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Mid-Week Prep Report
by Alan Matthews
Light-hearted Lefthander Poised For Draft
The lion's share of high school headlines in February and March belonged to players from the Sun Belt states. Each year prospects from California, Florida and Texas dominate the draft chatter long before snow has melted off pitcher's mounds across much of the country.
But when the season finally started in Utah this spring, a lean, congenial lefthander quickly made his mark.
The buzz this spring in the Beehive State surrounds Springville High senior lefthander Mark Pawelek. The state's all-time strikeout leader--he set the record during his junior season and entered this year with 341 strikeouts in three seasons--Pawelek got warmed up with a no-hitter in a scrimmage game against the state's defending 4-A champions, Timpanogos High, in his first outing of the year.
The 6-foot-2, 180-pound Pawelek made a positive impression on scouts at the Area Code Games last summer, where he was ranked the No. 9 rising senior, and didn't disappoint the 25 scouts in attendance in this year's debut.
In his last start, he tossed a two-hitter with 18 punchouts and no walks in seven innings, further boosting his stock.
"He has everything you want," a National League scout said. "Fastball velocity, movement, control, he controls his secondary pitches and they're big league potential pitches."
Pawelek separates himself from other high school pitchers by sustaining his velocity deep into outings. In his last start, he never threw a fastball below 91 mph and, according to scouts, has touched 95 mph this season and hasn't thrown a fastball below 90 in four outings.
His mechanics need cleaning up but his arm works well when he maintains a consistent arm slot.
"I think the mechanics are raw but they're not hurting him," the scout said. "It depends on how you look at him. The arm's quick enough, he gets out in front and he gets good extension and the stuff in between isn't bothering him.
"That's probably his only real flaw, if there is one."
He complements his fastball with a good curveball, a developing changeup and also mixes in a split-finger fastball, a pitch he says he picked up by watching Roger Clemens demonstrate it on a FOX telecast one summer afternoon.
Pawelek's repertoire helped him to a 3-0 record in four appearances with 49 strikeouts and six walks in 24 innings. He had surrendered three hits and one unearned run, though he had hit four batters. "I like to keep people off the plate," he said with a benign chuckle.
Southpaws with mid-90s heat and a good feel for pitching can't be found on just any street corner, which makes Pawelek one of the 2005 draft's top commodities. But his personality is every bit as unique as his package of tools.
Mark's father Danny met his wife in Amsterdam while he was on a Mormon mission. Mark's mother moved back to Utah where the couple settled and started a family.
Mark is the third of four Pawelek children. His older brother Dennis was a 40th-round pick by the White Sox out of Snow (Utah) Junior College in 2002, but didn't sign and instead chose to pursue a college football career.
Like Dennis, Mark also was a standout on the gridiron, only not at quarterback, like many other talented prep pitchers. Pawelek was a kicker, and though he didn't play his senior season, electing to concentrate on baseball, he said he once kicked a 45-yarder in a game and connected from 55 yards in practice.
But where Pawelek really gets his kicks is off the field, strumming his acoustic and electric guitars. His father encouraged him to pick up the hobby, and introduced Mark to some of his generation's most popular musicians. Led Zeppelin and Boston are among the bands Pawelek says he enjoys, but his all-time favorite? "I love Jimi Hendrix," he said. "He's my favorite. And he's lefthanded so how couldn't I like him?"
In addition to their shared taste for music, Mark and his father, who works in automobile supplies sales, spend much of their time together discussing baseball and Mark's future. Danny has religiously attended Mark's games, and has even sacrificed his profession to make sure he catches one of the best prospects the state has ever produced each time out. "My dad lost a lot of business cause he only went to work twice one month because he was out watching me pitch," Mark says laughing. "I am thankful he's been there for me."
One Of A Kind
Mr. Pawelek isn't the only one dropping everything to catch Pawelek's outings. The throng of scouts at the Timpanogos tilt had a chance to see Timpanogos righthander Tyson Ford as well as Pawelek, but even when Pawelek pitches against some of the areas less talented teams, scouts--including crosscheckers and scouting directors--have been mainstays.
A year ago, many of those same scouts were becoming acquainted with Rand McNally while navigating the landscape in Maine to scout Mark Rogers, who was drafted in the first round by the Brewers. This year, Utah suddenly offers a must-see prospect, and Pawelek might be the best one from the state yet.
Last year more than 1,200 players appeared in a major league game but just six of those hailed from Utah. Cory Snyder, the fourth-overall pick out of Brigham Young by the Indians in 1984, is the highest-drafted player from the state and Bruce Hurst, a Dixie High product and 1976 first-rounder, is the best big leaguer the state has produced.
Pawelek, who committed to Arizona State, could be drafted in the first round, though it's not likely he'll go in the top half of the first round, so Snyder's claim figures to be safe. But Pawelek gleams with ambition when contemplating a big league career in the mold of Hurst, also a lefthander.
"I wouldn't mind going to college but who wouldn't want to sign a pro contract," he said. "They're a few select people every year that sign for a great deal of money and it's great to be in that position. But either way, I have two great options."
AROUND THE NATION
La Cueva High of Albuquerque tied the national high school record for consecutive wins with a 9-2 win over cross-town rival Eldorado High Tuesday. La Cueva (10-0), ranked No. 24 in the Baseball America/National High School Baseball Coaches Association poll, has won 68 consecutive games, dating back to 2003, tying the mark set by New Yorks Archbishop Molloy from 1963-66. The Bears could eclipse the record in the first game of a doubleheader scheduled for Saturday April 2.
BA's No. 1 team, Monsignor Pace of Opa Locka, Fla., dropped its first game Tuesday night, 3-2 to St. Thomas Aquinas High of Fort Lauderdale in the first round of the Orlando-based Catholic Classic tournament. St. Thomas Aquinas scored twice in the seventh inning to pull off the upset.