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Edited by John Manuel
Cuba edges U.S. again to claim Pan Am gold
BY JOHN MANUEL
Using a lineup full of older, internationally-seasoned players, Cuba presented aging president Fidel Castro with a birthday present a day before the long time dictator turned 77 years old.
Led by Olympic veterans Arial Pestano and Norge Vera, the Cubans won the gold medal at the Pan American Games for the ninth straight time, beating Team USA 3-1 in Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic. Cuba extended its Pan Am gold streak that began in 1967—the last time the U.S. won gold. Team USA earned the silver medal at the Pan Ams, which are contested every four years, for the second straight time.
Vera, who in the wake of Jose Contreras’ defection could be the island nation’s top starting pitcher, dominated a U.S. lineup of college freshmen and sophomores with a two-hit complete game.
“We thought it was going to be a duel between the pitchers and it turned out to be that,” said Team USA coach Ray Tanner (South Carolina). “Vera was just outstanding for Cuba. Jered Weaver (Long Beach State) battled his heart out for us, but we just weren’t able to muster enough offense to get to Vera.”
USA Baseball teams (professional and amateur) have now lost the championship game to Cuba in the last three major international tournaments: the 2001 World Cup (pros) and the 2002 FISU World University Championships (amateurs). Team USA also has lost its last three gold-medal matchups with Cuba in the Pan Am Games, including 1999 (when Jose Contreras beat Brad Penny and Team USA 6-1 in Winnipeg) and 1987 (a 13-9 USA defeat in Indianapolis).
However, this summer’s club finished the year 27-2, with its .931 winning percentage being the best in program history. It lost twice in the Pan Ams, falling 3-0 to Nicaragua in pool play, after entering the tournament at 22-0 on the summer.
Team USA had to go into the medal round of the nine-nation competition without its leading hitter, losing third baseman Tyler Greene (Georgia Tech) to a high ankle sprain as pool play closed. Greene hit .431-4-21 in just 65 at-bats on the summer, becoming the second player to hit .400 for Team USA since the move to wood bats in 2000 and ranking fourth in USA Baseball history. Last summer, Michael Aubrey (Tulane) hit .406.
Despite the disappointing finish, the Pan Ams were not without their share of highlights for the American team, especially on the mound. Righthander Justin Orenduff (Virginia Commonwealth) started two of the team’s four shutouts in the tournament, bringing the program record to 13 for the summer. The team’s first three victories were whitewashes of Guatemala (10-0), the Bahamas (12-0) and the host Dominican Republic (2-0).
Weaver and reliever Huston Street (Texas) combined on a two-hit shutout of the host Dominicans in the round-robin, beating a team that had 13 former big leaguers on the roster. Former Yankees and Athletics outfielder Luis Polonia had both Dominican hits.
After a 3-0 loss to Nicaragua relegated the U.S. to a No. 2 seed in its pool, the Americans opened medal-round play by blanking Brazil 7-0. Street then turned in an outing for the ages in Team USA’s 14-inning, 3-2 semifinal win against previously undefeated Mexico, which used a roster full of veterans from its professional league. Already having tied Team USA’s single-season and career saves marks, Street assured his place in USA Baseball lore with a 94-pitch, 82/3-inning scoreless relief outing to squeeze out the win against Mexico.
USA Baseball national team director Steve Cohen called Street’s performance “(Mark) Prior-esque. He wouldn’t give in.” Street gave up just three hits and wouldn’t come out of the game, dealing to the end. His last pitch registered 94 mph, and he got the win as Paul Janish (Rice) plated the game-winner with a sacrifice fly in the 14th.
“What a performance by Huston Street,” Tanner said. “There aren’t enough adjectives to describe his performance. I kept asking him between innings if he was OK, and he kept saying ‘I’m good, I’m good.’ We planned to use him for about four innings but more if we needed to. He deserved to decide that ballgame.”
Coming Up Short
Street finished the summer with a 29-inning scoreless streak, but he wasn’t available or even needed in the gold-medal contest. Weaver entered the game with a 40-inning scoreless stretch of his own and held Cuba scoreless for five more innings. Team USA gave him a run to work with in the second inning against Vera on a sacrifice fly by Brent Lillibridge (Washington), who with six hits in three games was the team’s top batter in the medal round.
