Southwest Regional Feature: S'west sluggers swing new bats
This is the fifth of a ten-part series previewing all ten regions of the United States. The schedule is as follows:
1. Streakin' in Vegas
Bishop Gorman's dominance in Nevada is not a new story by any means. The Gaels own a share of the state's record for longest consecutive winning streak, having captured No. 6 in 2011. And it doesn't appear that the streak is in much jeopardy as the 2012 season gets set to start either. Coming into 2011 there was hope for several other teams in the area, most notably rival Sierra Vista who was led by future first rounder Jake Hager and a veteran squad. Gorman went through a coaching change and their best player was a junior. That junior, 3B/RHP Joey Gallo, went on to smash 25 Home Runs and was named Perfect Game's 2011 Position Player of the Year and later earning MVP honors at the PG All-American Classic. It's not necessarily going to be a cakewalk for the Gaels, as a strong Palo Verde squad and a deep pitching staff at Centennial could challenge them, but at this point it would be unwise to bet against the Las Vegas powerhouse.
2. New bat regulations affect the game
In 2012 the National Federation of High Schools implemented a rule change requiring that all aluminum bats used in game play must meet BBCOR standards. New Mexico went a step further, switching to wood bats this year. The same change was made in 2011 at the collegiate level and in the state of California, there was a significant impact on the way the game was played. Click here to read Jeff Dahn's in-depth look at how high schools in the region are adjusting to the change.
3. Arizona realignment
Going from Classes (1-5A with divisional splits) to Divisions will have several affects on the game. First, it will reduce the number of state champions crowned from eight to five. The result is that the top teams from what was Class 5A divsion I will now play against the top teams from Class 5A division II in the playoffs, which should increase the level of competition in the playoffs. Last year Chaparral won the 5A division II title, Mountain Pointe won 5A division I. This year those two teams will be competing for the same championship. While a lot of smaller schools won't like being forced to compete with larger schools, the change will improve the level of play in Division I.
4. The future home of Alex Bregman
Albquerque Academy MIF Alex Bregman draws rave revues amongst scouts for his pure hitting ability, feel for the game and work ethic. He is light on his feet defensively, and as a 6.8 runner he can cover good ground defensively. And while he is a good defender up the middle, scouts are intruiged by his potential behind the plate. Bregman sees occasional time at catcher for Albuquerque Academy, and while he is relatively new to the position, his physical tools suggest that he has the potential to develop into a good backstop. The value of Bregman's bat would dramatically increase his upside if his offensive production came from the catcher position where the bar is set extremely low. The question though, is whether teams want to fix what isn't broken for such a highly talented player. If Bregman plays college baseball it will be at Louisiana State, beyond that his future home is very much up in the air at this point.
5. Dons Dynasty
The Spanish Fork Dons have been the toast of Utah high school baseball in recent years. In 2011 they captured a third consecutive 4A state championship. It was their fifth title in the past seven years. With a move down to Class 3A in 2012 and the return of their entire pitching staff from 2011, the dynasty doesn't look like it will be coming to an end anytime this year. Spanish Fork's performance against high level out of state competition proves that they are a legitimate national powerhouse. Of course, there is the debate about whether or not defending 5A state champion Bingham is the top team in the state. They will play each other again on March 29th, Bingham is the only team in the state of Utah to have beaten Spanish Fork in the past two seasons, having won each of the past two meetings. With as much talent as Bingham boasts in 5A we could be seeing the emergence of twin dynasties.
March 3 Piedra Vista (NM) @ Volcano Vista (NM)
The back to back defending 4A champions open their season against the 2011 5A state runner up Piedra Vista. These two met in the 4A state semifinals in 2010, with Piedra Vista pulling out a 6-5 win. Volcano Vista won the season opening matchup between the two last year in what has become a competitive and entertaining series. Top prospects to watch in this one include: OF Shilo McCall of Piedra Vista and MIF Andre Vigil (2013) of Volcano Vista.
March 13, 21 Hamilton (AZ) vs Mountain Pointe (AZ)
Rematch of last year's state championship game, which was named the PG 2011 HS Game of the Year. Home Run king Kevin Cron, who gritted out a CG victory in the extra innings affair is now at TCU, but there is still plenty of star power. Hamilton 3B Mitch Nay is the state's top prospect and Mountain Pointe OF/RHP Joey Curletta is not far behind. With the realignment in Arizona these two high level programs are now in the same league, which will increase the stakes.
March 29 Bingham (UT) @ Spanish Fork (UT)
The preseason favorite in Class 5A (Bingham) collides with the preseason favorite in 3A (Spanish Fork) for an interesting matchup that features several of the state's top prospects. RHP/SS Brady Lail and OF/RHP Connor Williams of Bingham and RHP/1B Kayden Porter and 2013 RHP Brady Corless of Spanish Fork give this clash of the titans plenty of star power.
