Great Plains Regional Feature: Rarefied Air
This is the tenth of a ten-part series previewing all ten regions of the United States. The schedule is as follows:
1. Ryan Bur
Click here to read Patrick Ebert's profile on Highlands Ranch RHP Ryan Burr.
Maize (KS) has become a perennial powerhouse in the state of Kansas, dominating their competition in the southern state, and frequently beating out the Kansas City area competition in the postseason. 2011 was a dream season for the Eagles, who went a perfect 25-0 and punctuated the run with a 10-0 run rule victory in the 6A state championship game. It was the Maize's third championship since 2003 and their consistent deep runs in the postseason suggest that they remain the team to beat in the Sunflower State going forward as well.
3. Western Missouri
The state of Missouri is flanked by major metropolitan areas with Kansas City on the western border and St. Louis on the east. Both a good baseball towns and tend to consistently produce quality prospects as a result. Most years the east side of the state is a touch stronger than their western counterparts but the St. Louis area is stronger in the 2013 and 2014 classes while the Kansas City area features some strong teams in Lee's Summit West and Staley that give the west side hope of capturing a state championship in 2012. The Class three and four titles both went to eastern school in 2011, while classes one and two came from the central part of the state.
4. Maple Grove regroups
Maple Grove (MN) saw their title dreams come crashing down at Target Field last year in the AAA state championship game. The Crimson were one out away from victory before Burnsville came storming back with a 6-run seventh inning to knock off Maple Grove 6-5. It has surely been a long offseason for Maple Grove, which was a junior heavy team in 2011, and should be hungry for redemption as they enter 2012.
5. Return of Rash
RHP Alec Rash (pictured) returns to Adel DeSoto Minburn (ADM) High School in Iowa after spending a year at Pelham (AL) when his family moved. Now back in Iowa Rash returns to the Great Plains region where he is among the top prospects. His return to the mound gives ADM the best pitcher in the state of Iowa and instantly gives them hope of contention.
April 4 Christian Brothers (MO) @ Vianney (MO)
Christian Brothers College Prep features a strong one-two punch of 2013 RHPs in Dan Herrmann and Robert Plohr, both of whom have flirted with 90 mph in the past. Vianney is a deep and complete team with a senior laden roster that looks like a viable contender for a state championship in 2012.
The defending 5A state champions host one of the preseason contenders to capture the 2012 crown. Both teams made deep runs in 2011, with Regis going on to capture their first state championship since 1988. Highlands Ranch ace RHP Ryan Burr is the top ranked prospect in the state and is a big reason the Falcons are contenders in 2012. Regis graduated some key players from last year but still feature quality pitching in sophomore lefty David Peterson and senior RHP Peter Bayer, making it likely that this matchup will feature a quality pitching matchup.
The River City Festival held at Hoglund Ballpark (home of the Kansas Jayhawks) and Lawrence Free State High School, traditionally brings in the top teams from around eastern Kansas and northwestern Missouri. This year's field is highlighted by nationally ranked Lee's Summit West (MO), the preseason No. 1 ranked team in the Great Plains region. Their opening matchup against Lawrence High School (KS) will be a big matchup as Lawrence features a pair of pitching prospects in senior LHP Garrett Cleavinger and massive 2014 RHP Bryce Montes de Oca.
Great Plains High School Dream Team
*Based on present tools and current position
C Matt Fultz, Sr. Lee's Summit West (MO)
The big physical backstop shows a lot of talent both behind the plate and with the bat. Fultz is a 6-foot-1 215 pound physical specimin who can not only punish mistake pitches, but also has made strides towards becoming a complete hitter and now shows the ability to drive the ball to all fields. His defensive skills are highly polished, showing the ability to move well laterally and block balls, while also showing good receiving skills. If he plays at the college level it will be at Kansas State.
1B Derik Beauprez, Jr. Cherry Creek (CO)
Beauprez is a two-way prospect, and his long term upside on the mound makes it likely that his future lies as a pitcher. But Cherry Creek's ace lands in thefirst base spot on the Great Plains Dream Team this year thanks to his power bat and narrowly missing the cut for the pitching staff as a junior. Raymore-Peculiar (MO) slugger Jacob Boyland also makes a very strong case with his high level bat.
