LOS ANGELES—When scouting high school players, scouts yearn to see so-called "matchup" games. Those are rare contests in which a top pitching prospect faces a top hitting prospect.
Last year's Cutter Dykstra-Mike Montgomery staredown drew a bushel full of scouts to Hart High, north of L.A. Earlier this season, Matt Hobgood of Norco High and Jake Marisnick of Riverside Poly squared off in front of approximately 60 scouts.
Ideally, a scout wants to see a high school hitting prospect when his team plays on the road. Prep games are only seven innings, and seeing a batter play a road game gives the scout a greater chance of seeing an extra at-bat later in the game. If that player is matched up against a top notch pitcher, then . . . voila!
This week presented me with two potential matchup games. On Tuesday, late blooming pitching prospect Brett Gerritse of Pacifica High (Garden Grove, Calif.) was set to pitch versus one of the finest prep hitters in the Southland, David Nick of Cypress High. Or at least I thought so.
I approached one of the Pacifica coaches an hour before the game in an attempt to determine his club's pitching plans. "We're playing for a league championship," he said. Pacifica and Cypress both reside in Orange County's Empire League, and Pacifica entered the day with a one-game lead with two to play.
The coach continued, "Gerritse may start, he may not. If it's a close game and we're leading by a little, or trailing by a little, he may come in. If we're trailing by a lot or leading by a lot, he may not come in. It will be a game time decision."
All righty then! That clears up everything.
Pacifica broke from the gate quickly and got off to an early 4-0 lead. The assembled scouts were beginning to think they had wasted a trip when Gerritse suddenly bounded in from the wings and took center stage.
He breezed through the third and fourh, and then faced Nick in the fifth.
The crowd grew silent. Fans leaned forward in rapt anticipation. Tension filled the air. And then . . . Nick walked on 4 straight pitches.
Talk about a buzz kill.
Gerritse has generated a trace of late draft helium. A 6-foot-3, 210 pound righthander, his throwing motion resembles a soldier tossing a grenade from a sand bagged bunker in an old black and white World War II movie.
Gerritsee's stuff, however, is decent. His fastball sits at 90 and peaks at 91, but it exhibits only a hint of movement and rarely finds the bottom half of the strike zone. He adds an over the top 11-to-5 curve at 80-81 mph that shows a kind of biting, cascading two-plane drop when thrown well.
By far Gerritsee's most interesting pitch is his change, an 82 forkball/splitter hybrid which drops dead at home plate. He only threw one in his first three innings of work, but it was a dandy.
Pacifica won the game, 5-0, and the Empire League title. No word yet on Pacifica's upcoming pitching rotation.
Wednesday's matchup featured switch hitting shortstop Jonathan Meyer of Simi Valley, Calif., High visiting righthander Bryan Berglund of Royal High, also in Simi Valley.
Thirty to 40 scouts were in attendance. Space behind home plate is cramped at the Royal ballpark, with a small concrete strip separating the backstop from the snack bar. Not all scouts could jam themselves into the confined area.
After each Berglund pitch, one scout held up his radar gun and pointed it outward so that a colleague sitting 20 feet away could view the reading. That didn't work, so he was resigned to giving an elaborate series of hand gestures which could have landed a fighter jet on an aircraft carrier deck. That tactic generated mixed results.
Always trying to be helpful, I offered a suggestion: "Maybe you should send him a Twitter."
The Simi-Royal game was terrific, but the Berglund-Meyer match up fell flat.
Meyer is a wonderfully talented player, with an above average arm (peaking at 92 on the mound) and fine fielding actions. He may not have the range to be a pro shortstop, but he fits comfortably at second or third, or perhaps behind the plate. After fielding grounders, Meyer occasionally shows a pause and hitch before releasing his throw, but that is easily correctable and doesn't detract from the fact that he profiles as a plus defender.
Only within the past year has Meyer adopted switch-hitting. He is an outstanding hitter from the right side but struggles from the left side in the games I've witnessed. Meyer can fire the bat head and rip the ball righthanded; lefthanded his bat appears to drag behind the pitch. Hitting lefthanded against Berglund, he took an 0 for 3 with two weak opposite field pop ups.
Not that anyone else was doing much better against Berglund. The projectable 6-foot-4, 190-pounder allowed just two hits in six-plus innings of work as Royal took a 1-0 decision.
Berglund's fastball sat at 90 early on, and dropped only slightly to 88 as the game progressed. His 82-83 mph slider projects as a plus pitch. In the first two innings, Berglund couldn't get his 77-78 change to do anything; later on it showed wacky up and down movement, sort of like a truck going up and then down a large speed bump.
From a mechanical standpoint, Berglund has to correct two items. He may benefit from a slight inward turn at the top of his windup, which would permit him to "load up" on his back hip. Second, he pushes the ball in his delivery. While Berglund is not quite "throwing pies", I saw several Pop Tarts head toward home plate.
The head to head match in the past two days may have been a tad disappointing, but all four players are intriguing talents with bright baseball futures. Don't be surprised if at least three of them are selected within the first five rounds in the June draft.