By KEVIN JAKAHI
Tribune-Herald sports writer
Waiakea senior pitcher Kodi Medeiros is projected to be a first-round pick in the Major League Baseball first-year player draft, according to every single mock draft website that has already slotted the left-hander to a future team.
But only evaluations from MLB teams count for the June 5-7 draft, and more than a dozen organizations sent scouts to the Stanley Costales Sr. Memorial/Hilo High preseason tournament on Thursday at Wong Stadium, looking not only at Medeiros but also for hidden gems.
“Kodi is the draw, but hopefully we’ll find other players who stick out, and give them a chance,” a National League cross-checker said. “Hawaii is always an area where we’ll find players. No part of the country is excluded. The kids here play hard and deserve a chance to be looked at. They’re spirited kids and fun to watch.”
Medeiros didn’t have his best stuff against Leilehua, of the Oahu Interscholastic Association, and pitched three innings and allowed two runs on three hits and a walk and hit batter. However, he showed flashes of dominance, whipping his fastball and slider for six strikeouts, including five in a row.
Scouts, who stick results in a backseat compared to pure stuff, watched with interest with all their radar guns pointed at Medeiros. He didn’t pitch much last season as a junior because of an elbow injury. During the past summer, he showed he was healthy after rehabbing to get back into pitching shape, and throwing lights out at several showcases.
And it wasn’t just the scouts who traveled to Hilo but also cross-checkers, too, clearly a sign of the high level of interest in the Waiakea southpaw. The scouts are easy to spot and stick out like neon-flashing signs. Most MLB teams require scouts to dress in working attire: collared shirts and pants. In an interesting twist, most don’t wear their team’s logo, and request their names not be printed for comment, all in the cat-and-mouse game of keeping things close to the vest.
The NL cross-checker, whose job is to rank players on his side of the country, came with his area scout, offering their organization two sets of eyes to file a report to the scouting director. It’s a process that also involves hand-held camcorders, radar guns and video from all the various websites.
But according to the NL cross-checker, who has seen Medeiros four times, including once as a sophomore on Oahu, there’s nothing like evaluating a player at the ballpark. The area scout, who covers California and the islands, has watched Medeiros twice.
“He’s very athletic, left-handed and has good stuff,” said the area scout, following the universal code to talk in general terms. “Having more than one set of eyes, as a group you try to put together and make the best decision for the organization. We use both our video and from MLB.com and other internet sites.”
Another NL cross-checker said video is a convenient luxury, allowing him to evaluate prospects from the comfort of a hotel room.
“I can watch video from our scouts in my hotel room,” he said. “Video is a good tool.”
The scouting scale grades players on two platforms: present and potential tools on a 2 to 8 or 20 to 80 scale. It’s not an exact science, but all scouts look for the simple basics.
“We’re looking for the ability to pitch and throw strikes,” the first NL cross-checker said. “We’re looking for the same general things that play in the major leagues. We’re not looking for general size. All types are in the majors.”
Medeiros is 6 feet 1 inches and lanky. But his dad, Robert, is about the same height but with wide shoulders. The Waiakea senior’s likely projection is to add layers of muscle when he gets on an MLB weight training and conditioning program.
Kolten Wong, a 2011 first-round pick of the St. Louis Cardinals, was much the same way. The 2008 Kamehameha graduate added muscle while at the University of Hawaii, then tailored his body after getting into the Cardinals’ conditioning program.
“I saw Kolten in high school,” the second NL cross-checker said. “I saw Kean (Wong) and Medeiros last year in Kona. It’s my seventh or eighth time in Hawaii. Hawaii certainly has good players.”
As for any advice to aspiring players hoping to get drafted, the cross-checker, who has 15 years in the business, offered the old scouting philosophy.
“Keep playing, and we’ll come to the ballpark and find you,” he said.