The Area Code Games don’t get the same kind of hubbub as some of the other high school showcase events, but it’s one that is heavily anticipated by scouts as they flock to Long Beach for a week of upper-echelon prep prospects squaring off against each other.
“It’s my favorite tournament,” an AL scouting director told me. “You just don’t get a chance to see first round picks on the same field for multiple days very often, and you see that every year here. The regular season means more, but an awful lot of money can be made during tournaments like this.”
Unfortunately, due to extenuating circumstances I didn’t get to see as much of Blair Field as I wanted to this week. Fortunately, scouts seem to enjoy telling me things, so I was able to talk to a few about the most intriguing stuff they saw over the week.
Riley Pint might be a legit 1.1 candidate: In the history of the current iteration of the draft, there has never been a prep right-handed pitcher that has gone first overall. If Riley Pint (St. Thomas Aquinas HS; Overland Park, KS) shows the same stuff he did last week in Long Beach, he’s got a great chance of doing just that.
“[Pint was] electric,” an NL Central scout said. “I had him at 98 mph on his first couple of pitches, and you can easily see that becoming an 80 fastball because of his arm strength. The slider was filthy at times, too with hard bite. If he can throw that pitch for a strike, he’s going to miss a ton of bats. The change was a step behind those pitches but there were a couple of nasty ones; 87-88 mph with late fade that will make left-handers look foolish that are sitting on the heater. The delivery is pretty clean, and I was impressed with his feel for pitching. He’s got a chance to be a really special arm.”
Pint will face inferior competition all season, so showing legitimate top of the rotation stuff this summer was important, and if he stays healthy, he appears to be a lock for the top half of the first round – assuming his LSU commitment doesn’t keep him in school.
Jason Groome isn’t far behind: Groome (Barnegat HS, New Jersey) dominated at the East Coast Showcase earlier this summer, so expectations were quite high for the southpaw, and some I spoke with believed he belonged at or near the top of the preseason rankings, as silly as rankings may be 11 months from the draft.
The version we saw on day two was good, but wasn’t that of a potential first overall pick. Groome was 89-92 most of the day – topping out at 96 – with some sink, and he also showed an above-average curveball with good shape and 1-to-7 break. The command was below-average though, and while the velocity difference can be attributed to a number of things, it’s something that scouts will have to keep an eye on this spring.
Blake Rutherford might be the best bat in the class: Scouts have been on high on Rutherford (Chaminade College Prep, California) for some time, and he was impressive again this week both with the bat and glove.
“He just squares up so well,” the scout said. “The bat speed is above-average and he’s a really good athlete, but the feel for hitting is the selling point here. I wouldn’t call the hit tool plus-plus, but if you wanted to throw a future 60 or 65 on it I wouldn’t call you crazy. There’s some power coming too, and I think he’s going to be able to stay in center field. You add all that up and you got a guy who has a chance to hit at the top of an order and be very, very valuable for a long time.”
Assuming a team believes Rutherford can play centerfield, he’s a strong favorite to be the first prep bat to go come June, and there’s a nonzero chance he’s the first bat taken, though there are a plethora of college bats that will challenge for that spot.
The pitching is ahead of the hitting: There were plenty of impressive arms on display over the course of the tournament, and the quality and quantity of the bats didn’t quite match up with the hurlers.
“Overall, it was a pretty uninspiring group. Rutherford is a stud, but the best of the rest were guys that I feel more comfortable giving a 45 OFP, at best right now. I liked what I saw from (Bellingham, Wash. HS third baseman) [Austin] Shenton; he hit the ball hard all week and I think there’s a chance for above-average power from the [left] side. Ulysses Cantu (Boswell HS, Texas) might have two 55 tools, but I have no idea where he’s going to play defensively. I also liked Avery Tuck [Steele Canyon HS, California], there’s big power potential from the left side there and he should be a very good corner outfielder.
These are nice players, but I would have liked to have seen a little more depth offensively.”
There’s a long way to go: Because there’s a long way to go. As important as these tournaments are – especially for those who play in small towns and/or areas that aren’t as well-known for producing quality players (and yes, that does matter) – the regular season means much more. If the draft season is a prix fixe meal, consider this the appetizer.
Thank you for reading
This is a free article. If you enjoyed it, consider subscribing to Baseball Prospectus. Subscriptions support ongoing public baseball research and analysis in an increasingly proprietary environment.Subscribe now