All-Stars get a chance to impress

Adam Virchis appreciates the talent he sees while roaming the San Joaquin Valley as a scout for the Chicago White Sox, but he can't let himself get caught up in the moment.

As amazing as that 450-foot homer looks, or as stunning as that perfect game appears, Virchis must distance himself from what he is seeing.

"We look for athletes with a big upside, so it's like looking into a crystal ball and predicting the future," says Virchis, a Modesto resident and Chicago's area supervisor. "We're all asking this question: 'Is this kid a major-leaguer?' "

Sure-shots, Virchis says, go in the first three rounds. Another 30 rounds pass before teams target teenagers that they'll track during summer.

Teams have two months to decide whether they'll sign a just-graduated high school senior. Some of them have college scholarships, and others are headed for junior college.

It's that span between the draft and Aug. 15 that players get the chance to win over the doubters and earn a contract.

Jake Sisco of Davis and Ben Griset of Gustine, pitchers on The Bee's all-Stanislaus District team and late-round selections, will start their auditions Saturday in the Merced vs. Stanislaus All-Star game.

The 6-foot-3, 200-pound Sisco went to the San Francisco Giants in the 37th round and the 6-1, 175-pound Griset went to the White Sox in round 36.

They'll be on opposite sides in the all-star game, which begins at 3 p.m. at Stanislaus State in Turlock.

"I'll watch Ben at that game and during the summer, and perhaps work with him a little on the side with small adjustments," Virchis says. "A Giants' scout will do the same with Jake, I'm sure. When we get to August, teams and players have decisions to make."

Griset could choose to sign with the White Sox, Virchis says, or could go to St. Mary's on the baseball scholarship he received earlier this year.

This is the first year for the county vs. county game, and one of Virchis' goals is to get pro scouts and college recruiters in the stands to assess the talent level of the 36 players.

The teams have juniors and seniors, Virchis says, so it's a showcase for returning high school players such as Oakdale's Brennon Williams and Turlock's Ryan Brown.

"We're trying to get recruiters from all the D-I colleges in the area, plus it's a great recruiting opportunity for Stan State to get the kids on their field," Virchis notes. "We're hoping something will catch their eye and they track these kids through the summer."

Up until 2007, teams could draft a high school senior and watch him play a full season of junior college ball, retaining his signing rights until the day before the following year's draft. The rule instituting the Aug. 15 signing deadline ended that common practice.

Two of the top juniors, Turlock shortstop Kevin Kramer and Central Catholic outfielder Billy Flamion, are out of state with travel teams and will miss the game, according to the organizers.

Virchis has first-hand experience with the draft. He was an eighth-round pick by Chicago in 1995, playing for minor-league teams such as the Hickory Crawdads, Winston-Salem Warthogs and the Triple-A Charlotte Knights before retiring late in 1999 with a 22-37 record and 4.01 ERA.

Scouts and recruiters often grade players on a scale of 20-80 in five categories — power, hitting for average, running, fielding and throwing.

"A 20 is very poor and an 80 is a big-league star," Virchis says. "An average fastball in the bigs is 88 to 92. Ben is 86 to 89, so he's a 40 right now. My job is to predict whether he is a 50, 60 or 70 down the road.

The lefty was as dominant as any pitcher in the region, striking out 127 in 62 innings. But Gustine is Division 5, so Griset was able to overpower many of his small-school foes.

Could he carry that success into Chicago's Rookie League team in Bristol, or perhaps in a few years to Birmingham in Double A?

Once that Aug. 15 deadline passes, the White Sox forfeit their rights to the hurler — so these next two months are crucial to Griset and Virchis.

"When we took Ben, we're looking at his potential when he's 21, 22 ... not so much what he is doing right now," Virchis said. "He has a lightning-fast arm and throws 90 miles an hour at times, he has a really good breaking ball at times. He's a guy who shows flashes of great stuff, but is he consistent enough to sign?"