Area Code Games Day Four: Sousa Sizzles

LONG BEACH—The summer showcase circuit is often filled with peaks and valleys when the top players are expected to perform during abbreviated appearances in front of throngs of scouts. On the fourth day of the Area Code Games, Bennett Sousa was on the upswing against the Royals.

“The summer has been a roller coaster,” Sousa said. “Sometimes you are at the top and then you fall and have a bad outing. And today everything clicked for me and now it is going back up.”

Pitching for the Yankees, Sousa worked a quick three innings, garnering three strikeouts on his 89-91 mph fastball with armside run and mid-to-high 70s curveball featuring 1-to-7 break.

In previous summer outings, Sousa’s control has not been as sharp. Sousa issued six walks in four innings at Tournament of Stars and threw strikes on 51 percent of his pitches.

“At PG National I didn't have my best stuff and lost my command,” Sousa said. “At Tournament of Stars, the command was not there and then the walks came and it was downhill. But today was a byproduct of everything finally coming together and clicking for me.”

On Thursday the lefthander from The Benjamin School, North Palm Beach, Fla., issued a lone walk to the 11 batters he faced and consistently got ahead in the count by throwing first-pitch strikes to eight hitters.

Earlier in the summer, Sousa was still making some mechanical adjustments, saying he's changed his front-leg motion, trying to stay closed in his delivery. Sousa now has a high leg kick followed by a pronounced drop in his center of gravity that initiates a longer than average stride. At TOS, his landing and balance at release point were inconsistent, as he often landed on his heel and opened early, which caused him to fall towards third base and miss to his glove side. At TOS, he also pitched into his front leg at times, decreasing his ability to throw strikes.

At the Area Code Games, Sousa showed better momentum to the plate, a softer landing with his strike foot and more consistency repeating his three-quarter arm slot.

Sousa typically mixes his 75-78 mph changeup and curveball, but relied almost exclusively on a single offspeed offering Thursday.

“Down in the bullpen my curveball felt perfect and I knew it was going to be a good day with the breaking ball,” Sousa said. “So we went to that often. I only threw one change today. I didn't need it today because the breaking ball was so overpowering.”

The breaking ball showed depth and shaper tilt than previous outings. Sousa generated numerous whiffs off his curveball and commanded the pitch well. He began the first hitter of the second inning with two straight curveballs for strikes. Sousa also varied the curveball’s shape depending on the situation.

“For a lefthanded batter I use the spin with more slider action, and for righties I go more over the top,” he said. “My curveball kept hitters off balance the whole game once they saw I could throw my curveball for a strike.”

Currently standing 6-foot-3, 190-pounds, Sousa has shown tremendous physical development since weighing 130 pounds at the same height during his freshman year. He began using a workout designed by Eric Cressey, a New Balance brand ambassador, and attributes his velocity gains to his increased physicality.

Last summer, Sousa committed to Virginia.

“I fell in love with the school,” Sousa said. “The team always has one of the best ERAs in the nation. They have only had one arm injury in the last 10 years. As a pitcher, you want to join a program like that because they have been so successful.”

Sousa, who plays travel ball for Florida Burn Orange and has been up to 93 mph in shorter stints, has specific goals for improvement heading into the spring season.

“I want to get the offspeed more consistent and improve the curveball and change to make them everyday pitches instead of having them be on every other start or every other inning,” Sousa said. “I also want to bump up the velocity on the fastball and sit 92-93.”

• There were a few strong contenders, such as middle infielder Isan Diaz from Spring Central (Mass.), who showed impressive body control and athleticism on a double play, for the defensive player of the day, sponsored by Wilson Gloves. But the distinction belongs to outfielder Monte Harrison of Lee’s Summit West (Mo.). The Nebraska commit for both baseball and football made a diving catch in right field to end the second inning for the White Sox. Harrison also had a triple down the right-field line Thursday.

• We need to recognize the best battery of pitcher and catcher names in the 2014 draft when righthander Maverick Buffo (Utah) was caught by Handsome Monica (La.).