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Southern California Primed For Return To Draft Glory In 2020

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Pete Crow-Armstrong (Photo by Bill Mitchell)

It was only natural that Southern California would experience a talent dip after the 2017 draft. That’s what happens when a region produces the top two picks in the nation — Royce Lewis and Hunter Greene — and 14 of the top 71 selections overall. Matching that is borderline impossible.

Still, even taking that into account, the draft classes in the region have since been down. No player from SoCal—college or high school—was drafted in the top 10 picks in 2018, the first time that had happened in 25 years. It’s currently projected to happen again in 2019. That comes on the heels of SoCal producing the No. 1 overall pick three times in four drafts from 2014 to 2017. In addition to Lewis there was Brady Aiken in 2014 and Mickey Moniak in 2016.

But under the surface, high school talent is bubbling and should bring an end to SoCal’s mini drought. Led by La Mirada High righthander Jared Jones and Harvard-Westlake High outfielder Pete Crow-Armstrong, the class of 2020 is expected to return Southern California to its standing as the top region for draft prospects in the country.

"Both (Jones and Crow-Armstrong) have a chance to go in the top 10 picks, honestly,” one American League area scout said. "Three of those four years, (the region) had the No. 1 pick. I can understand it’s probably pretty unusual to have that happen, but it’s nice to have those type of guys back for 2020.”

A strong college crop buoys the two preps. UCLA outfielder Garrett Mitchell and righthander Zach Pettway, UC Irvine righthander Trent Denholm and UC Riverside righthander Cole Percival all rank among the top 50 college prospects for the 2020 draft class. Orange Lutheran righthanders Max Rajcic and Christian Rodriguez and Harvard-Westlake shortstop Drew Bowser are other top high schoolers drawing strong reviews from evaluators early on

But at the moment, it’s Jones and Crow-Armstrong carrying the banner for SoCal’s expected return to draft glory in 2020.

Jones, a freakishly athletic Southern California commit, is already up to 98 mph and flashes an out-pitch slider, in addition to a potent bat when he’s not pitching. Crow-Armstrong, a lithe outfielder committed to Vanderbilt, shows five-tool potential with an advanced feel to hit from the left side, plus speed, a plus arm, plus defense in center field and room to grow into power.

Together, they provide two premium talents in a 35-mile radius that have the potential to be high first-round picks—the usual standard for the region.

"The high school crop in general is going to be much, much better in the western region,” one National League area scout said.

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Jones and Crow-Armstrong are both veterans of USA Baseball’s National Team Development program and have track records of playing beyond their years. Crow-Armstrong was the youngest player to make the 18U National Team last summer and hit .375 in international play. Jones was the youngest player selected for the Under Armour All-America Game.

While their paths have long crossed as premier talents in their age group, the two began to form a friendship last summer as roommates at USA Baseball’s Tournament of Stars.

“We got to bond a lot, spending a lot of time together,” said Crow-Armstrong, whose parents are actors Matthew Armstrong and Ashley Crow. “Being roommates with him, playing on the same field with him as much as I did was fun because he got to push me and I think I got to push him, too. He’s a really smart player, he knows a lot about the game, and I think we definitely teach each other a lot of things.”

The mutually beneficial relationship has carried over into their junior seasons in high school. While they live and play in different sections of the greater Los Angeles area, they maintain contact and update each other on their progress.

“We kind of grew as best friends that entire week and ever since then we’ll text each other whenever we get the chance,” Jones said. “We don’t really usually talk about (the draft), that but it would be kind of cool to get drafted with him.”

As long as the duo keeps doing what they have been, they very likely will be drafted together in June 2020, and picked highly at that.

If that happens, it will headline the return of SoCal as an amateur talent mecca.

“That class in general is going to be pretty good down here in Southern California,” the AL scout said. “Those two guys, you have some power arms, and there’s some good juniors who are probably going to make a name for themselves as well. It’s going to be a good draft class.”

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