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Urban Youth Academy game showcases prospects
02/11/2008 10:00 AM ET
COMPTON, Calif. -- After bunting the first two pitches, Cutter Dykstra set himself in the box, preparing to take his first batting practice swing in Sunday's second-annual Urban Youth Academy Draft Showcase. Wasting no time in unofficially ushering in the 2008 draft season and announcing that Southern California will again be a hotspot of activity, Lenny's son ripped the first pitch over the left field wall.

For the following six hours, approximately 150 sets of trained eyes -- those of scouts, crosscheckers and scouting directors -- followed this group of 56 high schoolers in the draft class of 2008 (as well as two candidates for future drafts) through batting practice, a 60-yard dash and a controlled game, all under a pristine blue sky and equally perfect temperatures.

"This sure beats the 20 inches of snow we have back in Milwaukee," said Jack Zduriencik, the Brewers' vice president and special assistant to the general manager for player personnel. "In all seriousness, this is a great event and a great facility. This is one-stop shopping for us. It's not a complete look, but it certainly gives us the opportunity to see how these kids look. It's a great way to kick off the season."

Last year's February event, run -- as this year's version was -- by the Major League Scouting Bureau, was a huge success and drew scouts from everywhere. It came the day after the first weekend of the college baseball season and was thus timed perfectly. There was some concern that turnout wouldn't be as strong this year because the NCAA had pushed the college season back to the end of February. Those fears were allayed when the scouting community once again arrived in droves, even despite a late decision to postpone the Feb. 4 event to Sunday, Feb. 10, because of inclement weather.

The Youth Academy is quickly becoming a must-stop for scouts early in the draft season. If last year's event put it on the map, December's Jesse Flores Memorial All-Star Game, run by Southern California scouts, helped etch it stone. Sunday's event likely stamped it permanently on the draft landscape.

"We're thrilled to have this event again here at the Urban Youth Academy," said Major League Scouting Bureau director Frank Marcos. "We want to give these kids the opportunity to face top competition at a top-notch facility."

At last year's event, scouts got to see future first-round picks such as Josh Vitters and Matt Dominguez. They also got to see a junior outfielder with tools to spare, an Academy product named Aaron Hicks. He opened a lot of eyes last year and was excited to be back in his unofficial backyard to perform in front of scouts again.

"Last year definitely put me on the map," said Hicks, an outfielder with a ton of upside. "This year, I'm really excited to play with my class."

Hicks ran his 60 yards in 6.6 seconds, good for second best along with Tyler Chatwood. It was bested by another Academy product, Anthony Gose, who clocked in at 6.5 seconds.

The game itself was a mixed bag. The controlled format saw each team send eight batters to the plate per inning, with a pitching change made every four batters. While that put everyone on the same plane, it hindered the flow of the game and some pitchers appeared to be trying to do too much to impress scouts. Still, being able to see this many elite players on one field at one time made it easy to forgive any minor flaws.

The format certainly didn't bother catcher Kyle Skipworth. Though no such award was given, he was clearly the MVP of the event and was easily the best player on the field on Sunday. To say Skipworth was looking forward to this opportunity would be an understatement. He was at the December event, but was unable to participate in the action because of an injury. He's 100 percent now and was champing at the bit to perform.

"I couldn't sleep last night waiting for this morning to come," Skipworth admitted before the day's activities got underway.

He didn't waste much time in showing why he's been rated as one of the top draft prospects in 2008. He had what many thought was the best and most consistent BP session, making hard contact and seemingly bashing line drives with every swing. Then, in his first at-bat, the left-handed hitter hit a three-run opposite-field home run.

He made his presence felt in the field as well. Skipworth threw out three base-runners trying to steal during his time behind the plate, showing off plus arm strength and helping put to rest questions about his ability to stay behind the plate. For Skipworth, and the other participants, this wasn't only a chance to show how they stack up against Southern California's best, it was a terrific springboard to the high school seasons which are now cranking into full gear.

"I'm feeling pretty good about how I played," said Skipworth, who will have his first full practice of the season with his Patriot High School team on Monday. "There are some things I wish I could've changed, but overall I'm pleased.

"It felt great to play, especially going into our high school season. I was able to work some kinks out and to play against the best is great for my confidence heading into the year."

This story was not subject to the approval of the National Association of Professional Baseball Leagues or its clubs.