CEDAR RAPIDS, Iowa – The snow flurries swirling outside Perfect Game’s offices and indoor facility here Saturday morning were no deterrent to the 17-year-old right-hander from Fayetteville, Ark.
There were pitches to be thrown and batters to be faced inside the warm and dry confines of the building’s batting cages, and a little snow and a single-digit temperature outside wasn’t about to slow down the kid from the Ozarks.
The occasion was the 14th annual Perfect Game Pitcher/Catcher Indoor Showcase, with more than 80 prospects from more than a dozen states – including one from California – scheduled to pitch, catch or hit either Saturday or Sunday. Among them was Andy Pagnozzi, a junior at Fayetteville High School who has steadily climbed the PG class of 2015 rankings over the past 15 months.
Pagnozzi wears a muscular 185-pounds on his 6-foot frame and came into Saturday’s session of the PG P/C Indoor with solid credentials and impeccable bloodlines. He is the son of former big-league catcher Tom Pagnozzi and is hell-bent on following his father into the major leagues by doing his work 60-feet, 6-inches from the position his dad called his office.
A University of Mississippi commit, Pagnozzi was “very impressive” during his outing Saturday afternoon, in the words of PG vice president of player personnel and scouting David Rawnsley. His fastball sat comfortably between 88 and 90 mph and topped-out at 91, and was complemented by a 75 mph curveball and 75 mph change-up. In his scouting notes, Rawnsley used terms like “fills up zone”, “low effort” and “big league mechanics/command.” It was, in essence, an eventful day at the office.
“I just wanted to get on the mound more,” Pagnozzi said before his pitching session. “I haven’t thrown to hitters much because I haven’t been outside a lot – it’s been cold down in Arkansas, too. I needed to get better, throw to hitters (and) get seen more. I definitely feel this is important. This is a business trip; you don’t come here and just mess around.”
Pagnozzi, ranked No. 159 in the class of 2015 national prospect rankings (No. 2 in the state of Arkansas), said he took about two months off from throwing this winter to give his arm a rest; he estimates he threw around 150 innings last summer and fall. He used his outing Saturday as a way to get a jump start on Fayetteville High’s season – the Bulldogs play their first regular-season game on March 8. He also welcomed another opportunity to show off his improved “stuff” in front of about two dozen scouts in attendance.
“It really brings something new into it,” Pagnozzi said. “When the scouts are there it really means a lot; it takes it up another notch. Your adrenaline gets pumped a little more and you get a little more nervous, but it’s fun, too.”
Tom and Andy Pagnozzi made the trip north with a couple of other highly regarded Arkansas prospects: 2015 right-hander Cody Davenport, a classmate of Andy’s at Fayetteville High, and 2015 righty Ty Harpenau, a junior at Fort Smith (Ark.) Southside High School. Another Arkansas prospect, 2015 right-hander Jake Reindl from Shiloh Christian High School in Springdale, Ark., was also at the PG P/C Indoor.
While dozens of players took their turns throwing from the mound, crouching behind home plate or setting themselves next to it with a bat in their hand early Saturday afternoon, Tom Pagnozzi chatted with several of the scouts on hand while also taking the time to talk to PG.
“This one worked in our schedule,” Tom said when asked why the Arkansas contingent made the 550-mile trip north for this particular event. “We don’t open up (the high school season) until March 8th so (Andy is) not fully ready, but he’s close enough. I told him, ‘Don’t overthrow, just go and do the things that you can do.’ He throws hard enough where (the scouts will) see that; he’s not in game shape but he’s in bullpen shape so from that standpoint he should be fine.”
The PG Pitcher/Catcher Indoor Showcase is the 11th Perfect Game event Andy Pagnozzi has attended since making his debut on the biggest of stages at the 2012 PG WWBA World Championship in Jupiter, Fla., as a member of the Texas Scout Team. PG scouts didn’t see him again until last summer’s PG Junior National Showcase in Minneapolis, at which he received a stout 9.0 PG grade.
“I only threw, like, two innings but it was definitely a big two innings,” he said of the Junior National experience. “There were a lot of scouts there and it was a big deal, and it was really a lot of fun.”
A torrent of activity followed Pagnozzi’s Junior National appearance. He was at seven PG WWBA or PG BCS Finals tournaments with Marucci Elite between late June and mid-October – he was named to the all-tournament team at five of them – before calling it a season at the PG WWBA World Championship in late October as a member of the Texas Scout Team Yankees. His fastball consistently set between 87 and 90 mph all summer and fall.
“It’s been really fun and I’ve met a ton of new people – I played for four different Marucci teams at one point,” Pagnozzi said. “It’s constantly playing, constantly getting better and trying to get bigger and stronger. It’s been a great time; Marucci has been amazing to me and it’s like a second family now.”
Tom Pagnozzi played 12 seasons (1987-1998) in the big leagues as a catcher with the St. Louis Cardinals. He was an eighth-round pick of the Redbirds in the 1983 amateur draft out of the University of Arkansas after previously playing at Central Arizona College.
He was a three-time Rawlings Gold Glove Award winner and a National League All-Star in 1992. He joined the Cardinals in the postseason in 1987 and 1996, and that 1987 Cardinals team lost in the World Series to the Minnesota Twins, four games to three.
“The neat thing for me was to play in the same place for 12 years,” Tom said. “I’m going to end up playing for four Hall of Fame managers in Whitey Herzog, Joe Torre, Tony LaRussa and Red Schoendienst (on an interim basis). I got to play for four Hall-of-Famers with one organization which, in my opinion, does things probably the best out of any organization.”
The working relationship between Tom and Andy Pagnozzi isn’t much different than those between other fathers and sons, which might come as a surprise to some considering Tom’s career path.
“He doesn’t force me to play – obviously, I want to play – but he gives me every opportunity to just go out there and do my best,” Andy said. “Anything I need, he’s always there to help me out, and (as a former) catcher – it’s probably one of the smartest positions in the game. Obviously, being in the big leagues, he knows everything better than most, but definitely the catcher helps the pitcher all the time.”
Tom has been coaching the Fayette High Bulldogs summer team, which includes University of Arkansas commits Kyle Pate (2014, Drew Tyler (2015) and Grant Koch (2015). Even when Andy was playing for him instead of Marucci Elite, Tom very much took a hands-off approach when it came to his son.
“I’m a little bit different – I don’t coach him. … I’m a parent to him,” Tom said. “We do some things, don’t get me wrong, but I come from the philosophy that he’s got to want to do it. … Pitching-wise I can’t do a whole lot. I let somebody else do it because otherwise it’s dad and son butting heads; I understand that, I get that. He’s done a lot of it on his own – he’s watched, he’s learned, he’s listened, he’s worked hard, and he’s done the things that you need to do in weight room and the workout room, and all that other stuff.
“He understands what comes along with just coming and playing baseball,” Tom continued. “Some guys don’t get that yet and you can see by the way they look who’s not putting in the work. There’s more to this game than just playing the baseball side of it.”
It was an impressive day at the office during this “business trip” for Arkansas right-hander Andy Pagnozzi. Now Perfect Game scouts – and other members of the scouting community, for that matter – can expect many more business trips involving the Pagnozzis over the next year.
“Andy had only been to one other Perfect Game showcase, the Junior National … and we want to do more of these events,” Tom said. “Perfect Game does a hell of a job in organizing and doing the right things for these kids in evaluating them properly and not inflating them. They give a pro evaluation for colleges to use and we want to get to a few more of these (showcases).”