But Cuba got to Weaver with a two-out RBI single in the sixth inning by Yulieski Gourriel, ending his scoreless string at 452/3 frames. Pestano, a veteran of Cuban international clubs like the 1999 Pan Am gold-medal winners and the 2000 Olympic team, went 3-for-4 in the championship game, including a go-ahead RBI single in the seventh inning during a three-hit rally. He also added an insurance solo homer in the ninth off reliever Steven Register.
Weaver went eight innings, giving up eight hits and striking out seven while allowing two runs. He finished the summer with a 0.42 ERA in 48 innings.
“You can’t do much about what happened tonight,” said Weaver. “I felt great, but they just kept hitting good pitches.
“This is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity; not everybody gets to wear USA across their chest. It has been a fabulous journey. Pitching against the Dominican and here in the gold medal game against Cuba has been the experience of my life. I wouldn’t change it for the world.”
This was the fifth straight year that Team USA and Cuba met in the gold medal game of a major international event, and Team USA’s only win remains the complete-game shutout by Ben Sheets that earned the U.S. the gold medal at the 2000 Olympics in Sydney. Cuba now leads the series of all games played between the two nations since 1987, 56-27.
CAPE COD LEAGUE
• For the first time since Nomar Garciaparra was their shortstop, Orleans claimed the Arnold Mycock Trophy, sweeping a two-game championship series against Bourne. Righthander Ryan Schroyer (Arizona State) won the first game out of the bullpen and struck out five of the six batters he faced in the clincher to earn the save. First baseman Cesar Nicolas (Vanderbilt) was named the playoff MVP after totaling three home runs and four RBIs in four playoff games. The Cardinals won their first series by sweeping Brewster (including a 14-inning 1-0 victory) and became the first team to go undefeated in the Cape’s postseason since Wareham in 1997.
• Brewster walked away with most of the league’s top individual awards. Outfielder J.C. Holt (Louisiana State) won the batting title at .388 and was named the league’s MVP, Jarrett Santos (UNC Greensboro) was named the top reliever after going 2-1, 1.42 with 11 saves and Bob Macaluso earned manager of the year honors for leading the Whitecaps to the Eastern Division title. In addition, Bourne righthander Eric Beattie (Tampa), who went 4-0, 0.39, was named the outstanding pitcher and Wareham’s Wade Townsend (Rice) the top pro prospect.
• After a fifth-place finish in the regular season at 16-19, Mat-Su won the league’s season-ending wood-bat invitational tournament in Anchorage, winning four of five games. The Alaska Goldpanners, the league’s regular-season champions at 22-13, also finished 4-1 in the six-team event, but the Miners won the head-to-head matchup. The Goldpanners and the North Pole, Alaska-based Athletes In Action earned the league’s two National Baseball Congress World Series berths and were seeded Nos. 1 and 2 in the 44-team tournament that was still in progress as Baseball America went to press. The defending champion Goldpanners were eliminated with a 2-2 record.
ATLANTIC COLLEGIATE LEAGUE
• In their first season in the league, the Lehigh Valley Catz won the championship with a 10-7 victory against the two-time defending champion New Jersey Colts. Catz righthander Donnie Smith (Old Dominion), working on one day’s rest after starting a semifinal game, pitched the last two innings in saving the title game and went 5-0, 0.66 for the summer with 60 strikeouts and just 23 hits allowed in 41 innings.
CALIFORNIA COASTAL LEAGUE
• The Santa Barbara Foresters earned the league’s bid to the NBC World Series with a 23-5 league record. Three Foresters starters won five games apiece on the summer, including lefthander Justin Pekarek (Nebraska), who has missed much of the last three seasons with arm injuries. Pekarek was 5-0, 1.12 and allowed just 26 hits and 14 walks in 48 innings. The Foresters (4-1) eliminated the defending champion Alaska Goldpanners from the NBC World Series with a 3-1 win.
CENTRAL ILLINOIS COLLEGIATE LEAGUE
• Regular-season champ Danville beat previously unbeaten Bluff City twice to win the postseason tournament. The decisive game was tied at 4-4 in the ninth when Dans catcher David Fox (Pacific Lutheran) led off with a single and was sacrificed to second. Center fielder Travis Bartek (Feather River, Calif., CC) then drove in the game winner with a single, his third hit and third RBI of the day.
