Since Tuesday, the ABCL Top 20 Championships have been taking place at various fields in Southern California. The event features some of the top summer teams in the West and several players have stood out. All-Americans Showcase, a scouting partner of Baseball America, filed the following report.
By Blaine Clemmens
SAN BERNARDINO—The Final Four of the ABCL Top 20 Championships are set. At 10 a.m. Sunday morning Mountain West Baseball will play SoCal Elite and the following game will be between the ABD Bulldogs 2012 and Hawaii Warriors Green.
Saturday morning's game at Littleton Field was a tight game, eventually won 2-1 by the SoCal Bombers over ABD Bulldogs 2013. Both starting pitchers were very good and both have futures in college baseball. ABD lefthander Chris Kohler (2013, Los Osos HS, Rancho Cucamonga, Calif.) went eight innings, striking out 11 and gave up only one hit. Unfortunately, he did walk five and hit three batters. Kohler has a classic lefty arm action and projectable body. His fastball was in the 84-87 mph range, with a nice tight 69-71 mph curveball and promising changeup. As a 2013 grad, Kohler looks like a sure bet to be one of the more heavily recruited lefties on the West Coast.
The Bombers starter, righthander Tyler Gatica (2013, Norco, Calif. HS) was matching Kohler pitch for pitch. He got the win, going 6 2/3 innings, giving up three hits, one earned run, five strikeouts, one walk and a hit batter. Gatica was steadily 84-85, touching 86 and he kept the ball down. He has a fair amount of deception because the ABD Bulldogs 2013 were not picking up the ball out of his hand. His breaking ball was decent and he was mixing in a third pitch, which was either a firm change-up or a cutter he was working on. More than anything, Gatica was impressive due to his level of competitiveness and mound presence.
In the afternoon, the Hawaii Warriors Green beat the NC Bulldogs 1-0 in a nail-biting affair. Hawaii pitcher Pookela Benanua (2012, Kamehameha HS, Hilo, HI) went the distance, throwing a shutout while giving up only five hits, striking out seven and walking none. He faced only four over the minimum and though he is not a hard thrower, he is a strike thrower with pitchability. In fact, his top fastball came in the ninth inning. He was changing the shape of his curveball and working both sides of the plate. That win sent Hawaii Green into a showdown with Hawaii Warriors White, a game they went on to win 15-5, which sent them into the semi-finals.
An evening game started a bit late but it finished in under two hours due to the outstanding pitching of Mountain West righthander Tyler Hamilton (2012, Timpanogas HS, Orem, Utah) and lefthander Bernardo Flores (2013, Baldwin Park, Calif., HS). Hamilton went the full nine innings and gave up only two hits in the 4-0 Mountain West win. Flores went 6 1/3 innings and gave up only two hits. Flores touched 85 and showed some feel of the changeup. He does need to improve his breaking ball but has a chance to be a very successful lefthander. Hamilton showed command of the zone and used his three pitch mix well.
The Mountain West team, while not being the most physical team with the bat, is certainly a very sound fundamental team, particularly on defense. Their players up the middle catch the ball and throw it accurately and their pitchers fill up the zone. Shortstop Austin Ovard (2012, Snow Canyon HS, St. George, Utah), second baseman Jake Witkowski (2012, Stansbury HS, Stansbury Park, Utah) and outfielder Hayden Udy (2012, Northridge HS, Layton, Utah) all made play after play and essentially gave the SoCal Bombers 2013 team no margin for error.
The late game at Arrowhead featured the ABD Bulldogs 2012 team and they handled the Naa'taanii Warriors 11-2. The ABD hitters were impressive, particularly shortstop Tanner Rahier (2012, Palm Desert HS, Palm Desert, Calif.). He had three hits and played flawless defense. Rahier is a physical infielder with a strong arm and squared the ball up consistently. The ball really jumps off his bat well. He lacks the outstanding run tool but runs well enough.
