2019 Area Code Games: Day 1 Scout Notebook
LONG BEACH, Calif. — The 2019 Area Code Games kicked off Monday, pitting eight teams from every region of the country against one another in one of the biggest high school showcase events of the year.
Like the East Coast Pro Showcase last week, the Area Code Games (presented by New Balance) is an event where you will find almost the entirety of the amateur scouting community, with more than 200 of the top prep players across the country (including a few from the 2021 and 2022 draft classes) showcasing their talents for a week at Blair Field.
Baseball America will be following all of the action throughout the week and reporting on the top prospects and standout performers. Below are the players who stood out on Day 1.
Pitcher Of The Day — Kyle Harrison, LHP, De La Salle HS, Concord, Calif. (UCLA Commit)
Harrison was the first pitcher to take the mound during the 2019 Area Code Games, and he started off the must-see event in fine fashion, striking out six batters and walking just one in three innings. Harrison scattered three hits and shutout a strong Brewers lineup.
Harrison didn’t have the loudest pure stuff of the day, but he used it to great effectiveness nonetheless. The UCLA commit pitched with a fastball that sat in the 88-91 mph range and touched 92 mph in the first inning. He creates good angle with the pitch from a sidearm slot, which makes at-bats for lefthanded hitters particularly difficult.
Adding to that difficulty is a sweeping, whiffle ball-like slider, which Harrison threw in the 75-78 mph range and features plenty of depth. Harrison used the pitch to finish five of his six strikeouts, and it has the shape and movement to be an out-pitch. He threw one changeup, an 81 mph offering that he spiked, but he mostly worked with his fastball/slider combination.
Hitter Of The Day — Tanner Witt, 3B, Episcopal HS, Bellaire, Texas (Texas Commit)
There’s typically a big, physical slugger on the Rangers squad at Area Codes, which is made up of players from Texas. Witt fits that bill this year, standing 6-foot-6, 198 pounds with more room to fill out as his weight would suggest.
He’s got plenty of present strength and showed that in both batting practice and during the second game of the day against the Reds (Four Corners players). Witt went 2-for-4 with a pair of singles, a groundout and a strikeout.
Both of his singles came off of his righthanded bat like a rocket. During his second trip to the plate against righthander Michael Rice (Nevada), Witt swung through a fastball before connecting on an 86 mph heater and driving a hard ground ball through the left side of the infield. The ball left his bat at 101 mph. In his third trip to the plate, Witt again jumped on an 86 mph fastball from Rice and sent the pitch right back up the middle to center field with a 99 mph exit velocity.
Defender Of The Day — Drew Romo, C, The Woodlands (Texas) HS (Louisiana State Commit)
Romo looks to be the best prep catcher out of Texas in at least the last seven years. No prep catcher from the Lone Star State has been drafted earlier than the 16th round during that time span, and you'd have to go back to 2012 to find the most recent Day 1 selection of this particular demographic—Steve Bean (Cardinals' supplemental first-round pick) and Wyatt Mathisen (Pirates' second-round pick).
While the prep catching demographic is one of the riskiest in the draft, Romo has the tools to be a first-rounder with extremely advanced defensive ability—as a thrower, a receiver, a blocker and game caller. The switch-hitter also has some sneaky power and a good understanding of the strike zone (he went 1-for-2 with a single and a walk Monday), but it’s his defense that routinely impacts the game.
Romo rarely lets a ball get passed him, and when he does block pitches in the dirt, he does a good job of smothering the pitch to keep it in front of him and limit base stealing opportunities for opponents. Against the Reds, Romo threw out a basestealer at third who got an outstanding jump against the pitcher and would have been safe in most scenarios, but his plus arm strength and rapid exchange were enough to snuff it out.
