Urban Review

SoCal prospects participate in annual invitational

COMPTON, Calif.—Major League Baseball's Urban Youth Academy was once again the gracious host of the third annual Southern California Inivtational showcase, an event for area high school prospects.

In what can be described as both a pleasant surprise and mild upset, two players in particular stood out among the lavishly talented invitees: catcher Cameron Garfield and outfielder Austin Wilson.

Cold, wet and windy weather greeted the assembled parents, coaches and scouts. The rugged conditions forced the start of the event to be delayed several hours but not canceled, much to the relief and gratification of the numerous out-of-town scouts, who were legitimately fearful of wasting a long trip. The academy's staff earns high praise for working diligently to make the fields playable.

Fifty players, all from the general Southern California area, were invited to the showcase. The participants were split into equally proportioned squads, one adorned with blue jerseys, the other red.

As is common with showcase events, the pregame activities—batting practice and infield /outfield—are more exciting and revealing than the actual game.

The festivities were initiated by wood bat batting practice, with the Blue squad taking their hacks first. To be charitable, the Blue squad struggled in the cage, despite the presence of seven of Baseball America's 2009 High School Top 100. Just as the gathered observers were about to nod off, the Red squad took over.

Eight of BA's Top 100 HS players populated the Red roster, and they all lived up to their lofty rankings. Shortstop Jiovanni Mier (12), outfielder Jake Marisnick (21), third baseman Matt Davidson (16), Garfield (64), righthander/first baseman Matt Hobgood (22) and righthander/first baseman Brooks Pounders (67) blasted numerous drives out of the Academy's second diamond.

Unexpectedly crashing this party was Wilson, a 6-foot-4, 200-pound right fielder from Harvard Westlake School in Sherman Oaks, Calif. Wilson, one of only two 2010 graduates invited to this event, clobbered a series of screaming home runs in his first two rounds of BP.

During outfield warm-ups, shortly thereafter, Wilson invoked memories of Aaron Hicks (2008 14th overall pick) by cutting loose a string of remarkable throws. His lasers from medium-deep right field seemed to leave a vapor trail as they sailed across the field, pounding into either the third baseman's or catcher's glove with an audible smack.

With his showing Sunday, Wilson undoubtedly has moved near the top of the local, and perhaps national, 2010 high school draft class. His only local competition at this stage would come from Stefan Sabol, a catcher/outfielder from Aliso Niguel High in Aliso Viejo, Calif., who was not present Sunday.

Not to be outdone, fellow outfielders Marisnick, Trayce Thompson (son of former Los Angeles Lakers center Mychal) and Wes Hatton responded to the gauntlet thrown down by Wilson by cutting loose with powerful throws of their own.

Infield warm-ups were dominated by Garfield, the 6-foot, 195-pound catcher from Murrieta Valley High in Murietta, Calif. An Area Code games and showcase veteran, Garfield is comfortably the top backstop in the local class, particularly since injuries have recently hobbled Richard Stock of Agoura (Calif.) High. After yet another outstanding BP performance, Garfield easily fired the ball down to second base with pop times that hovered around 1.88 seconds.

Ten receivers appear on BA's top 100 list, and Garfield definitely appears poised to move up substantially from his No. 64 national ranking as the spring season looms.

The game portion of the event was less exciting, due to the early season dominance of the pitchers. Righthanders Bryan Berglund (37), Chad Thompson (34) and Pounders and lefthanders Tyler Skaggs (11), Beau Wright (29) and Hobson comfortably breezed through their mound stints. In total, 22 pitchers trudged to the hill, allowing only one run on eight hits, with 30 strikeouts (unofficial stats).

The highlight of the game was a spectacular defensive play by Zach Vincej, a 6-foot, 160-pound shortstop from Saugus (Calif.) High. Vincej dove to spear a hot smash to his left, bounced to his feet, spun and threw the runner out by five feet.

By far the most interesting sidelight of Sunday's event was the emergence of several lightly publicized players, most of whom are exceptionally raw but promising nonetheless. They include:

Kevin Grove, of, 2009, Loyola HS, Los Angeles, Calif: A tall and rangy youngster who doubles as a basketball star, Grove struggles as a hitter but flashes interesting bat speed, a decent arm and promising athletic ability.

Ivory Thomas, of, 2009, Downey (Calif.) HS: An undersized but nonetheless high energy player, Thomas is an outfielder with excellent speed. He exhibits a quick bat, but may need to ditch his gimmicky open stance. Thomas also possesses a howitzer arm, as everyone sitting in the third base dugout on Sunday can attest.

Angelo Gumbs, of, 2010, Torrance (Calif.) HS: Gumbs shows ease and athletic ability in everything he does. However, he will need to vastly improve his hitting fundamentals to maximize his potential. Perhaps a personal coach may assist in this regard. In warm-ups, Gumbs flashed an excellent arm but his throws were inconsistent in strength. With coaching and development, Gumbs has a chance to be a premium prospect.

Andrew Bellatti, rhp, 2009, Steel Canyon HS, Spring Valley, Calif: Somewhat undersized for a righthanded pitching prospect at 6-foot-1 and 175 pounds, Bellati fired a fastball that peaked at 91 mph, and an acceptable curve at around 77.

Matthew Swilley, rhp, 2009, El Camino HS, Oceanside, Calif.: Also slightly undersized, Swilley delivered the sharpest curveball of the evening, a sweeping two-plane sideways knee-buckler at 76. Swilley complements his deuce with an 88-90 mph heater which peaks at 91.

Jonathan Meyer, c/rhp, 2009, Simi Valley (Calif.) HS: Obviously benefiting from an offseason strength and conditioning regimen, Meyer has transformed himself into a solidly built 6-foot-1, 190-pounder. A switch-hitter with an intriguing bat, Meyer's various skills will make it difficult for him to choose a defensive position. He fits at third, catcher and the mound, where his fastball tops out at 92. To play third or catch, Meyer will need to improve his fielding actions. However, he should be lauded for the immense improvement he has shown over the past year.

Sunday's wet, windy and cold MLB Scouting Bureau showcase did serve two vastly important purposes: It reinforced the status of the premier Southern California high school draft prospects, while at the same time providing a forum for several previously obscure players to establish themselves.

The stars of the event, Wilson and Garfield, may have benefited the most. Garfield should deservedly scoot up preliminary draft boards, while Wilson is emerging as one of the nation's primary 2010 prospects.