Scouts Flock To Compton

Southern California showcase lures top talent to RBI complex

COMPTON, Calif.—It can be safely said that amateur scouting has three components: observation, evaluation and imagination.

Those components were no doubt thoroughly exercised by the approximately 200 scouts who descended upon Major League Baseball's Urban Youth Academy for the second annual preseason Southern California High School Showcase on Sunday. The event featured batting practice, a 60-yard dash for all the players and a game.

With a scant four months remaining until the June draft, organizations have not yet prepared their draft rooms, and it is a good bet that no team has printed up any moveable name tiles to slide across draft boards.

However, in the fall and winter scouts have been conducting home visits as well as administering psych tests and eye exams. They have thoroughly covered showcases and offseason games and practices, filling small spiral notebooks with pertinent information. Despite the fact that no regular-season games have been played at most high schools and all Division I schools, scouts have begun to develop a clear picture of which players are potential premium draftees.

Sunday's event, which featured 56 players of the '08 class and two younger players, continued the clarification process. In the 2008 Southern California high school draft class, the top players have emerged, distinguishing themselves from the rest of the class, and scouts, crosscheckers and scouting directors have begun the inexact process of ranking the upper echelon players.

Position players at Sunday's showcase who are candidates for the first two rounds include Cutter Dykstra; Issac Galloway; Anthony Gose; Aaron Hicks; Ricky Oropesa; Kyle Skipworth; and Brandon Van Dam.

By far the most fascinating competition in the Southern California area is that between the three top outfielders, Gose, Hicks and Galloway. All three are lavishly talented athletes, all meriting first round consideration on raw tools alone. All three possess powerful throwing arms, which easily grade out to 70 on the 20 to 80 scouting scale. All three have blazing speed, comfortably clocking in the 6.6 range for the 60 yard dash. Gose ran a 6.5-second 60, the best time of any player in attendance, closely followed by Hicks at 6.6.

Of course, the bat is the ultimate separating factor for outfielders. All three have struggled at the plate in the past, but Galloway may now be emerging as the leader because of his more consistent hitting ability.

Skipworth comfortably ranks as the top catching prospect in the region, and he is the most advanced hitter as well. Unlike many young hitters, his permits his power to flow from his natural swing. Skipworth hits crackling drives to all fields, and has thankfully resisted the temptation to uppercut and lift everything. The lefthanded hitter, an Arizona State signee, drilled a three-run homer in the game Sunday, buzzing a drive oppo over the left-field fence. He has work to do defensively in terms of receiving but has plenty of arm strength to remain behind the plate.

Van Dam attracted significant attention from scouts for his hitting for the first time, rather than for his pitching. The 6-foot-6, 215-pounder put on a jaw dropping power display in batting practice. Van Dam, a Cal State Bakersfield signee listed as a righthander/first baseman, blasted a series of tape-measure drives, including one Kingman-esque smash that sailed over the fence in left center and clanked on top of a cinder block storage building over 450 feet away. This exhibition drew gasps from the crowd and puzzled reactions from scouts, several of whom asked, to no one in particular, "I didn't know he could hit; I thought he was a pitcher."

Of course, the challenge facing Van Dam will be to transfer his BP results into game situations, and to do that he'll have to prove he can catch up to quality pitching. The scouts were right; he is a pitcher, and on the mound his fastball sits at 87 to 89 mph. Van Dam's future might be at first, though, because his large, mature frame indicates less projectability. If he stays at first, he'll need to improve his defense markedly.

A few quick notes regarding other position players:

Outfielder Zach Collier from Chino Hills High showed an ideal athletic and projectable frame, above-average speed and an acceptable arm. If his lefthanded bat improves, he will be a draft sleeper.

• Third baseman Dimitri De La Fuente, a Pepperdine recruit from South Hills High in West Covina, has added muscle and strength. That has slowed his 60-yard dash times, but has resoundingly increased his power. Dimitri ripped several BP homers, feasting on inside deliveries.

• While he wasn't high on the prospect radar prior to Sunday, outfielder Cameron Hart from LA's Crenshaw High opened eyes by launching several BP homers. The 5-foot-10, 175-pound Hart's arm action on his throws is less than ideal, but the ball gets to its destination fairly well. An all-city choice as a quarterback at Crenshaw High as well, Hart could become a compelling prospect with refinement.

• Servite High third baseman Chris Amezquita missed this event due to a bout with the flu.

Pitching Group Incomplete

Before discussing the pitchers who participated in Sunday's event, it should be noted that top prospects Gerrit Cole (Orange Lutheran High, Santa Ana) and Jarrett Martin (Centennial High, Bakersfield) were not present, and two-way standouts Gose and Hicks did not pitch.

Arizona State recruit Tyler Chatwood, from Redlands East Valley High School in Redlands, Calif., was the busiest man on the field Sunday. He took BP, ran a 6.7 60, took infield/outfield, pitched and took some hacks during the contest. Scouts—and apparently Chatwood himself—haven't figured out what position suits his considerable skills best. To be diplomatic, let's just say that Sunday's pregame probably eliminated the infield as Tyler's future home.

Chatwood did sparkle on the mound and was the day's best hurler. His fastball ranged from 90 to 93 mph, peaking at 94. Tyler tosses an 82 mph change, but his best pitch is a knee buckling, multi-plane 72-73 curveball.

The event had several intriguing lefthanders, including Mike Montgomery from Newhall's Hart High; Laguna Hills High's John Lamb; and Arizona recruit Odgar Olmos from Van Nuys' Birmingham High. Montgomery touched 92 mph while Lamb sat at 87-91 with an improved curveball. One crosschecker was overheard remarking, "Wow! Man, I like that guy," after Lamb's stint was over.

Sunday's showcase began just after daybreak and ended just prior to sunset. As a tired horde of scouts filed into the parking lot, one national scout was overheard to say, "Now I've got to get on a plane and fly nine hours to the Dominican Republic."

In his travels, it is doubtful that our friend—or any other scout—will be fortunate to find as much premium talent as was on display Sunday in Compton.