LONG BEACH, Calif.—For a prospect such as Southern California star Hunter Greene, the 2016 Area Code Games will amount to something of a victory lap. A Team USA alumnus and one of the few 2017 prospects to play in last year’s Area Code Games, it would be difficult to find a high-ranking MLB scout who hasn’t seen the two-way prospect play at least once. With his draft stock cemented, Greene said he is primarily looking to “enjoy the experience” in Long Beach.
Across the country, Jordan Anderson of Clemens High (Madison, Ala.) is preparing for his trip to Long Beach as a member of the Nationals’ Area Code team. But the circumstances of his visit will be decidedly different.
Although it would be misleading to call Anderson “unknown” as he plays for an elite travel team (FTB Tucci) and has participated in some of the most prestigious prep showcases on the East Coast, it is telling that Nationals’ Area Games coach and crosschecker Jimmy Gonzalez admits that he has still never seen Anderson play in a live game. In fact, Gonzalez guesses that most of the scouts and coaches in Long Beach will have never seen him play, which is a big reason why Anderson is on the team in the first place.
For the scouts in charge of picking the Area Code Games rosters, there is an emphasis on picking only the most elite prep prospects in the country. But it is the lesser-known prospects—such as Anderson—who don’t play in baseball hotbeds such as Southern California and Florida that have arguably the most to gain from playing in the Area Code Games.
“For kids from places like Alabama, this tournament is huge because it gives them a chance to play against the best players in the country,” Gonzalez said. “We may not get many chances to see players like (Anderson) during the season because of his location, so getting him out to Area Code Games so we can get an extended look is key for us and for him, too.”
Anderson understands this too, and it is one of the big reasons why he is looking forward to the opportunity. But he is also excited because even one year ago, the chance to play in the Area Code Games seemed more like a pipe dream than reality.
Anderson didn’t just miss the cut for the Area Code Games team last season, he wasn’t even invited to try out. In fact, this spring, Anderson was still relatively unknown. So much so that his travel team coach, Jered Goodwin of FTB Tucci, found him almost by accident.
Goodwin had already plucked the state’s two best players—pitcher Tanner Burns and catcher MJ Melendez, son of new Florida International Head Coach Mervyl Melendez—to play for FTB and admits that his first introduction to Anderson came about primarily because Anderson was such good friends with Burns.
Anderson’s athleticism and elite speed were enough to earn him a spot on the team, but Goodwin saw a player whose hitting ability lagged way behind the rest of his skills. Goodwin, regarded as one of the top travel coaches in the nation, invited Anderson to come stay with him for three weeks this summer so Anderson could get extra work in the batting cages and, to Goodwin’s surprise, Anderson immediately accepted.
The two worked on staying athletic with the lower half of the body and avoiding getting too rotational with the upper-half of his body. But most importantly, Anderson knew if he was going to have success against elite players, he would need to dedicate himself in the gym.
“I saw all these other guys getting the chance to play for elite teams and I thought, ‘why not me?’” Anderson said. “I knew that playing for FTB that I was going to face a lot of stronger and better competition, so I really stepped up my training regimen so that I could compete physically.”
The hard work paid off this summer and Anderson has seen his stock rise significantly. He said that he went from receiving a few calls per week last summer from college coaches and scouts to receiving a 3-4 calls per day this summer. Goodwin added that since the beginning of the summer, coaches and scouts asked him about Anderson as much as they asked about any other player on his team, including household names like Burns, Melendez and Oklahoma outfielder Conner Uselton.
Make no mistake, Anderson is still far from a surefire prospect, but all the tools are there. Anderson lists himself at a sturdy 6-foot-2 and 190 pounds and Goodwin said the speedster regularly posts 6.4-second times in the 60-yard dash. Anderson’s hitting is still very much a work in progress, but Goodwin says he is more than just another raw athlete, which is why he felt comfortable strongly recommending Anderson to Gonzalez.
“When you are recommending someone who is going to represent your team and the Washington Nationals, you can’t just recommend some toolsy kid with upside,” said Goodwin, who recently took the job as FIU’s recruiting coordinator under Melendez. “Jordan is still raw, but he has the baseball IQ and work ethic that separates him from other athletic types.”
The Area Code Games are the perfect venue for Anderson to prove his former travel coach right. Unlike Greene, who could be a high draft pick even if he skipped the event, Anderson’s showing could make the difference between getting drafted (and signing) out of high school or playing in college instead.
“We try to tell players that no matter how many scouts are watching, none of these events are life or death. It won’t kill a player’s chances if he doesn’t play well. But think of how many big leaguers have played in the Area Code Games,” Goodwin said. “People remember what you do in an event like this.”