Highlighting the staff is southpaw Hogan Harris (ranked No. 20) and tall righty Al Pesto (ranked No. 73), both recent Perfect Game National Showcase attendees. You cannot leave out Clarksville, Tenn. native Donnie Everett when talking about some of the most dominant arms this tournament has seen so far.
Everett opened the tournament on Friday morning at Perfect Game Park South at LakePoint, ringing in the tournament with a swarm of college coaches and professional scouts who stood on the concourse of Field 16 with radar guns all aimed in the same direction.
The power pitcher came out popping the catchers’ mitt with fastballs ranging between 91-94 mph (miles per hour) and touched 96 mph once, causing some scouts to look at one another and make sure their radar guns weren’t somehow malfunctioning.
He caught everyone’s attention right of the gate, striking out the side in order to start the ballgame. Everett finished the game as impressive as how he started it – with five straight strikeouts to end a stellar performance in which he threw a five-inning complete game while surrendering no runs or hits and striking out 12 batters. Besides his two walks, he was nearly flawless in the team’s 9-0 win over Austin Baseball Club.
“I thought my start was pretty good,” said Everett. “Everything felt comfortable and when my timing was good everything came together. The team also gave me a lot of run support, which helped take some stress off.”
Everett displayed an impressive five-pitch arsenal, which included a 4-seam fastball, a 2-seam fastball, a curveball, slider, and an effective changeup, which he likes to throw with two strikes.
“I just went up there trying to throw strikes and whatever happens, happens,” Everett said. “I just try to control what I can and I’ll let the great players behind me make the plays.”
The 6-foot-2 lefty Hogan Harris followed up an exceptional outing by Everett with a strong showing of his own in Saturday’s 4-1 win over the South Florida Prospects 17u at Tucker High School.
The Lafayette, La. native showed out at the National Showcase last month at jetBlue Park in Fort Myers, Florida. He displayed a 93 mph heater to go along with a devastating breaking ball that registered 2757 revolutions per minute on the TrackMan data. It was the second highest breaking ball spin rate at the showcase and averages a 13-percent swinging strike rate.
On Saturday afternoon, the left-handed hurler went six innings, allowing just three hits, an earned run, and two walks, while striking out seven in the winning effort.
Al Pesto came in for the seventh inning save and was absolutely lights out, throwing just 14 pitches and making quick work of the South Florida hitters while collecting a strikeout.
“I worked a 1-2-3 inning; had a good fastball, changeup, and breaking ball,” said Pesto. “I threw my off-speed for strikes and felt really good about that. I’ve really been working on throwing my off-speed for strikes while maintaining the same arm speed as when I throw my fastball, so that was a big bonus for me on the mound yesterday. I felt like I did a good job pounding the zone and I felt like I had a little bit of movement on my fastball and changeup.”
The Savannah, Ga. native sat around 87-90 mph with his fastball while touching 91 mph. He was up to 93 mph just a month ago at the National Showcase, but velocity is not his area of concentration right now.
“I’ve added to my pitchability and I’m throwing off-speed for strikes and everything I going very well, so I feel like I’m really developing in the aspect,” Pesto said. ‘My go-to pitch right now would probably be my changeup. I throw it about 83-84 mph. it’s got some good run on it. I have a lot of confidence in it right now and right now that’s my go-to pitch in a bind.”
For the right-hander, who is No. 1 in his class at Benedictine Military School, there is nothing too complex about his game plan when he takes the bump.
“You have to go out there with the mindset of how you’re going to pitch to the batter, how you’re going to attack, and what you’re going to do when you need to make a pitch,” explained Pesto. “I’m really just focused on pounding the zone with my changeup in a tough spot and going in there and attacking early with my fastball and getting guys with off-speed later in the count.”
Both Pesto and Everett are students of the game and continuously work to improve their game with adjustments and repetition.
“I throw everyday and keep working out to get stronger, while trying to learn anything and everything I can about pitching,” said Everett. “I watch baseball all the time. I watch the college game and see how fast pitchers work and sometimes they can get away with pitches left over the middle of the plate. Then you watch a pro game and all the adjustments that are made by the pro guys who know how to spot and change speeds and they don’t leave many balls over the middle of the plate.”