2B Willy DuPont, Sr. Lafayette (MO)
Plus range and good athleticism make DuPont a potential elite level defensive 2B, who also sees a lot of time at shortstop at the high school level. His aggressive left handed swing generates easy bat speed and good pop to the pullside. The Mississippi State commit has a chance to develop into an exciting player as he matures physically.
SS Danny Holst, Sr. Parkway South (MO)
Holst is a rare Texas A&M commit who hails from outside the state of Texas. The Aggies have plenty of middle infield talent in their back yard, so it means a lot when they go out of their traditional pipeline to recruit a player from Missouri. Holst hit .488 and stole 21 bases as a junior in 2011 and is a strong all-around player.
3B Braxton Martinez, Sr. Francis Howell North (MO)
At 6-foot-3 and 220 pounds, Martinez has the physical build that suggests he can drive the ball out of the ballpark. As he has progressed as a hitter he has begun to realize that potential and his defensive skills at third base make him a solid selection for the Great Plains Dream Team.
OF Bralin Jackson, Sr. Raytown South (MO)
OF Kevin Connolly, Sr. Creighton Prep (NE)
OF Zach Coppola, Sr. Dowling Catholic (IA)
Jackson is a supremely athletic center fielder who is capable of covering a ton of ground in center field when he gets a good read and takes a direct route to the ball. His hitting tools are beyond his hitting skills but he already shows some ability with the bat and has a lot of remaining upside all around. Kevin Connolly is a rare Nebraska talent, his power potential at the plate will allow him to move to a corner should he slow down in the future and his 6.81 60 yard dash time and 92 mph arm give him a well rounded tool set. Coppola is a well rounded athlete who combines a quick bat, direct swing path and good defensive skills to give a solid well rounded present package with remaining projection. St. Louis product Tate Matheny just misses the cut and has an interesting combination of hittting tools and athleticism in the outfield.
UTIL AJ Puk, Jr. LHP/1B Washington (IA)
Puk's ascendence from an unknown midwestern player as a sophomore a year ago to becoming a well known prospect on a national level has been previously documented here and here. Puk would easily make the pitching staff of the Dream Team but his high level hitting tools move him to the Util spot as he would still be a high level division I recruit if he didn't pitch. Hulking RHP/1B Matt Jones of Gretna (NE) narrowly misses the cut on the pitching staff and would have been a very good fit here were it not for Puk, he is one of the top prospects in the state of Nebraska. CJ Martin of Oakville (MO) also belongs in the conversation.
P Ryan Burr, Sr. RHP, Highlands Ranch (CO) (2-time Great Plains Dream Selection)
P Alec Rash, RHP, Sr. Adel DeSoto Minburn (IA)
P Devin Williams, RHP, Jr. Hazlewood West (MO)
P Mitchell Brown, RHP, Sr. Rochester County (MN)
P David Peterson, LHP, So. Regis Jesuit (CO)
The strength of the region's 2012 class lies in it's pitching depth. Burr enters the spring as the top prospect in the region, and the Arizona State signee has a chance to move up draft boards with a big spring. The physically imposing 6-foot-4, 215 pound righty has run his fastball up to 94 mph and has flashed plus potential with his secondary stuff. He gives Highlands Ranch hope of winning their first state championship in 2012. Rash returns to the region after moving to Alabama for a year for family reasons, his return is a huge boost to ADM. 2013 grad Devin Williams has shown a steady progression over the past year and has bumped his velocity into the low 90s on occasion. His quick projectable arm and rapidly improving secondary stuff make him an effective pitcher already, with a chance to become a high level prospect. Mitchell Brown has touched 93 with his fastball and has a deep arsenal that includes a hard slider, a cutter, a good changeup and an occasional two-plane curveball. 6-foot-6 Sophomore southpaw David Peterson cemented his spot on the Dream Team in spite of his youth when he pitched Regis Jesuit into the Colorado 5A title game as a true freshman last year. Other pitchers to keep an eye on: 6-foot-7 2012 RHP Ryan Warner of Pine Creek (CO) a NC State commit, 6-foot-6 2012 RHP Matt Hasenbeck of Eureka (MO) a Missouri State commit, 6-foot-4 2012 RHP Jonathan Harris of Hazlewood Central (MO) a Missiouri State commit, 2012 RHP Blake McFadden of Savannah (MO) a Kansas State commit, 90 mph 2012 LHP Brent Stong of Andover (MN), 6-foot-6 2012 RHP Evan Bell of Blue Valley (KS) an Indiana commit and 6-foot-8 2012 RHP Hayden Edwards of Blue Valley (KS) a Kansas commit.
