SAN BERNARDINO, Calif. — Chris Kohler originally committed to Southern California as a hitter back in January. But this weekend at the Baseball America Scout Ball Tournament in San Bernardino and Upland, Kohler showed why his pitching stock is on the rise.
Kohler, a junior lefthander at Los Osos High in Rancho Cucamonga, has been overpowering for the Red Sox Scout Team this fall. A week after he struck out 13 batters in five innings in a start, Kohler fanned eight in three innings of work against an overmatched Cardinals Blue team on Saturday. His out pitch was a sharp 71-73 mph curveball that he can throw for strikes or use as a chase pitch.
"My curveball was working good. It's usually my strongest pitch," Kohler said. "Usually I start batters off with that pitch, then go to the fastball, then maybe finish with the curve again. I brought the fastball up a little high, but felt good overall. I tried to elevate it on some, because they were chasing it."
Kohler has an easy delivery and plenty of projection in his 6-foot-2, 170-pound frame. He sat around 85-86 mph on Saturday and topped out at 87, but he figures to add significant velocity as he continues to get used to pitching and keeps maturing physically.
Several other underclassmen on the Red Sox team shined Saturday. Switch-hitting middle infielder Elliott Barzilli, another junior, showed smooth actions, good instincts and a strong arm at shortstop, while also hitting hard line drives to right field and left. He has a chance to be one of the top infield prospects in Southern California for the 2013 draft.
Outfielder Corey Dempster, a USC commit like Kohler, showed good bat speed and a solid approach, hitting a three-run, opposite-field homer to right. The ball carried well to that part of Memorial Field in Upland, and sophomore Luke Dykstra also took advantage, hitting a two-run opposite-field shot earlier in the game. Dykstra, the son of former big league all-star Lenny and the younger brother of 2008 second-round pick Cutter, is strong and athletic, and his swing and approach are making great strides. He credited his work with Cutter with helping his offensive game progress.
"(We) go to the batting cages all the time. He's one of the reasons I got so much better this offseason," Dykstra said. "I've tried to get stronger, and I'm seeing the ball way better in the fall. I was sitting on fastball (on the home run), and I just drove it the other way. I've been trying to do that the whole offseason. I changed my swing up, changed my stance. I feel more comfortable at the plate."
Gonsalves Strikes Out Five
RIVERSIDE, Calif. — The final day kicked off with a doubleheader for the Red Sox, who brought out some impressive arms. The standout of the day was lefthander Stephen Gonsalves from Cathedral Catholic High in San Diego, who recorded five strikeouts over two innings.
Although Gonsalves’ performance was dominant, he claimed there is still room for improvement.
“I was feeling alright,” he said of his outing. “This is the first time (I’ve pitched) in two or three weeks. My control was down a little bit.”
Gonsalves has a towering 6-foot-5, 190-pound frame. He kept his fastball around 90 mph and was fooling hitters with a dipping 70 mph curveball.
He explained his approach when facing many hitters for the first time in the scout leagues.
“When I come out here, I usually go first-pitch fastball pretty much every time and see their swing on it," he said. "If they’re late, I go with it again. If they foul off the first pitch or come out swinging and are ready for (the fastball), I’ll probably mix in a changeup or curveball.”
Gonsalves, who also enjoys basketball and spear fishing, has a calm and commanding presence on the mound. A rising junior who already has a verbal commitment to San Diego, Gonsalves revealed a new addition to his pitching arsenal. “I’m working on a splitter right now,” he said. “I’ve always had trouble working a circle change because of (the size of) my hands. The split’s been working alright.”
Scout Ball Scoop
• Later Saturday at Arrowhead Credit Union Ballpark—home of the high Class A Inland Empire 66ers—some quality arms from the 2012 class were on display. Righthander Ryan McNeil (Nipomo High), a Long Beach State commit, was very impressive for the Wahoos Scout Team against Cardinals Red. McNeil, who has a physical 6-foot-3, 210-pound frame, showed an 89-92 mph fastball and flashed a very good power slider in the 79-84 range. He also showed nice feel for an 81 mph changeup, using it to get a strikeout against one lefthanded hitter.
McNeil was not the only Big West signee to stand out for the Wahoos. While McNeil is already on the scouting radar, UC Irvine commit Andrew Potter (Eastside High, Lancaster) is a bit of a pop-up prospect this fall. The 6-foot-2, 185-pound righty ran his fastball up to 93-94 and sat at 89-92 in his first inning of work. He also mixed in a decent three-quarters breaking ball in the 75-78 range, using it to freeze a hitter for strike three on one occasion.
• But Saturday's feature attraction was lefthander Hunter Virant (Camarillo High), who came on in the final inning for Cardinals Red against the Wahoos. One of Southern California's top prospects for the 2012 draft, Virant has a lanky, athletic, projectable frame at 6-foot-3, 175 pounds. His loose arm produced 86-90 mph heat on Saturday, and he showed excellent feel for a 78 mph changeup with good sink. Like the region's top prep lefthander in 2011—Red Sox supplemental first-rounder Henry Owens—Virant has more projection than premium present velocity, and like Owens his changeup is ahead of his breaking ball. He did show the ability to spin a curveball at 69-73 mph, but he'll need to tighten it up in time. Still, Virant (a UCLA commit) figures to have a chance to be drafted in the top round or two next year.
• Premium power-hitting prospect Joey Gallo did not make the trip for the Las Vegas Bring The Heat team, which was overmatched by the ABD Bulldogs on Friday. Senior outfielder/righthander Devin Carter (Temecula Valley High) impressed for ABD, hitting an RBI single up the middle on a 3-2 pitch in his first at-bat, then lacing an RBI double to left field on a pitch down and in later. Carter, a Pepperdine commit, also located his 84-85 mph fastball well to both sides of the plate when he got on the mound, but he's a better prospect as an outfielder.
Senior third baseman/outfielder Carlos Martinez (Nogales High, La Puente) also looked good, driving a two-run triple to the opposite-field gap in right-center early in the game. Martinez is committed to Hawaii. Hulking junior first baseman David Denson is starting to gain some traction as a power-hitting prospect. The lefthanded hitter stung the ball a couple of times to right field and looked surprisingly nimble at first base and on the basepaths. He'll need to tone his body a bit, but his power potential is very intriguing.
• Junior outfielder Jason Martin (Lutheran High, Orange) impressed evaluators at the Friday night game at Arrowhead. Martin, who is uncommitted, has a quick lefthanded bat and some strength in his compact 5-foot-10, 170-pound frame. Playing for the SoCal Athletics, Martin showed good speed on a triple to left-center against the SoCal Angels.
•The Red Sox’s bats showed up on Sunday. Carter continued to impress with the bat, roping a line-drive home run that easily cleared the fence. Third baseman Fernando Perez from Otay Ranch High in Chula Vista, Calif. got good wood on the ball twice, finishing 2-for-3 with a double and a triple. Shortstop Bobby Zarubin from Santa Fe Christian High in San Diego laced two line drives into left field, finishing 2-for-2 on the day.
• While the tournament mostly feature high school players, college sophomore Corey Black also took the mound for the Red Sox. Black left San Diego State and should be a coveted commodity thanks to his 93-95 mph fastball that tops out at 97 and his late-breaking slider. Black struck out two over two perfect innings.