LONG BEACH — There was plenty of green-and-gold in Southern California over the weekend.
There was the green-and-gold of the Pacifica American 12-year-old All-Stars, which advanced to the championship game of the Little League West Regional playoffs in San Bernardino. Meanwhile, on the coast in Long Beach, the Area Code Games were a major draw for a barrage of professional scouts.
The weeklong showcase of eight national teams totaling approximately 250 of the nation’s best high school prospects included three San Mateo County players, all of whom donned the green-and-gold of the Oakland Athletics Area Code squad. The trio included Serra leadoff hitter Chris Papapietro and Burlingame slugger Jonathan Engelmann.
It was Menlo-Atherton pitcher Matt McGarry, however, who stole the show Saturday for the A’s, as the right-hander got the starting nod in the showcase finale.
“I thought I did pretty well,” McGarry said. “I threw strikes. I felt pretty good out there. It was nice and easy.”
McGarry dazzled through two innings of work, and punctuated his outing in style. With a runner on first and one out, the hard-throwing prospect bound for Vanderbilt in 2015 bore a tailing fastball on the hands of the final Yankees batter he faced to induce a tailor-made double play; and he even made some travelling music by breaking a bat in the process.
Oakland A’s area scout Jermaine Clark was among the many scouts impressed with McGarry’s performance. Clark — the fourth-year manager of the Area Code A’s — turned to McGarry in the clutch Saturday, after the team’s previously scheduled starter was scratched just hours prior to the game.
“Just how quickly [McGarry] can adjust and come out and throw well in such a big event; not every youngster can not know he’s starting before he gets here, gets to start, and ends up throwing well,” Clark said. “But he’s got good stuff and he’s going to dominate for a long time through his playing career.”
Having been clocked in the mid-90s throughout his summer season for the travel-ball Nor Cal Baseball squad, McGarry was throwing free and easy Saturday. His fastball sat between 87-90 mph while he featured a three-pitch repertoire including a changeup and a curve.
“He has a good future ahead of him,” one National League scout said. “He has a live arm, he has good control and he has pitchability.”
With two weeks remaining for summer break, and many of the players in the Area Code Games wrapping up their summer seasons Saturday, McGarry still has his most prestigious baseball left to go. Later this month in Houston, he will try out for the Team USA 18-and-under squad. He made the initial cut in July and is now among 40 players looking to qualify for the final roster of 28 and make the trip to the Pan American Championships in Cabo San Lucas, Mexico next month.
McGarry has grown accustomed to playing travel ball in previous seasons. This summer has been a whirlwind like no other though.
“I’d been on the road for three weeks, I stayed at home two days and then I came down here,” McGarry said. “We’re going to stay down here a couple days and just enjoy the beach. Then another week and school starts. … I’ve done travel ball before where you go and play. But these are big showcases where you go out and try to show yourself off to the scouts.”
And while McGarry already has already committed to an athletic scholarship at Vanderbilt — the alma mater of current big-league pitchers David Price, Mike Minor and Sonny Gray — he said he will keep his options open next June when the Major League Baseball Draft rolls around.
“It’s going to be a tough decision,” McGarry said.
The A’s have taken an extensive weeklong look at McGarry with Clark at the helm of the Area Code A’s. The green-and-gold is a fitting uniform for McGarry, considering he plays high school baseball at the alma mater of A’s major league manager Bob Melvin.
“I know [McGarry] is a very famous kid from a very prestigious high school and going to Vanderbilt, but I hadn’t seen him throw until our tryout (last month),” Clark said. “He’s loose, he’s agile, and [his fastball] has got good life to it. If we’re not getting a hold of him now, definitely someone is going to get a good arm in three years for sure.”
Engelmann, in having played travel ball with McGarry for three years, has seen the progression of the right-hander’s first three high school seasons.
“Ever since Little League, he’s always been a stud,” Engelmann said. “He’s always been a name. Going through high school, he’s really developed, especially his fastball velocity.”
According to Engelmann, McGarry was throwing in the mid-80s two summers ago entering into his sophomore year of high school. Last summer, he reached 90 mph. This summer, his velocity has made the climb to the 95-mph plateau.
“He’s hard to hit off of, I’ll give you that,” Engelmann said.
Through the A’s five games last week, the team tabbed a 2-2-1 record, dropping their last two. Engelmann did not start the last two games due to a minor thumb ailment. Yet no one took more swings during Saturday’s game than the Burlingame slugger, as he had a bat in his hands nearly the entire game, and stepped onto the field between innings several times to take a barrage of practice cuts.
“I was itching to get out there,” Engelmann said. “[Clark] knew it and said, ‘Hey, I’ll get you an at-bat.’”
Engelmann struck out in his lone pinch-hitting appearance in the ninth inning. Yet Clark’s evaluation of Engelmann’s skill-set included raves about the 6-4 outfielder’s other baseball tools.
“He can run like the wind. He can throw well. He’s very good instinctually,” Clark said. “The bat has always been in question, from what I’ve been told. He really showed some mature at-bats and squared some balls up early (in the Area Code Games). I think he was already on the map, but I think he really solidified putting himself on the map here. There’s no question. The way he carries himself off the field, just the jovial personality and the mature … grounded kid.”
Papapietro started two games for the A’s, going 2 for 8 at the plate overall. Entering as a late-inning substitute in right field Saturday, he struck out in his lone at-bat.
On the verge of his senior season at Serra, Papapietro described playing in the Area Code Games as exciting.
“Really exciting,” he said. “A lot of good competition — the best 250 players in the country — it was just crazy how we were treated by New Balance and everything. We were treated like big leaguers.”