CLARK GRIFFITH LEAGUE
• Arlington won its sixth consecutive championship with a 7-0 win against Fauquier, its third shutout of the postseason tourney, but was unable to defend its title at the All-American Amateur Baseball Association World Series tournament in Johnstown, Pa., after winning the tournament four of the last five seasons. The Youse’s Maryland Orioles won the title, beating Delweld (Pa.) 19-0 in the title game.
COASTAL PLAIN LEAGUE
• Outer Banks claimed its second consecutive Petitt Cup championship, winning the CPL’s postseason tournament by sweeping a pair of games on the tournament’s final day. Outer Banks beat Florence 7-1 in the championship final behind a complete-game five-hitter by lefthander Justin Mendek (Temple). Daredevils second baseman Bobby Deeb (Brown) was named the tourney’s most outstanding player, going 6-for-12 with four RBIs and a home run in three games.
GREAT LAKES LEAGUE
• Outfielder Fernando Perez (Columbia) provided the winning margin with a two-run homer to lead Columbus to a 2-1 win against Delaware in the league championship game. Perez was named postseason MVP while righthander Josh Newman (Ohio State) got the win, striking out 11 in 82/3 innings. Columbus won its seventh championship in the league’s 17-year history. Columbus also had the league’s player and pitcher of the year in outfielder Daniel Carte (Winthrop), who hit .419-2-35, and righthander Tyler Mott (Ohio Wesleyan), who went 4-0, 0.28.
• The Hays Larks claimed their third straight league regular-season title with a 22-6 overall record. Five of the league’s six teams advanced to play in the NBC World Series in nearby Wichita, with Hays winning its first three games in the 44-team, double-elimination tournament.
NEW ENGLAND COLLEGIATE LEAGUE
• After finishing second in the league playoffs the last two year years, the Keene Swamp Bats swept all six playoff games, including a best-of-three final from the Torrington Twisters, to win this year’s championship. The Swamp Bats clinched the title with a 7-1 win as outfielders Kyle Keen (Georgia), the league batting champion at .384, and Steven Blackwood (Georgia Tech) homered to highlight a 14-hit attack. Blackwood, who hit .340-6-28 during the regular season and .577-2-7 in the playoffs, had four hits in the deciding game.
NEW YORK COLLEGIATE
• Amsterdam, which posted the league’s best regular season record at 31-11, won its first league championship since 1988 behind a two-hit shutout by righthander Craig Soja (Le Moyne). He struck out 10 and carried a no-hitter into the seventh inning in an 8-0 win against Hornell in the title series clincher.
• Winchester rallied from a 2-1 deficit in the best-of-five championship series to beat defending Lineweaver Cup champion New Market. Righthander Jack Egbert (Rutgers) struck out 11 in eight shutout innings in Game Four to knot the series in an 8-0 victory, and outfielder Danny Wardell (Florida State) hit his second three-run homer of the series to give the Royals the lead in the 6-4 championship clincher.
Long showcase circuit ends in Beach
BY JOSH BOYD
LONG BEACH—Mountainview (Calif.) High righthander Erik Davis’ fastball was clocked at 87-90 mph at this year’s Area Code Games. But he can be excused if he was a little tired.
In June, the 6-foot-3, 180-pound Davis started an international whirlwind tour by representing California at the Sunbelt Classic (junior series) in Oklahoma before attending the Perfect Game National Showcase in Lincoln, Neb., where he was named the event’s top prospect. Next he headed to Joplin, Mo., for Team USA’s Tournament of Stars before taking a couple of days off at home to meet with a pair of college recruiters.
He didn’t make Team USA’s junior national team initially but was later added due to injuries. So he didn’t rest long before heading back out onto the summer circuit, starting in Tucson for Team USA’s training camp, followed by a trip to Marietta, Ga., where the World Wood Bat Association senior championships were held. Then he landed in Curacao to help Team USA qualify for a berth in next year’s World Junior Championship at the COPABE Pan Am Championships. He led Team USA’s junior national team pitching staff with a 2-0, 0.00 mark, punching out 18 and allowing three hits in 13 innings.
Against eventual champion and international powerhouse Cuba, Davis allowed one hit over 32/3 innings.
“It was really fun because you hear so much about how good they are,” Davis said. “They try to intimidate the other team. They don’t like us and you can’t let them try to get into your head.”
