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A Baseball Scout's Dream

Two dozen evaluators watch pitcher Alex Merricks of Oxnard face Camarillo slugger Delmon Young.

April 24, 2002|BEN BOLCH | TIMES STAFF WRITER

The chatty horde of baseball scouts that descended upon Oxnard High on Tuesday turned quiet in the top of the first inning when Camarillo's No. 3 batter strode to the plate.

Almost in unison, the two dozen scouts lifted their radar guns to record the speed of the first pitch. The fastball crossed the plate a few inches below the strike zone, making an unmistakable "pop" as it struck the catcher's glove.

The scouts checked their guns: 93 mph.

It was this display of pitching power, the scouts said, that drew them to this Pacific View League matchup between front-runner Camarillo and second-place Oxnard. The scouts said they had come to watch Oxnard left-hander Alex Merricks, a 6-foot senior who has signed with Arizona State and could go in the top rounds of the amateur baseball draft in June.

In reality, the event was a two-for-one special.

Hitting third and playing center field for Camarillo was Delmon Young, a fleet 6-3 power hitter considered by some as the Barry Bonds of high school baseball. Young might have been the top player selected in the upcoming draft--if it wasn't for the fact that he is a junior.

"If you polled all the scouts here, I think that would be the consensus," said Craig Wallenbrock, a former major league scout who works as a hitting instructor. "He's putting up numbers that are unheard of."

Coming into Tuesday's game, Young had a .608 average in 79 at-bats, with 14 home runs and 48 runs batted in.

Merricks insisted he would pitch to Young as if he were facing any other batter.

He followed his low fastball with a 94-mph pitch outside. Faced with a 2-and-0 count, Merricks threw the next pitch over the plate. Young responded by smacking a 93-mph fastball past a diving second baseman and into center field.

It was the only hit Young would collect on the day in three at bats, dropping his average to .598. Merricks (3-3) also had an unremarkable game, giving up six runs, three earned, while striking out seven and walking four over five innings in an 8-2 loss that left Oxnard (8-12-1) three games behind Camarillo (20-3) in league play.

"I don't really pay attention to individual stats," the reserved Young said. "As long as we're winning, it really doesn't matter."

Most of the scouts departed after Merricks left in the fifth, but by then Merricks and Young had given them a couple of gems to consider. Merricks' highlight came in the fifth inning, when he struck out Young on a nasty curveball. He also hit Young with a pitch.

"Maybe I could have thrown some more strikes today, but overall I felt good," said Merricks, who has 68 strikeouts in 43 innings.

Young's best play came in the field. After Oxnard's Gabe Aguilar stroked a line drive to right-center field, he made the mistake of testing Young's arm by trying to stretch the double into a triple. Young, who fielded the ball just after Aguilar rounded second, threw a bullet to shortstop Brad Boyer, whose throw to third beat Aquilar by several feet.

Merricks and Young both have propedigrees. Merricks has two cousins playing in the minor leagues, while Young's brother, Dmitri, plays first base for the Detroit Tigers and is a lifetime .297 hitter in five full seasons.

"Delmon has much more raw power than Dmitri had at the same age," Wallenbrock said. "I think Del is ahead of Dmitri for the same point in time."

Merricks almost missed the opportunity to face Young this season after transferring to Moorpark in the fall. Merricks attributed the move to miscommunication with Oxnard coaches over his starts as a junior.

But Merricks became athletically ineligible after the Southern Section denied his petition for a hardship waiver, prompting him to re-enroll at Oxnard.

Camarillo Coach Scott Cline, who watched Young shatter several of his school hitting records, is ecstatic that his star will return for another year.

"I haven't seen a kid have a year like he's having right now," Cline said. "He's going to break every record there is--if he gets pitches to hit."

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