California Prospects Get An Offseason Workout, Showcase

Two Squads Meet In The Jesse Flores Memorial All-Star Game

COMPTON, Calif.—The Professional Baseball Scouts of Southern California (PBSSC) presented a new fall showcase event, the first annual Jesse Flores Memorial All-Star Game, at Major League Baseball's Urban Youth Academy.

Flores was the first Mexican-born player to pitch in the major leagues (1942-50) and then served as a scout for the Phillies and Twins, signing such major leaguers as Bert Blyleven, Graig Nettles, Jesse Orosco and Reggie Smith.

The event that now bears his name featured two squads of high school players from the greater Southern California area, and the quality of the talent on hand and the mid-December timing of the event made it a must-see Saturday for scouts.

More than 100 scouts were in attendance, including area scouts, regional supervisors, cross-checkers and scouting directors. Most notable among the scouts present was the great George Genovese, dean of all Southern California Scouts and the profession's foremost living legend. Genovese, 85, has spent 67 years in professional baseball as a player, coach, manager and scout. In the latter capacity, mainly with the Giants, he has signed Bobby Bonds, Gary Matthews Sr., George Foster, Chili Davis and dozens of other big league stars.

The South (Red) All-Stars beat the North (Blue) All-Stars 13-4 in a game lengthened to 12 innings to permit scouts to see all pitchers on both teams. As in most "scout ball" games, the result is secondary; evaluating individual performance is primary.

Saturday's festivities began with an extended wood bat batting practice session. Rust was a factor with many hitters, and pop-ups, foul tips and broken bats spinning through the infield were the norm early in BP. Once the players settled down, however, several batters stood out.

Cutter Dykstra (Westlake HS, Westlake Village) has a big league pedigree and big league skills. The son of Lenny Dykstra has a compact back swing and full follow through that supply surprising power for a player his size. The 6-foot, 180-pound Dykstra air-mailed a drive that comfortably sailed over the left field scoreboard.

Aaron Hicks (Wilson HS, Long Beach) has altered his once severe pre-swing hand position. Previously, Hicks began his swing with his hands well above his head and the bat pointed toward incoming passenger flights. Hicks has lowered his hands, and while the bat is still a bit too pointed, his barrel now has a shorter path to the ball and the results are obvious.

A switch-hitter, Hicks is more advanced from the left side, and in Saturday's BP he massacred inside deliveries, driving them into the right-field corner or into the adjacent parking lot. He still needs to shorten his stride and stay on the ball longer in order to handle the pitches that are away, but coaching and experience should solve that problem. There is no question that Hicks has raw hitting ability that is well-above-average.

Kyle Skipworth (Patriot HS, Rubidoux) possesses perhaps the purest natural swing of any hitter in Southern California. Skipworth's smooth, whippy swing projects to supply above-average power and batting average numbers.

The two hitters who displayed the most raw power were the lefthanded-hitting duo of Ricky Oropesa (Etiwanda HS, Rancho Cucamonga) and Clark Murphy Jr. (Fallbrook HS). Oropesa is that rare high schooler who can drive the ball over the center-field fence in a big league park with a wood bat. Scouts are concerned that his impressive BP showings rarely translate into results in games against tougher competition.

Oropesa's raw power and throwing arm are similar to the area's top player in 2007, Mike Moustakas; however, to move up draft boards most scouts would want to see Oropresa make more consistent solid contact in game situations.

Murphy Jr. has eye-opening power, particularly to right-center field. In recent games and showcase events, however, Clark has exhibited far too much pre-swing hand movement and has been pulling off the ball so severely that his front foot spins out toward the first-base coaching box. Once he quiets his hands down and remains balanced and closed, Murphy figures to regain the form he exhibited at the Aflac All-Star game in San Diego in August.

Corey Levier (Diamond Bar HS) is a player who is virtually unknown on the national scene, but that will change after this event. A 6-foot-3, 210-pounder, Levier is a lefthanded-hitting first baseman with a strong fullback type build. He's a dead-pull hitter who aggressively attacks the ball, showing provocative bat and exit speed. He will need to loosen up a tad and learn to use the whole field. Despite struggling somewhat in the game, Levier's showing at this event established him as a player to follow closely in 2008.

Issac Galloway (Los Osos HS, Rancho Cucamonga) is a remarkably gifted athlete who does everything with ease and grace. His fluid swing enables him to destroy any pitch which is in the lower middle portion of the strike zone. To reach his vast potential, Galloway will need to learn to handle pitches in other areas of the zone, and he'll need to improve his recognition of the breaking ball.

Other hitters who stood out included:

Zack Wilson, 3b (Wilson HS, Long Beach): Wonderful pure swing, but no load or leg drive.

Jett Bandy, c (Thousand Oaks HS): Big "go for broke" power swing. Needs to be a little less pull and lift oriented.

Malcolm Culver, of/ss (Palmdale HS): Raw and unpolished, but has some interesting pop.

