LONG BEACH, Calif. — The 2015 amateur draft is 10 months away, but this week's Area Code Games marks one of the biggest events for the Cubs and the other 29 major league teams.
"It's one of our Super Bowls for scouting as far as getting the best players in the same spot," Matt Dorey, the Cubs' director of amateur scouting, said Monday morning shortly before the six-day event started at Blair Field.
The Cubs, who are destined to have one of the top picks in the 2015 draft, dispatched 12 area scouts, three cross-checker scouts and assistant scouting director Lukas McKnight to evaluate 208 of the top high school players in the nation.
It's no guarantee the Cubs' first pick next June will come from this event. But the volume of prospects from every region of the nation provides the evaluators with plenty of short-term and long-term benefits.
"One of the best parts of this event is we get to see the northern climate kids down here, and their high school season is a lot shorter," Dorey said. "Sometimes it's 20 games. With weather and travel limitations, sometimes we can get in there only a couple times. So this event and these events, in general, hold a ton of weight for our evaluation entering the spring."
Dorey pointed to All-Star outfielder Mike Trout, a New Jersey native who soared to immediate success with the Angels after being selected in the first round out of high school, as a player who benefited from playing in the Area Code Games.
The Cubs didn't shy away from pitcher Paul Blackburn at the 2011 Area Code Games when he threw in the mid-80-mph range. Blackburn was a supplemental first-round pick the following June and currently has an 8-4 record and 3.19 ERA at Class A Kane County while adding 40 pounds to his 6-foot-2 frame.
"He was a guy we looked at with good arm action, a good athlete with a clean delivery and advanced pitchability," Dorey recalled.
Because several of the participating players have given verbal commitments to colleges, the Area Code Games has evolved more into a full showcase for pro scouts, starting with Monday morning's batting practice session where every position player is announced before stepping into the batting cage with as many as seven video cameras taping each session.
Eight teams will play five games each, giving scouts a respectable sample size as part of their evaluation process.
"It gives us an opportunity to evaluate the better talent in the country versus talent," Dorey said. "That's hard to do for the high school players. This environment gives an opportunity to watch these guys play on back-to-back days against the best talent in the country. It's a good sign leading into the spring about who are the upper echelon/best players in the country."
The Cubs' homework on Kris Bryant, their top pick in 2013, went as far back as the 2009 Area Code Games before Bryant's senior year of high school.
August represents an important month in terms of preparation and evaluation for the 2015 draft, starting with the East Coast Pro Showcase in Syracuse last week and continuing Sunday with the Perfect Game All-American Classic in San Diego and concluding with the Under Armour All-America Game on Aug. 16 at Wrigley Field.
"We get to see them make adjustments, and the very good players have the ability to make adjustments," Dorey said.