The 2015 Area Code Games began on Tuesday in sunny Southern California. Blair Field, home of the Long Beach State Dirtbags, welcomed hundreds of scouts to the amateur scouting circuit's most buzzworthy event, and the talent did not disappoint.
The first game of the event saw the Royals (Northwest) taking on the White Sox (Midwest). British Columbia native Josh Burgmann got the start against Ryan Zeferjahn (Kansas). Burgmann got off to a solid start; he faced seven batters and generated six groundballs, striking out one. He pitched in the upper 80s and touched 90 mph with his heavy fastball, and also showed feel for a fading changeup and 11-to-5 breaking ball.
Zeferjahn, on the other hand, struggled to get things going. He couldn't seem to find his fastball to his glove side in his first inning of work, and it took him 30 pitches to get through the inning. Then, in his second inning, Zeferjahn showed significantly better command of the strike zone, hitting his spots to both sides more consistently. His fastball velocity sat at 90-93 in the first inning and settled in at 90-92 in the second. He has a projectable 6-foot-4 frame with room to fill, though he will need to show more feel for his breaking ball going forward.
One of the top hitting prospects in the class, Cole Stobbe (Nebraska), got off to a strong start. He went 1-for-2 with a walk, with his hit coming on a curveball on the inner half that he timed well and scorched to shallow left field for a base hit. The ball's exit velocity off the bat was 103 mph, according to TrackMan.
Catcher Cooper Johnson (Illinois) continues to impress defensively. He is an excellent athlete behind the plate, and sets a very low target for pitchers, with mobile feet and a strong receiving arm. Johnson's offense is behind his defense, but he does have strength in his righthanded stroke. He went 0-for-3 in game one, hitting a hard ground ball to second in his first at-bat before striking out looking, and then striking out swinging at a sharp breaking ball low and away.
The second game of the day featured the Rangers (Texas) and the Reds (Four Corners). Jack Little (Nevada) got things started for the Reds, showing a promising changeup and a deceptive slow curveball to complement his upper 80s fastball. Little's delivery features Eastern Hemphisphere-style hesitation, with his knee bending upward and then painfully slowly dropping down until he explodes into foot strike. The righthander's tempo varied at times, but has the materials to quickly develop into a weekend pitcher at Stanford, where he is committed.
Starting opposite of Little, righthander Charles King (Texas) showed intriguing stuff, with his fastball sitting at 89-91 and touching 92. King showed two offspeed pitches that were similar in velocity, with a circle changeup in the low 80s showing late sink, as well as a short and sharp slider that he buried low and to his glove side.
The most impressive performance of the game came from righthander Kevin Roliard (Texas). Roliard showed off a loose, clean arm action and easy finish out front. He starts with a slight wrap in the back and his arm flies through his three-quarters arm slight with excellent speed. His lively fastball sat at 89-92—touching 93—on Tuesday, but his arm speed indicates that there is plenty of more velocity still coming his way. He also mixed in a 12-to-6 curveball at 76-80 with sharp and late break down, though the pitch lost some of its bite later in the outing. Roliard also had feel for a changeup down in the zone.
The most prospect-laden team at the event is without a doubt the Brewers (Southern California). The Brew Crew took on the A's (Northern California) in the final game of Day 3, and the talent really shined.
Kevin Gowdy was outstanding at Perfect Game National, showing excellent velocity and a three-pitch mix. There, his fastball peaked at 93 mph. On Tuesday evening, Gowdy pitched at 88-90 with heavy sink on his fastball. He works from the third base side of the rubber, with his heel near the center, and lands online with his toes slightly open, facing the lefthanded batter's box. He finishes well with his core and has a very clean arm action, and finishes with deep extension towards his target.
Gowdy's slider showed excellent promise as well. He used the pitch often down and inside to righthanded hitters for swings and misses, generating above-average bite on the pitch regularly. The pitch has the potential to develop into a true weapon for Gowdy, who is committed to UCLA.
Following Gowdy in the rotation, Reggie Lawson threw an electric inning, striking out the side on just 10 pitches. Lawson's outing was electric. He struck out the first batter he faced, a righthanded hitter, with a late-breaking curveball down and away, then got another righthander to whiff on a 92-mph fastball up above the hitter's hands. His bid at a perfect inning ended when he looked to get another righthanded hitter to chase an outside fastball in an 0-1 count. He rebounded by hitting both sides of the bottom of the zone for called strikes.
"Especially at Perfect Game National and the Tournament of Stars, I've found batters jumpy, so I have to sort of slow their feet down," Lawson said of his breaking ball usage, which he said he feels has become a primary part of his arsenal. His curveball has shown well in recent weeks, and on Tuesday he threw two of them, burying one down and to his glove side with late dive and tight spin, and hanging one up and to his glove side. Lawson said that he does have a changeup, but he doesn't use it as much in game action yet.
Lawson works from the first base side of the rubber, and has a smooth and athletic leg tuck, loading his hips well and showing excellent balance as he smoothly powers into his landing. He has very long levers and creates seemingly effortless torque. On Tuesday, his first pitch was a 94 mph fastball, and he comfortably sat at 92-93 for the rest of the inning. Lawson said that he will pitch again on Sunday. He is committed to Arizona State.
The Brewers outfield is crowded, with Blake Rutherford, Avery Tuck, and Mickey Moniak all having high offensive ceilings. Rutherford squared up the ball well on Tuesday, driving the ball hard to each gap, once being robbed of an extra base hit in right center, and the other time picking up a booming double to left center. On a groundball, he made it to first base in 4.19 seconds, an above-average time, and it took him a bit to hit his stride.
Tuck batted fifth for the Brewers, and didn't miss out on the opportunities to drive in Moniak and Rutherford. He went 2-for-4 with a hard ground single up the middle, and a booming line drive to right center field that resulted in a triple.
Moniak didn't quite show the power of his outfield companions, but he made solid contact three of his four at-bats. He worked the opposite field well, pushing a groundball through the 6-hole for one of hits, and punching a line drive into the edge of the infield dirt right up the middle for the other. Moniak made it to first base in 4.20 seconds on his grounder to third in the first inning.
Rutherford excitedly described after the game the atmosphere of the Brewers' dugout, making note of the kinds of discussions the teammates had. While the physical gifts of many players on the team are evident, the drive and focus of this team is equally impressive. Rutherford said that hitters regularly broke down the opposing team's pitchers during the game, and that many have shared experiences that they've had in facing the pitchers that were on the mound for the A's.