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September 5, 2013

Area Code Games

The Pitchers

by Chris Rodriguez

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The Area Code Games are the premier event of the summer for amateur players looking to boost their draft stock before heading into the long winter. Hundreds of scouts and coaches from big league organizations, colleges, and scouting sites descend upon Long Beach for six long days of baseball.

The first day started with a five-hour batting practice, with every player taking swings. Games begin in the afternoon of the first day and continue throughout. I headed to Long Beach with Nick J. Faleris to film the event. Here are reports (with video) on pitchers who caught my eye.

LHP/OF Alex Verdugo, Reds, #10.

Verdugo impressed throughout the games, both on the mound and at the plate. He featured a fastball that sat 90- 92 and touched 93 with good arm-side life. The arm strength was evident but there was plenty of effort in his delivery. He was able to spin his curveball well and get nice vertical drop with it. Verdugo might have more upside in the outfield, though, with solid tools across the board. The arm is obviously plus, and he pairs that with good outfield defense and above-average speed. During batting practice, he rocketed balls into the gaps and sold out for a little more pull-side power. He was dipping his back shoulder and trying to lift, but he did hit a couple balls off the wall and one that cleared, no easy feat with the wind blowing in hard. In game action, Verdugo showed off natural hitting ability with several balls hit hard in the gaps, including a triple.

Verdugo has tools and a feel for the game, but he lacks size, as he is listed 6’0” and 195 lbs. Some are torn on where he will end up on the diamond. From what I saw, he has greater upside in the outfield and could be a good LF/CF candidate. If he can add some strength, I could see RF as an option, too. Verdugo has gobs of talent and it will be interesting to see where he goes in the 2014 draft.

(Here's video of him hitting, from Ronit Shah.)

LHP Kodi Medeiros, Reds #13

Scouts next to me were buzzing during Medeiros’ entire appearance, making audible oohs and aahs after what seemed like every pitch. Medeiros is not a huge player, standing just six feet, but his stuff is big and his deception is, too. Instead of a traditional three-quarters arm slot, he drops down to almost a completely side-arm slot. His delivery is reminiscent of Madison Bumgarner’s. Not only does this delivery give the appearance that the ball is coming from the second baseman, it also gives his slider some ridiculous movement. The movement was so intense that the umpires had trouble calling it for strikes because of the late life. His 76-79 mph slider is his best pitch at the moment, but he does need some refinement with command, like most amateurs his age. His fastball was clocked at 90-91, touching 92 in the Area Codes, and it ticked up to 94 mph at the PG All-American Classic a week later. Because of the unconventional delivery and his smallish size, many scouts question whether he will just be a reliever long term. Regardless, his arm strength, movement, and deception all give him first-round talent for 2014.

LHP Brady Aiken, Brewers #29

Contrary to Medeiros, Brady Aiken is a prototype of a left-handed pitcher, with long levers and an easy, smooth three-quarters arm slot. Immediately, you see the good size and athleticism and it’s no surprise he has some good tools in the outfield as well. His future is on the mound. His fastball has some nice sink anywhere from 87-90 mph and he wasn’t afraid to go inside to both righties and lefties. (It ticked up a bit to 92 mph at the PG All-American Classic.) The curveball was a tight spinning weapon he was able to bury to get swings and misses, and it sat 74-75 mph. His changeup was my favorite weapon; it simply died before it got the plate and had some good arm-side fade at around 82 mph. The change could be a real weapon, thrown with great arm speed to both righties and lefties. His three-pitch mix kept a lot of the batters off balance and lead to some weak contact. Aiken could be one of the top prep pitchers taken in the 2014 draft.

RHP Touki Toussaint, Washington #19

My favorite arm at the Area Code Games. Toussaint showed amazing athleticism and arm speed. He’s a solid 6’2” and 195, but bears down the mound like someone 4 or 5 inches taller. He really drives and extends towards the hitter, something you can’t teach. Pair that extension with elite arm speed and a fastball that touched 95, and you have a pitcher with serious upside. That’s what you have to talk about when you mention Toussaint, upside. He’s still learning how to pitch, as he picked up a baseball for the first time just a couple of years ago. His feel for pitching isn’t there yet and he has some problems with his release point and control of all of his pitches. The curveball will flash plus, thrown around 73 mph with optimal depth and break when thrown correctly. He also mixed in a cut/change hybrid that had some good darting action to his glove side. Toussaint still has a lot of work to do to realize his potential, but I’d bet any team would love to work with this arm. It could be special.

RHP Tyler Kolek, Rangers #31

Immediately, you see the huge size of Kolek, who stands a listed 6’5” and 245 lbs. With that huge size comes a huge arm, as he touched 96 mph at the Area Code Games and then hit 99 at the Perfect Game All-American Classic. The fastball is a big time pitch and he pairs it with a projectable breaking ball thrown at 77-80 mph. The pitch had some bite but it’s not a plus pitch at the moment. The arm speed is good, though, and I have a tough time believing he won’t develop the pitch into a solid major-league offering in the future. Kolek does need to work on his command and control, and because of the body I am worried he’ll only get bigger. Hopefully his body can be a positive for him and he can use it to log a lot of innings. It’s tough to pass up that arm strength, so with a healthy spring Kolek should be looking for a high first-round call.

RHP Luis Ortiz, A’s #27

With prototypical size and a two-seam fastball that sat 90-93 and touched 95, Ortiz was able to get a lot of swings and misses. The 6’3”, 220 lb. Ortiz has a good delivery and used it very well. His back leg collapses a little bit, but he really pushes off the rubber and uses his whole body to achieve his velocity. He was able to stay in control of his body and looked very comfortable on the mound. The ball comes out of his hand free and easy, which leads me to believe he could add some more velocity down the road. Ortiz featured a quick darting slider as his primary secondary pitch, sitting 82-83 with a bunch of late life. The pitch has bat-missing potential and already shows flashes. Depending on his spring performance, Ortiz can shoot up the draft boards powered by a solid two-pitch mix.

Chris Rodriguez is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
Click here to see Chris's other articles. You can contact Chris by clicking here

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