From Curacao, Davis moved on to Detroit for the AAU Junior Olympics and finally ended up in southern California for the Area Code Game tryouts. Long Beach was the last stop on a long summer trek for the 16-year-old.
Davis’ fastball was clocked as high as 93 mph earlier this summer. Even though it had lost velocity by the time Davis reached Long Beach, all the exposure he got should help him next spring. Plus he improved his repertoire along the way.
“My changeup got really good,” Davis said. “It’s probably my best pitch now. I just try to get first pitch outs with my two-seamer or changeup and when I get ahead try to strike them out.”
The annual Area Code Games showcased many of the nation’s top rising high school seniors and juniors, which in turn attracted hundreds of scouts and college recruiters.
Area Code Gamers
• Clear Creek High (League City, Texas) third baseman J.P. Padron was the only hitter to leave the yard in a game at the Area Code Games, while Villa Park (Calif.) High’s Mark Trumbo and Chandler (Ariz.) High’s Jonathan Poterson hit balls over the fence during batting practice. Trumbo also hit 93 mph off the mound, while Poterson smacked bombs from both sides of the plate. Nobody’s raw power could match Arlington High (Riverside, Calif.) first baseman Lucas Duda, who slugged several balls to deep right center, straight away center and left center during games.
• Hialeah (Fla.) High lefty Giovany Gonzalez put his name on the map with two dominating three-inning performances, allowing just one hit and fanning seven. Just 5-foot-11, Gonzalez was sneaky quick with his 86-91 mph fastball. He creates deception with a high leg kick and free and easy arm stroke, and also mixes his pitches well to keep hitters off balance. He showed a plus 74-77 mph biting curveball.
• Righthander Homer Bailey, one of the top players for next year’s draft, returned home to Texas to have his knee examined by doctors at Texas A&M. Bailey left his only appearance after tweaking his right knee on his fourth pitch.
• At 6-feet and 150 pounds, Hanford (Calif.) High southpaw David Coulon doesn’t stand out among some of the towering pitching prospects in Long Beach, but he showed an advanced feel for pitching. His fastball was clocked at 87-88 mph and he mixed in a good slider and changeup for strikes. He creates deceptiveness with a slightly toned down Dontrelle Willisesque delivery. Coulon’s leg kick and hip turn aren’t quite as exaggerated. He has a quick, clean arm action and repeats his delivery.
• Klein High (Spring, Texas) outfielder Kyle Russell emerged as the 2005 top prospect by showing tremendous extra-base power from line to line. The 6-foot-5, 173-pounder has good leverage and loft to go with plus bat speed.
area code games: top 10 prospects
Polished Adenhart impresses at East Coast event
BY ALAN MATTHEWS
WILMINGTON, N.C.—Some of the country’s top rising high school talent was on display at the East Coast Professional Baseball Showcase.
Though the class of 2004 at this early stage of evaluation appears to be thin in position players, two arms from the Northeast asserted themselves as legitimate prospects with impressive showings.
Jay Rainville of Bishop Hendricken High in Warwick, R.I., went 10-0, 0.18 with 165 strikeouts and nine walks in 77 innings as a junior and backed up those stats in front of scouts in Wilmington against quality competition.
The 6-foot-3, 220-pound righthander worked between 91-95 mph, breaking bats and prompting comparisons to Roger Clemens with his thick frame and heavy fastball. Rainville’s breaking ball wasn’t as impressive as his fastball, but with 10-12 mph difference in velocity, he was successful in getting hitters out front and off balance.
After Rainville tossed two strong innings, he was replaced by righthander Mark Rogers of Mount Ararat High in Topsham, Maine.
“Usually when you get past that first guy, almost always it’s going to be easier,” the scout coaching the opposing team said. “But my guys faced the reliever (Rogers) and said, ‘That first guy was practically impossible to hit, but this guy is completely unhittable.’ ”
The 6-foot-2, 200-pound Rogers was not as polished mechanically as Rainville but actually threw harder and flashed a breaking pitch with better bite.
One of Rogers’ fastballs was clocked at 99 mph. While many debated the legitimacy of that reading, he was nonetheless powerful, pitching consistently between 92-96 mph with fair control.
