COMPTON, Calif.—Every year, after the final play of the Super Bowl, baseball fans across the United States proclaim that it is officially baseball season. In Southern California, it's always baseball season.
High school baseball leads into travel ball. After travel teams there's scout ball teams. Scout ball then leads into winter ball . . . and then the process repeats with a new senior class. In one sense though, the end of football season marks the beginning of the true high school baseball year—and in Southern California that kicks off with the Major League Scouting Bureau Southern California Invitational Showcase.
The Invitational is hosted by the MLB Scouting Bureau at the Urban Youth Academy in Compton. The event annually has a turnout of more than 150 scouts. Saturday was no different, and every MLB team was well represented.
Nearly fifty of Southern California's top prep players were in attendance. The position players took batting practice, ran 60-yard dashes and then took infield/outfield followed by an exhibition game where all the pitchers faced four batters.
Generally the pitching stands out during the game. Saturday was no different, but there were also a few position players who made very strong early impressions on the scouts on hand.
Serra's Marcus Wilson, an Arizona State commit, was the unofficial MVP of the game (there aren't any official stats). Wilson had two doubles in three trips to the plate and added a stolen base.
"Today you saw what Marcus is all about, and what he can be," a National League scout said. "As he fills out and gains more strength, one of those balls gets out of here."
Of the players who attended, Wilson (No. 24) was the highest-ranked on Baseball America's most recent Top 100 high schoolers.
If Wilson was the unofficial MVP, there was probably a three-way tie for the top arm. Stetson Woods (Liberty High), Jacob Nix (Los Alamitos High) and Grant Hockin (Damien High) not only had impressive pitching lines, but they seemed to generate the most buzz based on their arsenals.
"Woods just filled up the zone, attacked every guy he faced and missed bats," one NL scout said. "I would have liked to see another batter or two to see more of the offspeed stuff."
Woods was very efficient and needed 12 pitches to get through his frame of work. The Liberty righthander allowed one hit and struck out three. He worked mainly with his fastball, which sat 88-90 mph, but the Fresno State commit also showed a few curveballs, ranging from 70-76 mph.
Nix (No. 74) showed why he belongs on the Top 100 list. Nix worked around 91-93 and touched 94, but more importantly he gave the scouts a look at improving secondary pitches, including a much better breaking ball. "He's got some swing-and-miss stuff," said an NL scout. "He looked good, got on top, used his size. There's a lot to like there."
Nix allowed no hits and fanned two of the four batters he faced. "This offseason I really worked on my slider . . . I really didn't have a breaking ball," Nix said. "I felt really good today. I think I may have warmed up a little too early, though."
After getting a first-pitch groundout to the first batter he faced, Hockin struck out the next three batters looking. The only blip on his stat line was when he hit Luke Dykstra. That reset the count to 1-1, but Hockin recovered and proceeded to strike out Dykstra with an 84 mph slider. "It's easy and clean, and he can throw everything for strikes," a scout said.
Hockin said he mixed in five different pitches: a four-seam fastball, a two-seamer, a slider, a curveball and a changeup.
"I felt very strong and had control over all five of my pitches. My game plan was to attack the strike zone and get ahead of the hitters," Hockin said.
He executed that game plan perfectly. His only pitch that was out of the strike zone was the pitch that hit Dykstra.
Overall, the reviews on the talent pool were a little bit mixed. "There might have been a little more pitching depth last year," one scout said, "but we saw a couple of guys really take a step forward, and that's really what today is all about."
It's important to remember that this is just the beginning of the process. Some players boosted their names up the draft board, and others might have earned a future look. With the draft about four months away, there's still a lot of work to be done.
Other Notable Hitters
• Second baseman Shane Mardirosian (Martin Luther King High, Riverside) ranks No. 87 on the Top 100 and has been on scouts' radar for a while, and he continues to impress. He ran a stellar 6.5-second 60, the third-fastest official time at the workout, behind only Serra outfielders Denz'l Chapman and Wilson (both ran it in 6.44 seconds). The players wanted to have a run-off to see who was fastest, but that didn't happen.
UC Santa Barbara commit Mardirosian had only one hit on the day, but he seems to always have good at-bats and routinely squares up hard line drives.
"He's a great kid and a hard worker," an AL scout said. "You tell him he's not good at something (and) he'll work on it and prove you wrong."
• Glendora's D.J. Peters, a Cal State Fullerton commit (No. 66 on the Top 100), looked solid in the workouts and launched an RBI double into the right-center field gap in his final at-bat.
"He can do a lot of things," an NL scout said.