The top two programs in the Sunset League met four times in 2011, twice in the regular season and two more times in postseason play. Sierra Vista moved to 17-0 on the season after winning their first meeting 8-5. Gorman would get the last laugh, splitting the regular season series with a win at home before ending Sierra Vista's season with a pair of defeats in the playoffs. The teams are not as evenly matched this year now that Sierra Vista has graduated first round pick Jake Hager, while Bishop Gorman 3B/RHP Joey Gallo is now a senior. Nevertheless it should be an intense matchup, as the Lions certainly haven't forgotten how what had the potential to be a promising season came to an end.
April 20, 21 Brophy Prep (AZ) vs Chaparral (AZ)
The top two traditional power in Scottsdale meet for a home and home rivalry matchup as the regular season winds down. Postseason implications are likely to be involved and both teams feature interesting prospects to watch. OF/RHP David Graybill and OF Chris Beall give Brophy a strong foundation of senior leadership while 2014 RHP/OF Ryan Castellani shows the makings of a future star. Defending state champs Chaparral is lead by a couple of big physical two-way LHP/1B in Dylan Cozens and Dillon Bigcrane Jackson.
Southwest High School Dream Team
*Based on present tools and current position
C Kholeton Sanchez, Sr. Piedra Vista (NM)
Sanchez's high level defensive ability behind the plate will slow down just about any running game. His bat is solid, and while he's not a major threat in the lineup, he contributes plenty given his athleticism, arm strength and receiving skills. Offensive minded David Real of Boulder Creek (AZ) and 2013 grads Ryan Scott of Notre Dame Prep (AZ) and Bronson Larson of Davis (UT) are also strong candidates, while Alex Bregman also sees time behind the plate but makes the Dream Team at his current primary position of shortstop.
1B Kayden Porter, Sr. Spanish Fork (UT) (2-time Southwest Dream Team Selection)
While the power armed Porter's future is likely on the mound, his power bat propels him to getting the nod at first base on the Southwest Dream Team. As a junior the 6-foot-5, 240 pound slugger hit .570/.632/1.209 in the middle of the 4A state champions' lineup.
2B Andre Vigil, Jr. Volcano Vista (NM)
Vigil pulled off an impressive feat in 2011. The state's top prospect Blake Swihart put up a monster season that led to him becoming a first round pick of the Boston Red Sox. But Swihart had to share 5A Player of the Year honors with a sophomore; Andre Vigil.
SS Alex Bregman, Sr. Albuquerque Academy (NM)
Bregman's selection edges out several high level shortstops, but his polished defensive actions and highest level hitting tools make him an obvious choice. Other quality candidates include: Jared Meek of Carlsbad (NM), West Tunnell of Boulder Creek (AZ) and Michael Myers of Silverado (NV).
3B Mitch Nay, Sr. Hamilton (AZ) (2-time Southwest Dream Team Selection)
With the graduation of Kevin Cron, Nay ascends to the perch of top power hitter in the state of Arizona. Were it not for Gallo, Nay would be the top power hitter in the region as well. His solid defensive play at third base is an asset for Hamilton as well, and they will need him to have a huge year to make a third consecutive trip to the state title game.
OF Joey Curletta , Sr. Mountain Pointe (AZ)
OF Shilo McCall, Sr. Piedra Vista (NM)
OF Connor Williams, Sr. Bingham (UT)
Curletta's arm not only makes him a fit for right field, but also has some scouts interested in him as a pitcher. His power bat makes it likely that his future is as a position player though. He will be counted on to shoulder the load for the defending champs in Arizona. Shilo McCall's high end speed and range will give him a shot to stick in center, he combines his speed with a playable arm and power bat. Williams isn't quite as fast and athletic as McCall, but he is close. He also possesses a cannon for an arm that he is only beginning to learn to harness. Williams projects to hit for power and has started to fulfill some of that potential. Other notable outfielders: Cullen O'Dwyer (NM), Johnny Sewald (NV), Chris Beall and (AZ) and Zach Gibbons (AZ).
UTIL Joey Gallo, Sr. 3B/RHP Bishop Gorman (NV) (2-time Southwest Dream Team Selection)
The top ranked third basemen in the class has pitches his way out of the third base spot on the Dream Team. His legitimate ability on the mound makes him an elite two-way prospect at this level. Gallo is the top prospect in the region, and it's really not that close. Kayden Porter (UT) and David Graybill (AZ) would have been a good fit for this spot had it not been for Gallo's mid 90s arm. 2013 grad Andrew Church (NV) and 2014 grad Bennett Bradford (UT) look to be likely candidates for the future.
