Cuckoo For Cuckovich

BA’s own bird dog, Dave Perkin, checks in from the inaugural Big 3 of the West college showcase.

LONG BEACH—The dream, rarely fulfilled, of every baseball scout and recruiter is to attend a game or showcase and discover a premium talent that almost no one has seen previously.

Such was my experience last weekend at the inaugural Big 3 of the West college showcase, which inadvertently served as an extended coming out party for Nick Cuckovich (COO-kuh-vitch), an athletic and powerfully built 6-foot-2, 190-pound infielder from Lambrick Park Secondary School in Victoria, British Columbia. He’s the rare Canadian who bats righthanded.

Cuckovich’s performance reinforces the reputation of British Columbia as Canada’s baseball hotbed. Larry Walker hails from Maple Ridge, while 2006 American League MVP Justin Morneau was born in New Westminster; other BC products include the highest-drafted Canadian ever, Adam Loewen, and Rockies lefthander Jeff Francis. Brewers’ 2008 first-round draft choice Brett Lawrie (whom Cuckovich played against in BC club baseball) prepped at Brookswood SS. Kyle Orr, the Dodgers’ fourth-round pick in 2006, also attended Lambrick Park SS.

As for Cuckovich, he shows ease, smoothness and fluidity in everything he does on the ballfield.  For scouts, stiffness is perhaps the ultimate Scarlet Letter for a prospect.  Cuckovich’s fielding actions and throwing motion are effortless, as is his swing.  At bat, Cuckovich is fundamentally sound, with excellent balance, a compact back swing and a picturesque cut which produces sharp line drives.

Occasionally dabbling as a middle infielder, Cuckovich profiles best as a third baseman.  His arm strength, arm accuracy and defensive skills are equal if not superior to every prominent prep third baseman in the 2009 draft class. Cuckovich’s raw power lags behind prospects such as Matt Davidson, Bobby Borchering and Christian Walker. However, it must be noted that Cuckovich will not turn 18 until October, and he figures to develop power as he matures and gains experience.

All players in camp participated in 60 yard dashes, and Cuckovich recorded the fastest 60 time in his 25-player group, clocking a near major league average 7.07 over a slow Blair Field outfield course.

Cuckovich’s secondary school does not field a baseball team, so he will play this spring for the Victoria Black Sox, a club team in British Columbia.  No doubt all of the coaches involved in the Big 3 event wanted to keep Cuckovich in Southern California, or perhaps hide him away like an informant in the witness protection program.

The Big 3 of the West Showcase is the brainchild of coaches Mike Weathers of Long Beach State, Mike Gillespie of UC Irvine and Dave Serrano of Cal State Fullerton. This was the inaugural edition of the showcase, which is intended to provide exposure for Division I hopefuls and a convenient teaching and evaluation opportunity for the coaching staffs involved.

Players and coaches rotated on a daily basis among the fields of the three programs.  Fielding, baserunning, hitting and pitching drills were conducted each morning with military timing and precision.  Intersquad games were staged in the afternoon sessions.

Few pro scouts were in attendance, primarily due to the fact that the event was geared toward college hopefuls and not pro prospects.  Cuckovich was the only pro prospect at the camp, but the grounds were populated by at least one potential D-I standout.

That would be Juan Avila, a switch-hitting outfielder from nearby Narbonne High in Harbor City, Calif.  As a junior in 2008, Avila led the Gauchos to the Los Angeles city championship game at Dodger Stadium, where they lost to Chatsworth.

Avila began the camp on Saturday morning by running a bookend pair of 7.0-flat 60’s, then showed off an acceptable throwing arm comfortably suited for left field at advanced levels.

Batting practice provided center stage for Avila, as he whistled line drives all over Blair Field’s spacious expanse.  The sharp, distinct ping of Avila’s contact caused heads to whip around all over Long Beach.

As he approaches his senior season, Avila currently profiles as a college player, due to his 6-foot, 170-pound frame and solid but not overwhelming tools.  He has home run power at Narbonne’s small field, but it will take some time for him to gain physical strength and power at the college level.

However, Avila’s quick bat, decent speed and acceptable defensive skills are reportedly drawing considerable recruiting attention from both the Anteaters and Dirtbags, not unexpectedly.

As it gains notoriety and attention, the Big 3 of the West Showcase figures to become more prominent in upcoming years, and will draw a larger stable of talented players.  However, if the event can display the skills of just one Nick Cuckovich type per year, then it will be a rousing annual success.