Area Code Games Notebook: Day Three

LONG BEACH, Calif.—Three days into the Area Code Games, teams have already hit four home runs at spacious Blair Field—double the homer total for the entire six-day event in 2011.

Offense was abundant Tuesday, as two games turned into blowouts and every team scored at least three runs. Arizona recruit Michael Hoard (Tucson, Ariz.) set the tone for the day with a two-run homer to right field in the first inning of the first game, a 4-3 win for the Reds over the Athletics.

That was the third homer of the Area Codes; the fourth came when Rangers first baseman Garrett Luna (Magnolia, Texas) pulled a solo shot down the left-field line in an 11-4 win against the Nationals. It was the continuation of a strong week for Luna, who has played strong defense at both infield corners and driven the ball to both sides of the field (he had a double to right field Monday).

On a day when bats overshadowed arms, the top pitching prospect to take the mound Tuesday really stood out. Stephen Gonsalves (San Marcos, Calif.), a San Diego commit, started for the Brewers against the Royals and breezed through three scoreless innings, striking out five and allowing just one hit. Loose and projectable at 6-foot-5, 195 pounds, Gonsalves pitches downhill with an 88-92 mph fastball, which he commanded extremely well to both corners. He used the heater as the putaway pitch on four of his five strikeouts.

“He did a great job pitching at the knees with his fastball,” said Brewers manager Josh Belovsky, a scout for Milwaukee. “He was having a little trouble getting his split-finger over, and the curveball, he had a little better command of that. We talked after that second inning and said, ‘Hey, if no one’s really touching that fastball, you can live off that.’ So he kind of breezed through that third inning a little better and kind of banged that split.”

Gonsalves said he couldn’t get on top of his mid-70s splitter, releasing it too far back in his delivery and causing him to “airmail” it, as he put it. He isn’t known for his curveball, but he broke off a few with good spin and break at 71-72 mph, including a called third strike to end the first inning.

“It’s definitely been progressing over the last two years,” Gonsalves said of his curveball. “It’s one of the things scouts have always said I have to work on, and I’ve taken that into consideration—I want to better myself however they say. I’ve been working real hard on my offspeed, and it’s been paying off a little bit.”

Gonsalves has also made a significant adjustment to his delivery in the last year or so, swinging his left arm back before rocking forward over his head. The result is very distinctive—and effective.

“I think with his delivery, he’s got that old-school feel, I think it creates some deception right from the get-go and makes them uncomfortable,” Belovsky said.

Busy Day For Devin

The White Sox’s 10-4 win against the Yankees was a sloppy slog that featured a host of defensive miscues and 40 baserunnersmany of whom were often in motion. The White Sox kept the pressure on Yankees catcher Kyle Devin (Lynn, Mass.), who caught all seven innings, and he responded with a standout performance behind the plate, gunning down four basestealers at second base and another at third. The highlight came in the second inning, when he lunged to his left to catch a Chris Oakley offering way outside, then spun around and fired a strike to second in time to nail the speedy Ronell Coleman.

“I don’t think I could have done that again if you asked me to—it was just kind of instinct,” Devin said. “I’ve never done that before, but it worked. After that, the pitchers were good, they helped me with slide-steps and stuff. As long as they give me enough time, I’m sure I can get it down there in time.”

In the fourth, he blocked on a ball in the dirt and kept the ball in front of him, then picked it up and gunned down the runner trying to reach second. The next batter reached first and tried to steal again—and Devin threw him out from his knees.

He also allowed a few steals, and he sailed one throw into center field, but by and large it was a quality defensive showing. Not bad for someone who has only been catching for two years.

Devin’s coach at Lynn Classical High, Jeff Waldron, caught at Boston College and for seven years in pro ball.

“If it wasn’t for him, I wouldn’t be where I am now,” said the 6-foot-1, 210-pound Devin, who recently committed to Stony Brook. “At first, I hated it—the foul tips, getting down, blocking, all that stuff. After a while, you learn to love it. I’m glad I did it, because I had a rough day in the outfield yesterday, so if I wasn’t catching, I don’t think I’d be here right now.”