Great Plains Region Best Tools
Best Hitter For Average AJ Puk, LHP/1B, Jr. Washington (IA)
While the tall lanky lefty will likely make his mark on the mound, Puk's ability with the bat really stands out. His loose easy swing and ability to drive the ball to all fields makes him a very high level two way player at a young age. He has a chance to develop into one of the top power hitters in the region as well once he fills out his XL frame, which makes it all the more impressive that his upside on the mound somehow dwarfs his offensive ability.
Best Hitter For Power Matt Fultz, C, Sr. Lee's Summit West (MO)
At 6-foot-1 and 215 pounds Fultz is a chiseled athlete who posseses good raw power and can put a charge into the ball. At the PG Pitcher-Catcher Indoor showcase in February he squared one ball up that registered at 97 mph off the bat well before he was in midseason form. He's shown the ability to pull the ball with serious authority.
Best Baserunner Bralin Jackson, OF, Sr. Raytown (MO)
Going purely on speed here Jackson stands out. His instincts are as highly developed yet as some of the other candidates in this category, but his aggressive style, quick first step and plus speed give him the ability to wreak havoc on the basepaths.
Best Defensive Catcher Matt Fultz, Sr. Lee's Summit West (MO)
Fultz moves well laterally behind the plate for a strong muscular player, his receiving skills have developed well and his blocking and framing skills have become very good. While his offensive ability is what is most exciting about Fultz, his defense also stands out above the crowd in the Great Plains region.
Best Defensive Infielder Willy DuPont, MIF, Sr. ns (MO)
DuPont's plus speed and good athleticism give him very good range in the middle infield. His hands work well and as he fills out his long lanky frame he should add arm strength.
Best Defensive Outfielder Bralin Jackson, Sr. Raytown (MO)
Jackson is not the best present defensive outfielder in the region, but his exceptional athleticism and speed give him the physical tools to potentially develop into a plus defender in center field, capable of covering huge amounts of ground. Jackson is a burner, as he learns to take more direct routes to the ball he will be able to take away the gaps and consistently rob hitters of extra bases.
Best Outfield Arm Kevin Connolly, OF, Sr. Creighton Prep (NE)
Connolly has a very loose arm action with good speed and some remaining projection. He threw 91 mph at the 2011 National Showcase and bettered it with an event best 92 mph at the 2011 Midwest Top Prospect Showcase.
Best Fastball Alec Rash, RHP, Sr. Adel DeSoto Minburn (IA)
Rash edges out Burr for best fastball thanks to the heavy sinking action and quality command his 90-93 mph fastball typically features. Rash maintains his velocity well from the stretch and pounds the bottom half of the strike zone well with his fastball.
Best Offspeed Stuff Ryan Burr, RHP, Sr. Highlands Ranch (CO) (2nd year in a row)
For the second year in a row Burr's curveball earns him top billing for the region's best offspeed stuff. Burr also works in the occasional changeup but has little need for it at this level and thus hasn't developed it to the level of his plus curveball. Burr's upper 70's hook is sharp and deep with 12-6 shape when he's on top.
Best Command Mitchell Brown, RHP, Sr. Rochester County (MN)
Brown's ability to locate his low 90s fastball in the bottom of the strike zone has allowed him to be successful at high level events throughout his high school career, including the 2011 WWBA World Champioship where he threw 5 1/3 shutout innings for Canes Baseball. He shows feel for locating his deep arsenal and works ahead well.
Best Pitchability AJ Puk, LHP/1B, Jr. Washington (IA)
While the 6-foot-5 southpaw has yet to join the 90 mph club (not that he needs to at this point) and his changeup is still a work in progress, Puk has already dominated hitters at the highest level of high school age baseball; the WWBA World Championship in Jupiter, FL. Puk mixes his pitches well and shows an advanced feel for setting up and then sitting down hitters. His stuff has rapidly improved and by next year he could become the best in some of the other pitching categories as well.
Great Plains Top 25 Regional Rankings
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