Zach Collier, of (Chino Hills HS): Good athlete with a nice left—handed swing. Showed line drive power and the occasional ability to pull and drive the ball.

Chris Amezquita, 3b/rhp (Servite HS, Anaheim) and Bryan Harr, 3b (Grossmont HS, San Diego): Elite high school third basemen who can sting and drive the ball. Both need to relax and loosen their tight grip on the bat, especially with the top hand.

A round of infield/outfield practice followed batting practice. The star of this portion of the event was Anthony Gose (Bellflower HS). Lefthanded all the way, Gose did not pitch at this showcase, but when on the mound his fastball sits at 93-94 mph and touches 97. Gose's throws from the outfield are just as impressive; he unleashed a series of lasers to both third base and home plate. During the game, he also made a spectacular over-the-shoulder catch of a high, twisting drive to deep center field.

Gose struggled in BP but was a terror in the game. In addition to his brilliant grab, Gose drove balls into the gaps and ran the bases like a wild man, daringly taking the extra base and stealing at will.

Oropesa took infield at third base and exhibited an exceptionally strong arm. Scouts are divided on Oropesa's best defensive position. Suggestions include catcher, right field, first base and third. The hot corner may be the answer. He will need to vastly improve his footwork and fielding actions, but he does have the arm and basic athletic ability to handle the spot.

Bandy is a catcher who has improved significantly in the past six months. He has lost weight and has firmed up his frame, and that has carried over to results on the field. Bandy's pop times are now consistently at or below 2.00; his best Saturday was 1.91. In addition, his footwork and receiving skills, while still requiring some polish, are now much more fluid.

Once the preliminaries were concluded, the game commenced. With it being the offseason, it was no surprise that play was slightly sloppy, but there was no absence of energy or enthusiasm. Two position players stood out.

Matt Cerda (Oceanside HS) is a high-energy, lefthanded-hitting middle infielder. Cerda slapped base hits all over the yard, ran the bases with daring aggression, and displayed advanced defensive skills. Listed at 5-foot-10, 165 pounds, Cerda's frame may scare off several organizations, but he appeals to some pro scouts as a lefthanded-hitting version of David Eckstein or Dustin Pedroia.

Five pitchers excelled in the extended contest. It should be noted that several prominent pitching prospects were not present, including Gerrit Cole, Jarret Martin, Michael Tonkin, Mike Montgomery and John Lamb.

Edgar Olmos (Birmingham HS, Van Nuys) is a tall and lanky lefthanded hurler from what is traditionally a football powerhouse. Edgar's loose and easy arm action delivers a fastball that peaks at 88 mph. Olmos is able to add or subtract velocity to his sweeping curve, which ranges from 69-74 mph. Edgar's extremely projectable 6-foot-5, 180-pound build and clean delivery indicate that a great deal more velocity can be expected from him in the future.

Miles Reagan (El Capitan HS, Lakeside) is a righthander whose fastball peaks at 92. Reagan mixes in a curve and changeup that both come in at 75 on the gun. Scouts are concerned about Reagan's arm slot. One commented that it "seems to get lower every time I see him." Indeed, at times Reagan did appear to be pushing the ball. Miles still possesses one of the livelier righthanded arms in the 2008 Southern California draft class.

Hicks was the first pitcher to throw Saturday. As in other showcase events, Aaron's power arm fired a four-seam fastball that peaked at 93-94, and a hammer over the top curve in the 82-83 range. Most scouts feel that if Hicks pitches in pro ball, his near maximum effort delivery and spotty command would make him a righthanded set-up man, along the lines of a LaTroy Hawkins.

Matt McGill (Royal HS, Agoura) is a tall, stringy and projectable righthanded sidearmer who flashes a fastball in the 86-88 range. Matt's best pitch is his 81-82 slider, which exhibits nasty late break.

Adam Miller (Yucaipa HS) is a righthanded hurler with an unusual and funky delivery, but is still able to fire a deceptive fastball around 90-91. Several scouts sitting near me glanced around after Miller's pitches to check other radar guns. "Wow." one said within earshot, "he doesn't seem to be throwing that hard."

Saturday's showcase event began around 9 a.m. and concluded as darkness was descending around 5 p.m. As the day wound down, some scouts shared an assessment of the 2008 Southern California Draft Class.

Most talent evaluators feel that this group does not contain a hitter with the advanced and refined hitting skills of 2007 draftees Mike Moustakas, Josh Vitters or Nick Noonan. Also, no one appears to have the superlative defensive ability of Matt Dominguez.

However, the 2008 class is loaded with lavishly talented two-way players, promising hitters, power throwing arms and strong pitching, particularly from the left side. Top prospects such as Gose, Hicks, Galloway and Dykstra are substantially faster than their 2007 counterparts and display five-tool potential. Combined with Skipworth, Oropesa and Murphy, Jr. they form a strong group, which will conceivably be prominent in the first two rounds of the 2008 draft.

George Genovese summed it up best. "If you're a scout," he said, "You can't beat Southern California. This is the place to be."