Long Beach, CA - I arrived here at the Area Code Games presented by New Balance to catch the very last part of the the 2:30 game (Reds/Rangers) on Saturday and the final game at 6:00 (Royals/White Sox). Before I get to the games and the players, I suppose I should set the stage a bit, as some of the teams and the regions they are representing have changed.
The White Sox (Midwest), Rangers (Texas), Reds (four corners/Hawaii), Brewers (Southern California), and Yankees (Northeast) are still representing the regions they always have. The Royals are now the team with players from the Pacific Northwest. Formerly that was the Nationals. The Nationals have players from the Southeast and Virgina, which used to be the Athletics. The Athletics are now a team of all Northern California players. The Brewers used to have two teams, splitting up California's top players and in my opinion, they slanted too heavily to more Southern California kids and severely underrepresented Northern California.
Ok, now that we have that out of the way, let's get back to the players. Last year when I covered Area Codes I spent a lot of time on each game, even providing some game recaps and reported the scores. I am not concerned with the scores and will only focus on the very best players I have seen, with an emphasis on the very few 2013 grads who are here. Of course, as it always is at Area Codes, the players will get more and more comfortable with the surroundings each day and the more comfortable they get, the more their talent and skill will come out.
Since the Royals and White Sox was the first game I saw and I have now seen the Royals twice, let's get to their players. I have been drawn to six of their players in particular. Third baseman Carson Kelly (6'1" 197, R/R, Portland, OR) is one of the top hitters here and he has a chance to be a guy who hits for average and power. His bat speed is excellent (turned around 94-95 EASILY today), he is under control and he is able to generate that speed and power with a short, compact, powerful swing. Defensively he has shown a loose, strong, plus arm across the diamond. Kelly also pitches (up to 90 mph today) but he is a hitter, and a very good one.
Two other Royals infielders are doing a lot with the bat and both were here last year. I think when all said and done both Dylan Lavelle (6'2" 185, R/R, Lake Stevens, WA) and Cabe Reiten (6'2" 175, R/R, Spanaway, WA) are likely going to play major college baseball before pro ball but they can both hit and both are good defenders. Neither really runs very well but they sure do know where the barrel of the bat is and both have good hitting approaches. So far in two games Reiten has squared up the ball in almost every at bat and he drives the ball in the middle of the field. For that matter, Lavelle also stays in the middle. They seem to be near carbon copies of each other. Catcher Clint Coulter (6'3" 200, R/R, Camas, WA) was also here last year and he looks good, though he isn't yet having the results with the bat that I would want to see. He has a plus arm, great body, can catch well enough and has the type of bat speed and strength to suggest he will be hitting some home runs in the future and he can do it to all fields. His swing is powerful and pretty short, though his timing can improve.
The only Royals pitcher I have really been attracted was 2013 grad Dustin Driver (RHP, 6'3" 200, Wenatchee, WA). He not only has that prototypical size, but his 88-90 came out easily. His arm is quick and strong and though the fastball is a bit straight, he can spot it. Driver also has a good overhand curveball that is capable of being a strike or strikeout pitch. The White Sox played the Royals when I saw them and I think so far they have had by far the most interesting pitcher, the ambidextrous Ryan Perez (6'0" 180, Hampshire, IL). He not only throws with both hands, he hits from both sides and he is a GOOD pitcher both ways. Perez was in the 86-87 mph range on the right side and he was up to 87 on the left side. Truly amazing! His lefthanded curveball is good and on the right side he gets good fastball angle.
The White Sox pitcher I have liked most so far of the five I saw, was Matt Schultz (RHP, 6'1" 205, East Oswego, IL). He is a big strong pitcher with a strong 3/4 slot arm action and an aggressive approach. He was 88-91 and showed the ability to do different things with his breaking stuff, including a slider'ish pitch, a curveball and what could have been a cutter. There were only couple of White Sox position player I was really into in their game but I will see more of them tomorrow. The player I liked was outfielder Nathan Mikolas (6'2" 200, L/L, Kenosha, WI). He can release the bat head and has hitterish written all over him. The ball comes off his bat well and he looks to have home run type power. The other player I liked was Bralin Jackson (6'0" 178, R/L, Raytown, MO). Jackson looks like he is a flier and he showed me lively hitting hands too. I am looking forward to bearing down on him some more tomorrow.
Of particular note on the White Sox is 2014 grad Drew Ward (6'4" 195, L/R, Leedey, OK). Ward is a strong, physical hitter and though his bat speed is a tick below what I would like to see, he has pretty solid timing and will only improve. He is a good looking shortstop too and plays with nice pace to his game. With that size and smoothness and ability to swing the bat, he will be high on the radar of scouts for years to come.
I know the Athletics team pretty well, as their players are from my area and a number of them have played in an event I run, The Bay Area World Series. The outfielders for the A's are really intriguing, including Braden Bishop (6'1" 180, R/R, San Carlos, CA), B.J. Boyd (5'10" 190, L/L, Palo Alto, CA), Giovanni Brusa (6'3" 195, B/R, Lodi, CA), and Steven Golden (6'3" 180, R/R, San Leandro, CA) are all very talented and all bring something big to the game. Bishop is a good hitter with plus speed and outstanding outfield skills. Boyd has plus plus speed, plus raw power and has explosiveness written all over him. Golden can appear a little raw at times but when he gets his timing down he can show you bat speed, power, speed and electrifying tools. Brusa a big, physical hitter with a chance to hit for power from both sides.
On the mound the A's are also deep and talented. Ben Eckels (RHP, 6'0" 180, Davis, CA) was a steady 87-90 mph and he has a good curveball. Though he is not big, scouts are drawn to his easy arm action and quality, crisp stuff and command. Paul Blackburn (RHP, 6'2" 175, Oakley, CA) has a quick arm and at times dirty stuff. His fastball was up to 91 mph and he has a good curveball. There is more velocity coming for both Blackburn and Eckels. Freddy Avis (RHP, 6'2" 175, Palo Alto, CA) has perhaps the best raw stuff on the staff, up to 92 and at times a fringe average curveball. From one scout I was talking with, he drew a comparison to Jake Peavy. James Marvel, (RHP, 6'3" 185, Moraga, CA) was also good, in the 88-90 range with a hard 76-77 mph curveball. His delivery is a little complicated, based on timing and rhythm but when he is right he has quality stuff.