The one player likely to be considered the top prospect in that last game was ABD righthander Kieran Lovegrove. He was in the 88-89 range, touching 91 and though he struggled to throw consistent strikes with the fastball, he had no trouble with his filthy slider. It's 78-80 mph and the finishising action of that pitch is outstanding. It is a legitimate swing and miss pitch. At 6-foot-2, 175 pounds, there is still some projection with his build and as he gains more strength, when considering his fast arm, his stuff should take a big step forward.
Here are some others notes from previous days:
• In one of the stronger performances on Wednesday, 2012 lefthander Jayson Balades (Oxnard, Calif, HS) of the ABD Bulldogs 2012 team threw a two-hitter and it took him only 64 pitches. He was steady in the 84-85 range which doesn't light up guns but he can pitch. Balades is a touch-and-feel kind of pitcher and when going well he can really carve a team up. He is committed to Pepperdine and should be an outstanding college pitcher.
• One of Thursday's most outstanding pitching performances was was turned in by 2012 righthander Michael Collins (Damien HS, La Verne, Calif.) of the ABD Boxers. He threw a complete game shutout against the NC Bulldogs and was getting a ton of ground balls throughout the game. He topped out at 86 mph and with a sturdy frame and clean arm action, he should continue to develop into a nice college-level pitcher. He is 6-foot-3, 212 pounds.
• The hitting star for the Boxers was 2012 first baseman Anthony Fernandez (Mission Hills HS, San Marcos, Calif.). Fernandez, with a smooth and strong lefthanded stroke, went 2-for-3 with a double, run scored and two RBIs. The best player in the game was 2012 infielder Joe Munoz (Los Altos, Calif. HS). Munoz was brilliant in the field, showed off a strong arm from a couple of positions and went 1-for-3 with a double and a couple of runs scored. He has the look of a Division I middle infielder.
In a late game, between O'Keiki Warriors and Team California Underclass, a couple of good-looking 2014 grads emerged. Shortstop Jordan Pearse (El Camino HS, Oceanside, Calif.) is a long and lean lefthanded hitter who has a short stroke, moves well on the bases, displayed feel for the game and gets rid of the ball quickly.
• Outfielder Raymond Pedrina (2013, Kamehameha HS, Kapolei, HI) was selected for the USA 16U trials and at the Top 20 tournament has continued his strong play. He is not an overly physical player but plays much bigger than his 5'8" 160 lb size would suggest. Not only can Pedrina run a bit, can hit, throws well and showed the ability to perform in the clutch, he also plays HARD. Offensively he had an 0-3 day (R, 2 SB) and shockingly grounded into two double plays. Not a great day, right? In the bottom of the 7th inning he threw out a runner at the plate with a one hop strike to preserve the 2-1 Hawaii lead. Pedrina really closes well on the ball and gets rid of it quickly. Good player and he came up big when his team needed it the most. His teammate, righthander Trey Saito (2013, Mid Pacific Institute, Honolulu) deserves mention for his complete game effort, allowing only five hits and one run.
• 2012 third baseman Daniel Robertson (Upland, Calif., HS) is similar to Rahier in many regards. He has a pro type body, showed off a strong arm and the ability to get the barrel through the ball, with good projectable raw power. Robertson is an athlete in the field and has some flash to his defensive game that will have to be refined a bit to allow him to be an above-average defender. He has loose, strong hands and wrists at the plate.
• Three other ABD Bulldogs stood out in outfielder Devin Carter (2012, Temecula Valley HS, Temecula, Calif.), catcher Collin Yelich (2012, Westlake HS, Westlake Village, Calif.), and first baseman R.J. Ybarra (2012, Poly HS, Riverside, Calif.). Carter is a good, young hitter, with the ability to drive the ball to all parts of the park and he looks like he will be able to hit for average. Yelich is a lefthanded hitter with a compact stroke and good barrel awareness. He also has a strong and accurate arm. As for Ybarra, it is all about the bat. He is a big, physical righthanded hitter, the type of hitter who can miss the barrel and still muscle balls into the outfield.