The night before his start in the Area Code Games in San Diego on Aug. 10, Jackson Pace was understandably a bit anxious. After all, the San Benito High senior was going to pitch in front of at least one scout from every Major League Baseball team.
“I’m not going to lie; I didn’t sleep much the night before,” he said. “But once I got out there in warmups, I was feeling good.”
It showed as Pace tossed three shutout innings in his lone start, striking out three and allowing just one hit. Relying exclusively on a fastball that was consistently hitting 88 mph and topped out at 91, Pace put an exclamation point on a summer that saw him shine with travel team Alpha Prime.
The 6-foot-5, 215-pound right-hander said receiving an offer from USC—he’s expected to sign his letter of intent in November—in his freshman year and getting selected to play in the Area Code Games have been the top highlights of what looks to be a burgeoning career.
“Overall, it was a great experience and I felt very honored to be a part of the Area Code Games,” he said. “The environment was pretty special and it’s definitely an experience I won’t forget.”
The Area Code Games featured the top baseball players from across the country, with eight regional teams competing under the watchful eyes of scouts from all 30 MLB teams and dozens of NCAA baseball coaches.
Players were selected by MLB scouts for the five-day showcase event that was played at the University of San Diego. Scouts milled around the dugout during the games, allowing Pace to pick their brains and learn new tricks of his craft.
“It was definitely fun talking to and learning from them because a lot of them have been doing this for 25, 30 years,” he said.
Pace knew the magnitude of the situation, but kept things in perspective.
“It’s a big moment, but once I threw the first pitch, all the nerves kind of disappeared,” he said. “Then it felt like a normal baseball game.”
Already well known among scouts and in recruiting circles, Pace did a 25-pitch bullpen evaluation for his Area Code Games tryout. He made his performance count in his lone appearance, relying exclusively on a four-seam fastball to keep the hitters off-balance.
“I was throwing pretty much all fastballs and they weren’t squaring them up or really even hitting them,” Pace said. “I was like, ‘OK, if this is working, I don’t see why I have to change it.’”
Pace received another recent honor as he was selected to play for the Detroit Tigers scout team in the fall. The Tigers and two other teams that are run by MLB scouts will do a weeklong slate of games in Arizona. It’s another golden opportunity for Pace and other notable high school standouts to show their stuff in front of talent evaluators.
Players in the Area Code Games are being evaluated until their graduation year of the MLB Draft, which takes place every June.
“I’ve had a fantastic summer and I know I need to continue to improve and get better,” he said. “All the coaches and scouts have been very helpful, and I’m looking forward to what lies ahead.”
Emanuel Lee can be reached at [email protected]