Kris Bryant was the second overall pick by the Chicago Cubs in last month’s MLB Draft. But before the reported $6.7 million signing bonus, and before he became one of college baseball’s most feared hitters during his 31 home run campaign of 2013, Bryant cut his teeth at the California Collegiate League – a summer league for college baseball players.
Bryant played in the league the summer before his freshman season at the University of San Diego. Even then, flashes of what type of prospect he could be were seen.
“Kris Bryant was a good high school player and he was a good youth ball player, but in college is where you start to become a man,” CCL Commissioner Pat Burns said. “You saw the athletic ability especially. He was already tall. He was already looking like Troy Glaus. He just needed some seasoning. He was drafted out of high school but nowhere near as high as he was when he had the season he had this year.”
The CCL, in its 21st year of play, is putting on its fifth All-Star Game on Wednesday at 7 p.m. at the MLB Urban Youth Academy in Compton. Tickets are free to members of the academy, $10 for adults, and $3 for kids.
There has been plenty of great talent to participate in the CCL All-Star Game over the years. Burns, in his 13th season as commissioner of the league, has some fond All-Star moments.
Kevin Gausman was the fourth overall pick by the Baltimore Orioles in 2012. He got the start in the 2010 CCL All-Star Game while he was still at LSU and put on quite a show. Gausman struck out the side in the second inning, and 15 of the 16 pitches he threw were for strikes.
“(He) was pitching at 96 and 97 (miles per hour) and it just kind of woke everybody up and said ‘Here we go!'” Burns recalls. “It’s really impressive when you get a guy like that on the mound. He only pitches for an inning, maybe two if he’s the starter. So, it goes fast. It’s like lightning. It’s real exciting.”
Gausman and others had the liberty of performing in front of Major League scouts. Burns estimates 30-40 MLB scouts to be in attendance on Wednesday, including representatives from all 30 Major League teams.
The game will be preceded by a pregame workout for the scouts by all 60 of the CCL All-Stars, giving this group of chance to be the next in line to follow the footsteps of Bryant or Gausman.
One of the top prospects in this year’s game is Bryant’s former teammate at USD, outfielder Louie Lechich.
“He has the look of a guy that’s going to go pretty far in baseball,” Burns said of Lechich, who’s hitting .333 this summer for the Santa Barbara Foresters of the CCL. “As far as our position players, he’d probably be our No. 1.”
Other players to watch include Nebraska junior outfielder Michael Pritchard and Tennessee freshman Drake Owenby (0.93 ERA), who are teammates on the San Luis Obispo Blues. Pritchard is second in the league in hitting with a .375 batting average. He’s also in the top-10 in the league in doubles (fifth), RBI (seventh), and stolen bases (seventh). Owenby is tied for the league lead with five saves.
Another pitcher to keep an eye on is Patrick Weigel (1.80 ERA), a sophomore at Pacific, who is also a member of the Santa Barbara Foresters.
“It’s fun for our players,” Burns added . “They gear up big time for this event.
“Guys who play sports know that you get an adrenaline rush when you get into a big situation. Either it’s a big game or you’re on TV or you’re playing in front of a bunch of people and that’s really a feeling that you can’t manufacture on your own. When these guys get in front of scouts or they get on TV, it’s really, really enjoyable for them and we’d like to think that that’s important to what we do.”