Despite the impressive showing by the two New England pitchers, righthander Nick Adenhart of Williamsport High in Hagerstown, Md., retained his spot in the minds of most scouts in attendance as the top prospect at the event. Adenhart needs to fill out his 6-foot-3, 180-pound frame but has a remarkably refined delivery for his age. He touched 93 mph in Wilmington and threw to both sides of the plate, showing command of three pitches.
Position players who boosted their stock at the showcase, which attracted top prospects from the eastern half of the country, included outfielder Mike Taylor, catcher Neil Walker and shortstop Eric Campbell.
Taylor (Apopka, Fla., High) was the most noticeable player at the event—if not for his 6-foot-5, 234-pound build then certainly for his impressive tools. Taylor hit the ball with trajectory and lift rarely seen at the prep level. He has a strong, short stroke but at times failed to allow the ball to get deep into his hitting zone.
“He still swings and misses a lot, but when talking raw ability, raw power and raw tools, he is extremely impressive,” one scout said.
Taylor had a showdown with Rainville and Rogers on the event’s second day that created a buzz. Taylor reached on an infield grounder but not before Rainville sent a message.
“Rainville was throwing consistently 93-95, topped out around 97 and then the next guy was throwing consistently 94-96 and topped out at 99,” Taylor said. “(Rainville) threw the 99 mile an hour one right under my chin. That was a new experience for me. He threw about two 95 miles per hour, painting the outside corner so I started to look out that way, thinking ‘fastball-react’ and I’m kind of diving out over the plate a little bit. The next thing I know I’m lying on my back. I guess that’s what good pitchers do, so I have respect for it. I was just praying it didn’t hit me in the face.”
Walker, who played for Team USA’s junior national team this summer, was steady at the plate and behind it. A switch-hitting catcher from Pine Richland High in Gibsonia, Pa., Walker showed good plate discipline with strong strike-zone judgment and a willingness to hit pitches to all fields.
Campbell continued his torrid summer with another impressive showing. The Gibson Southern High (Owensville, Ind.) product homered five times at the Perfect Game/World Wood Bat Association Senior Championship in Marietta, Ga., in early July and homered again and peppered the gaps in Wilmington. He showed good actions at shortstop but struggled at times when moved to second base.
CONNIE MACK WORLD SERIES
FARMINGTON, N.M.—The East Cobb Yankees from Marietta, Ga., captured their third Connie Mack (18 and under) World Series title in five years by defeating the Cincinnati Midland Redskins 5-4 in the championship game. The Yankees went undefeated in the eight-team, double-elimination event.
Georgia Tech-bound first baseman Whit Robbins delivered the big blow in the deciding game, a two-run double in the fifth inning that put his team ahead 4-1. All-tournament righthander Dustin Evans, a 28th-round pick of the Reds headed for Georgia Southern, pitched the first five innings for the win—his second of the tournament.
East Cobb center fielder Danny Payne, a rising senior at Sequoyah High in Woodstock, Ga., was named the tournament MVP. He hit .438 overall, made a game-saving catch in the seventh inning of East Cobb’s first win against Midland and pitched three scoreless innings in an opening-round game. East Cobb won four of its five games by one run.
East coast showcase: top 10 prospects
The top 10 2004 high school draft prospects at the 2003 East Coast Showcase, as judged by BA assistant editor Alan Matthews in conjunction with scouts in Wilmington, N.C.
Player Pos. Height Weight School
1. Nick Adenhart RHP 6-3 180 Williamsport HS, Hagerstown, Md.
The most polished product with a smooth arm motion, 91-94 mph heat and a sharp curveball.
2. Jay Rainville RHP 6-3 220 Bishop Hendricken HS, Warwick, R.I.
Capable of holding velocity throughout late innings but his breaking ball was inconsistent.
3. Mark Rogers RHP 6-2 200 Mount Ararat HS, Topsham, Maine
Rogers arrived with mid-90s heat and the best breaking ball at the showcase.
4. Mike Taylor OF 6-4 234 Apopka (Fla.) HS
Impressive raw tools and a frame and stroke that creates unmatched power potential.
5. Warren McFadden OF 6-0 185 Nova HS, Davie, Fla.
Another pure athlete with great actions and an improved approach at the plate.
6. Josh Fields RHP 6-0 165 Prince Avenue Christian School, Hull, Ga.
92-93 mph fastball and traditional 12-to-6 curve are plus pitches that tied up hitters.
