Velasquez Steals Show In Compton

COMPTON, Calif.—Vincent Velasquez has finally found his true calling.  Velasquez, a 6-foot-3, 175-pound righthander, attends Garey High School in Pomona, Calif. Previously in his prep career, Velasquez dabbled at shortstop, third base, second base, outfield and has—with varying success—switch-hit. An injury to his right elbow, since healed, even prompted Velasquez to throw lefthanded during part of the 2009 season.
 
Having sampled almost every other position, Velasquez took the mound during the Southern California Invitational Showcase, held at Major League Baseball’s Urban Youth Academy on Saturday. All participants in the event hail from Southern California High Schools and are 2010 graduates.
 
In front of approximately 200 scouts, Velasquez enjoyed a career-altering performance. Cautious in his injury recovery, Velasquez had not pitched since December 2008.  After his outing Saturday, the mound figures to be his permanent residence. The slender and highly projectable righty struck out and more impressively overwhelmed all four batters he faced.
 
Using a loose, easy throwing motion, Velasquez fired a lively 91-93 mph fastball, which he used to paint the outside corner or to jam a hitter inside. He liberally sprinkled in an 82-84 mph drop-dead changeup, which was well placed and cleverly concealed.  Velasquez best pitch may be his 74 mph curve, which veered out toward the third-base dugout and then swerved sharply down and away to his glove side.
 
Stunned silence was pervasive after Velasquez brief stint. Several nearby heads nodded in agreement as I broke the brief quiet by commenting: "That'll be the end of his career as an infielder."
 
Velasquez was the highlight of a long day of baseball. The event began with batting practice, followed by timed 60-yard dashes and infield/outfield pregame. An extended simulated game concluded the afternoon.
 
Without question, the understatement of this young year would be to assert that pitchers dominated hitters at Saturday’s event. In all, 21 pitchers took the mound during the contest, each throwing to four batters—a total of 84 at-bats. My unofficial tally had between 50 and 60 strikeouts, which is more humiliation than domination.
 
The trend began in batting practice, which was uninspiring at best. Topped grounders, weakly sliced fly balls and foul tips ensnared in the mesh netting of the cage were the rule, not the exception.
 
To be fair, the wood bat-swinging hitters were extremely rusty and faced remarkable pitching. Area Code, Aflac and Showcase regulars Dylan Covey, Peter Tago, Jesus Valdez, Cody Buckel, Aaron Sanchez, Gabriel Encinas and Tyler Shreve all took their turns on the mound and were equally suffocating.
 
However, several other hurlers, not as well known or as highly publicized as those listed above, threw Saturday and were duly impressive. That group included:
 
• LHP Griffin Murphy, Redlands East Valley HS: In a region (SoCal) desperate for lefthanded pitching in hits year's class, Murphy emerged Saturday as perhaps the top prep lefty in Southern California. A teammate of Tyler Shreve, Murphy delivers a 90-91 mph fastball and adds an 80 change and a promising 76 curve.
 
• RHP Scott Frazier, Upland (Calif.) HS: Lanky and projectable, Frazier has a somewhat awkward delivery but his stuff is competitive. He fires a 90-92 fastball and adds a 76 change and 69 curve.
 
• RHP Zachary Weiss, Northwood HS, Irvine: Weiss displayed an interesting feel for his mix of pitches, which included a 91 fastball, 81 change and 76 curve.
 
• RHP Brandan Brennan, Capistrano Valley HS, Mission Viejo: A 2009 teammate of Rockies first-rounder Tyler Matzek, Brennan is a strong physical presence on the hill despite some command problems. He challenges hitters with a heavy 91-92 fastball, experiments with an 80 change, and his 84 slider could develop into his premier offering.
 
• RHP Tony Amezcua, Bellflower HS: Thin, rangy and projectable, Amezcua was virtually unknown before Saturday. He jumped onto everyone’s follow list by exhibiting a fluid motion on his 89-91 fastball, 80 change and 75 curve.
 
Among the position players, the primary concern was the issue of Austin Wilson’s health. Wilson, a talented 6-foot-4, 200-pound outfielder from Harvard Westlake High in North Hollywood, suffered a stress fracture in his lower back last fall and has been out of action for several months.
 
Prior to the game, Wilson assured me that his back was completely healed.  The top position prospect in Southern California, Wilson ran well—6.78 by my stopwatch—popped a couple of BP homers and showed off his superlative arm in pregame action.  He did seem a bit stiff, particularly when bending down for a ball. Wilson’s timing was obviously off, but that was an issue afflicting all of the hitters on Saturday.
 
Angelo Gumbs (Torrance HS), Corey Hahn (Mater Dei HS) and Michael Lorenzen (Fullerton HS) all flashed terrific outfield arms and plus running speed during pregame drills. Speedsters of note also included outfielder Conor Hofmann (St. Augustine HS, San Diego) at 6.60 and Brando Tessar (Chaminade HS, West Hills) at 6.72.
 
Amongst catchers, Jake Hernandez (Los Osos HS, Rancho Cucamonga) ripped off the quickest pop time, at 1.87. Hernandez also helped his draft stock by banging a long triple during the game portion of the day. Showcase newcomers Bradley Haynal (Rancho Bernardo HS, San Diego) and Aaron Jones (San Clemente HS) also threw well, placing themselves on the prospect radar.
 
Smooth, advanced fielding actions and powerful arms were exhibited by infielders Lonnie Kauppila (Burbank HS), Chad Lewis (Marina HS, Huntington Beach) Dominic Ficociello (Fullerton HS) and Tony Wolters (Rancho Buena HS, Vista). Christian Yelich (Westlake HS, Westlake Village) was the premier first baseman, showing an improved arm, fine glove and excellent range. Yelich also possesses above-average speed and was one of the only players to hit the ball sharply in both BP and the game.
 
Pitching dominated Saturday’s activities, more thoroughly than at any showcase in recent memory.  Numerous youngsters pitched well, but Vincent Velasquez was undeniably the standout.

Editor's Note: The byline for this story was incorrect when originally posted on Feb. 15.

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