All-Star Games Function As Summer Ball Showcases

Follow me on Twitter

FAYETTEVILLE, N.C.—Adam Engel didn't have to think twice about whether to participate in his all-star game. In the Coastal Plain League, players don't turn down all-star trips.

Just think how many major leaguers would turn down their all-star selection if they had to run 60-yard sprints the afternoon of the All-Star Game in front of a host of scouts, as Engel and his fellow CPL all-stars did.

"I was excited to get selected; it's a great thing to be here," said Engel, a freshman at Louisville who was playing for Florence (S.C.) this summer. "But I also didn't know we had a pregame workout with 60s and all the scouts who are here. I thought we just had the game and the home run derby."

Engel admitted his competitive juices were flowing, even though his National all-stars got moved up in the workout. The American team arrived late, so rather than make the scouts wait, CPL coaches had the National stars run first. Engel said that made it tougher, but the players took it in stride.

"It's not that big of a deal, because running 60s doesn't help you win games," he said. "We only run 60s on scout days like this. We run first-to-third, or work on our technique, things that will help us win."

Engel ran one of the better 60s of the day, posting a 6.78-second time. Cody Davis of host Fayetteville posted another sub-7.0-second time, running at 6.75 seconds in his first run. He had another sprint to run but took time for a between-60s interview to say he was using the event as a personal showcase.

A two-way player at Division II Tampa, Davis is a 5-foot-10, 170-pound righthander who wasn't drafted after pitching just 17 innings this spring, striking out 15. He has played well for Fayetteville this summer, batting .280/.346/.366 with eight stolen bases as an outfielder/DH while also leading the league with 12 saves. Coach Darrell Handelsman tried to help Davis by pitching him in the fourth inning of the all-star game, giving the 25 or so scouts on hand a look at the small, quick-armed righthander,

In a way, Davis didn't disappoint. In the game's first three innings, pitchers with mid-to upper-80s fastballs followed one another to the mound. But Davis came out throwing as hard as possible, touching 93 and sitting in the 90-92 mph range.

Alas, throwing that hard, Davis didn't find the strike zone consistently. He gave up a walk and a hit but also picked up a strikeout and flashed the low-80s slider that has helped him post a 27-3 strikeout-walk ratio in 22 summer innings with the Swampdogs.

"I'm trying to get signed," Davis said. "I could go back for my senior year, but I'm hoping to get noticed."

Davis then went out and ran his second 60, posting a 6.97-second time. Players then took batting practice with the scouts all watching, some from the VIP tent down the right-field line, others from behind home plate.

[UPDATE: Davis signed with the Washington Nationals three days after the all-star game.]

Having It Both Ways

Summer league all-star games serve several purposes. For the players, it's a reward and it can be a showcase, as players like Davis often sign out of summer ball as free agents. For scouts, it's an opportunity to scout summer college leagues that otherwise can be tough to evaulate. The CPL has 15 teams, one shy of the 16-team Northwoods League, making those the two largest summer circuits. With scouts stretched thin between pro coverage and high school showcases, all-star games often are the best way for an area scout to do summer college coverage.

However, all-star performances like Davis' are part of the problem with the approach. Scouts want players to be able to make plays, to have game instincts, to play intuitively. High school showcases and all-star games promote the opposite. Scouts lament the "showcase" approach to the game—pitchers throwing to the radar gun, hitters bailing and wailing to hit for power—and the inability of many of today's players to make adjustments.

That was obvious in two recent stories: South Carolina's College World Series championship, and the Rockies' decision to allow 2009 first-round pick Tyler Matzek to go back to California to work with his personal pitching coach.

The Gamecocks had savvy to spare, best exemplified by ace lefthander Michael Roth.Throwing 82-87 mph with deception, a good changeup and a feel for a breaking ball made Roth an All-American, and he beat first-rounder after first-rounder in helping the Gamecocks win back-to-back championships. He's not a showcase guy, and didn't get drafted until the 31st round, both because of his lack of velocity and because he would rather go back to South Carolina for his senior season than sign for what soft-tossing lefties usually get as a signing bonus.

Meanwhile, Matzek lost command of his stuff and felt he had to leave his minor league team to work with his personal pitching coach. He told the Rockies he knew what drills he thought would help him, but didn't have the confidence to do them himself.

Who would you rather have to win a game? That's easy. Who's the better prospect? In today's showcase-afflicted baseball industry, that's tougher than ever to figure out.