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Pitching runs deep at Area Code Games

Baseball America editor Allan Simpson visited Long Beach for the Area Code Games and got a jump on the 2001 draft class.

By Allan Simpson

August 12, 2000

Mike Jones
Top prospect Mike Jones
Photo: Wagner Photography

LONG BEACH, Calif.—If this year's Area Code Games is any indication, high school pitching will be an abundant commodity in next year's draft.

"This is the best pitching I've ever seen at an Area Code Games," says veteran scout Mike Wallace, who has seen every Area Code Games since its inception in 1987. "We've had 45 pitchers here this week that have thrown 90 mph and above. The most I can ever recall before is about 25."

Righthanders Mike Jones and Kris Honel were the headline performers at this year's event and started opposite each other in the inaugural Area Code Games all-star game, sponsored by Baseball America. They were also the top two prospects in an informal sampling of some of the almost 400 scouts and college recruiters attending the event (see chart).

Jones is a rising senior at Thunderbird High in Phoenix, while Honel is a rising senior at Providence Catholic High in New Lenox, Ill. Those two, along with righthander Gavin Floyd from Mt. Saint Joseph High in Severna Park, Md., are generally considered the top three high school players for the 2001 draft. Floyd did not attend the Area Code Games, but was rated the top prospect at the East Coast Professional Baseball Showcase, which was held in Wilmington, N.C., immediately prior to the Area Code Games.

Honel and Floyd were known commodities entering the summer. They were ranked as the top two junior pitchers in the country prior to the 2000 high school season and continue to be targeted by scouts as premium prospects.

Jones didn't burst onto the national scene until the Team One Showcase in June in Tempe, Ariz., where he was almost unanimously acknowledged as the No. 1 prospect in attendance. His performance at the Area Code Games was equally inspiring and he has now been stamped as the top candidate to be the first high school player drafted in 2001.

"He's very good," understated Marlins scouting director Al Avila. "He's got the whole package."

It's taken the 6-foot-3, 200-pound Jones a little time to get used to his new-found status.

"When I first heard that I was ranked so high at Team One, I was shocked," he said. "I had no sense at all that I was so highly thought of. I was overwhelmed, but I've tried to take it all in stride. It's settled in a bit now, but I can't stop doing my job."

Jones and Honel were obvious selections as the starting pitchers in the Area Code all-star game, played at the conclusion of the week-long event. They threw a scoreless inning apiece.

Much as it did in his previous outing in the event, Jones's fastball topped out at 94 mph. He complemented it with a 77 mph breaking ball while striking out two of the four batters he faced. Third baseman David Wright of Chesapeake, Va., one of the top hitters at the Area Code Games, reached him for a two-out single.

Scouts were quick to praise Jones' athletic ability and the effortless delivery he uses to generate his mid-90s fastball. Though he didn't hit during the week, Jones is also an accomplished outfielder.

"This guy's the best pitcher I've seen at the same age since Todd Van Poppel," said one admiring scouting director.

Scouts acknowledge that Jones' off-speed pitches need work. But Jones agrees. Right now, his breaking ball is more of a slurve—scouts called it a slider, but Jones himself says it's truly a curve. At least it will be, when he refines it.

"I need work on my off speed pitches," he admitted, "but I'm getting help. My changeup is coming faster than my curve at this point. I've got good rotation on my curve but I just need to work on a more consistent release point."

Honel is viewed as more of a polished pitcher than Jones, but may not have as much upside. He set down the three hitters in order that he faced in the all-star, getting Jason Nix, one of the top-rated hitters, with a nasty knucklecurve for his only strikeout. Honel's fastball topped at 92.

With the exception of Floyd and several of the players—notably shortstop Brian Bass, righthander Brandon League, catcher Joe Mauer and outfielder Michael Wilson—that were representing the United States at the World Junior Championship in Edmonton, Alberta, which was going on coincidentally, most of the top prospects for the 2001 draft were in attendance at the Area Code Games. Some 250 players attended.