Maybe not, but Devin made a dent with his bat as well on Tuesday. He hit a two-run single through the right side in the first inning, then added another single through that four-hole in the fourth inning and a walk in the sixth. After going 3-for-7 during a strong performance in the East Coast Pro showcase, Devin has momentum.

Other Top Performers

• Ryan Boldt (Red Wing, Minn.) and A.J. Puk (Cedar Rapids, Iowa) stood out most for the White Sox on Tuesday. Boldt, a Nebraska commit, showed a solid, accurate arm in center field, good speed on the basepaths and good bat speed from the left side. He tripled into the right-center gap in the third inning. Puk, a Florida recruit, drove in three runs by doubling down the left-field line in the first and doubling to right-center in the third. At 6-foot-6, 205 pounds, Puk has provocative lefthanded power potential and an advanced approach.

• For the second straight day, 2014 outfielder Alexander Jackson (Escondido, Calif.) was the hero for the Brewers. With the score tied in the bottom of the seventh, Jackson came to the plate for the only time in the game and delivered a game-winning RBI single up the middle (though perhaps the second baseman should have made the play).

“Two days in a row coming up big, getting the big knock,” Belovsky said of Jackson. “Obviously with 2014s, they have to be pretty special, and I think he’s starting to prove that already. He came up big for us again today.”

• Belovsky said he moved shortstop J.P. Crawford (Lakewood, Calif.) to center field Tuesday in order to get more players into his lineup, “and it looks like he’s been playing out there his whole career.” In addition to showcasing his versatility, Crawford singled to right and tripled over the left fielder’s head, demonstrating his excellent feel for his barrel.

• Jackson wasn’t the only rising junior who is making a name for himself. His Brewers teammate Grant Hockin (Upland, Calif.), a UCLA commit, showed quality stuff from the right side, reaching 92 mph and showing a promising curveball at 75-78 with depth, though he gave up a couple of runs. And Rangers righthander Michael Kopech (Mount Pleasant, Texas) was even better, striking out four over two scoreless innings. The 6-foot-3, 195-pound Kopech worked in the 89-92 range and showed good feel for his 76 mph slider, which figures to add power as he matures.

“I don’t think I was throwing as hard as I usually do, but I felt like I could execute my slider better than my fastball today, so I tried to overpower with that,” said Kopech, who is considering Texas and TCU among other schools. “When I was doing my warmups, I was scared because I wasn’t hitting my spots. I threw one that bounced on the grass over the catcher’s head; one hit the backstop. I was thinking right then, ‘This is going to be a long day,’ but I settled in. This is by far the biggest showcase I’ve ever been to, but when you settle in a little bit, you get comfortable.”

• Corey Simpson watch: the big star of the first two days of the Area Codes struck out looking in his first two at-bats, but he delivered an RBI double down the left-field line in the seventh, capping a Rangers rally. Tres Barrera (McAllen, Texas), Nick Buckner (Pearland, Texas) and Stone Garrett (Sugar Land, Texas) each hit balls hard twice in the final two frames. Those three players combined to go 5-for-5 with four RBIs over the final two innings.

• The top performer for the Nationals in that game was Dalton Dulin (Memphis), who capped a second-inning rally with a ringing two-run single to center. The high-energy Dulin proceeded to steal second base. In six plate appearances through two games, the Mississippi recruit is 4-for-5 with a walk, four singles, three RBIs and three steals. The 5-foot-9, 165-pound Dulin is a switch-hitter with a compact stroke and a knack for squaring up hard line drives.

• Stanford recruit Chris Viall (Soquel, Calif.) isn’t a big name yet, but he might be soon enough. The 6-foot-9, 220-pound righthander worked at 90-92 in an efficient 1-2-3 inning for the Athletics against the Reds.

• Righty Andrew Church (Las Vegas) started for Reds and struck out two over two scoreless frames. The USD commit showed the makings of a promising four-pitch repertoire, highlighted by an 89-92 fastball and a 76-77 curveball. Six-foot-6 righty Alec Hansen (Loveland, Colo.) is another Reds pitcher with upside: he worked at 91-92 in his scoreless inning, though his command and his breaking ball are works in progress.