2019 Area Code Games: Day 4 Scout Notebook
LONG BEACH, Calif. — The 2019 Area Code Games continued on Thursday, and while pitching stood out on Tuesday and the hitters took the crown on Wednesday, Thursday was more of a mixed bag with equal opportunity to be found regardless of position.
If you missed our previous coverage of the Area Code Games, you can check out our daily scout notebooks below.
Here are the standout performers from Thursday.
Hitter Of The Day: Drew Romo, C, The Woodlands (Texas) HS (Louisiana State Commit)
We discussed Romo’s defensive exploits on Day 1, but Thursday showed why the switch-hitting prep catcher is considered a top-10 talent in the class and a potential first round-caliber player.
Romo went 2-for-2 at the plate with the first home run of the event at Blair Field—a notoriously difficult park for prep players to go deep in. After hitting a hard single against an 81 mph changeup in his first at-bat as a lefthanded hitter, Romo stepped to the plate against lefthander Logan Wood (Michigan) in his second at-bat.
During conversations with scouts throughout the week, most saw Romo’s lefthanded swing as more fluid, with his righthanded swing being a bit more mechanical despite that being his natural side. However, the power he showed when he connected with an elevated, 86 mph fastball and sent it 368 feet over the left field fence (at 97 mph) let everyone know that he has offensive upside from both sides.
An uber-talented defensive catcher with impact ability as a switch-hitter is a rare profile, and Romo again showed off his arm strength on Thursday. He backpicked Illinois shortstop Ed Howard off of second base, threw out a runner trying to steal second and also nailed a runner trying to steal third. Romo is showcasing a well-rounded game this summer and continuing to cement himself as the top backstop in the prep class.
Pitcher Of The Day: Max Rajcic, RHP, Orange (Calif.) Lutheran HS (UCLA)
Other pitchers racked up more strikeouts or showed bigger pure stuff, but Rajcic showed advanced pitchability and efficiency in his three innings on Thursday morning. A 6-foot-1, 200-pound righthander, Rajcic is filled out and physical on the mound without much projection to bank on, but his current stuff is solid. He possesses a low-90s fastball and an upper-70s curveball that has late break and cutting action to his glove side and sharp finish.
What separated Rajcic from other arms at the Area Code Games was his ability to command the ball to both sides of the plate. Rajcic did a nice job moving his fastball around the zone and keeping hitters off-balance by simply going in and out and changing their eye level.
Along with Texas righthanders Jared Kelley and Cam Brown, Rajcic showcased some of the best pure strike-throwing ability and command, and he has a long track record of being that type of pitcher as an underclassman with powerhouse Orange Lutheran High. You might be able to dream more on other arms in the class, but Rajcic continues to show he’s as consistent as they come.
He struck out three batters, walked one and needed just 30 pitches to work through three shutout, no-hit innings against the Nationals.
Defender Of The Day: Petey Halpin, OF, St. Francis HS, La Canada, Calif. (UCLA)
One of the 45 players invited to USA’s 18U National Team Trials, Halpin showed why he could be an asset for the red, white and blue on Thursday in center field.
An instinctual, 6-foot, 173-pound outfielder, Halpin is an above-average runner and combines his speed with good route running ability and the athleticism to handle center field with ease. In the nigthcap against the Royals, Halpin got a nice jump on a hard-hit line drive to shallow center field, breaking in and making a sliding catch to rob a hit.
He also showed off impressive arm strength and accuracy throwing out a runner at the plate from center field a few plays prior to his highlight-reel catch—and the throw might have been the more impressive of the two plays. While Halpin is here thanks to his defensive efforts, he also showed some surprising thump out of his smooth, lefthanded swing. He tripled off a 77 mph changeup in his second trip to the plate, blasting a ball to deep right field at 94.6 mph and burning the right fielder in the process.
He rounded first in 4.75 seconds and is a strong runner underway on the basepaths, just as he is in the outfield.
