San Diego - Isn't San Diego supposed to ALWAYS be sunny? Generally speaking, it is, but the mornings are often overcast and cool, like many coastal cities. Saturday morning at Cunningham Stadium on the University of San Diego campus was no different when the Aflac All-Americans had a brief "practice" prior the home run derby. It was not only cool and overcast, but there was also a slight mist in the air. Eventually the clouds blew out and the sun was shining brilliantly by the time we got to the Home Derby.
Now, calling what I saw a "Home Run Derby" is stretching it a bit. Yes, the players were at home plate with no batting cage around them and like a normal home run derby each player got 10 "outs." Though the players were doing all they could (30 participants in all) to hit home runs, only 15 balls went over the fence, between the foul poles. Furthermore, 11 of the 15 were hit by four players.
The top four home run hitters advance to the finals, which will be at 4:00 Sunday before the game, which has a first pitch scheduled for 5:08 PM. I think you will be surprised at who advanced, as only one of them is considered a home run type of hitter.
Cunningham stadium is a pretty big yard and the wind swirls around, starting from a canyon about 50 yards from left field foul line. The wind can feel like it is blowing out when you are in the stands but if you look at the flags beyond left field, they were blowing in. The dimensions of the park are 309' down the left field line, 375' to left-center, 395' to dead center, 385' to right-center, and 329' down the right field line. The ball does NOT carry too well from gap to gap, but down the lines home runs can be hit, particularly right down the left field line to about 20 in from the line. So dead pull right handed hitters have the advantage at this ballpark.
The "winner" of the preliminary round was Francisco Lindor (Montverde Academy, Clermont, FL), a slick fielding 5'11" 175 lb. middle infielder. He hit four homers, including three in his first four swings. Lindor is a switch-hitter but he chose to hit right handed and I think all four of his homers were in that area down the left field line I was describing. Josh Tobias (5'10" 194), another switch-hitting middle infielder (Southeast Guilford HS, Greensboro, NC), went deep twice, also hitting from the right side.
One of the top pure hitters here and another middle infielder, Christian Lopes (6'0" 180, R/R, Edison HS, Huntington Beach, CA) hit three home runs before he had four outs, but he ended with those three home runs. Lopes hit one out to deep left-centerfield, one of the deepest parts of this park and not a place many high school hitters, using wood bats, hit home runs.
The last qualifier was outfielder/infielder Travis Harrison (6'2" 215, R/R, Tustin HS, Aliso Viejo, CA), the only one of the four finalists that I think anyone "expected" to advance to the finals. Harrison has been a known and renowned power hitter in Southern California since oh, sometime during his freshman year in high school, or so it seems. Harrison hit two home runs, one while he was out on his front foot, which drew all kinds of awe from his teammates. It was a pretty special display of real physical raw power.
The others to leave the yard during the derby were...
INF Javier Baez (6'1" 185, R/R, Arlington Dountry Day School, Jacksonville, FL)
C Cameron Gallagher (6'3" 215, R/R, Manheim Township HS, Lancaster, PA)
INF Austin Slater (6'2" 200, R/R, The Bolles School, Jacksonville, FL)
1B/OF Daniel Camarena (6'2" 200, L/L, Cathedral Catholic HS, Bonita, CA) - the only left-handed hitter to hit one out, fair anyway
The kids had some fun, doing a few of the things that we see the big leaguers doing on TV and generally were feeling relaxed, OUTSIDE of the batters’ box. In an environment like this, with all the crosscheckers, scouting directors, scouts, college coaches, agents, media, and cameras everywhere, the one thing that can be best evaluated, aside from raw power, which we had already seen in the morning BP session, is which players have a sense of calm about them and are able to shine in a pretty pressure filled situation. That is where Lindor and Lopes stood out to me. They seemed, more than all the other players, to really be calm as well as comfortable with the situation and who they are as players. Frankly, Lopes just has "big leaguer" written all over him and to me he stands out like a sore thumb with how he approaches the game, which is very professionally.
The morning practice was simply an abbreviated pregame type infield/outfield for each team and then a full BP for each team. During the INF/OF my eyes were particularly drawn to the middle infielders and specifically I enjoyed watching Lindor (SS) and Slater (SS) working with Tobias (2B) up the middle. When you get to watch talented and SKILLED middle infielders doing their thing in an environment like this, it really is fun to see.
The West also has infielders that play well together and have not only talent, but a lot of skill too. The West infielders I enjoy watching are Lopes (SS), 2B/SS Phillip Evans (5'10" 180, R/R, La Costa Canyon HS, Carlsbad, CA) and 3B Matthew Dean (6'3" 190, R/R, The Colony HS, Highland Village, TX). All three of those kids have soft hands, strong arms, and play with feel. There were some good arms in the outfield, particularly East left-fielder Sean Trent (6'1", R/R, Bishop Moore Catholic HS, Maitland, FL) who showed me a plus arm. He is a primary 3rd baseman but it looks like he will play a little outfield too.
The catchers also got to toss a few throws to 2nd base for some pop times and they can all throw. The best time was a 1.87 from West catcher Austin Hedges (6'0" 180, R/R, J Serra Catholic HS, San Juan Capistrano, CA) while Gallagher tossed a 1.93, as did Tyler Marlette (5'10" 195, R/R, Hagerty HS, Oviedo, FL). For me, Marlette and Hedges showed the best raw arm strength while Hedges has the best catch/throw skills.
After the INF/OF came the BP and some things stood out in batting practice. East outfielder Larry Greene (6'1" 230, L/R, Berrien HS, Nashville, GA) showed me a quiet approach, with carry power and massive strength. If he gets any lift in his swing, he is going to hit MASSIVE home runs someday. I thought he would easily advance during the home run derby, but he didn't fare too well. Tobias hit a good handful of balls out during his BP session, which was a precursor of things to come. I also noticed that during BP Tobias was extremely focused, seemingly more locked in than any other player. He is not here to mess around and is one of my picks to standout in the game tomorrow. Lindor also looked very good during BP, showing off an easy and smooth swing from both sides of the plate, but the power he showed in the derby was not readily apparent during the BP. Austin Slater showed off a very nice line drive swing, spraying hard hit balls over the field. Baez also showed me good bat speed and an aggressive nature.
During the West BP there were two hitters that stood out heads and tails above the others; Lopes and catcher Daniel Mengden (6'2" 195, R/R, Westside HS, Houston, TX). Lopes took his BP like a big leaguer, starting off by working the opposite field, then working the middle in his second round, before allowing himself to get to the pull side in his last round. He has loose hands and wrists and generates plus bat speed through contact, while maintaining excellent balance throughout his swing. Mengden was perhaps the MOST impressive hitter during BP. He has a flat swing, good bat speed and was creating all kinds of backspin, which resulted in lots of carry and a good amount of BP home runs. After seeing his BP he was another one I felt would do well in the derby, but he didn't. I suppose that I should also mention that the sound the ball makes off the bat of Travis Harrison is different than any other player here, at least to my ears.
Anyway, that is about it from today. Again, tomorrow is the Home Run Derby finals, at 4:00 and the game is at 5:08 PM, Pacific time.
- East catcher Brandon Sedell was not here today, but I do not know the reason why.