Could Reinforcements Be Coming for USC Baseball?

USC baseball commit Dominic Smith. (Photo by Shotgun Spratling)

The historic national powerhouse that is USC baseball has not been the same since Mike Gillespie "retired" (Gillespie has since said that he was fired by then athletic director Mike Garrett.) after 20 years as head coach. The Trojans have not made the NCAA Tournament since Gillespie's departure and have yet to even finish above .500 in six seasons.

Chad Kreuter's four seasons were abysmal. He finished with a 111-117 record and left the cupboard bare for current head coach Frank Cruz. The Trojans have gone 48-63 as Cruz has tried to replenish the Trojans' talent and depth to be able to play in the ultra-competitive Pac-12 conference.

Sunday night, I was down in San Diego covering the Perfect Game All-American Classic featuring the country's top high school players from in the class of 2013. The game provided a glimmer of hope as the Trojans were well represented with four players committed to play for USC. Here's a scouting report on the four USC commits:

(Be sure to also check out my recap, photo gallery and watch video of post-game interviews with two of the Trojan commits.)

  • John Paul (JP) Crawford - The lightning-quick middle infielder's cardinal and gold uniform will look like Flash Gordon blazing by as he terrorizes opponents on the basepaths. A local product from Lakewood HS, Crawford is a gracious defender that glides to the ball and is said to have really good hands (didn't have many opportunities in the game).

    While he looks like a singles hitter with his slight 6-foot-2, 175-pound frame, Crawford's quick wrists provide him with plenty of pop as well. He knocked seven dingers in the first round of the Home Run Challenge on Saturday.

    Crawford led off the game with a single and promptly stole second base. He later reached on a fielder's choice when the defense couldn't turn a double play quick enough to get him as he streaked down the line out of the left-handed batter's box. Again, he stole second base. He also took third when the throw bounced away into the outfield.

    He came to bat with a runner on first in his third at bat. Crawford grounded to first, but his speed put pressure on the first baseman to try to quickly turn the double play. The fielder's throw was off the mark and both runners reached safely. After a walk loaded the bases, he scored on a single by fellow USC commit Dominic Smith.

    The right hander also has the potential to pitch collegiately as he throws 90+ mph off the mound.
  • Jeremy Martinez - A right-handed hitting catcher from Mater Dei HS in Santa Ana, Martinez may be the least heralded of the Perfect Game foursome, but that just shows how strong this recruiting class could potentially be. At 5-foot-11, 195 punds, Martinez looks the part of a catcher with his short but broad stature.

    As is often the case with good catchers, Martinez has good plate discipline. He has a short, compact swing that doesn't waste much effort. He displayed the swing in the second inning when he tied the game 1-1 with an RBI single to left field. Martinez was one of only three hitters with multiple hits as his seventh inning single started the West squad's two-run rally that put them ahead.

    Martinez showed his ability to do the defensive dirty work in the fifth inning. When a ball one-hopped the centerfield fence, the West squad executed a perfect relay. Martinez walled off home plate and received the throw in perfect position to nail the runner trying to score.
  • Dominic Smith - Perfect Game's No. 2 overall player in the class of 2013, Smith makes everything look easy. He glides across the outfield, covering more ground than it appears. He barely tosses the ball and it comes roaring out of his hand. Watching him take batting practice is like being at a rave. He shoots laser line drives all over the field.

    He displayed his sweet swing with his big two-run single in the West's crucial four-run sixth inning. Knowing that the pitcher was struggling, Smith correctly assumed the pitcher would throw a first-pitch fastball. When he did, Smith was all over the pitch, lacing it into left-centerfield. On the bases, he showed both his baseball intelligence and speed, getting a remarkable jump from second base as he stole third base without a throw.

    Just in case you thought there was something Smith couldn't do, he can also pump it 92-93 mph from the left side. Though he didn't pitch in the All-American Classic, the Serra HS product will likely find his way to the mound at Dedeaux Field, if he doesn't sign a professional contract after the MLB Draft next year.
  • Rowdy Tellez - The well-rounded foursome of commits provides a little bit of everything from Crawford's speed to Martinez's defense to Smith's hitting. But Tellez provides the pop. The 6-foot-4, 225-pound lefty first baseman has the potential to put on some epic batting practice displays, much as recent USC first baseman Ricky Oropesa did when he routinely hit balls into and on top of the parking structure beyond the right field fence at Dedeaux.

    Tellez has plenty of raw power. Earlier this summer, he won the Rawlings Home Run Challenge at Minnesota's Metrodome during the Perfect Game National Showcase by putting a number of balls in the upper deck.

    While he reportedly struggled some during the practices and scrimmages leading up to the All-American Challenge, the Elk Grove HS product came through when it mattered most. With the West squad having scrapped back from a 6-1 deficit to cut the lead to 6-5, Tellez came to the plate with two runners on and two men out in the seventh inning. He fell behind in the count, but rocketed a two-strike pitch the opposite way. The ball skirted under the left fielder's glove and rolled all the way to the wall, scoring the tying and game-winning runs while Tellez strolled into third base with a stand-up triple.

There is still a complete season before these four recruits would suit up for USC, and there's always the possibility that they sign with an MLB club after they are undoubtedly drafted. In fact, routinely recruiting nothing but five-star talent and not getting the players to attend USC is one of the things that killed Kreuter's squads and put the Trojans in such a talent deficit.

But in his two seasons, Cruz has been able to retain some of the top prospects that have signed at USC (LHP Stephen Tarpley - 6th round; LHP Kyle Twomey - 3rd round). Cruz has focused on heavily recruiting the talent-saturated Southern California area rather than trying to get recruits, such as 2008 No. 1 overall pick Tim Griffin, to spurn MLB teams AND move across the country.

Hopefully, Cruz is able to retain part, if not all, of this talented foursome and we'll get the opportunity to see return the cardinal and gold to its rightful place in Omaha.

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