March Matchups

Every scout in any portion of the country yearns to see games where upper echelon prospects match up against each other. Southern California scouts have been treated to an unusually frequent number of such opportunities early in this 2009 season.

Back on Feb. 28, righthander Chad Thompson of El Toro High squared off with lefthander Tyler Matzek of Capistrano Valley High in a highly-anticipated showdown.

The festivities continued as the teams for shortstop Jiovanni Mier and catcher Cameron Garfield faced off on March 12, followed by a summit between lefthander Tyler Skaggs and righthander Bryan Berglund on March 13.
Defense Doesn’t Slump

Thursday’s game between Mier’s Bonita High and Garfield’s Murrieta Valley High was held at Azusa Pacific University’s quaint Cougar Baseball Field.

Azusa Pacific’s field is one of the last in the nation with an inclined terrace leading up to the outfield fences instead of a warning track. The incline brings back pleasant memories of old Crosley Field in Cincinnati.

As often happens when two top prospects collide, another player stole the spotlight. Bonita High first baseman Jason Plowman, a 6-foot-4, 220-pound senior righthanded hitter, blasted a long home run in the middle innings.  Earlier in the week, according to a National League Crosschecker, Plowman belted a tape measure monster that the scout claimed was, “one of the longest shots I’ve ever seen."

Both Garfield and Mier were impressive defensively, but rusty with the bat. Garfield ripped off a 1.85-second pop time throw in pregame warmups. One of the approximately 60 scouts in attendance stated that the impressive reading was still a tick slower than the 1.78 he recorded from Garfield at a showcase. His game time pop times aren’t quite that quick, of course; BA caught a 1.97 as Garfield threw out a runner late in the evening.

Behind the dish, Garfield is steady and quiet with excellent hands and quality receiving skills. His batting stance is balanced and fundamentally sound, but he is not tracking the ball onto his bat at this stage and his hands need to be more relaxed. Because of this, Garfield is hammering the inside offering (often foul) and struggling with the ball both down and away.

Mier is that rare creature—a high school shortstop who figures to stay at the position in pro ball. He possesses above-average speed, excellent fielding actions, a strong arm and extensive range. As with Garfield, his timing at the plate is off, and he did not hit any balls with authority on Thursday. Mier’s stride is too long and the timing of his load is also off kilter.

In a move that surprised almost everyone, Mier pitched the last two innings in Bonita’s runaway 9-3 win. His fastball sat between 91 and 93 mph, and his slurvy  breaking ball registered 76-77. One scout sitting behind me smiled and observed, “Wow . . . now I’m going to have to change the arm strength grade I gave him (in my report)."

Friendly Face-Off

For baseball purists, nothing beat a good pitchers’ duel and Friday’s matchup didn’t disappoint in that regard.

In front of an attentive crowd of about 50 scouts at Royal, Berglund went six innings, allowing seven hits, two runs, one walk with eight strikeouts.

Skaggs was sensational.  He threw five frames, allowed one unearned run, walked one, and recorded 12 of 15 possible outs via strikeout.

Skaggs was kind enough to give himself a 2-1 lead with a double in the top of the fifth. However, Santa Monica’s bullpen could not hold the advantage, and Berglund himself decided matters with a long double of his own in the bottom of the sixth, leading Royal to a 4-2 victory.

Berglund relied almost exclusively on his fastball, sitting at 90-91 early in the game and dropping a notch to 87-89 later on. The 6-foot-4 righthander mixed in precious few breaking pitches, however, the 85 mph slider he did exhibit projects as a plus pitch.

So too does Berglund’s excellent changeup, which is currently his best pitch. Well concealed, Berglund’s change ranges from 78 to 81 and drops quicker than a bad stock market investment.

Skaggs stole the day.  The lanky lefthander’s fastball sat between 88 and 91, peaking at 92. He moved the four-seamer around like the pea in a shell game. Skaggs is inconsistent with the control of his curve, but when his hook is thrown properly it is a 68 mph multi-plane bender, able to freeze the hottest of hitters.

The week before this matchup, Skaggs unveiled a slider. While that pitch was not in evidence on Friday, he did trot out an interesting 81 mph change.  His change is still a bit “doughy,” so to speak, but it exhibits plus potential as well.

Skaggs and Berglund have played together on various showcase and scout ball clubs; in fact, a smile crossed Skaggs’ face as the two faced each other in the bottom of the first inning.

Friendship was set aside in the fourth when Skaggs struck out Berglund with his best pitch of the day—a wicked 91 mph fastball that darted away to Skaggs’ arm side at the last instant, nipping the outside corner against the righthanded hitting Berglund. Ouch.

Most scouts—cross checkers and national scouts in particular—prefer to see top prospects early in their season, and then check in on them later in the spring as the draft approaches.  No doubt, return visits will be made to observe Mier, Garfield and Berglund. 

Skaggs, on the other hand, figures to draw a significant amount of attention in every game he starts in 2009.