Basketball Recruit Amir Garrett Proves Quick Study On Mound
Amir Garrett had played in pressure situations before this early May workout in Las Vegas, on the field at JC of Southern Nevada. He helped Leuzinger High in Los Angeles win a sectional championship in 2010—in basketball—and participated in USA Baseball's Tournament of Stars later that summer.
It certainly wasn't the first time Garrett had found himself under the microscope. But with 20 scouts on hand to see him pitch off a mound for the first time all spring, with no one else on the field except him and his catcher, well, that was different.
"I'm not going to lie, man," Garrett said, "on that day, I was nervous. I told my friends that I live for those situations, to have all eyes on me. But it was the first time I had done that kind of thing. I had never had all those radar guns pointed at me. It was different. Just me and my catcher—it was awkward."
It didn't show. According to Southern Nevada pitching coach Nick Aiello, Garrett reared back and showed off the athleticism and arm strength that make him one of the draft's most intriguing prospects.
"The first time I saw him throw, I thought of (Aroldis) Chapman," Aiello said. "He has a similar arm stroke. His first pitch in his first bullpen I saw had to be 90. But he needed to learn to use his lower half. Mechanics, just learning fundamental pitching mechanics, has been job No. 1. He's done a great job of making adjustments and learning. He's such a good kid, so coachable. I told him the other day, 'You look like a baseball player now.' "
Other than Bubba Starling, Garrett is the draft's most intriguing two-sport athlete. He didn't play organized basketball until his freshman year in high school (he's on his third school in four years) but started playing varsity from day one. He has grown into a 6-foot-6 wing player with explosive leaping ability, leading to a deep reservoir of YouTube clips. He's No. 97 on ESPN's Top 100 high school hoops list and committed to St. John's.
Garrett has played only one year of high school baseball, has played American Legion baseball in the Las Vegas area, and played occasionally when he lived in L.A. at the Urban Youth Academy, so he's not a complete newbie. He had to work hard to maintain his arm strength and stick with baseball, leading to a grueling summer last year.
"It was crazy," Garrett said. "I went from basketball camp to the Tournament of Stars in North Carolina, then back to another basketball tournament when I got back to Las Vegas. I was exhausted, but I loved it. I liked the challenge . . . I think it let people know I was serious about baseball."
For academic and basketball reasons, Garrett is finishing his senior year in high school at Findlay Prep in Las Vegas. Findlay doesn't have a baseball team, and scouts assumed that Garrett was destined for basketball when he made the move. But he has continued working on his own to keep his options open.
Garrett started a long-toss program in earnest this spring, after hoops season ended, as well as resistance-band training and yoga. He said he noticed improved results as he threw with family friend Keith Royal.
"Once I started throwing long toss," Garrett said, "I could tell the ball was just coming out of my hand good, even when I wasn't trying to throw hard. I would just flick it and it would just go. I knew I was getting positive results."
Scouts saw Garrett throw on May 4, and he sat 90-94 while touching 96 mph, flashing a changeup in the lower 80s. Aiello said he was disappointed in his curveball, which "has been a 12-6 downer every other time he's thrown it except that day. I think he just got a little nervous, probably for the first time in his life. But he's got a high three-quarters slot and he gets some tilt on the breaking ball."
Since the workout, Garrett's father Darrow said, "My phone has not been the same since. I've just had so many calls from people in baseball. My phone whines now."
Garrett threw again for scouts 20 days later, with about a dozen teams represented. His velocity was a bit down, in the 91-92 mph range, but his breaking ball and changeup were better.
Garrett could play basketball and baseball at St. John's. As his father said, "It's Madison Square Garden, a chance to play in New York. It's hard to turn that down."
If Garrett is ready to make a choice, he's not letting on. "I'm not sure what will happen," he said. "I could play both, but my focus right now is to work hard on baseball. I'm not at that time right now (to choose one)."
It's amazing that he even has a choice.