LONG BEACH, Calif.--There's an undeniable pressure playing in the Area Code Baseball Games--a collection of the elite high school talent in the country, played in front of a sea of scouts.
Then there's playing for the Texas Rangers Area Code team. That brings a different set of pressures. There's an expectation for Texas guys--a stereotype, almost.
"Everything's bigger in Texas--especially arms," Rangers righthander Charles King said. "A lot of guys out of our ‘pen and guys starting are coming out throwing low 90s, and that's just kind of how we represent ourselves.
"We have to go out there and throw it hard, break some bats every once in a while. That's kind of how Texas is."
And that's kind of how Texas was on Tuesday, the opening day of Area Codes action. King fronted a cadre of big arms on the mound, earning the starting nod in the opener. A Texas Christian 2016 commit, King boasts a sizable and projectable 6-foot-5, 200-pound frame--and he's on the smaller end of the spectrum. King is teammates with 6-foot-6, 225-pound lefthander Kyle Muller and, perhaps the best prospect of the bunch, hard-throwing 6-foot-7, 235-pound righthander Forrest Whitley.
On Tuesday, King did just fine in meeting the Lone Star State's big-arm expectations. The righthander hovered around the low 90s with his fastball, topping out at 92 mph. He added a low 80s changeup, primarily to lefties, and a slider up to 86 mph.
"I felt a lot better than I have felt in the past, especially out here. You're energized; all eyes are on you," King said. "You're facing the best competition, so it really helps you lock in and get in the zone. I felt pretty good out there. My stuff wasn't as good as it can get, but that's part of being a pitcher. You've got to go out there and fight through it."
King's performance was an appetizer for what was to come for Texas. Though Whitley didn't pitch Tuesday, Muller threw two scoreless innings, sitting 86-88 mph from the left side and picking up a couple of strikeouts with a 74-77 mph hook.
But the standout performance on the mound--for the Rangers and perhaps on the day as a whole--came from 6-foot-3, 175-pound righthander Kevin Roliard. A Texas commit, Roliard came out noticeably loose and was just as noticeably popping the mitt. Roliard struck out five in three scoreless innings, topping out at 94 mph with a lively fastball that prompted scouts to hold up their radar guns. He mixed in a serviceable changeup and a low-80s slider that he lost his feel for at times. But in three innings, he allowed just one hit, one walk, and that was it.
Roliard said he felt everything working, his mechanics felt sound. And he stood out on a pitching staff where everything's bigger.
"It's nice picking their brain and talking to them," Roliard said of his fellow pitchers. "It's a lot of motivation. You have to be better than them--or as good."
Roliard knows, on a staff as talented as Texas’, he isn’t the lone star.