Gaffney Steals Home . . . And Spotlight

LOS ANGELES—An annual highlight of the scouting calendar in Southern California is the San Diego Lions High School Easter tournament. The 2009 version began on Monday, April 6.

Stockdale High of Bakersfield and Cathedral Catholic High of San Diego squared off Tuesday at Cathedral Catholic HS in the tourney’s marquee match up. Cathedral has been in existence for only three years, and was known as University High of San Diego in its previous incarnation. Uni High produced several prominent stars, including Barry Zito, Mark Prior and Carlos Quentin.

Stockdale’s top attraction is KC Hobson, BA’s 66th ranked high school prospect and the son of former major league player and manager Butch Hobson.

Matt Moynihan is Cathedral’s most recognizable name. The speedy center fielder is ranked No. 53 by BA. As approximately 30 scouts looked on, CCHS shutout Stockdale 7-0 behind a complete game gem by senior righthander Ryan Wilkins.

Both home plate and the spotlight were stolen by Tyler Gaffney, Cathedral’s 6-foot, 215-pound right fielder. Gaffney, who has committed to Stanford, doubles as one of the nation’s premier high school football players.

The senior running back led CCHS to a California state division championship on the gridiron, accumulating fantastic stats in the process. In 14 games, Gaffney rushed for 2,880 yards and 48 touchdowns. As if he didn’t already have enough to do, Gaffney also caught 28 passes for 505 yards and eight additional TDs.

On the diamond, Gaffney’s build and playing style resemble Raul Mondesi in his mid-90s Dodgers heyday. Gaffney is an aggressive and energetic player who is in constant motion, and his uniform is almost always dirty. 

In his second at-bat, Gaffney blasted a long home run over the center field fence off of a Hobson delivery. “I’m not sure if it was a fastball or a cutter,” Gaffney stated after the game. Whatever it was, it left faster than it came in.

Gaffney’s third at-bat provided exciting—and bizarre—base running.  He got on by bunting for a base hit, zipping down the line in 3.95 seconds. Gaffney then attempted to steal second twice, only to be foiled by foul balls. On both tries, Gaffney could have stolen second standing up.

Later in the inning with Gaffney on second and a teammate on first, Gaffney broke to steal third.  He could have walked into the bag.  Another foul ball sent him back to second.  Finally, Gaffney reached third as CCHS loaded the bases.

As Hobson wound up to deliver his first pitch to the next hitter, Gaffney suddenly and unexpectedly bolted for home plate, electrifying the crowd by stealing home with a head first slide that carried him into the lefthanded batters box.

Gaffney finally got his stolen base, albeit the hard way. For good measure, he stole second later in the game.

BA asked Gaffney if the steal of home was called by his coach, or an impromptu whim on his part. “Wilkins (the hitter at the time of the theft) and I have a wordless signal. He looked at me, and I could tell from his eyes he knew I was going to do it.”

From a scout’s perspective, Gaffney has terrific raw tools.  His speed is well above average, as he showed by clocking a 6.67 60 yard dash in a summer showcase at nearby Poway High. Gaffney’s mature and muscular frame is a classic football build, impressively athletic but not projectable for baseball. His arm is excellent, acceptable for right field and easily strong enough for left field or center field at advanced levels.

By his own admission, hitting has always been Gaffney’s nemesis. He simultaneously smiled and cringed at the mention of his horrendous BP showing at the aforementioned Poway event.

“Yeah, that was brutal,” he conceded. Gaffney pointed out that transitioning back and forth from football to baseball exacts a sizeable toll on his timing and mechanics at bat. Gaffney still must gain experience at bat and smooth out his hitting fundamentals. Based on Tuesday’s performance, however, it is clear that he has the basics—quickness, power and bat speed.

Despite his abundance of talent, Gaffney may be a low draft choice or a non draft choice in June. Gaffney stated enthusiastically that he will play both football and baseball in college, and his dual sport abilities may scare scouts off. Also, it is well known in the scouting fraternity that Stanford signees are tough to sign and nearly impossible to pry loose from their commitments.

KC Hobson picked a bad time to have an off day. Rumors of a 93 mph fastball proved unfounded, as Hobson sat between 87 and 90, peaking repeatedly at 91.  His command is wildly inconsistent, and Hobson’s 72-74 curve rarely sniffs the strike zone.

A powerful 6-foot-2, 205-pound lefthander who pitches, plays first base and outfield, Hobson presents a dilemma for scouts. Lefthanded pitchers are prized in the draft, but Hobson’s lack of control and non-projectable frame are distinct drawbacks. He has the arm but not the speed for the outfield, and placing him at first base would negate his strong arm.

This conundrum was obvious as scouts shuffled around during the game. The mob began behind home plate to obtain radar gun readings as Hobson pitched; they then moved down the right field line to check on his pitching mechanics; finally, scouts gathered next to the third base dugout to observe his hitting style.

Trying to determine Hobson’s eventual home is difficult.  A future as a power-hitting first baseman is the probable scenario. Hobson’s hitting fundamentals are outstanding, but scouts are concerned by his inability to hit quality pitching. A BP phenom, Hobson has struggled noticeably in game situations at showcase events.

Matt Moynihan appears headed to a D-I college career at the University of San Diego.  A 6-foot-2, 190-pound outfielder that bats lefthanded and throws righthanded, Moynihan has blazing speed, clocking a 6.58 60 at the Area Code Games in Long Beach in 2008.

Unfortunately, several flaws in his game may prevent him from being drafted in 2009, or will relegate him to the later rounds. For several months, Moynihan has struggled at bat, failing to hit the ball with authority on a consistent basis. As a center fielder, Moynihan’s arm is below average and his jumps and routes on fly balls require substantial improvement. There is no doubt that Moynihan is a premium athlete who may blossom at USD into an upper-round draftee.

Tuesday was Tyler Gaffney’s day.  It is conceivable that Gaffney will have to choose between baseball and football in June of 2009 or, more likely, in June of 2012.  If he chooses baseball, he will give the game a much needed boost of energy.