2013 Perfect Game High School Baseball Preview Index
The eight states that comprise the Perfect Game High School Great Plains Region are often known for growing the country’s tallest corn and beefiest cattle. Those aren’t, however, the only things in the states of the Colorado, Iowa, Kansas, Minnesota, Missouri, Nebraska and North and South Dakota that are tall and beefy this year.
It’s also the land of the tall and athletic high school pitcher from the class of 2013, a couple of whom are projected as early round picks in June’s MLB First-Year Player Draft. Others will go in later rounds and many more should go on to productive NCAA Division I careers. Not to be outdone, several more from the class of 2014 should be early round draft picks when their time comes in June, 2014.
“It is worth noting when you look at all these kids, just about every one of them we’re talking about are big, physical athletes,” Perfect Game vice president of player personnel David Rawnsley said. “You look at it when it comes to football, like in Wisconsin, they’ll say, ‘Hey, we’ve got the big kids up in this area and they’re the linemen. We’ll always have homegrown linemen.’ I just think that now you’re seeing some of those big athletes out on the pitcher’s mound instead of somewhere else they might have been.”
Iowa left-hander A.J. Puk from Cedar Rapids Washington High School and Colorado right-hander Derik Beauprez from Cherry Creek High School in Greenwood Village provide fine starting points for this discussion. Puk is a 6-foot-6, 225-pound 2012 Perfect Game All-American ranked 23rd nationally (No. 1 in Iowa) who has signed with Florida. Beauprez is a 6-5, 215-pound PG All-American ranked 48th nationally (No. 1 in Colorado) who has signed with Miami of Florida.
2013 Colorado righty Alec Hansen from Loveland High School, an Oklahoma signee ranked 99th nationally (No. 2 in Colorado), is 6-7, 210; 2014 Rocky Mountain State left-hander David Peterson from Regis Jesuit High School in Aurora, ranked 21st nationally in his class (No. 1 Colorado) and an Oregon commit, towers at 6-6, 215.
Legendary Cherry Creek head coach Marc Johnson coached Cherry Creek alumni David Aardsma (6-5, 180), Brad Lidge (6-5, 210) and John Burke (6-4, 220), all of whom went on to big-league careers.
“It’s amazing how similar those bodies that went on to the big leagues are,” Johnson said. “It could be a bit cyclical in the fact that these pitchers here this year are all big – these kids are big kids. Height does work in pitching; it helps them get a little more leverage and a little more downhill angle.”
Johnson not only has Beauprez on his staff this year, but also 6-2, 190-pound right-hander Griffin Jax, an Air Force Academy recruit, and 6-4, 185-pound righty Dimitri Casas who is uncommitted but entertaining several offers.
Other highly ranked Colorado pitching prospects include 2013 left-hander and Kansas recruit Denton Keys (6-3, 200) from Rye High School, and 2014 lefty Reagan Todd (6-2, 210) from Regis Jesuit, an Arizona State commit.
Recent history speaks well for the Colorado high school products. Right-hander Kevin Gausman graduated from Grandview High School in Centennial in 2010, was drafted in the sixth round by the Dodgers but didn’t sign, attended LSU for three years and was drafted in the first round with the fourth overall pick by the Orioles in the 2012 draft. Gausman is 6-4, 185-pounds.
“Colorado, historically, has been a pitcher’s state; more of pitcher’s state than a position player state,” Johnson said. “I think part of the reason for that , from my experience over a lot of years, is we’re in the high air and therefore their breaking balls don’t break quite as much here as they do in the thick humidity. So they really learn to dominate with the fastball and the changeup early in their careers.”
The Great Plains Region state with the most highly ranked arms is Missouri: 2013 left-hander Jacob Brentz (6-2, 190) is ranked No. 25 nationally and has signed with Missouri; 2013 righty Devin Williams (6-3, 172) from Hazelwood High School is ranked No. 33 and also signed with Mizzou; 2013 right-hander Brian Howard (6-9, 192) from St. Louis University High School is the state’s No. 3-ranked prospect and signed with Texas Christian; and right-hander Dan Herrmann (6-5, 215) from Creve Coeur is ranked No. 4 in Missouri and has signed with Bradley.
The 2014 class includes Lee’s Summit West High School right-handed teammates Alex Lange (6-3, 210) and Monte’ Harrison (6-2, 180). Lange, ranked 41st nationally, has committed to LSU. Harrison, ranked 77th, is uncommitted.
A couple of the more intriguing 2014 prospects from the region include Kansas right-hander Bryce Montes De Oca, an imposing 6-8, 265-pounder from Lawrence (Kan.) High School who has committed to Mizzou and Nebraska right-hander Jakson Reetz (6-1, 190) from Norris High School who has committed to Nebraska. Montes De Oca is ranked ninth nationally and Reetz 49th.
The list is seemingly endless.
“I think it’s something just like everywhere in the country in that it’s cyclical,” PG’s Rawnsley said. “It’s like we’ve seen in Oklahoma the last few years where there’s been this huge boom of Oklahoma high school pitchers. So I look at it as something cyclical.”
The Iowa High School Athletic Association doesn’t offer a spring baseball season, so most of the state’s top prospects play in the Perfect Game Spring Wood Bat League. All three of the state’s highest ranked 2013 pitchers – Puk, right-hander Derek Burkamper (6-2, 170), a Nebraska recruit from Muscatine, and left-hander Benjamin Miller (6-3, 220), a Nebraska recruit from Clive – will play in the Spring League. So will Brentz, the Missouri fire-baller, which sets up some potentially intriguing scouting opportunities in the event he goes head-to-head with any of the Iowa dandies.
Two of Iowa’s highest ranked 2014s will also play in the Spring League: right-hander Keaton McKinney (6-5, 220), an Arkansas commit from Ankeny, and Cedar Rapids Xavier High School righty Mitch Keller (6-3, 195), who just recently committed to North Carolina.
“It’s more about recognizing the potential in some of these kids and getting them early and get them going in the right direction,” PG Iowa league director Steve James said while also taking note of the young prospects’ athletic builds.
“Most of the pitchers in the big leagues are, what, 6-2 and taller,” James said. “It’s just physics; with more leverage and arm speed the harder it’s going to come. A lot of it has to be attributed to their physical conditioning and their size.”
Missouri’s Brentz, Williams and Lange, and Iowa’s Burkamper were all in attendance at the Perfect Game Pitcher-Catcher Indoor Showcase last month (Puk was there as well, but he only hit; Puk and Brentz were both recruited by their respective colleges as two-way players). Brentz and Williams were especially impressive in front of the scouts during their sessions, with both delivering 94 mph fastballs.
It should be recognized that these young pitching prospects have certainly received some excellent instruction somewhere along their journeys. Great coaches and instructors help develop great players.
The coaches at two of Colorado’s top prep programs – Cherry Creek and Regis Jesuit – in 2012 were Johnson and Walt Weiss, respectively. Johnson, a member of the American Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Fame, coached the West Team at last year’s Perfect Game All-American Classic. Weiss will spend this baseball season as the manager of the big-league Colorado Rockies.
“We had Marc Johnson at the All-American game and I know he’s had a big influence,” Rawnsley said. “I think there is something to be said that, yeah, these kids are getting a very high level of coaching, no doubt. It’s pretty good when last year the two best (high school) coaches in Colorado were Walt Weiss and Marc Johnson. That’s a pretty high level of coaching.”