Area Code Games Wrapup

Corner bats, lefthanded pitching among showcase's highlights

LONG BEACH--Twelve months after the decade's best class of high school hitters assembled at Blair Field, the next wave of prospects had little chance of making a favorable impression.

It's kind of like comparing your wife to Scarlet Johansson. No matter all her endearing qualities, the supermodel just isn't a reasonable frame of reference.

So while warming up to the Class of 2008 might require a little more imagination compared to what was on display in Long Beach last summer, there were at least a dozen players among the 195 who attended this year's Area Code Games who scouts would like to take home with them, even if the centerfold prospects were nowhere to be found.

"It was a treat to scout the talent that was here last year, with (Josh) Vitters, (Nick) Noonan and (Mike) Moustakas, (Matt) Dominguez and even Robert Stock," a National League crosschecker said. "I know they weren't jumping off the field at you this week, but this year's crop may not be that far behind. (Aaron) Hicks and (Isaac) Galloway and (Anthony) Gose and (Kyle) Skipworth--now you have four guys that are going to be fun to go out and watch."

Nine of the 17 high school players chosen in the first round of the '07 draft attended last year's Area Code Games, including Moustakas and Vitters, the second and third picks overall. The rising prep class has far less impact potential, especially among position players, which prompted a less forgiving NL area scout to declare the event, "the weakest Area Codes ever, and I've seen all 21. I thought there was one team that had several people, and a smattering of other folks (on the other seven clubs), but didn't think it was personally that strong. There were no surprises from my point of view. By in large, it wasn't overwhelming."

Brew Crew

Players picked out of regional tryouts are placed on one of the eight teams that are sponsored by major league organizations, and the Brewers' Blue team from Southern California was the team that stood out as the most talented. Hicks (Wilson High, Long Beach) and Gose (Bellflower, Calif., High) are uber-athletes with plus throwing arms, two-way potential and above-average speed. Skipworth (Patriot High, Riverside) is a lefthanded-hitting catcher with power and the makings of a strong defensive game. Hicks and Skipworth departed early to attend the Aflac Classic in San Diego, and did so with mixed reviews after performances that were less spectacular than their tools would figure to lend.

Hicks, who was playing across the street from his high school--where he was on the final No. 1 high school team in the Baseball America/National High School Coaches Association Top 50 poll in 2007, and California's Southern Section Division I champions--was the front man for the Brewers band of prospects. He was one of a handful of underclassmen at the '06 Area Code Games, and received plenty of additional exposure this spring while playing alongside supplemental first-rounder Ryan Dent.

He struggled at the plate during the Brewers' first two games in Long Beach, but in his final game scorched a triple that one-hopped the wall in the right-field corner from the left side, then laced an opposite-field line drive for a sacrifice fly in his next at-bat. A switch-hitter with a 70 arm on the 20-80 scouting scale and 6.7-second speed in the 60-yard dash, Hicks' upside is obvious. He was also Wilson High's closer, and while he didn't pitch at the Area Code Games, he features a 90-93 mph fastball and a hellacious 81-83 mph power breaking ball to boot, creating an interesting dilemma among scouts centered around his best future role.

"Hicks has not looked good this summer," said a scout with an American League team. "He's stung a couple balls, but everyone remembers the bad stuff, rolling balls over and not making hard contact. He's supposed to be a 1-1 guy, and he's not looking that way right now.

"But on the mound, he has the best breaking ball I've ever seen from an amateur guy. He has a chance for an 8 curveball (on the 2-8 scouting scale), but throwing strikes is going to be a question mark. In the end, though, he might be Dwight Gooden. He gets me more excited than anyone."

Skipworth is cut from different cloth. A blue-collar grinder with a relentless approach and a smooth swing that isn't without its holes, his tools are less spectacular than Hicks' and Galloway's, but he's the type that grows on scouts the more they see him. He gets the sentimental edge, too, as his older brother, Spencer has been unable to watch Kyle's emergence as a potential first-rounder this summer because he's enlisted in the military and currently serving in Iraq.

"He didn't catch terribly well in Long Beach, but Skipworth's stock got higher as Aflac went on," said an AL crosschecker who attended both events. "He has power and arm strength. The ability to catch should come in time, and you have to consider he was catching some guys that were throwing well and had some movement. I think he'll figure it out."

