Area Code Games showcase baseball's best: Who to watch, why it matters and more

Area Code Games showcase baseball's best: Who to watch, why it matters and more


Area Code Games showcase baseball's best: Who to watch, why it matters and more


Jul 23, 2016; Chicago, IL, U.S.A: American Team starting pitcher Hunter Greene (42) delivers a pitch during the first inning against the National Team at the Under Armour All America Baseball game at Wrigley Field. -- Photo by Caylor Arnold, USA TODAY Sports Images, Gannett ORG XMIT: US 135238 Under Armour 7/23/2016 [Via MerlinFTP Drop]

Hunter Greene at the Under Armour All-America Game (Caylor Arnold, USA TODAY Sports)

The 30th annual Area Code Games get underway Saturday in Southern California, featuring many of the top baseball players from around the nation.

Last summer, Mickey Moniak, Riley Pint, Jason Groome, Alex Kirilloff and Blake Rutherford were among the standout performers. All were selected in the first round of the Major League Baseball Draft in June.

This year’s event includes players such as Hunter Greene, Quentin Holmes, Hans Crouse, Royce Lewis, Mitchell Stone, Jordan Adell among many others.

The event returns to Blair Field in Long Beach, Calif.

“This field has been host to more major leaguers than any field anywhere,” said Joey Mahalic, the tournament director.

Teams are named for major league franchises with each representing an area of the country, and often not the region where the big-league is located.

Eight teams will take part in the upperclass division that runs from Saturday through Wednesday: Washington Nationals (Southeast), Chicago White Sox (Midwest), Oakland Athletics (Northern California), Milwaukee Brewers (Southern California), New York Yankees (Northeast), Cincinnati Reds (Southwest), Kansas City Royals (Northwest) and Texas Rangers (Texas and Louisiana).

Five teams will take part in the underclass division that begins play Wednesday: Nationals, White Sox, Athletics, Brewers and Rangers.

USA TODAY High School Sports spoke with Mahalic about what to expect from this year’s edition of the Area Code Games.

Q: There are a lot of summer baseball events. What separates the Area Code Games from the others?

A: The biggest separator for Area Code Baseball is that it really is a scout-based, no-bias event where it doesn’t matter where you come from, who your dad is, or how much you’re paying to be on a team. The event is completely free to the athlete, chosen by the evaluators who draft these kids and put them on the path to the big leagues. On top of that, you have 500-plus scouts at one event. The purity of the way these teams are formed to make sure we have the best kids attending is what’s different than the other events that take place.

Q: The teams are named for major league franchises. Explain that connection.

A: Each MLB team that represents a region is taking on a lot. They’re handling the invitations, choosing the team, organizing who’s coming and helping coach. The benefit to the team is you get to spend a week with guys you want to draft. You can see how they react when times are going well and when times are hard and you get an intimate look at their attitude. Those are things you can’t get anywhere else.

Q: How are the players divided and what’s been the benefit of adding the underclass division?

A: One division has 250 upperclass players who are juniors about to be seniors and some superstar underclasss kids who will be juniors. The 125 underclass players are anyone from freshman to sophomore who are exceptional players. We’re in our third year with the underclassmen. It’s a new initiative to introduce kids to the Area Code Games without all the bells and whistles in terms of an evaluation, but it’s becoming such an important part of the baseball recruiting and MLB draft prospects scene. Right now, it’s more of a benefit to Division I schools to get an early look at some kids when they haven’t had that opportunity to get that so soon. It’s also a chance to put some potential MLB draft picks on map, to be able to say, ‘In two years, this will be the guy.’

Q: The way the schedule is set up, there is not a winning team. Why?

A: It’s not a tournament per se. It’s more of a showcase with every team getting the same amount of innings. Realistically, we want to put kids in the position to be evaluated. Sometimes to win a game you have to do some things that take away from the evaluation process. You don’t want a guy to have to sacrifice bunt when he only has so many at-bats to improve his draft stock and put himself on the map. There are only so many innings to play and compete. There no championship game yet.

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