A notable exception was first baseman Casey Kotchman, Baseball America's top-rated junior entering the 2000 season. Kotchman was injured most of his high school season and has not played this summer.

TOP 10 PROSPECTS/Class of 2001

The Area Code Game's Top 10 Prospects, as judged by a random sampling of scouts and major college recruiters in attendance at the games. All 10 players were selected to participate in the inaugural Baseball America/Area Code Games all-star game.

The list is limited to players eligible for the 2001 draft, but it should be noted that several top prospects for 2002 were also in attendance, as were two 16-year-old prospects from the Dominican Republic, notably strong-armed shortstop Carlos Rosario, who would have almost assuredly cracked the five.

1. Mike Jones, rhp, Thunderbird HS, Phoenix. Very athletic and reaches 94 with a smooth, effortless delivery. Needs work on secondary pitches.

2. Kris Honel, rhp, Providence Catholic HS, New Lenox, Ill. Has size (6-5, 190) and three plus pitches—90-93 mph fastball, excellent knucklecurve, plus slider.

3. Andy Sisco, lhp, Redmond HS, Sammamish, Wash. At 6-foot-9 with a good arm action, this kid may be first high schooler to hit 100 mph some day.

4. Billy Paganetti, 1b, Galena HS, Reno, Nev. Tommy John surgery and a broken wrist have hampered his progress in last year, but was Games' best pure hitter.

5. Matt Macri, ss, Dowling HS, Clive, Iowa. Not flashy in field, but he has excellent instincts and showed off outstanding arm by hitting 92 mph on mound.

6. Mike Jecman, rhp, Diamond Bar (Calif.) HS. Erratic, but he is long and loose at 6-foot-7, 215 and hit 93 mph; the sky is the limit on his projection

7. Chris Sedden, lhp, Canyon HS, Santa Clarita, Calif. One of the few premium pitchers not to hit 90, but his fastball is lively and he has an easy, smooth delivery

8. Ryan Dixon, rhp, Seminole (Fla.) HS. His fastball topped only at 91, but it has been clocked before at 95-96; a bulldog, he projects as a closer

9. Steve Shell, rhp, El Reno (Okla.) HS. Next to Jones, he may have had the easiest delivery among all pitchers; fastball hit 88-91 with good sink

10. David Wright, 3b, Hickory HS, Chesapeake, Va. A hitting machine; his tools may be a little short in some areas, but he's a solid player across the board.

TOP PROSPECTS/Class of 2000, 11-25

11. Scott Tyler, rhp, Downingtown (Pa.) HS
12. Wes Whisler, 1b-lhp, Noblesville (Ind.) HS
13. Steve Papazian, rhp, Wilson HS, Long Beach, Calif.
14. Scott Shapiro, rhp, St. Augustine HS, Oceanside, Calif.
15. David Purcey, lhp, Trinity Christian HS, Dallas
16. Jason Nix, 3b, Midland (Texas) HS
17. Garry Bakker, rhp, Suffern HS, Sloatsburg, N.Y.
18. Alhaji Turay, of, Auburn (Wash.) HS
19. Bronson Sardinha, ss, Kamehameha HS, Honolulu
20. Michael Hollimon, ss, Jesuit HS, Dallas
21. Cole Strayhorn, rhp, Shawnee HS, Seminole, Okla.
22. Wes Swackhamer, of, Delabrton HS, Basking Ridge, N.J.
23. Nick Thomas, rhp, Laguna Creek HS, Elk Grove, Calif.
24. Brian Pilkington, rhp, Santiago HS, Garden Grove, Calif.
25. Garrett Berger, rhp, Carmel (Ind.) HS

TOP PROSPECTS/Class of 2002

1. Sergio Santos, ss, Mater Dei HS
2. Wardell Starling, of, Spring (Texas) HS
3. Brett Martinez, c, Redlands (Calif.) HS
4. Ryan Braun, ss, Granada Hills (Calif.) HS
5. Mike Pelfrey, rhp, Wichita Heights HS, Wichita

—Compiled by Allan Simpson

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