As many of you StitchHeads out there who have been reading my garb and following me for years know, the Area Code Games is one of my favorite events. It’s no big deal really though, I mean it’s not the College World Series or the Houston College Classic or anything. But it is a bunch of high school All Americans who gather in one place to play five days worth of games for scouts from every MLB team and a whole gaggle of college baseball coaches.
As far as excitement and energy? Meh. Don’t come here to Long Beach, California if you’re looking for white-knuckle baseball played with heart and hustle. These boys are here to display their talent. Sure they may make a diving catch or a remarkable snag at the hot corner or fight off a series of foul balls in a one-on-one battle with the pitcher, but for the most part they’re not living and dying with the outcome of these games.
But don’t worry, displaying their talent is first and foremost on their mind since they are playing in front of the very evaluators that will make them rich some day in our sport. These are the best of the best in high school players for the 2018 season.
I always like to lay out some of the ground rules here in Long Beach for my first Area Code Games column of the week. So here are some things you need to know about the ACG…
1- Eight Teams, Eight Areas Of The Country.
Here are how the players are divvied up for the eight teams this week at Blair Field. And yes, the teams are given a Major League Baseball team name. Not sure why, that’s just how it’s always been…
- Chicago White Sox — Midwest
- Cincinnati Reds — Four corners (Arizona, Colorado, Nevada, Utah) and Hawaii
- Kansas City Royals — Pacific Northwest
- Milwaukee Brewers — Southern California
- New York Yankees — Northeast
- Oakland Athletics — Northern California
- Texas Rangers — Texas and Louisiana
- Washington Nationals — Southeast
2- It’s All Wood
The pro scouts in attendance would not have it any other way. The ACG is an all-wood bat showcase. That’s another reason why seeing a home run hit here at Blair Field is a little bit of a rarity. Even with the fence having been brought in a couple years ago, it still takes this sinewy high schoolers a really good pop to hit one out.
3- College Coaches, Pro Scouts Abound.
Drinking cups and drinking bottles son turn into spit cups and spit bottles due to al the Copenhagen that is being dipped and consumed here in the grandstand. This has got to be the most well-attended gathering of talent and talent evaluators in one place all year. Here is a tweet that the ACG twitter account put out during the day…
4- We’ll Never See Most Of These Guys In College
As you know there are many exceptions to this rule. In fact, guys like Dustin Pedroia (Arizona State), Barry Zito (UCSB/USC), Ryan Howard (Missouri State) and even a first-round pick like Nick Lodolo (TCU) have played here and still showed up to play college ball. But by and large most of these dudes playing in Long Beach this week will be drafted too high next summer and will take the pro money and run. Let’s hope we end up pleasantly surprised though.
5- Take These Commitments With A Sizable Grain of Salt
As this week goes by you’ll see me mention a player and give the college program he is verbally committed to as well. Most of them are pretty solid. But these commitments are provided for us in the game program. And finding information about where these guys are going is pretty scattershot. I have had to dig to find out where some of these guys are verbally committed. So there may be an occasional hiccup here and there on the commitment thing. Don’t burn me at the stake if I get one wrong along the way.
Now, let’s get on to the games and how things looked today at the Area Code Games in Long Beach.
GAME NUMBER ONE
Rangers. – 010 000 0 – 1 4 4
Nationals – 401 000 5 – 10 10 0
This one was pretty simple… mistakes kill.
The Southeast-based Nationals looked dominant from pitch one. Actually, you could probably say that they looked dominant from pitch one to pitch No. 20 or so. The first four batters of the bottom of the first inning reached based, helped by a throwing error and another infield base hit that probably should’ve been ruled another error.
Facing Rangers starter Matt Rudis (TCU commit), Xavier Edwards (Vanderbilt commit) started the rally off with one of the rarities of the ACG; a bunt. His leadoff bunt single was followed by Korey Holland (Texas commit) hitting a Sunday-hop bouncer to Rangers third baseman Hunter Watson, who immediately threw wild to first. Triston Casas (Miami commit) knocked home the first run with a screaming single up the gut, scoring Edwards.
With men on second and third, Kendall Logan Simmons (Georgia Tech commit) then strode to the dish and hit a bouncer to Watson at third. But the hot-cornerman hesitated to keep the runners in place, meanwhile Simmons showed his blazing speed by beating out Watson’s throw. That jammed the bases loaded with no outs. After a strikeout, a groundout scored one run and then Anthony Seigler (Auburn commit) cracked a two-run double to left-center, making it 4-0.
Rudis settled down a bit after that, but two innings later Holland got the Nats on the board again, leading off the inning with a skying double to the track. Two batters later Simmons would send him homeward with an RBI double of his own, making it 5-0. Man alive does Kendall Logan Simmons have some quick hands through the zone, catching up with a low-90s Jonathan Childress fastball.
