Marquee Matchups In Southern California

LOS ANGELES — The 2010 spring high school baseball season in Southern California is both unusual and convenient. A large number of high-profile matchups featuring top prospects have and will be played, providing grateful scouts the rare opportunity to watch top draft hopefuls compete directly against each other.

This past week I took in a sampling of such games, all featuring players scattered throughout BA’s top 100 high school prospect rankings, including:

Thursday, March 18: Scott Frazier (Upland HS) vs. Jake Hernandez (Los Osos HS):

Rumors and gossip spread through the scouting community like a stomach flu on a cruise ship. Recent “buzz” in Southern California has centered on Scott Frazier, a 6-foot-6, 200-pound righthanded pitcher from Upland High School. In a recent overpowering start, Frazier tossed an 18-strikeout no-hitter.

That performance helped draw 50 scouts to Frazier’s outing on Thursday against Los Osos HS of Rancho Cucamonga, which features top-notch catching prospect Jake Hernandez.

In the first two innings of this contest, Frazier was devastating. He fanned the leadoff hitter with a changeup, whiffed the next batter with a curve, and finally struck out Hernandez on a fastball. In the second frame, Frazier added two K's sandwiched around a weak ground out.

Frazier’s raw stuff is wicked. Early on, his fastball sat at 93-94 mph. Frazier adds a knee buckling 74-75 curveball, and he mixes in his 80 mph change at unexpected moments.

The third, fourth and fifth innings were a nightmare for Frazier. He abandoned his change, could not control his curve, and saw his fastball velocity drop down to 90-91. Los Osos picked up two runs in the third, and Frazier was lifted after surrendering three runs in the fifth without recording an out.

Perhaps Frazier’s troubles can be traced to his mechanics, which are, to put it mildly, “funky." Frazier utilizes a high leg kick, then drops his arm drastically down, around and behind himself before delivering the ball by jumping at the hitter. Repeatability is a near impossibility in Frazier’s motion, and all the energy he expends may cause him to run out of fuel quickly.

After racking my brain, the closest delivery comparison to Frazier I can think of is Tom Niedenfuer, a Dodger relief man in the 1980s. Niedenfuer possessed plus velocity, but his unusual delivery could cause his fastball to flatten out and lose speed occasionally—just ask Jack Clark.

Jake Hernandez is a powerfully built 6-foot-1, 200 pound receiver with outstanding catch and throw skills. A showcase star for many years, he has consistently recorded pop times in the 1.85 to 1.92 range.

Hernandez does not run well, and his frame indicates scant projectablity, although his bat does flash some promise. Hernandez drilled a Frazier pitch off—almost through—the wall in left center in the third inning.

While he does display bat speed and pull and lift power, Hernandez is clearly uncomfortable with off speed stuff and breaking balls. At this stage, Hernandez does not project as a top draft prospect, however, he could sneak into an early single digit round if he makes the necessary adjustments at bat.

Saturday, March 20: Austin Wilson (Harvard-Westlake HS) v. Angelo Gumbs (Torrance HS):

Angelo Gumbs has “helium”—and probably several additional elements on the periodic table. Appearing to be constructed from solid marble, the 6-foot, 200-pound Gumbs blasted a 400-foot home run to deep right center in this game, and later added a rocket off the center field fence for a double.

Gumbs plays a capable shortstop for his high school team, but as a professional he profiles defensively as an outfielder. He possesses a plus arm and plus fielding ability. While Gumbs speed is not superlative—about 6.7 to 6.8 in the 60—he is an aggressive and daring base runner.

During last summer’s showcase season, questions arose regarding Gumbs' hitting ability. He has since worked with professional coaches at MLB’s Urban Youth Academy and the instruction and hard work has paid dividends.

Gumbs' bat speed is terrific, and his ability to whip the bat head through the hitting area is stunning. He handles pitches on the middle or outside portion of the plate extremely well. Gumbs was jammed twice Saturday and popped up; that was caused not by a lack of quickness but by Gumbs' habit of crowding the plate. If he backs off the plate slightly, Gumbs could still handle the middle and away deliveries and his remarkable reflexes will allow him to turn on the inside pitch.

Scouts often refer to a prospect by stating, “He looks the way they’re supposed to look.” Austin Wilson has the look, and then some. Physically impressive and imposing at 6-foot-4 and 210 pounds, Wilson, an outfielder, has an exceptionally powerful throwing arm. He’s an acceptable defender, and Wilson’s speed is surprising for a youngster of his size and body type—a shade under 6.8.

Capable of putting on an impressive big league type batting practice home run show, Wilson struggled at bat in this game. He had one sharp base hit and a hard hit ground out, but finished with a soft infield single and a topped grounder that was bobbled for an error.

Wilson is no doubt a premium prospect, and his makeup, frame and non-hitting tools rank nearly off the charts. His “in game” bat is a concern, however.

Intense and determined, from his stance Wilson shoots a menacing glare at the pitcher. He begins his swing with a slight forward press and then draws his weight back slightly. From there, Wilson’s hitting mechanics begin to break down. He collapses his backside, over strides, and then spins and flies off the pitch too soon.

All of these glitches cause Wilson to struggle with a pitch down in the strike zone, and his plate coverage is adversely affected. Nothing Wilson does at the plate is incurable, and with some technical adjustments, Wilson has the raw ability to be a Major League All Star as a power-hitting right fielder.

Future critical prospect matchups this spring in Southern California should feature Chad Lewis against one of 2011's top lefthanders, Henry Owens; Cody Buckel versus Christian Yelich; and Peter Tago facing off against Stefan Sabol.