7. Joseph Bauserman RHP 6-2 220 Lincoln HS, Tallahassee, Fla.
A standout prep quarterback with an effortless delivery and good late break to his pitches.
8. Eric Campbell SS 6-1 185 Gibson Southern HS, Fort Branch, Ind.
The most advanced hitter in the event, he displayed excellent plate discipline and power.
9. Blake Johnson RHP 6-4 195 Parkview Baptist HS, Baton Rouge, La.
Has a projectible frame and an ability to maintain velocity.
10. Neil Walker C 6-3 205 Pine-Richland HS, Gibsonia, Pa.
Switch-hitting catcher with good catch-and-throw skills and good strike-zone judgment.
AFLAC features East spotlight Rogers steps forward as 2004’s Maine man
WILMINGTON, N.C.-- Every summer, a relatively unknown rising senior skyrockets his way into the draft picture as the premier prospect nobody knew about, but everybody wants to see.
In 1998 it was Pirates righthander Bobby Bradley, and a year later current Devil Rays outfielder Rocco Baldelli burst onto the scene at the East Coast Professional Showcase in Wilmington, N.C. In 2000, Brewers righthander Mike Jones' summer circuit drew raves from scouts and earned him a spot in the first round in 2001.
This summer, hard-throwing righthander Mark Rogers has stepped from the shadows of obscurity into the limelight of draft frenzy.
On a hot, humid, late-July evening on the campus of UNC Wilmington, Rogers climbed atop the mound as little more than another name on an endless list of players from the 2004 and 2005 high school classes. But when the 6-foot-2, 200-pound 17-year-old delivered the first of a sequence of mid-90s fastballs, the dozens of scouts and college recruiters that lined the aluminum bleachers scrambled through their sweaty notes to find out where exactly this kid was from.
Maine? Yep. Orrs Island to be exact. A small town located in the extreme southeast part of the state is where Rogers began firing low-80s fastballs by the time he was 13. His father, Craig, is his coach at Mt. Ararat High a few miles away in Topsham. Craig is responsible for encouraging Mark to attend a Braves minicamp held a couple hours north in Augusta when Mark was an eighth grader.
"After every kid had thrown, Mark was begging (Braves area scout) John Stewart to get up there and pitch," Craig said. "I think just to pacify him they let him throw . . . and they thought he was quite something. Every year since, the Braves have been sending Christmas cards."
Stewart recalled the encounter, and has watched Rogers develop into a legitimate talent.
"I've known him since he was a little kid," Stewart said. "He came into a trial camp with his big brother Brett (now pitching at the University of Maine) and he just stood on the sidelines and watched. He had a good body back then, and I brought him on the mound kind of as a courtesy to his brother. He threw about 74-75 miles an hour when we first put him on the mound."
Rogers landed a spot in his high school rotation as a freshman and enjoyed his best year as a junior, going 11-1, 0.16 with 156 strikeouts and 21 walks in 82 innings. He was selected as the top high school player in the state last spring and the Gatorade player of the year in Maine, as well. But despite his impressive arm and good control, Rogers' name was hardly known outside the Northeast. Not until this summer.
"This is his first tour of duty travelling the country and he's become a known overnight," Stewart said.
The showcase circuit opened the eyes of many to Rogers' potential and he was making the most of the opportunity.
"In Maine there are two or three good players on a team but after that you can be guilty of falling into cruise control and just throwing strikes," Rogers said from the Area Code Games where he made another strong showing less than a week after arriving at the ECPS. "When you get out here every batter is a new battle and a real challenge, and you have to think and throw your pitches and it makes the game a lot more fun. It's going to make you better as a pitcher in the long run and help you get to the place you want to be."
That place might be in the first few rounds of next June's draft. Rogers has considerable upside but lacks a polished delivery. Scouts and recruiters point at his frame and athleticism as a couple of key ingredients to a valuable finished product. Furthermore, Rogers has not played baseball exclusively, splitting time developing skills on the soccer field and hockey rink throughout his adolescence.
"I've grown up playing hockey, soccer and baseball," Rogers said. "Hockey is the exact opposite from baseball. Baseball is an elegant game, hockey is graceful at times with the skating but it's a lot rougher. Over the past two years, I've really taken to baseball."
Because Rogers has not dedicated offseasons to baseball until recently, combined with the lack of advanced instruction in the region, he has a considerable learning curve as he enters his senior season.