Meanwhile, on the bump for the Southeast-based Nationals, starter Levi Kelly (LSU commit) would give up a run on three hits with four Ks in his two innings of work. Texas A&M commit Grayson Rodriguez followed him with a pair of three-up, three-down innings, hitting the low 90s with regularity and hitting all his targets around the dish.
But the most impressive arm of the day belonged to the Rangers’ multi-named Simeon Woods-Richardson, who came on in relief in the sixth inning. For the first time in Area Code Games history, Woods threw nine pitches, all strikes, and got a trio of strikeouts to send the Nats down one-two-three. He was also topping out at 93mph and staying stout with a wicked-deceptive 78mph curve ball.
Just to prove it wasn’t a fluke, his next three pitches in the seventh and last inning were another three-pitch punch out. The Ranger reliever would’ve gotten out of the seventh with a second straight three-up, three-down, but a bad error on third baseman Jack Sigrist ruined what should’ve been a scoreless frame. Instead, the Nationals ended up scoring five runs as the flood gates opened. Florida-bound Roberto Pena slapped a two-run single and Angel Tiburcio (FIU commit) smacked an RBI single to add to the Rangers’ misery.
And in case you’re wondering, due to the ACG rules the bottom of the seventh was still played despite the Nationals already owning a 5-1 lead. As you can see from the linescore above, the Nats would add five more runs to make this one even more of a laugher.
GAME NUMBER TWO
White Sox – 000 001 0 – 1 6 1
.Yankees. – 000 100 3- 4 10 1
Game two looked pretty steady for a long while.
The Yankees took a 1-0 lead in the fourth inning and its pitching looked so in-command a comeback seemed unlikely. However, a key blunder led to that 1-0 lead being whisped away, allowing a sixth inning run on a Bad News Bears-like play that saw the White Sox tie the game at 1-1 going into the seventh and final inning. Ever resilient, the Northeast-based Yankees rebounded and salted things away with a three run bottom of the seventh to win their opening game of the ACG.
Starting pitcher Michael Vasil and reliever Alex Havlicek combined on a six-hitter and Yankee leadoff hitter Michael Siani plated a pair of last-inning runs with a two-run double to supply the game-winning runs for the Yanks. Siani, a Virginia commit, ended the game going 3-for-4 with two stolen bases to pace the Yankee offense. He also proved he is indeed a five-tool talent. (I’m hoping against hope I’m sure, but let’s hope he makes it to Charlottesville to play for the Hoos).
In what seemed to be the theme of the day, the Yankees had the game in hand until a sixth inning error by third baseman Jeremiah Jackson allowed the Sox to plate the tying run. But an inning later, the pinstripers would cash in on a hit-batsman, a single and big double down the line by the aforementioned Siani to put the Yanks ahead for good.
Though Havlicek allowed the tying run, he still went a perfect 0.00 ERA for the game, tossing the final two innings. He was masterful in firing his speed ball in the 90-92mph range, hitting 94 at the apex of his power. He was also working an 80mph breaking ball. Vasil gave up just two hits, no runs and went three-up, three-down three times in his five innings of work. He too was hitting 94 at his top speed and sitting at 91-93 most of the time.
That’s strong, man.
GAME NUMBER THREE
Athletics – 5
Reds…. – 6
Didn’t stick around for this one – had a hockey game to play tonight – but apparently Colton Cassinelli (Washington commit) paced the Redleggins’ offense by going 3-for-3 with two walks a double and an RBI. LHP Matthew Liberator (Arizona commit) threw two perfect innings with four punch outs on the mound.
THAT HAVLICEK BOY.
I spent a couple innings talking with Jim Havlicek, the father of Yankees hurler Alex Havlicek who got the win in today’s second game. He told me that Alex was committed to Virginia Tech. But the problem is, he made this commitment during his freshman year of high school. Yes, I didn’t stutter… Freshman freaking year.
When I asked Jim if his son ever wavered in that commitment after making it at such a tender age, “Not really,” he said. “He may have had a few second thoughts when the coaching staff was fired, but after John Szefc came in, he kept his commitment.”
“But if he had to doit over again I would have him do things totally different,” the elder Havlicek said. “Committing to a school before you even go to high school is just ridiculous.”
The older Havlicek also told me that there is a player in the Oakland, New Jersey area where they live, who committed to Duke as an eighth grader. Gah!
It reminds me of my conversation with former Oklahoma head coach Pete Hughes I had back in March where he said, “We are having to recruit kids in their first year of high school. That’s insane. A lot of these kids haven’t even grown into their bodies yet. And if they get to their junior/senior year and they haven’t lived up to our expectations, we have to tell them, ‘Sorry, we no longer have a scholarship for you.’ That’s just the nature of the game these days and I hate it.”
By the way, in case you’re wondering, Jim Havlicek and his son Alex are not related to NBA Hall of Famer John Havlicek.
Although, he should’ve told me that he was. I would’ve believed the bastard.