Berglund Breaks Out

Flores memorial game shows off local prospects

Righthanded pitcher Bryan Berglund of Royal High in Simi Valley, Calif. does not appear on Baseball America's early list of the Top 100 High School Prospects in the nation. An Area Code Games alumni, Berglund nonetheless has rarely been mentioned as a top 2009 draft prospect. That oversight should rapidly change after Sunday's Jesse Flores Memorial All Star Game, held at Rod Dedeaux Field on the campus of Southern California.

In front of approximately 100 scouts, including crosscheckers and several scouting directors, Berglund enjoyed a break-out performance. He worked one quick and efficient inning, retiring three hitters via a strikeout, broken bat ground ball and weak pop-up. Berglund, who is fortunate to possess an ideal tall and projectable pitcher's frame, easily fired a fastball in the 90-92 mph range and flashed a wicked two plane breaking ball that registered from 81 to 86. His eye-opening stint may have propelled Berglund into early round draft territory.

"He picked a heck of a day to have a coming out party," commented one local scout.

The annual wood bat all-star game is sponsored by the Professional Baseball Scouts of Southern California (PBSSC) and is held as a memorial to the late Jesse Flores. Players are chosen by PBSSC balloting.

Flores was the first Mexican native to pitch in the major leagues. In the late 1930s, he was signed to a minor league contract after a tryout at old Wrigley Field in L.A., enabling him to leave his job as a 10 cents per hour farm laborer. After his playing career, Flores spent many productive years as a scout for the Minnesota Twins. At one point in the 1970s the entire Twins starting lineup was populated by Flores signees.

Sunday's game was delayed by rainy and misty weather, which prevented both ball clubs from taking on-field batting practice. Once the contest commenced, another somewhat obscure player enjoyed a standout performance. Lefthanded-hitting catcher Josh Leyland of San Dimas (Calif.) High was the top hitter on the day, banging a homer, fittingly, off of the "out" sign on the right field scoreboard. He later added a solid line drive single to left.

While not the most athletic prospect on the field, Leyland is an advanced hitter who permits the ball to get deep in the zone and then attacks the pitch with a quick and compact backswing. His crouched, balanced stance and all fields approach will appeal to many organizations looking for a strong lefthanded hitting catcher or perhaps first baseman.

Which is not to say that the usual suspects—players appearing on BA's recently published Top 100 HS players list—did not perform well during the Flores contest. During the endless showcase season, many of those players have probably racked up enough frequent flier miles to take a free trip to Tahiti.

Lefty Tyler Skaggs (BA No. 8) led the pitching parade and showed his improving fastball (up to 91) and his big bending lollipop curve. Skaggs is a bit inconsistent with the breaking ball, flipping it at times. When thrown well, however, his bender dropped down through the low-lying clouds and froze both Jonathan Singleton (No. 78) and Matt Davidson (No. 16) for strikeouts.

Tyler Matzek (No. 1) struggled in his inning. That is, if you can call striking out the side struggling. Matzek gave up one single and two walks, and battled his command in a high pitch count frame. Living by the old Warren Spahn adage that you can still succeed on a day without your best stuff, Matzek yielded only one run. His raw stuff was still Matzek-like: Fastball up to 92, slider 83, curve 76 and change 82.

The game was dominated by pitching early on, until the Navy squad broke away to win 14-7. The scoring was initiated by Matt Hobgood (No. 22) who blasted a three-run homer to right field which sliced through a grove of trees. Hobgood confessed after the game that he is more of pitching prospect than a hitter, despite his big power. Indeed, Hobgood can destroy mistakes over the plate but is vulnerable inside and struggles with breaking and offspeed stuff.

The bump is a more fruitful venue for Hobgood. After plunking the first hitter, he comfortably blew through the remainder of his inning, displaying his 93 mph fastball and hard 81 mph slider.

Jiovanni Mier (No. 13) has emerged as the premier position player in the Southern California high school portion of the 2009 draft class. He showcases a fine arm, excellent hands and range, above-average speed and the type of baseball instincts which are unteachable. Mier is now also starting to sway scouts who had doubts about his bat, yours truly included. He ripped a home run on Sunday, and is now firing the bat head onto the ball instead of dragging it behind late.

Mier's middle infield counterpart David Nick (No. 46) also homered in the Flores game.

Another smart and skilled middle infielder, his arm isn't quite as strong as Mier's, indicating a move to second base may be likely in pro ball. Nick has some of the intangible qualities scouts love to see; he is able to sense what is going to happen on the field before it actually happens.

Well represented at the game was the Southern California class of 2010. Two position players and two pitchers from that class stood out.

Stefan Sabol, a catcher from Aliso Niguel High in Orange County, is the top local 2010 position player. Sabol swings a bat that shows electric quickness and bat speed, and he is that rare catcher with plus running speed—6.7 to 6.8 in previous clockings.

Sabol is promising but raw as a catcher, and he may want to dabble with other positions in next year's showcase season.

Vincent Velasquez, from Garey High in Pomona, Calif. is a skinny but projectable switch-hitting shortstop/third baseman and righthander. On the mound he can touch 88 mph and his thin frame promises more velo in the future. As an infielder, Velasquez shows excellent actions and hands, and a strong, accurate throwing arm. He runs decently, but his bat is still a work in progress. Velasquez will need to get stronger in his hands, wrists and forearms to improve as a hitter, plus he may need to even out his open stance, which now puts him in a weak starting position.

Peter Tago, a righthander from Dana Hills High in Dana Point, Calif. struggled with his command but still flashed outstanding stuff. Thin and highly projectable with an easy throwing motion, Tago fired a fastball that peaked at 89 mph and a 71 to 74 mph curve with intense dreidel-like spin.

A.J. Berglund from St. Francis High in La Canada, Calif. is a mature-framed righthander who pounds home a fastball at 90 mph and shows provocative secondary pitches with his 75 curve and 84 change.