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Other Players To Note
Jason Savacool, RHP, Baldwinsville (N.Y.) HS (Maryland)
Savacool racked up more strikeouts than any other pitcher on Thursday, fanning nine batters over four innings for the Yankees in a 12-2 win over the Reds. A 6-foot-1, 195-pound righthander, Savacool works from the middle of the rubber with length in the back of his arm stroke, some effort as he delivers to the plate and a landing that takes his momentum to the first base side in his finish. He opened up with a 91-93 mph fastball and held that velocity well despite throwing 62 pitches and stretching out to four innings, finishing in the 89-93 mph range in his final frame.
The Maryland commit showed some feel for an 80-84 mph slider that generated some swings and misses when he was on top, but he will have to improve the consistency of the offering as he got around it at times and saw the pitch back up to his arm side and lack bite. Savacool also worked in an 82 mph changeup, but he predominantly relied on a fastball/slider two-pitch mix.
Kevin Parada, C, Loyola HS, Los Angeles (Georgia Tech)
There’s been a lot of strong catcher play this week, and while Romo and California backstop Tyler Soderstrom have done immensely well for themselves, no one is going to forget about Parada’s ability. The 6-foot, 195-pound backstop has a knack for putting the barrel on the ball and making hard contact, and on Thursday he went 2-for-4 with a pair of doubles. His first was a soft line drive that he flicked backside down the right field line, but his second was a hard-hit line drive to left that he drove at 102.5 mph. He also made loud contact on a fly out in his first plate appearance, getting just under a 91 mph fastball but driving the pitch to left field with a 95 mph exit velocity.
Parada isn’t a bat-only catcher though, and he showed a strong arm by throwing out a basestealer at second after receiving a low pitch that might have disrupted another catcher’s transition. While Parada could improve his lateral mobility behind the plate and refine his blocking, he also showed promise in that regard, smothering a few breaking balls in the dirt with runners on second and third to prevent a passed ball and a run from scoring.
Ed Howard, SS, Mount Carmel (Ill.) HS (Oklahoma)
Howard thinks of himself as a defense-first player, and scouts would also hold that position, though they believe he has exciting offensive potential—it’s mostly been a case of waiting to see when he would start to break out with the bat. He wasted no time showcasing a glimpse of his ability in the righthanded batter's box, leading off for the White Sox in the first game of the day and waking up the scouts who were still groggily sipping their morning coffee.
Howard saw a 90 mph fastball from righthander Levi Wells (Texas) and turned it around right back up the middle for a screaming single that came off his bat at 104 mph. The quick hands he uses so regularly in the middle infield also play well in the batter's box, and with a lean, 6-foot-2, 185-pound frame, Howard should grow into a lot more strength in the future as well.
Ryland Zaborowski, 3B, Basha HS, Chandler, Ariz. (Grand Canyon)
A 6-foot-5, 210-pound corner infielder, Zaborowski has plenty of strength in his righthanded bat and went 1-for-3 with a hard-hit double and a walk in the first of a two-game day for the Reds. In his second at-bat, Zaborowski got an elevated, 88 mph fastball and hammered it to left-center at 101.5 mph with excellent backspin and carry. The Grand Canyon commit is responsible for some of the hardest hit balls of the tournament, and while he’s a below-average runner, he should have enough raw power to profile nicely at a corner position.
TJ Nichols, RHP, Oakmont HS, Roseville, Calif.
Nichols made our Day 1 scout notebook thanks to a fastball that he ratcheted up to 96 mph. That was impressive in its own right, but he came out just three days later and showed the same—if not better—pure stuff, touching 96 mph multiple times in the first inning and sitting in the 92-95 mph range across his two frames. He allowed two hits and an earned run while striking out four batters and walking none. Nichols saw his fastball get hit a bit more than you would expect given his velocity, and he continued to show some overthrowing tendencies, but the pure stuff is hard to ignore. There's still room to fill out his 6-foot-3, 170-pound frame, however, and he could further refine his strike-throwing ability and the consistency of his 79-82 mph slider.