"Mechanically, coming from Maine, he's a little behind the eight ball," Stewart said. "He needs some time and he certainly needs some coaching."
Rogers also knows he has some work to do.
"What I really want to do is maintain my fastball and curveball and sharpen them, and develop a strong third pitch," Rogers said. "I want to develop a third pitch that is as consistent as my primary two pitches."
While scouts and recruiters have spent the summer salivating over Rogers' skills, the phone has begun to ring regularly, including discussions about playing hockey and baseball with Dartmouth and Maine.
"I've heard a lot from college and pro scouts," Rogers said. "They're saying a lot of positive things, I've heard from schools all over the country; Clemson, Cal State Fullerton, USC (Southern California) . . . (Attention) slowly spread South and now its spreading West and it's a real exciting experience. To watch these guys play and the players you've envied over the years and now I'm hearing from the coaches of those same teams."
Despite the whirlwind of calls and offers, Rogers has maintained his poise and focus and says he's less interested in the two-sport option and more concerned about making the best decision. One that might be to begin his climb to professional prominence as soon as next June.
"Even if I got an offer to play (college baseball and hockey) I don't think (it would make a significant difference in my decision)," he said. "I have always dreamed about playing professional baseball and if that opportunity arises it's obviously a great opportunity and one that I'd have to consider. I'm smack dab in the middle. I'm not leaning one way or another."
His spot on the East roster in the AFLAC All-America game is another opportunity for Rogers to prove that Maine has more to offer than a picturesque coastline and a good lobster dinner.
"For me it's definitely more than a showcase," he said after accepting an invitation to the game. "Especially being tucked away in Maine, people don't look at it as a baseball state, so the East has a lot to prove when we go down there to Ft. Myers. Players from the Northeast can play at the same caliber as the kids from the Texases and Californias, and that will be the true test.
"Everybody's real excited about it. It's the best opportunity you could ask for: It's nationally televised, every pitcher gets to throw one inning and you're surrounded by the best players in the country."
Taylor has football body but good baseball instincts
WILMINGTON, N.C.—Delmon Young, Ryan Harvey, Chris Lubanski and Lastings Milledge are high school outfielders who were drafted within the first 12 picks in June, a group of gifted players who provided one of the strong points of the Class of 2003.
The crop of prep outfielders for 2004 looks somewhat thinner, though Apopka (Fla.) High’s Mike Taylor has quickly moved up the prospect lists this summer.
At 6-foot-4 and 234 pounds, Taylor is unmistakably the most imposing player at his level. “He’s a monster,” one National League scout said of Taylor, who more closely resembles Miami Dolphins defensive end Jason Taylor than a rising senior in high school. “He’s a strong, physical, mature kid. He looks like a man playing with kids in terms of physical maturity.”
But unlike the dozens of well-built athletes who have created a buzz before failing to master the nuances of the game, Taylor appears to have an innate feel for baseball. He has a good approach at the plate, displaying patience and discipline, and already gets decent reads on fly balls in the outfield.
“He’s a tools kid that people are going to run in to see,” another scout said. “But there are going to be a lot of questions. He has enough bat speed; the key is if he can recognize offspeed (pitches) and adjust. To use the tools he has makes him a special player.”
Taylor hears the praise but is also aware of the things he needs to work on. “The biggest thing for me, personally, is being balanced at the plate and taking a good approach,” Taylor said. “The results will come and go.”
Though Taylor is more advanced physically than his peers, he leans on a simple philosophy while in the box that enables him to succeed. “Between the lines, when a guy’s nasty and throwing harder, you just slow down the game in your head and stay balanced and you can’t look bad,” he said.
And Taylor has faced advanced pitchers already. He learned a thing or two from teammate Zack Greinke, a two-way player at Apopka who has become one of the best pitching prospects in baseball with the Royals.
“I’m a lowly 1-for-7 (against him),” Taylor said with a smile. “With an off-the-end-of-the-bat, metal-bat single. That guy’s disgusting.”
Bush takes baseball first, hopes nice car will follow
LONG BEACH—His schedule has been so full of baseball this summer that Matt Bush hasn’t had a chance to take his driver’s-education courses, leaving him at 17 and without a license.
