AZ prep baseball players show well at Area Code Games

The state of Arizona should be thankful that Riley Unroe made the trip to Long Beach, Calif., to play in this year’s edition of the Area Code Baseball Games.  Without him, the Grand Canyon State would not have been represented on the event’s All-Area Code Team.

By comparison, California placed 10 on the team.  But the state also features the No. 1 prospect on the ESPN 60, Jeremy Martinez (catcher, Santa Ana), and the No. 5 player, Stephen Gonsalves (pitcher, San Diego).

Unroe, a switch-hitting shortstop from Desert Ridge High School in Mesa, is one of nine Arizona players on the Cincinnati Reds roster at the Games, and one of 250 high school players from all around the country that were selected to play based on their performances at one of three regional tryouts.  He participated in the tryout held at Grand Canyon University in west Phoenix in early June.

All tryouts for the prestigious six-day event are by invitation only and, in most cases, players have to be nominated by a Major League scout to be considered for an invitation.  Approximately 3,000 invitations are sent out each year for the Games, which began in 1985 and were taken over by ESPN in 2008.

Unroe and the other Arizona players were put on the Reds because that team is made up of representatives from the four-corner states, Hawaii, and Nevada.   The teams are composed of players from different parts of the country, each sponsored by a Major League organization like the Reds, and organized by telephone area codes – which explains the name of the event.

The other Arizona players on the 27-man Reds roster included Jamie Westbrook from Basha High in Gilbert, Michael Hoard from Salpointe Catholic in Tucson, Patrick Murphy and Cody Bellinger from Hamilton High in Chandler, Ryan Scott from Notre Dame Prep in Scottsdale, Tyler Viza from Desert Vista High in Phoenix, Ryan Castellani from Brophy Prep in Phoenix, and Brad Holland from Mesquite High in Gilbert.

Bellinger finished the Games among the tournament’s top offensive performers, going 3-for-8 at the plate, including a double, for a .375 batting average.  The senior first baseman was the only Arizona hitter in the top 25.

Unroe will be a senior at Basha this year and has not declared his college plans yet, although both Arizona and Arizona State are on the list of those pitching his services.

A majority of the Reds roster will get drafted, as will be the case for the other eight teams that played last week.  Those invited to play represent the cream of the high school crop and, according to information from Games officials, there have been more than 300 Major League players compete in the event over the years.

Not only are there college recruiters in the stands with scholarships at the ready, but hundreds of scouts from every Major League team show up every year.

Considered one of the top prep talent tournaments in the country, the Games are the tail end of the high school prospect circuit that covers the summer, and then the MLB scouts follow those they have tagged as prospects during the coming school year.

The Reds didn’t have much of a showing this year.  While the event’s website doesn’t include information on the first day’s game results (maybe nobody attended the two games played on Sunday), the Reds did play the final four days, breaking even with a 2-2 record.

But, team records aside, the Area Code Games give young players from Arizona to Alaska a chance to get a dozen or so at-bats in front of the people who can provide a college career – or even a path to fame and riches in the pro game.

And Arizona does have a reason to be thankful that there is even one of their players on the All-Area Code team.  Last year there were none.

(Photo: Area Code Games)