Athletes As Hitters; Harper And A Scout Go Yard

The conclusion of the Aflac and Area Code events draws the curtain on the summer showcase season on the West Coast, as the action moves this weekend to Chicago for the Under Armour All-America Game at Wrigley Field this Sunday.

All the scouts and BA staffers have seen game after game and have filled out reports, compiled lists, and evaluated scores of players. After all the games and all the requisite paperwork, I was left with three primary impressions of the Southern California portion of the 2008 Showcase season.

First off, I was lucky enough to grow up at the tail end of the mid-1960s. Five-tool athletes abounded in the game then: Willie Mays, Mickey Mantle, Hank Aaron, Roberto Clemente, Frank Robinson, Carl Yastremski.

Beginning in the late 1960s, baseball began to lose many of the premier young American athletes to other sports. The thieves were not just football and basketball but other sports such as soccer. Great players still populate baseball, but five-tool prospects are becoming harder and harder for scouts to locate.

The recently concluded Aflac and Area Code events included several terrific multi-sport athletes with five-tool potential. Many prospects, as the SPARQ results confirmed, are blessed with great speed, arm strength and trampoline leaping ability. Unfortunately, several of these players struggled mightily with the wood bat. Four youngsters come to mind: Matt Moynihan, Kyrell Hudson, Keenyn Walker and Kenny Diekroger.

Just as MLB has established an Urban Youth Academy, perhaps money could be spent to make top notch, professional hitting coaches available to promising young prospects. Tommy Davis, for instance, gave a wonderful presentation at a Compton event recently, and Don Slaught’s hitting booth at Long Beach was a revelation.

Teaching great athletes early on to hit properly may prevent those individuals from fleeing to other sports in which the necessary skills are not nearly as frustrating or difficult to perfect Just a thought.

Dedeaux Field at USC hosted the preliminary Aflac workouts. After a midweek Aflac morning scrimmage, a Perfect Game event featuring 2010 and 2011 prospects was held.

Bryce Harper was one of three catchers in rotation to receive throws during pregame infield/outfield. Halfway through warmups, Harper stepped back from home plate and turned his body toward the first base line. Suddenly and without warning or provocation, Harper fired a screaming, straight line trajectory, missile down the line and over the fence in the right field corner, covering a distance of 340 feet.

Most scouts had departed after the Aflac scrimmage, but the few left were stunned. Whispered comments included: "Did you see that?", "Why did he do that?" and "I can’t believe it!"

Perhaps due to utter shock, no one retrieved the baseball.

After the Aflac game and once the award ceremonies and interviews were concluded, the field at Dodger Stadium was cleared. Employees of companies sponsoring the event were permitted on the hallowed ground to shag flies, field–or muff–ground balls, and take batting practice hacks. A splendid time was had by all.

Approximately 50 to 60 folks took BP, and only one participant smacked a home run: yours truly, Dave Perkin.

Thirty years from now I’ll tell my friends and family that I ripped a 450 foot wood bat monstrosity halfway up the left field pavillion off Tim Lincecum. In reality, I drove a metal bat shot straight down the left field line, fair by only 5 feet. The ball skipped off the top of the wall near the 330 mark and deflected 10 rows back into the stands.

One of the high school players recruited by the Dodgers to assist in the event stated, "That ball was barely fair." I responded, "That ball was barely a lot of things!" Still, it was quite a thrill to hit a homer at Dodger Stadium on my 51st birthday.

A Stadium security guard kiddingly asked me where I get my power from. My flippant answer was direct:

"I put cork in my steroids."