He doesn’t expect to find time to get to one until he turns 18, but he figures by then he’ll be drafted with a healthy signing bonus in hand. So not only will he be a legal driver, but he also plans to buy some nice wheels to get around in.
In the meantime, the Mission Bay High (San Diego) product will continue focusing on baseball, as he did at the Area Code Games. Bush was rated the top prospect at the weeklong event. Not only was he far and away the best position player on the field, but he might also have been the top pitcher.
Several scouts expressed concerns about Bush’s size (he’s 5-foot-10), but they couldn’t ignore his solid tools across the board. He made consistent, hard contact with a short, quick and direct stroke, and showed the strength to turn on the ball and drive it to all fields.
“The one thing I’ll take out of this is knowing that I can play at a high level with the best players in the country,” Bush said after collecting a single, triple and stolen base in the Area Code all-star game. “I just have to stay humble and work hard.”
Bush’s work will continue after his performance in the AFLAC Classic, as he’s scheduled to work out with Brewers prospect Anthony Gwynn to improve the one tool scouts don’t grade as average yet: his speed.
“It means a lot to be (invited to the AFLAC game),” Bush said. “There are so many good kids in the country and I got the chance to represent the all-americans for my class.”
Where his speed is lacking, though, his arm—which generates 93-94 mph heat and a hammer curveball on the mound—grades out near the top of the scouting scale. He shows outstanding range with a quick first step and soft hands.
Bush, who has orally committed to play for Gwynn’s father Tony at San Diego State, is a baseball rat who enjoys showing off his tools, especially his arm strength. His Area Code Games teammate Chuck Lofgren called Bush’s arm strength the best he’s ever seen. Bush plays with a flair and has a bit of a swagger about him. That shouldn’t be confused with him not respecting the game or resting on his laurels, though.
“We asked him if he needed a rest after he got hit with a pitch in the leg and we couldn’t rip the uniform off him,” said Bruce Seid, a Brewers scout and coach of the Brewers’ Area Code team. “You just put him in the lineup and let him do his thing. He brings a lot to the team as a teammate.”
Final decision can wait for two-way star Lofgren
LONG BEACH—Serra High (Burlingame, Calif.) lefthander/outfielder Chuck Lofgren put together an impressive showing at the plate for Team USA’s junior national squad in Curacao in July, batting .375 with four doubles and leading the team with 15 RBIs.
Lofgren didn’t throw a pitch for Team USA, but most scouts in Northern California still see him as a pitcher down the road. “I like him as a pitcher, but he likes to swing the bat and he can swing it pretty good,” one American League scout said.
“I think I am a two-way guy,” Lofgren said. “But I’m going to do both as far as it takes me.”
But Lofgren, who has touched 93 in the past and hit 91 in his first outing at the Area Code Games, is forcing many scouts to reconsider their first instinct.
At the Area Code Games, he didn’t show a consistent breaking ball from his high three-quarters arm slot, and in his second outing he was throwing 85-86 mph. The arm strength is there, but he can look stiff on the mound, leaving less room for projection on his athletic 6-foot-3, 190-pound frame.
Lofgren isn’t worried about making that decision yet. He says seeing the game from both sides gives him an advantage.
“As a pitcher I’m going to throw strikes to try to get people out, and as a hitter I think I know what pitchers are thinking, so I have the mindset of both,” he said.
Bruce Seid, a Brewers area scout and one of Lofgren’s coaches in Long Beach, was impressed with Lofgren’s approach.
“He brought a lot to this game,” Seid said. “He was in tune as a team leader and focused on the team until the last out of the game. He felt like he belonged and the team rallied around that.”
After taking a good batting practice session at spacious Blair Field, Lofgren got a chance to show off his juice in game action. In one at-bat, he smoked a double that one-hopped the wall in center field, 400 feet away. It was one of the best drives of the showcase.
“He’s this year’s Ryan Sweeney,” said one American League crosschecker, referring to the White Sox second-rounder who caused a lot of split decisions in scouting departments last summer with his two-way ability.
The ball comes off Lofgren’s bat well, and he has a nice, fluid stroke with the strength and loft in his swing to project as a lefthanded power hitter.
“He showed strength and some power,” an AL scout at the Area Code Games said. “He’s very aggressive with the bat and has an idea at the plate.”
“Every game I learn something new,” Lofgren said. “At the plate, I’ve learned to be more patient and hit the ball to all fields.”