• Cole Young of Norco High seems to like to hit in Compton. He hit a home run in the Jesse Flores Memorial All-Star Game at this same site and then had a very impressive batting practice Saturday, with many balls leaving the yard.
• Jack Flaherty (Harvard Westlake), BA's 49th-ranked prepster, didn't have a particularly loud game performance, but he continued to show smooth and steady tools in the workout portion, and he ran a 6.7 in the 60. He didn't pitch, but reports have his velocity up to 94. It's still a debate whether teams will prefer him as a righthanded pitcher or a third baseman.
• Scott Hurst (Bishop Amat High) showed off his cannon of an arm in workouts. The Cal State Fullerton recruit unleashed rockets from the outfield that had the other players in awe. He took advantage of his three trips to the plate by working solid at-bats. He reached base twice on walks, once on a hit-by-pitch and once on an infield single. He also showed off his speed by running a 6.75 60 and then stole two bags in the game.
• Josh Morgan (Orange Lutheran High) displayed his smooth skills at shortstop and at the plate. The UCLA commit's standout moment at the plate was against lefty Quinn Brodey in his first at-bat when he turned on an 87 mph fastball for a double off the left field wall. He ran the 60 in 6.70 seconds.
• Yet another UCLA commit, Sean Bouchard (Cathedral Catholic High), has a great pro body with easy actions at third base and plenty of arm strength. He had a strong batting practice with good sound off the bat, but didn't impress in the game, where he struck out twice. His 60 time was 6.89 seconds.
• Matthew Wezniak (Carlsbad High) had two hits in the game. His arm is best suited for left field.
• Eric Ramirez (Rio Mesa High), a Hawaii commit, is a pure hitter who routinely gets the barrel on the ball. He doesn't try to do too much at the plate, he can drive the ball to all fields and he jumps on pitches on the inner half. The first baseman had two singles in the game.
• Albee Weiss (Agoura Hills High) had a solid showing in batting practice and showed some pop to his pull side. The catcher launched a double off the wall in right field that plated two. Weiss is a Cal State Northridge commit.
• Thomas Rowan (Santa Ynez High) is a strong, physical catcher with athleticism. He displayed a good-looking swing in BP with some pop to left field. He had two hits in the game and swiped a bag. Rowan is one of the more unheralded players at the game Saturday, and he impressed.
• Chris Betts (Wilson High). The Tennessee commit was announced as bullpen catcher for the North team, but his future role will be much more than that. Betts is one of the top 2015 catchers in the nation. He's a strong and powerful presence at the plate, and a nimble defender with a strong and accurate arm behind it.
Other Notable Pitchers
• Quinn Brodey (Loyola High) wasn't his normal self, struggling with his command. The Stanford commit worked at 86-88 and touched 89, mixing in a 76 mph changeup and a 69-74 curve.
• Jake Bird (West Ranch High) is an athletic righthander with a live arm and good run on his 88-90 fastball. His 73-74 curveball has good downward break.
• Jonathan Teaney (Quartz Hill High) is a lean, athletic righthander who showed an 87-91 mph fastball and a 77-79 curve with some depth. He also flashed an 83 mph changeup.
"He's definitely put himself on the map the last few months," one scout said of the USD commit.
• Righthander Griffin Canning (Santa Margarita High) worked in the 87-89 range but has room to add velocity as he fills out his lean frame. The UCLA commit also showed advanced feel for an 82 mph changeup and a solid breaking ball at 79-81.
• Athletic righty Nathan Hadley (Loyola High) is fun to watch. The UCLA recruit worked mostly with his 87-89 fastball and 76-77 curveball Saturday, but he has shown a promising changeup in the past as well.
• Jeff Bain (San Marino High) recorded three strikeouts Saturday, two of them with his 88-89 fastball and one with his 72-73 curve, which has solid downward break and good depth. The Cal commit has a lean, athletic frame and a clean delivery.
• Cameron Bishop (Brea Olinda High) is a raw lefthander who does not have as much experience as some of the other arms on hand Saturday. His quick arm generates 88-90 mph heat, and his curveball and changeup both have potential. Bishop is a UC Irvine commit.
• Lean righthander Michael Bono (Buchanan High) relied primarily on his 87-90 fastball, though he mixed in a 76 mph curve. The Santa Clara commit struck out two.
• Brad Wegman (Great Oak High) has an ideal pitcher's frame with strong legs and a quick arm. The ball jumps out of his hand, suggesting he could add velocity to an 87-90 fastball. His 74-77 mph curveball has late action. The Southern California recruit struck out two on Saturday.