Several of the nation's best baseball prospects were on hand Saturday, when the Urban Youth Academy in Compton hosted the Southern California Invitational Showcase.
The event gave many of California's most prominent prep players a chance to compete against each other in front of scouting directors from big league teams. Frank Marcos, senior director of the Major League Scouting Bureau, said the event keeps getting bigger every year.
"When we started planning this about five years ago, we knew what could develop here in terms of an event that would get the scouts and scouting directors," he said. "It's California, the weather is great [and] it's right before the season starts. This gives these guys -- cross-checkers and scouting directors -- the opportunity to see these guys first and then to follow up on them during their games."
All of the kids will be getting back to high school and their respective lives, but a strong senior year could mean the difference for several of them. Many prospects have signed letters of intent for top-flight college programs but are admittedly thinking about the First-Year Player Draft.
Ian Clarkin, a left-handed pitcher who has committed to the University of San Diego, is a veteran of the showcase circuit, and he even played on Team USA at the 18-and-under World Championships. But there's something about this company, said Clarkin, that seemed a little bit different.
"It means a lot to be one of the better players in Southern California and to be playing among the best," Clarkin said. "Either way, I'm going to go back to school. If I sign out of high school, after my career, I will be going back to college. And if the Draft doesn't work out the way I want it to, I have no problem playing for Rich Hill and USD. It just depends on the Draft and everything coming up in June."
Stephen Gonsalves, another left-handed pitcher, could potentially be Clarkin's teammate at USD. But for now, he's trying to concentrate on his senior year for Cathedral Catholic in San Diego, one of the nation's top prep programs and a place that could springboard him to a lofty Draft perch.
"I'm trying to block it out of my mind as best I can," he said. "I'm going about my high school season. It's going to be a great senior year. We're No. 1 ranked in the nation right now, and that's going to be a big target on our backs. It's going to be focusing on one high school game at a time."
And if the players already have that mindset, so do the scouts. The MLB Scouting Bureau is tasked with identifying the top 200 players for screening before the Draft, and the job has gotten easier with the advent of showcase events that collect the best talent in every possible region.
Now, scouts get a chance to grade players before their season starts, and then they get to follow their progress. It's more information in a game where every scrap of knowledge can be key. And for the MLB Scouting Bureau, it all starts with choosing the right players to invite to their event.
"We leave it up to our scouts, the guys who are in the trenches here, to select the players. They know who the best players are," Marcos said. "Early on, we were a little concerned. Would we get them to come out right before their high school season starts? And the answer has been, yes, because the kids realize it's an opportunity for them to be seen against good competition in one environment."
The Urban Youth Academy has been successful at sending players to both college programs and to the Draft, and three players (Trayvon Robinson, Anthony Gose and Effren Navarro) have even reached the big league ranks. Two players with long-standing ties to the Academy -- Julian Harrison and Adonis Morrison -- were invited to the showcase, as was Jeremy Martinez.
Martinez, a catcher who has committed to the University of Southern California, said that he has spent time at the Academy since he was 14 years old and he's loved being part of its growth.
"I'm really proud of where they've come from and I'm proud to say I'm from the Urban Youth Academy," he said. "We've all put the hard work in. We've been to the facilities working out together. It's become a brotherhood. We're all going to go somewhere and we're really proud of each other."
Spencer Fordin is a reporter for MLB.com. Ben Platt contributed to this report. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.