Undersized Players Shine At Aflac

SAN DIEGO—Sunday’s Aflac All America game, won by the East squad, 5-3, can be comfortably described as the triumph of the little guys. Several players who enjoyed terrific performances can charitably be identified as “undersized," with some scouts wondering out loud if the heights and weights listed in the program were, let’s say, generous.

The premier player in Sunday’s game as well as the Aflac practices on Friday and Saturday was Francisco Lindor, a 5-foot-11, 175-pound switch-hitting shortstop from Montverde (Fla.) Academy.

Flashing a playing style similar to Jose Reyes, Lindor is exceptionally quick and fast. His smooth and fluid fielding actions permit him to make all plays required of a shortstop with ease and grace. Lindor’s throwing arm is strong and accurate, and he projects as a potential major league gold glove winner.

A veteran scout who has seen Lindor frequently explained that Lindor has often been brilliant in workouts and showcases, but has struggled to transfer those showings into game results. Sunday’s showing may provide a breakthrough for Lindor, giving him the confidence to translate his talent into actual game production.

Facing only righthanded pitchers, Lindor batted lefty Sunday and collected two hits, including a triple and single. Batting from the right side, Lindor’s remarkably quick bat and surprising power permitted him to win the home run derby title.

The MVP of the game was Tyler Marlette, a 5-foot-10, 195 pound catcher from Hagerty High School in Oviedo, Fla. Marlette was another undersized prospect who performed impressively Sunday. Displaying a short, powerful, uppercut swing, Marlette blasted a mammoth two-run home run in the top of the fourth inning. The ball sailed over the left field fence and struck the facing of the second deck, territory normally reserved for only the strongest big league power hitters.

Which is not to say that only the smaller guys had fun on Sunday. Catcher Austin Hedges of JSerra HS in San Juan Capistrano, Calif., fired off a stunning throw to nab a base stealer in the first inning. Quickly springing out of his crouch, Hedges delivered a laser to second in approximately 1.85 seconds. After that exhibition, the same scout stated that Hedges is the finest catch-and-throw high school backstop he has ever seen.

Towering lefthanded pitcher Henry Owens of Edison HS in Huntington Beach, Calif., was not the evening’s hardest thrower, but he was certainly the most effective hurler. Owens fanned the only three hitters he faced in the top of the ninth, baffling the opposition with his 88-89 mph fastball (peaking at 92), 67-69 curveball and 77 changeup.

The radar gun readings on television were inflated, so here are the peak fastball velocities of all pitchers Sunday, according to Baseball America’s radar gun:

Archie Bradley: 94
Dylan Davis: 94
Dillon Maples: 94
Robert Stephenson: 94
Tyler Beede: 93
Jose Fernandez: 93
Michael Kelly: 93
John Magliozzi: 93
Daniel Norris: 93
Ricky Jacquez: 92
Deshorn Lake: 92
Henry Owens: 92
Daniel Mengden: 91
Jake Cave: 90
Phillip Pfeifer: 88
Daniel Camarena: 88

No doubt, Sunday’s game will reignite the eternal scouting debate over the “physicality” of prospects. For instance, several organizations will rarely, if ever, consider drafting a righthanded pitcher who is not at least 6-foot-2.

Years ago, I had a discussion with one scout from such an organization. I asked him if his scouting department, if faced with the hypothetical possibility of drafting Tom Seaver, would alter their philosophy.

He paused thoughtfully before answering. “Well . . . we might make an exception.”