Area Code Games Notebook: Day One

LONG BEACH, Calif.—By the end of the first day of the Area Code Games, scouts were chattering that they’ll be spending plenty of time next spring in Sweeny, Texas. So in that sense, Corey Simpson put his home town on the map Sunday.

Simpson, a 6-foot-3, 220-pound righthanded slugger, stole the show at Blair Field in the first day of one of the premier events on the summer amateur circuit. In four trips to the plate, he went 2-for-3 with four RBIs, leading the Rangers (representing Texas and Louisiana) to a come-from-behind 5-4 win against the Reds (the Four Corners and Hawaii).

A first baseman/catcher committed to Houston, Simpson lined a sacrifice fly to center field in the first inning, then drove a fastball into the right-center gap for an RBI double in the third. But he saved his best for last, crushing a towering two-run homer to dead-center on an 89 mph fastball from Ryan Castellani in the eighth. Even college players swinging metal bats seldom hit home runs in spacious Blair Field—to any part of the park—so Simpson’s majestic shot to center field with wood drew plenty of oohs and ahhs.

“They’d been throwing me fastballs first pitch every time, and I was taking them the whole time,” Simpson said. “So I knew they were going to come with the fastball again. They just left it right down the pike, and I took it yard. To tell you the truth, I really didn’t know if it was gone or not.”

Everyone else knew as soon as it came off the bat.

Simpson played first base Sunday and said his defense behind the plate is “up and down.” But he is fairly light on his feet for his size, and even if he’s tied to first base, his powerful bat could carry him a long way.

• Simpson wasn’t the only Ranger who stood out Sunday. Shortstop Eric Garza (a Texas Christian signee) impressed with his athleticism and slick defense, particularly in the second inning, when he dove for a grounder up the middle, got up and made a perfect throw. He showed a quick transfer and release as well as an accurate arm on multiple occasions.

Righthander Kohl Stewart (Tomball, Texas) and lefthander Garrett Williams (Shreveport, La.) bookended the game on the mound, working three scoreless innings apiece. The 6-foot-3 Williams worked in the 88-91 range and recorded three of his four strikeouts with a sharp 74-77 mph curveball, though scouts want to see him improve his changeup, which lacks significant velocity separation from his fastball.

Stewart, who is committed to Texas A&M as a football quarterback and a pitcher, sat at 88-92 and bumped 93. He showed a very hard true slider with tilt in the 84-86 range, but he said he had better feel Sunday for his 80-82 mph changeup, which he used to get lefthanded hitters out in front. It was the second-to-last outing of the year for Stewart, who headed back to Houston for football two-a-days the rest of this week, then will return to make a final baseball appearance of the summer at the Perfect Game All-American Classic in San Diego in a week. Then he’ll focus all his energy on football.

“It’s crazy, but I love it,” Stewart said. “It couldn’t get any better. Football in Texas kind of dominates everything in the fall, so I try to cram in as much baseball as I can to kind of get ready. Then once football starts you don’t have an option, just do what they say. But I love it, I love both sports.

“I’m so on and off with football in the summer that it’s kind of hard to peak in the summer. I was pretty tight in the first, but I kind of loosened up and I think my stuff got better as the game went on. I think if I threw a couple more innings, I would have loosened up a little more. But I got guys out. I was having fun with all these guys.”

• Sunday’s big standout for the Reds was Honolulu outfielder Marcus Doi, a Hawaii recruit. The 6-foot, 185-pound Doi showed a quick, compact stroke and excellent speed on the bases. He ripped a single to left field on an 88 mph fastball in the fourth, then went the other way for an RBI triple that one-hopped the right-field wall in the fifth.

Miroglio Leads Athletics Past Royals

With his catching gear slung over his shoulder, Dominic Miroglio made his way toward the Blair Field exit, then paused to speak with a reporter.

“It’s a nice day to have a nice day,” he said, smiling.

Miroglio certainly helped his prospect stock in the opener of the Area Codes on Sunday. With hordes of scouts looking on, Miroglio ripped a three-run double into the left-center-field gap in the fourth inning, leading the Athletics (representing Northern California) to a 6-1 win over the Royals (Pacific Northwest).

“I saw that he liked to go curveball or offspeed after a ball, so I kind of guessed curve and guessed right, and put it in the gap,” said the righthanded-hitting Miroglio. “That was fun, it was fun to play with all these guys I play against up north. The adrenaline’s running, you’ve got a thousand scouts in the stands. I just love coming out here competing against the best.”

In the bottom of that fourth frame, Miroglio noticed a Royals baserunner—Mason Smith—straying too far off second base, so he made a strong throw to second to pick him off, ending the inning. His analysis of the play illustrated his savvy.

“Most guys get big leads when you play at this level, but he wasn’t hustling back,” Miroglio said, “so I gave a little verbal call to (shortstop) Dom Nunez, and he picked it up just like I wanted him to, and he just tagged him out.”

An Oakland native who attends Bishop O’Dowd Prep, Miroglio has yet to commit to a college, but he said his short list includes California, UCLA and Long Beach State. He sure looked at home at Blair Field on Sunday.

• A pair of UCLA commits started the game on the mound, and both pitched well. Physical righthander Dustin Driver (Wenatchee, Wash.) struck out three over two scoreless frames for the Royals, working in the 88-92 range with his fastball. He showed feel for four pitches—a sharp slider at 81-82, a decent curveball at 74-77 and a 78 changeup.

His counterpart, Athletics lefty Jonah Wesely (Tracy, Calif.), worked three innings and struck out three. He overcame some early jitters, allowing a run in the first inning but stranding the bases loaded with a pretty left-on-left changeup at 78 mph.

“I felt pretty good. I was a little erratic out there, but that’s what happens in a big showcase like this—you’re always going to have nerves, but I felt like I got the job done,” Wesely said. “I felt like I didn’t have my best stuff, but it was good enough. I feel good about how I performed today.”

Wesely worked in the 87-91 range and showed very good feel for a 78-79 changeup with good tumble. He also got into a rhythm with his 73-75 curveball as his outing progressed, locating it to both halves of the plate against lefties and back-dooring it against righties.

“My curveball worked well against lefties today,” he said. “When I keep my front shoulder in, it stays down to lefthanders and works out well. And my changeup dives in toward lefties, so I was trying to get that thing over the plate. It kind of varies by day (which is the better pitch), to be honest with you. But I feel like as I grow, they’ll both develop and be solid pitches for me.”