P Tony Blanford, Sr. RHP, Boulder Creek (AZ)
P Zach Quintana, RHP, Sr. Arbor View (NV) (2-time Southwest Dream Team selection)
P Brian Bonnell, RHP, Sr. LV Centennial (NV)
P Tanner Draper, RHP, Jr. Riverton (UT)
P Andrew Church, RHP, Jr. Palo Verde (NV)
Pitching is the strength of this year's class in Nevada, as they land a pair of seniors as well as the Uitlity player on the Dream Team. Junior Tanner Draper leads what should be a formidable pitching staff at Riverton (UT) for the next couple of years as he teams with fellow 2013 RHP Jared White. Tony Blanford edges out Quintana for top pitcher in the region, thanks to his low 90s fastball and hammer curveball. Top lefties in the region include: Cody Moffett (AZ), Dillon Bigcrane Jackson (AZ) and Riley Gates (UT).
Southwest Region Best Tools
Best Hitter For Average Alex Bregman, SS, Sr. Albuquerque Academy (NM) (2nd year in a row)
Bregman made headlines last year by breaking New Mexico's single season Home Run record. But his power production is simply icing on the cake, as he is the top pure hitter in the region and belongs on the short list for best pure hitter in the nation. Bregman's smooth and fluid swing with a direct path, good balance and off the charts hand-eye coordination allow him to consistently make hard contact.
Best Hitter For Power Joey Gallo, 3B/RHP, Sr. Bishop Gorman (NV)
To put it concisely: Gallo owns the 10th longest Home Run in the history of PetCo Park, home of the San Diego Padres, after having played exactly one game there (2011 Perfect Game All-American Classic).
Best Baserunner Shilo McCall, OF, Sr. Piedra Vista (NM)
McCall's 6.62 60 yard dash time is a good indicator of his overall athleticism. But his baserunning ability goes beyond pure speed, McCall has a quick first step and makes good decisions on the basepaths.
Best Defensive Catcher Alex Bregman, Sr. Albuquerque Academy (NM)
Currently a shortstop, Bregman has begun working on his honing his skills behind the plate. A tireless worker, the results are starting to pay off, and if he is able to develop into a high level defensive catcher it would make Bregman's high level bat very valuable. His athleticism and arm strength give him the raw tools to develop, but he's still relatively new to the position. While the jury is still out on his future defensive home, the thought of a sweet swingin' hitter like Bregman in the lineup as a catcher is an idea that has scouts salivating.
Best Defensive Infielder Joey Gallo, 3B/RHP, Sr. Bishop Gorman (NV)
Usually this category goes to a shortstop. Gallo has seen time at short in the past, but his physical tools fit far better on the hot corner. While he doesn't posses great straight line speed, Gallo moves very well for his size (6-foot-5 and 220 pounds) with good lateral agility and fielding actions. His plus plus arm is a tremendous asset at the position as well.
Best Defensive Outfielder Connor Williams, Sr. Bingham (UT)
Williams combines athletic actions and 6.7 speed with an already impressive arm that projects well. While his instincts are not yet as highly polished as Shilo McCall''s, his tools are top notch and he is likely to become a very high level defender in the long term.
Best Infield Arm Joey Gallo, 3B/RHP, Sr. Bishop Gorman (NV) (2nd year in a row)
This category is the most obvious call of any in the region, if Gallo weren't a prodigious power hitter he would be an interesting RHP prospect.
Best Outfield Arm Joey Curletta, Sr. Clear Creek (TX)
Curletta is seen by most as a position prospect (outfield or third base), but some scouts actually like him more on the mound where he has reportedly been up to 93 in the preseason. He also threw 93 during the outfield workout at the 2012 World Showcase.
Best Fastball Joey Gallo, 3B/RHP, Sr. Bishop Gorman (NV)
The fact that a primary third baseman has the best fastball in the entire region is a testament to the plus-plus arm strength of Gallo. Used primarily as a relief ace for the six time defending state champions, Gallo routinely runs his fastball into the mid 90s with reports of him sitting 94-96 during the preseason.
Best Offspeed Stuff Tony Blanford, RHP, Sr. Boulder Creek (AZ)
While his consistency still has a ways to go, Blanford's 12-6 curveball is a legitimate out pitch at its best. The pitch features tight rotation and sharp downer break with very good depth, the feel isn't always there but when he's locating it he is lights out.
Best Command Tanner Draper, RHP, Jr. Riverton (UT)
Draper's performance at the 2011 EvoShield National Championship was highly impressive. He opened with a no-hitter in his first start, and then followed that with a six inning shutout in the semifinals. In total Draper allowed two hits and one walk while striking out 21 hitters over 13 extremely impressive innings. While his stuff is good, Draper did it by spotting up with plus command. He threw 67.2% of his pitches for strikes, including 66% first pitch strikes. Draper was topping out at 87 at the time, he's reportedly been flirting with 90 in the preseason and could become a high level pitching prospect.
Best Pitchability Zach Quintana, RHP, Sr. Arbor View (NV)
Quintana edges out Draper for top pitchability in the region thanks to his ability to locate and mix three quality pitches. Quintana's upper 80s/low 90s fastball gets heavy sink and run and his offspeed stuff shows good life. He manages to keep all three under control and put them where he wants them thanks to his advanced feel for each.
Southwest Top 25 Regional Rankings
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