Tyrone Scott was about to walk under a microscope.
Armed with radar guns and stopwatches, an eager gathering of major league scouts waited behind the Leuzinger High backstop for the 17-year-old pitcher to take the mound Tuesday.
They were there to see if Scott, a hard-throwing left-hander who leads the South Bay in strikeouts, has what it takes to play professional baseball. With the free-agent draft in June, every prospect is getting a long, hard look.
At least one of the scouts, Paul Fryer of the Baltimore Orioles, has seen Scott pitch before. He liked what he saw.
“He has everything you look for in a pitcher,” Fryer said. “He’s fluid, he’s got a live arm and he’s an athlete. I think somebody will draft him.”
Scott would like to impress the scouts on this unseasonably hot afternoon. His dream is to play in the major leagues, despite the fact he also seems to have potential as a football player. He was an All-Southern Section defensive back for Leuzinger last fall.
“Football was just something to stall time until baseball,” he said. “I want to make my living playing baseball.”
Scott’s performance against visiting Rolling Hills ranges from exceptional to abysmal. He impresses by pitching a one-hitter with 12 strikeouts. But his seven walks and two wild pitches open the door for a 2-1 Rolling Hills win.
For Scott, it isn’t the first time he has been his own worst enemy.
His prep baseball career almost didn’t get off the ground because of grade problems. He was ruled academically ineligible as a freshman and sophomore.
“I was hanging out with the wrong people,” he said. “I wasn’t doing my homework. I wasn’t going to class. Then I realized that this is my sport and this is what I want to play, so I had to do a job in the classroom. I got my grades up, and I’ve been playing ever since.”
That was good news for Derrel Thomas, the ex-Dodger who became Leuzinger’s coach last season. He says Scott is the glue that holds together an Olympian team that has struggled offensively in recent games.
“I’ve told the team that when Tyrone is pitching, just get him one run,” he said. “If he’s on, that’s all we need.”
While that might be an exaggeration, it’s not far from the truth.
Scott (4-2) has allowed only four earned runs in 38 innings pitched this season, good for a stellar 0.74 ERA. His 66 strikeouts put him in a class by himself among South Bay pitchers. In his last three games against Capistrano Valley, Inglewood and Rolling Hills, he has 42 strikeouts in 21 innings.
On the down side, Scott has been wild. His 37 walks lead the area.
That statistic makes the 6-2, 170-pound senior one of the most generous pitchers in Southern California, especially when one considers that he has allowed nearly four times as many base runners on walks than he has on hits (10).
Why is he such an enigma?
Those close to Scott give two reasons: He lacks the proper pitching instruction, and he doesn’t utilize all of his ability.
Thomas, who played every position but pitcher during his 15-year major league career, says Scott is blessed with so much natural talent that the senior fails to work as hard as he should.
“He doesn’t exert a lot of effort,” Thomas said. “He does things so naturally. That can be good, but it also can be bad. Some guys do things so nonchalant that they miss out on a lot of their own talent.
“If Tyrone was a Pete Rose, a Charlie Hustle type of player, there’s no telling what he could do. There’s no telling how fast he is because he just glides. He doesn’t put all out.”
Responded Scott: “I have to work harder.”
Thomas wishes his ace was more like Tom Gordon, Leuzinger’s stubby third baseman. An overachiever, Gordon earned a starting spot on the varsity team and became the No. 3 hitter in the lineup through perseverance, Thomas said.
“Tom Gordon is an inspiration for Tyrone,” the coach said. “He’s the type of player who’s always fired up and always looking to improve. I wish Tyrone could get as fired up as Tommy. Then he would be very impressive.
“I don’t think Tyrone realizes his potential. If he did, he would apply himself a lot more.”
Scott, who is black, and Gordon, who is white, are closer than most high school teammates. They are also roommates.
Scott had been living with an aunt in the Windsor Hills area of South Los Angeles before moving in with the Gordon family in their Lawndale apartment.
“It’s friendship, that’s all it is,” Gordon said. “We offered and he came to live with us.”
Gordon says Scott provides a source of confidence for Leuzinger, which is tied for third place in the eight-team Bay League with a 2-2 record.
“When Tyrone is on the mound, we know he’s not going to give up more than two runs,” he said. “We don’t even have to worry about playing defense. It’s either a strikeout or a pop fly. We just worry about working with the bats.”
Serra baseball Coach Darren Fleming, a scout for the Kansas City Royals, said it’s almost a certainty that Scott will be drafted in one of the early rounds.
“He’ll go very high,” Fleming said. “There is a shortage of quality (high school) pitchers right now, especially left-handers who throw hard.
“He has an outstanding arm and good physical ability. He just lacks the proper coaching in pitching. That’s what’s holding him back. Right now he’s just playing on what he knows.”
Scott’s strengths are an 80-mph-plus fastball and an outstanding curve ball. With improved mechanics, those pitches would be even more devastating, Thomas said.
“If I was a pitching coach,” he said, “I’m sure he would be a much better pitcher than he is right now. But I have to concentrate on 16 other kids, too.”
Scott’s talents aren’t limited to pitching. He bats cleanup and plays center field in between starts. Thursday he raised his average to .474 (9 for 19) by going 3 for 3 with a bases-loaded triple in Leuzinger’s 7-3 win over Rolling Hills.
But his future in baseball depends on his left arm. Thomas noticed it the first time he saw Scott practice.
“I saw him throw from the outfield and I couldn’t believe it,” he said. “He had such an excellent arm. Once you’ve been involved in baseball for a number of years, you tend to notice things about players. You’re able to recognize talent. . . . Tyrone has a certain amount of ability that no one can touch.”
Scott used his ability last season to emerge as one of the South Bay’s top pitchers. Because he had been ineligible his first two years, he was virtually unknown when he began his junior year. But that quickly changed with a series of impressive outings.
Overshadowed by the powerful Redondo and El Segundo teams in the Pioneer League, Leuzinger managed to hold its own when Scott pitched. He struck out 10 in a 2-0 loss to Redondo and fanned nine in a 3-2 defeat to El Segundo. Another fine effort was squandered by the Olympians in a 1-0 playoff loss to Fullerton as Scott finished the year with a misleading 3-5 record.
Although he lost, Scott says those performances fueled his confidence.
“I surprised myself,” he said. “I didn’t know if I could hold down teams like Redondo and El Segundo. But I did.”
Scott has a higher set of goals this season. In order, he wants to win the league title, capture the Southern Section 5-A Division championship and sign a professional contract this summer. The pinnacle would be to eventually play for a major league club.
That, of course, is a crap shoot. But Thomas says Scott is capable of going far in baseball with the right attitude. Twenty years ago, Thomas was the No. 1 draft pick of the Houston Astros out of Dorsey High in Los Angeles.
“Tyrone reminds me a lot of myself when I was in school,” he said. “I wanted to play major league baseball, but I was aware of what needed to be done for that to happen. If Tyrone would apply himself the same way I did, there’s no telling what he could accomplish. He still has the idea that it only takes so much to do what is necessary.”
Scott, when informed of his coach’s assessment, silently reacted to the criticism by shaking his head.
Nobody said life under a microscope would be easy.