Pesto’s main focus is building his body and maintaining a healthy lifestyle in order to be able to perform at the highest level. He works a tough core and leg regimen, which involves a lot of stretching, leg press, and working on adding lean muscle.
Pesto also said he has made the effort to change his diet to incorporate more fruits, vegetables, and lean protein, particularly fish. Once a foul pole-to-foul pole jogging kind of guy, he said he now prefers short-burst sprints to help gain the explosive aspect to his pitching.
“If you train in short bursts, you’ll be able to perform in short bursts on the mound,” Pesto said.
The righty takes training and maintaining his pitching form very seriously and said he takes pride in giving his all in everything he does, whether that’s school or baseball.
“I pride myself in a hard work ethic,” said Pesto. “I push myself to my own physical limits as a person because I believe in trying to make myself as best as possible in what I’m doing. I pride myself in putting out a high-quality work.”
Everett, a Vanderbilt University commit, has a similar mindset as his Marucci teammate and current closer. He finally got to see that hard work pay off when he took the mound at Vanderbilt University for a regular season with his Clarksville High School team.
“It was a great experience to be there, not only for me, but for the whole team,” Everett said. “I just feel like I’m at home when I’m on Vandy’s mound. I’m really looking forward to being a ‘Dore and being a part of that environment. Hopefully, we can bring back another championship when I’m there.”
Pesto enjoyed his first-ever Perfect Game showcase last month at the biggest showcase of all in the National. Not a bad first one to be invited to.
“It was definitely eye-opening,” said Pesto. “There were a bunch of scouts in attendance and I just wanted to go out there and put on a decent performance and let my arm work. I felt like I did that well and I was happy with the way I threw. Throwing in front of all the scouts and getting the exposure that Perfect game provides was just fantastic. It was great to throw against some of the best hitters in the country and have a great defense behind me. It was really a once-in-a-lifetime experience.”
It’s not that Pesto wasn’t familiar with the grand stage. In fact, in May he threw in probably the biggest game of his life to this point in his career. The energetic righty threw a complete game in Benedictine Military’s decisive game three of the GHSA Class AA state championship, a game in which they won 7-2 over Greater Atlanta Christian.
“I got the opportunity to throw the deciding game of the state championship in my hometown in front of 1,000-1,500 people,” Pesto said. “After the game, the entire student section ran onto the field and dog piled and I was at the very bottom of that dog pile. It was brutal, but it was great. It was a great way to end a long season. All that hard work we put in all seemed to come to fruition during that one game and that was a beautiful thing to see.”
Playing in big-time games, showcases, and with big-time travel ball programs like Marucci has resulted in adapting to attention from the guys with the radar guns.
“You get to a point where you just zone it out and it doesn’t bother you and you make pitches and just put them out of your mind,” said Pesto. “It’s just you and the catcher and the batter, and if you really get zoning it’s just you and the catcher. You just focus on throwing strikes and letting your arm work. You have to trust your training and preparation, mentally and physically, as well as nutrition, is going to carry you the distance.”
With an impressive pitching staff, to say the least, it greatly benefits each pitcher to be around some of the best at the position day by day. Everett has enjoyed his time with his Marucci teammates Pesto and Harris.
“Those are two great guys; well-rounded and great pitchers,” Everett said. “Anytime you’re around great players you wanna step up your game, so it just makes me better trying to be at the same level as them.”
Pesto, a Duke University commit, gave a similar answer about sharing the same dugout with Harris and Everett.
“When you’re around guys who are better than you, you’re sort of able to elevate your game,” said Pesto. “It’s unbelievable to an extent, because when you’re around guys who throw hard and have decent mechanics overall and you can pick up on little things, you say ‘okay that’s working well for him, maybe I should try that out’.”
They are reaping the benefits of being around such a talented team. After a 4-0 start in pool play, the pitching staff has compiled an incredibly low 0.30 earned run average (ERA) through 23 innings. With a deep staff Marucci has, they expect more of the same.