One of the pitchers Skipworth was tasked with handling was Gerrit Cole, who once again proved he deserved to be mentioned among the country's top amateur pitchers. A strong-bodied righty from Lutheran High in Orange, Calif., Cole has heavy sink on his 90-94 mph fastball that he delivers from a low-three-quarters arm slot. He pounds the zone with three pitches, and was the unofficial leader in broken bats, splintering three during his three-inning outing on the event's second day.

"Cole has a chance to be one of those guys who dominates," an AL scout said. "I like his approach. He seems like he knows he's better than anyone out there."

Now Introducing . . .

Most of California's contingent of prep prospects was well known by the time the Area Code Games rolled around on the scouting calendar, but where the event has the greatest impact in terms of introducing lesser known prospects to the limelight is often with players from Arizona and the Midwest.

Jake Smolinski's showing in '06 is an example of a high school hitter who improved his stock with a strong week at the showcase, as the third baseman from Illinois landed in the second round of the '07 draft with the Nationals, in part because of that performance. Conner Mach (Parkway West High, Ballwin, Mo.) might be this year's Midwest hitter who made the most out of his shot to shine with all eyes on him.

A gritty infielder with a balanced, smooth swing, Mach made consistent hard contact and played with lots of energy. He made an immediate impression when he pounced on a Matt Purke fastball in the low-90s and turned it around for a triple in the gap. Purke, a 6-foot-2 lefthander from Klein High (Spring, Texas), is among the top rising juniors in the country, but Mach showed a good approach, bat speed and barrel awareness in the matchup, and played his way into top-five-round consideration during the event.

He has the pedigree to match his performance, as Mach's grandfather, Phil Gagliano, spent parts of 12 seasons in the majors, including a stint with the World Series champion Cardinals in 1967, and his brother is Missouri infielder Kyle Mach.

"Most of those (Midwest) guys don't start making as well-known name for themselves until they get to the showcases," an AL crosschecker said. "They might come in as quote-unquote names, but in terms of what their ability is, it shows when they get to (Area Code Games) level of competition. It showed for Smolinski, it showed for (Iowa prospect Jon) Gilmore (in 2006 at the Area Code Games), and it definitely showed for Mach, which is good. It's amazing how the showcases can create some stock."

Similarly, Flagstaff, Ariz., lefthander Kyle Lobstein has spent most of the summer cruising under the radar while playing predominately with his Coconino High teammates. He made an eye-opening appearance at USA Baseball's Tournament of Stars in June in Cary, N.C., easily making the junior national team trials roster. There, Lobstein ranked as the No. 2 prospect when he dominated the tournament's best lineup for six innings, and he was up to the task in Long Beach, too. He took the mound as the first pitcher in the showcase's first game, and worked off an 87-89 mph fastball and showed feel for his circle changeup and curveball. Lobstein has one of the prettiest, easiest deliveries you'll see from a high school pitcher. He allowed one hit, an unearned run and struck out three, needing just 34 pitches, 24 of which were strikes, to complete three innings.

Left Coast

Purke and Lobstein weren't the only southpaws to improve their stock, as Mike Montgomery (Hart High, Newhall, Calif.) and Jarret Martin (Centennial High, Bakersfield, Calif.) also flashed solid-average fastball velocity and the physical attributes to garner a spot on follow lists for next spring.

Martin's summer has been inconsistent, but he's athletic and, like Lobstein, shows good mechanics, an ability to repeat his delivery and some feel for his secondary stuff.

Gose didn't take the mound until the showcase's final day, when many of the scouts had completed their coverage or opted to attend the Aflac event, but word traveled quickly when he touched 93 mph from the left side. He's not as big as Sample, Martin or Lobstein, but he's got a quick arm and a tenacious approach. He'll also flash a hard, downer curve ball that, when mixed with his plus fastball, is going to lend split camps among teams trying to determines is ultimate position as a professional.

"I thought he did a great job this week," an AL scout said. "He works his (butt) off, and the makeup is off the charts.

"But the bat is still questionable. For how strong he is, it's not a quick bat. He's a good high school hitter, probably a solid Division-I (college) hitter, but he has a ways to go to be a good pro hitter.

