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September 20, 2013
Area Code Games
The Hitters, Part One
With the playoffs approaching and the cellar-dwelling teams counting the days until 2014, let’s take a look at some high school bats who shined at the Area Code Games last month. Earlier, we looked at the pitchers.
Jeren Kendall, OF, White Sox #1
The eighth game of the tournament was Kendall’s coming out party. To begin the game, he beat out a slow chopper and was clocked at 4.07 to first. He then promptly stole second and third and then scored on a single. The speed was among the best in the tournament, which he showed both on the bases and in the outfield. Kendall’s defining moment was later on defense. With a runner on second, a fly ball was hit to medium-deep center field and he settled under it and fired a laser to third to end the inning. It was a very impressive show of arm strength and raw athleticism. For a kid not used to seeing quality velocity, Kendall held his own, showing good bat-to-ball ability and quick wrists. His bottom half is a little quiet--you can even see that in the batting practice video--but it’s not a huge fix. Whether he ends up at Vanderbilt or takes some big money this summer, coaches will love Kendall’s tools.
Nicholas Shumpert, 2B, White Sox #25
One of the few players at the AC Games who graduates in 2015, Shumpert certainly showed he belonged. The first thing you notice with Shumpert in batting practice is his long pre-swing load and impressive raw bat speed. In the video, he’s dipping his back shoulder and lifting, but it’s hard to ignore how he attacks the ball with authority and despite a smallish frame (6’0-177 lbs.) shows the ability to drive deep into gaps. On defense, he looked very comfortable with balls to his left and right with accurate throws and soft hands. The arm strength was good for 2B as well. Comparisons aren’t always the best tools to use and are often foolish, but Shumpert gives off a Brandon Phillips swagger at second and backs it up with the bat speed and defensive ability.
Jackson Soto, 3B, Royals #10
Soto isn’t a big name player and he was lost in the shuffle of others at the tournament, but his consistent good play caught my eye. Soto’s swing is long and powerful in batting practice, but he does shorten up in games without losing much of his sock. His defensive play at third blew me away, honestly. He was very sure handed and showed off a strong, accurate arm in all the games he played. You don’t see that from players this age much. While not a premier talent, Soto is most definitely a guy to watch going forward.
Luke Dykstra, SS, Brewers #16
The strong and lean shortstop made the Dykstra name proud with a good showing at the AC Games. He showed a quick bat and aggressive approach during game play. His aggressive at-bats led to some bad results, some front-foot swings and lunging, but he has time to figure out his timing. Defensively he looked solid, with good footwork and a solid arm. He should continue to refine his game at short but if he can’t stick, he could be a plus second baseman. With a projectable bat, bloodlines, and an up-the-middle outlook, Dykstra could be selected fairly high in the 2014 draft with a solid spring.
Alex Jackson, C/RF, Brewers #20
One of the top talents in the country, Jackson did nothing but impress throughout the tournament. What sets him apart from the rest is a mature approach; he takes batting practice like a professional, hitting line drives all around the field, rather than dipping his back shoulder for some extra pop. You can also tell he is a confident kid, but not the point of being cocky or arrogant from all the hype around him. Jackson is a big athlete, with strong forearms and a simple, quick swing which generates some exciting raw power. When he connects, the ball launches off his bat with backspin and good carry. With his quiet load and simple swing mechanics, his offensive profile is through the roof. Defensively, I immediately pegged Jackson as a right-fielder playing catcher. This was foolish of me, as Jackson showed off almost elite arm strength behind the plate with a very quick release, frequently posting pop times around 1.9. His footwork and blocking ability were solid and surprised me again. Jackson’s confidence and bravado lead me to believe he can be a leader behind the plate. All of this means that Jackson will very likely be a first-round pick in the 2014 draft, and maybe the first prep player taken, depending on who you talk to. Coaches are going to love him.
D.J. Peters, OF, Brewers #32
One of the tallest kids at the AC Games, Peters’ talent stood out as well. Despite standing six-foot-six, Peters has a relatively direct path to the baseball, which is unlike most hitters with long arms. His easy approach at the plate allows him to get the bat head to the baseball with more consistency and allows his raw power to play more often. The power is his carrying tool, but he does have a solid arm and can cover a good amount of ground in the outfield due to his long stride. Peters is by no means a complete hitter, but his advanced plate approach and solid hitting mechanics lead me to believe he could hit for average long term as well.
Ti’Quan Forbes, INF, Washington #25
When you see this tall and lanky player glide across the infield to make a play at short or third, it almost seems too easy, and you wonder why other players can’t make it look that easy. Forbes is a natural athlete who has done nothing but impress at showcases throughout the country all summer. He’s listed 6’4, 175 lbs. and you can’t help but dream on what he’d look like if he put on 25 pounds of muscle. At the plate, Forbes has a good amount of pre-swing movement but he’s usually able to get back into hitting position. In batting practice he can show some pull-side power and really dips that shoulder to show off a little extra. What surprised me most about Forbes was his ability to square plus velocity and to shoot the ball to the opposite field during game action. Most players haven’t seen 90+ velo’s often, if at all, and he performed well at the AC Games and the PG All-American Classic. Because of his size and projection, I can see Forbes eventually moving to third base full-time. With his tools, the sky is the limit. He could be a monster.
Handsome Monica, C, Washington #25
With a name like that you have to be a good player and Monica showed his talent very well. The stocky catcher showed a strong bat in the cage. He has thick wrists and profiles to have at least average power going forward. Defensively, Monica impressed, posting some solid pop times (around 2.0) and blocking several balls in the dirt. His arm is very strong and if he can’t develop into a catcher then he could certainly find a spot in the outfield. The bat is his strength though, and a team who drafts Monica will hope he develops into a plus hitter while being at least average behind the plate.
Part Two of the Area Code Games Hitters review will be up before long.