Cracking the Codes

Now in its 22nd year, the Area Code Games have morphed into a blend of baseball showcase, job fair, gossip mill and industry convention.

Scouts, college coaches, agents, parents, press, players and various onlookers descended on Blair Field in Long Beach, Calif. for Tuesday’s opening festivities, which featured wood bat batting practice and the lovable SPARQ physical skills testing. More on SPARQ tomorrow.

Several hitters stood out, including:

Randal Grichuk, of, Lamar HS, Rosenberg, Texas

Wiry and relatively short in stature, Grichuk out hit his taller and bulkier compatriots, hammering several balls out of Blair, a notorious hitters graveyard. His best effort was a rifle shot which clanged loudly off a light standard behind the left field fence.

Jonathan Walsh, c, Coppell (Texas) HS

A powerfully built switch-hitter, Walsh loves to turn on the inside offering and clobber it. Walsh hit well from both sides, but his righthanded swing appears to be more natural.

Kudos must be given to each hitter on the Rangers squad, all of whom hail from the Lone Star state. They understand the wood bat concept of a short backswing and the idea of accelerating the bat head right at the moment of contact.

Patrick Stover, of, Rocklin (Calif.) HS

Too many hitters on Tuesday tried to lift and drive the ball in order to impress scouts with their home run power, unaware of the fact that a high trajectory usually decreases distance. Stover ripped line drives all over and out of Blair field, employing what golfers would call a low draw.

Blake Brown, of, Normal West HS, Bloomington, Ill.

Brown’s thin frame and complete lack of a load mechanism means he has little power at this stage of his development. However, he has a delicious swing–quick, smooth and level. Fred Hutchinson once said he didn’t have to see Frank Robinson hit to know Robby was in the cage–the sound told him who was hitting. Brown’s drives carry a distinctively sharp "crack".

Matt Hobgood, rhp/1b, Norco (Calif.) HS

Hobgood’s raw power is remarkable, and, as was once said of Harmon Killebrew, he can drive the ball out of any park in the Country, including Yellowstone. Scouts are divided as to whether his power will translate into game action at higher levels. Hobgood utilizes an unusually long stride, which causes his head to move from back to forward quite noticeably. This trait could affect his timing substantially. We’ll see how he fares the remainder of the week.

Bryce Harper, c, Las Vegas HS

I’ve slobbered over Harper in earlier articles and while he did not hit as well Tuesday as he did in Compton in June, Harper remains one of the most remarkable HS talents ever. Still only 15, Harper unloaded terrific shots in his final BP rounds, showing the Mantle-ian raw power that makes him the early fave to be the top pick in 2011.

Richard Stock, c, Agoura HS, Westlake Village, CA

Stock’s early BP rounds Tuesday resulted in towering flyballs landing softly on the plush outfield grass, like a marble gently dropped onto a thick pillow. Once he settled into a groove, Stock unleashed several eye opening monsters. His best poke was a screamer that dented the scorebaoard in deep right center.

At this early stage, it appears that Stock and Bryce Harper will compete for the "Best Prospect" title in the 2008 Area Code Games. Others, no doubt, will have a say in that decision as the week progresses.

At the very least, all hitters should be complimented on their efforts in attempting to hit at this venue.

Several years ago, a veteran scout described BP at Blair Field in a shockingly bad sort of scouting Haiku:

"If you can hit them out of Blair, you can hit them out of anywhere".