"You've got to think he's going to be touching (9)5 mph and 6 next spring. He's going to be a (reliever), but he's down in the zone, throws strikes and he competes. You never discount a guy like that with those tools and makeup."

Gose is like so many other prospects at this year's Area Code Games--a player with obvious upside whose shortcomings are also relatively easily recognizable. Although scouts who covered last year's event were spoiled by a banner crop, they're accustomed to leafing through page after page of prospects in search of the centerfold. There were no obvious candidates in attendance this time around, but at least there's a little something to look forward to next spring.

"Cole, Martin, Gose, Hicks . . . There's five or six quality guys that a lot of people are going to go in and see who have a chance to be pretty good," an AL crosschecker said. "Some of the guys last year you felt comfortable were going to go 1-10 overall. Some of these guys might go 15-40, and that's not too far off."

L.B.C., ETC.

• Righty Miles Reagan was unable to take his regular turn in El Capitan High's (Lakeside, Calif.) rotation because of a sore arm as a junior this spring, but when he completed the first of two outings at Blair Field, he walked off the mound with the designation of one of the event's best pitchers. "It felt great," he said after dialing his fastball up to 93 mph. Reagan has a three-pitch mix and a lightning-quick arm that makes for an intriguing combination that could draw consideration in the top three rounds of next year's draft if he maintains his health and learns to command the zone more effectively.

• Of the players who were invited to the event as underclassmen a year ago and invited back for '07, Cutter Dykstra (Westlake High, Westlake Village, Calif.) was the most improved. The son of former major leaguer Lenny Dykstra looked woefully overmatched, especially defensively, when he played in the '06 Area Code Games, but his performance this time around was on par with that of any position player on the stacked Brewers Blue squad. He capped his week with an opposite-field home run on the event's final day that showed evidence of the pop the 5-foot-10, 172-pounder packs in his compact righthanded swing. "He moved up on my board," an AL scout said. "He's going to be an offensive second baseman, and he may hit for enough power to play third."

"He's going to be just like his dad," an AL crosschecker said. "He's going to play his way into the lineup somewhere."

• A position player who took a significant leap forward was Niko Vasquez. A rising senior shortstop from Las Vegas' Durango High, Vasquez has been as much of a mainstay on the showcase circuit over the past three summers as sunscreen, but it wasn't until the Area Code Games that he began to turn his tools into performance. He had an afternoon to remember on the event's fourth day, especially, by blistering a pair of pitches to left field, homering and tripling off low-90s heat. He's got good hands, nice actions, bat speed, and now, some track record of performance to build on. "He hit the ball consistently harder at Area Codes, the last two or three days especially, maybe than any other guy there," an NL scout said. "I don't think he fits into that upper echelon. He's a second-tier guy, but down the road . . . If you put that guy behind the plate, he has hands that are good enough and enough arm strength and defensive instincts that are good enough that he could be pretty interesting."

• Perhaps the best position player in attendance received just two plate appearances. Tim Beckham (Griffin, Ga., High) arrived a day late, about 48 hours after being ranked the top prospect at the East Coast Professional Showcase in Lakeland, Fla. He fouled a ball off the instep of his left foot, left the game in the fourth inning, then had to depart for the Aflac game the next day.

"He has tools that show pretty easily, but he's very athletic and he has baseball instincts," an AL crosschecker said. "He runs, throws, has a good approach and has some pop in his bat."

"He changed my opinion during Aflac as opposed to what I saw of him at Area Code Games," an NL scout said.

Austin Dicharry (Klein-Collins High, Spring, Texas) has some kinks in his delivery, but his stuff was outstanding during his appearance for the Rangers. The righthander struck out seven of the 10 batters he faced with one walk in three shutout innings. His hammer curveball was arguably the best breaking ball in the event, checking in at 77-79 mph. He got on top of his pitches, pitched to both sides of the plate and established his fastball for strikes early in the pitch sequence, humming along near 90 mph.

• Galloway, a toolsy outfielder from Los Osos High in Rancho Cucamonga, was unable to play in the event because of an sprained ankle, although he made it back in time for the Aflac game, which was played the weekend following the Area Code Games a couple of hours south in San Diego.