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Others To Note
Mick Abel, RHP, Jesuit HS, Portland (Oregon State Commit)
The top-ranked pitcher in the high school class, Abel didn’t have the premium stuff that he’s shown in the past. Previously into the mid-90s with a power slider in the mid-80s, Abel pitched in the 89-92 mph range over two shutout innings against the White Sox with four strikeouts, two walks and two hits allowed. The lanky, 6-foot-5, 185-pound righthander threw his darting slider in the 82-85 mph range, which again is slower than he’s thrown in the past, but his stuff was still effective. Abel generated four whiffs with his fastball and three with the slider, adding another two whiffs with a tumbling, 82-85 mph changeup that he threw with impressive arm speed. His two secondaries were at least average offerings today and project as more than that in the future, when he’s at his best. Abel’s combination of current stuff and further future projection make him a must-see arm in the class, and even though his stuff was down on this outing, it’s obvious why teams are so excited about him.
Travis Sthele, RHP, Reagan HS, Austin (Texas Commit)
Sthele got the start for the Rangers on Monday, and while he struck out only one batter over two shutout innings, he showed some impressive stuff and one of the better fastballs of the day. During his first inning, the 6-foot, 195-pound righty threw 93-95 mph and touched 96 mph with excellent late life on the pitch. It’s a high-spin offering, in the 2500-2700 rpm range, and Sthele used it to create four whiffs, though batters also squared him up solidly a few times, and he was lucky to get out of his outing with only one hit allowed. Sthele also threw a 78-80 mph slider that had solid 10-to-4 shape and spin when he was on top of the offering, and a firm, 84-87 mph changeup that had fading life and was thrown with solid arm speed.
TJ Nichols, RHP, Oakmont HS, Roseville, Calif.
Nichols threw just one inning for the Athletics on Monday, but he showed a fast arm and a big-time fastball, which was mostly in the 93-94 mph range but touched 96 mph on one occasion. A 6-foot-3, 170-pound rightander, Nichols didn’t have the best performance (two hits, three earned runs, two strikeouts and three walks), but there’s no doubting his arm talent. He throws with some effort out of a high, three-quarter arm slot and works with a quick tempo, but his control was solidly below-average in this outing and he frequently overthrew and spiked his fastball. Nichols also threw a 78-81 mph slider that flashed the makings of an average offering with good bite and three-quarter shape, though the pitch backed up to his arm side at times.
Elijah Nunez, OF, Martin HS, Arlington, Texas (Texas Christian Commit)
Nunez impressed during the morning batting practice with quick hands, solid bat speed and consistent hard contact. Those hands translated to the game just fine as well, as Nunez made hard contact on multiple occasions and went 1-for-4 with a single a hard fly out that he just missed, a strikeout and a fielder’s choice. Nunez’ single came during his third at-bat against righthander Michael Rice, when he jumped on the first pitch and smoked a hard line drive into right field. A plus runner, Nunez clocked a 4.05 home-to-first time in his fourth at-bat and quickly stole second base. Nunez is an aggressive hitter with impressive bat-to-ball skills and hand-eye coordination, with the running ability that should allow him to handle center field. He wasn’t challenged much defensively in this game, however.
Tyler Soderstrom, C, Turlock (Calif.) HS (UCLA Commit)
Soderstrom had a solid day offensively and behind the plate on Monday, throwing a runner out and going 1-for-4 with a triple and a hard line out to right field. Soderstrom’s triple came against lefthander Kyle Carr (California), who threw an 80 mph slider that the 6-foot-2, 190-pound hitter drove hard down the first base line and into right field.
Kyle Russell, SS, Curtis HS, University Place, Wash. (Washington State Commit)
A 6-foot-1, 170-pound infielder and righthanded hitter, Russell led off for the Royals against the White Sox and didn’t do much to standout with the bat—he went 0-for-2 with a fly out, strikeout and walk—but showed well on the defensive side. During in and out, Russell showed good actions at shortstop and solid arm strength and did a nice job getting around the ball to his backhand, cutting down ground on the ball and creating a more optimal throwing angle for himself at the same time. He made a tough play to his backhand look easy during the game as well, showing lots of confidence in his hands and impressive instincts.