scout. “Those are still going to be a lot of high-round draft picks out of that game.”

PETCO POINTS

• Outfielder Ryan Boldt (Red Wing, Minn., High) was named the game’s MVP after going 2-for-3 with a triple. The West was down 6-5 in the seventh, but Rowdy Tellez (Elk Grove, Calif., High) put his team ahead when he smoked a line drive to left field that caught Ball off guard. It got past him and rolled to the wall giving Tellez a stand-up triple and the West a 7-6 lead.

• Velocity was down compared to last year’s Classic, when nine pitchers topped out at 94 mph or better (Lucas Giolito at 97 mph). Only three players touched 94 this year, led by West starter Kohl Stewart, a righthander from Houston’s St. Pius X High who topped out at 95 mph. East righthanders Chris Oakley of St. Augustine Prep (Richland, N.J.) and Brett Morales of King High (Tampa) both touched 94.

• Petco’s reputation as a pitcher’s ballpark was not lost on those who participated in the Rawlings Home Run Challenge before the game. Five players combined to hit just one homer. The sixth, Justin Williams (Terrebonne High, Houma, La.), had nothing to show after six outs.

At that point, three East teammates interrupted the proceedings. They removed Williams’ sunglasses and provided a mini-massage, along with a little pep talk. Williams responded with four home runs (before he made his final four outs) to win the derby.

“They took the glasses and I kind of got serious,” said Williams, a 6-foot-2, 215-pound outfielder who has a verbal commitment to Louisiana State.  “I was like, ‘All right, I really have to focus now; no more joking around.’  Once you hit two or three, then you’re like, ‘OK, relax.’  Then you try to follow up with the same routine every time, and once you get in a rhythm it’s hard to break it.”

• Ballplayers with recognizable surnames have become an annual occurrence at the Classic. On this occasion, it was West infielder Cavan Biggio (son of Craig) and first baseman/righthander Kacy Clemens (son of Roger).

Biggio said he became accustomed long ago to the added attention that comes with big league bloodlines.

“I felt that a lot when I was younger,” said Biggio, who is coached by his father at Houston’s St. Thomas High and has a verbal commitment to Virginia. “Everybody who faced me wanted to get me out, so they could say they struck out Craig Biggio’s son. It made me better as a player, though.”

The most important thing Biggio’s father passed down?

“He taught me to always respect the game, be humble and never take things for granted because you never know when your last at-bat is going to be.”

One thing Biggio didn’t inherit was the huge arm guard that his father became well known for wearing when he dug in at the plate.

“That’s in the attic somewhere,” said Biggio. “That pad is actually illegal now because it was so big.”

Unlike his father, who was hit by pitches a modern-day record 287 times, Cavan said he doesn’t need the guard.

“I rarely get hit,” he said. “I’m better at dodging the ball.”

• West infielder Joey Martarano, a 6-foot-3, 230-pounder from Fruitland, Idaho, is a two-sport standout who has committed to Boise State for football. He has dreamed of playing linebacker on the Broncos’ blue field. Martarano won’t be playing baseball at Boise State. The school doesn’t field a baseball team. That doesn’t mean he won’t be playing baseball professionally a year from now. Martarano’ power is coveted by scouts.

“I’ve always loved both sports,” said Martarano. “I’m going to focus on my high school seasons and then just try to make a decision on what’s best.”

While some two-sport athletes have played professional baseball in the summer and college football in the fall, Martarano said that is not an option in his case. Boise State football coach Chris Petersen won’t allow such an arrangement.

“Once you make a decision, he wants you to stick with that and be committed to the program,” said Martarano.

Kirk Kenney is a sportswriter based in San Diego