In Festival of talent, Arundel's Young is pretty good, too


LOS ANGELES -- A major-league scout shook his head after watching Scott Young line out to the opposite field in his first bat at-bat. "He just not very strong," the scout said, swiftly dismissing the pride of Arundel High.

The scout was right: Young isn't very strong, and he isn't very fast, and he doesn't have a great arm. But try convincing the 5-foot-9, 155-pound middle infielder he hasn't already had a successful baseball career.

Young, 18, played for an American Legion national champion last season, and a state 4A champion this year. Now he's one of 64 players in the Olympic Festival, with the chance of being selected for the USA Junior Team for players 18 and under.

It's a heady time for the Crofton resident, scouts be damned. The Orioles' Bob Milacki played in the Festival. So did Mark Langston, Orel Hershiser and Will Clark. Yet, this isn't simply a showcase for the pros. As Young said, "Just being one of the 64 is great."

"This is really a big deal for high school baseball players," said Arundel coach Bernie Walter, who helped select the East players and twice coached the USA Junior Team. "There are 14,000 high schools in this country. And every high school gets a nominating form."

Considering the sheer joy of reaching this plateau, perhaps it was fitting the scouts couldn't get honest readings from their radar guns yesterday, creating too much interference as they all pointed their precious instruments toward home plate.

The evaluation of amateur baseball talent is a cold-hearted science, from the stopwatches to the radar readings to the snap judgments. In the rush to assess major-league potential, scouts reject players of limited physical ability, players like Young.

He wasn't drafted out of high school, and he might not be drafted out of North Carolina-Greensboro either. All of that's fine. Of the thousands of 18-year-olds who grew up playing the national pastime, he's still one of the very best.

Through two days of Festival play at USC, the switch-hitting Young is 4-for-11 with four runs scored, two RBIs and one error at second base. According to coach Jack Hodges, he stands a "good chance" of making the USA Junior Team.

Eighteen of these players will advance, and 15 of them were drafted. Young is competing against all of the other middle infielders, including his double-play partner with the East, Juan Johnson of Waldorf, San Francisco's 34th-round pick.

The selection process gets complicated, for the edge often goes to position players who can pitch. But if Young survives Friday's cut, he'll fly to Sioux Falls, S.D., for five days of training leading to the World Junior Tournament in Brandon, Manitoba.

"I want to make that team," said Young, who batted .404 with 34 stolen bases and 30 RBIs as Arundel's leadoff hitter last season. "I'm busting my hump trying to impress everyone. There are a couple of other guys who are real good. But I think I'm just as good or better than most of them."

National team or not, he'll still be the starting shortstop at UNC-Greensboro next season. The school started playing baseball only last year, but it presents the perfect opportunity for Young, who had interest but no offers from Minnesota, Mississippi and West Virginia.

UNC-Greensboro finished 9-33 in its inaugural Division I season, but coach Mike Gaski identified a group of players to form the nucleus of his program. He badly needed a shortstop, however, and was overjoyed to land Young.

"He won more games in three years than some kids do in a lifetime," Gaski said. "Even though he's coming in as a freshman, we're going to look to him to provide some leadership right away.

"We see him as an outstanding defensive middle infielder. If Scotty becomes just an average college hitter, he'll have the chance to play after college. His defensive skills are already a given."

Young will again become eligible for the draft after his junior season. He said he wasn't disappointed by his failure to be selected out of high school. He claimed he still would have chosen a college scholarship over a professional career.

You don't find many major-leaguers his size -- Minnesota's Al Newman is 5 feet 9, Oakland's Mike Gallego and the Chicago White Sox's Craig Grebeck are 5-8. Asked if he is still growing, Young said, "I couldn't tell you. It seems like I've been stuck at 5-9 for a while."

He's the shortest player in the Festival, but Arundel's Walter and UNC-Greensboro's Gaski remain convinced he can play pro ball. Does it really matter? Young is a national Legion champion, a state high school champion and one of the Festival's select 64.

The scouts gather behind the plate, but events like the Festival serve as a reminder that success isn't only measured in absolute terms. The players who sign pro contracts, they're the best. But the players like Scott Young, they're pretty good too.

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