TUCSON—Although in many parts of the country amateur baseball seems like an afterthought in the first month of the year, nearly 400 players from across the country flocked to warm, sunny Tucson for the Under Armour All-America Preseason Tournament, powered by Baseball Factory. The two-day event gives players a jumpstart on their spring seasons and exposure to the talent evaluators who will be selecting Under Armour All-Americans for the annual exhibition in Wrigley Field.
In the first game Saturday, junior lefthander Bailey Falter looked as though he was in midseason form, although it was his first exposure to game action since the fall. The Chino Hills (Calif.) High southpaw unofficially struck out 14 of the 20 hitters (70 percent) he faced with no walks and two hits against a talented lineup from Texas. Each inning, regardless of the result of each hitter-pitcher matchup, consists of five trips to the plate. Falter allowed just two baserunners in his four innings, one of which was a bloop single.
“We have just been practicing for high school for a week and I had to ramp up and start throwing more to get ready for this outing,” Falter said. “I thought it was a pretty good outing, especially for taking a couple of weeks off.”
Falter sat in the mid-80s with his fastball, featuring natural glove-side run and some sink, touching 87 mph. He pitched off his fastball, and the offering played up because of his command, movement and extension. Falter pitched in the bottom half of the strike zone, worked with ease to either side of the plate and consistently got the ball in on righthanded hitters. The 16-year-old has a four-seamer but mostly used his two-seamer. The loose, limber lefty has a very long stride and gets good extension on his fastball as the pitch jumps out of his hand with ease from a smooth delivery.
His 72-74 mph changeup was an above-average offering with considerable tumble, generating a host of swings and misses. Falter, who applied feedback he received from a scout between innings, showed aptitude after he struggled with his breaking ball in the early stages of the game and did not consistently get on top of the offering.
“He told me I was kind of babying it, and I thought about what he had to say between innings,” Falter said. “And then I went out there with the intent to throw it harder, and the pitch sharpened. Usually when my head gets out in front it causes my arm to get out on the side, and the breaking ball gets a little loopier. But when I get that sharp break is when my head stays back.”
His curveball flashed average at its best with three-quarters tilt and depth, although most of his offerings were below-average and lacked depth. His breaking balls ranged from 65-70 mph.
Young for his class with a large frame at 6-foot-4, 170 pounds, Falter exemplifies the term projectable pitcher. He has a lean build and long legs with considerable room to fill in his frame.
“I have been trying to put on weight and I eat so much but my metabolism is just so fast that I haven't been able to put on weight yet,” Falter said. “I am only a junior so hopefully by next year I can be up around 190.”
To build on his impressive showing, Falter, who has visited the same pitching coach at least once a week for the last eight years, has identified areas of improvement.
“My fastball is good, but I am trying to get the velocity up a little more for the scouts—but all that is going to come,” Falter said. “And I really need to work on my breaking balls. If they come and the velocity comes, I think I will be alright.”
A participant in the Area Code Games last August, Falter is committed to UC Santa Barbara. He said he was attracted to the program because of the track record of pitchers working with head coach Andrew Checketts, who also serves as the Gauchos’ pitching coach.
Falter hails from a historically strong program at Chino Hills, which has produced four first or second-round picks since 1999.
Here are a few other notes from Saturday:
• 2015 outfielder Tyler Williams is an intriguing talent. His impressive physique does not look as though it belongs to a 16-year-old, as Williams has a large frame at 6-foot-3, 210 pounds with broad shoulders, physicality and present strength. The righthanded-hitting Williams showcased some pull-side power in batting practice, though his swing path was not consistent, and his frame, strength and athleticism portend future power gains. The athletic Williams ran the 60-yard-dash in 6.70 seconds. He has arm strength, though he does have a longer arm stroke that is not ideal. Williams is a three-sport athlete. His father, Ted, played in the minor leagues, reaching Triple-A, and is an area scout for the Minnesota Twins.
• Junior middle infielder Tristan Metten of Prestonwood Christian Academy in Plano, Texas, had an impressive showing with the bat. The ball made a different noise coming off the righthanded-hitting Metten’s bat. He roped line drives in batting practice and showed some pull-side power before singling and stealing a base in game action. The 6-foot, 175-pound Metten has a solid build with more room to add strength. Currently a shortstop, Metten has good hands defensively but lacks elite arm strength and foot speed. Metten, 16, is committed to Texas A&M.
• Sophomore first baseman/outfielder Deano Looney (Butler High, Matthews, N.C.) created buzz around the Kino Sports Complex with his bat and power. A square, compact and powerful-bodied lefthanded hitter listed at 5-foot-9, 195 pounds, Looney showed explosive bat speed and created some of the loudest contact of the day in batting practice. He showed power by one-hopping the right-center-field fence numerous times and driving a ball three feet from the top of the fence. Looney had a double in game action. Easton has its Hit Lab on site, measuring hitters’ exit velocities and launch angles off the bat. After the first day, Looney had the top exit velocity of all hitters at 102 mph. For comparison’s sake, the only two hitters at last year’s event to hit triple-digits were potential first-round picks Alex Jackson (102 mph) and Alex Verdugo (100).
• Looney’s teammate Bradley Harmon (Fayette County High, Fayetteville, Ga.) has a body that jumps out on a baseball field. The 5-foot-11, 185-pound Harmon has very broad shoulders, a lean, tapered waist and long legs. His large frame will hold considerable additional strength gains. The switch-hitting Harmon has a line-drive oriented swing and a contact-oriented approach. A good athlete, Harmon moves well defensively and is uncommitted.
• Outfielder Erick Migueles (Canyon del Oro High, Oro Valley, Ariz.) showed well with his bat. Migueles has a solid build at 5-foot-11, 185 pounds with a strong lower half and forearms. A lefthanded hitter with a quiet setup at the plate, he created lots of loud contact in batting practice and squared up a 90 mph fastball for a triple into the right-center-field gap.