Plains Region: Colorado, Iowa, Kansas, Minnesota, Missouri, Montana,
Injury bug continues to plague Great Plains,
but plenty of bright spots remain
It's a narrative that
nobody involved in amateur baseball in the region is happy about, but
the Great Plains region has had more than its share of injuries to
the region's top prospects in the past year. It began with potential
first rounder Ryan Boldt, who suffered a partial tear in his meniscus
in the second game of the season last spring. Then, flame-throwing
junior Bryce Montes de Oca underwent Tommy John surgery after
pitching in one game.
the 2014 campaign has even begun, two-way Missouri standout Shane
Benes tore his ACL in a high school basketball game and lefthanded
pitcher David Peterson suffered a fractured fibula. Benes will miss
the entire season, and the same may be true of Peterson.
region that is made up of cold weather states with smaller
populations has some highly talented prospects, but not in the same
abundance that they're found in the baseball hotbeds of California,
Florida, Georgia or Texas. Thus each significant injury to a high
level prospect drags the overall region down more than it would in
other parts of the country.
the bright side, righthander Devin Williams continued to improve last
spring and went on to become a second round pick of the Milwaukee
Brewers after striking out 101 hitters and allowing just 19 hits over
55 innings for 22-5 Hazelwood West (Mo.). It wasn't necessarily a
breakout season, as Williams was a highly ranked prospect in the 2013
class for years, but it was a case of a young prospect taking a
significant step toward reaching his lofty ceiling.
was the only player from this region to be selected in the first 10
rounds of the 2013 draft, although there are several alumni who have
a chance to go high in 2016.
a team standpoint, ThunderRidge (Colo.) was the most pleasant
surprise. In this space a year ago we highlighted the Colorado 5A
preseason favorites, weighing the merits of the two on-paper
favorites who began the season ranked in the top 50 in the nation;
defending state champion Cherry Creek and 2011 champion Regis Jesuit.
But ThunderRidge ended Cherry Creek's repeat bid in the state
semifinals before beating Rocky Mountain in the championship game.
Much like Cherry Creek a year ago, the reigning champs begin the
season ranked among the top 50 teams in the nation.
Valley West of Kansas is perhaps the most overwhelming favorite to
win a state title of any team in the region. Ranked just behind
ThunderRidge in the national rankings and the second highest ranked
team in the region, the Tigers are also defending state champions.
While ThunderRidge returns their top standout from last year's team
in shortstop Brody Westmoreland, Blue Valley West returns nearly the
entire roster from a team that went 26-3, having graduated just four
players. They will have to replace some pitching depth, but they
boast a pair of Division I signees – Ryan Ralston and Zack Engelken
– on the mound and have the Nos. 2, 3 and 5 ranked 2014 grads in
the state on their roster and the target on their backs couldn't get
they don't field official high school teams in Montana, the state
looks to produce another draft pick from the high school ranks this
year after being shut out in 2013. Catcher Slade Heggen is likely to
draw a lot of interest and righthander Gage Hinsz could also hear his
name called in June. Montana has produced three top 10 round picks
from the high school ranks in the past three years after not having a
single player drafted in the top 10 rounds between 1994 and 2010.
Outfielder Ben Roberts went in the seventh round in 2011, and 2012
was a historic draft for the Big Sky state, as outfielder Justin
Black went in the fourth round to the Braves and righthander Andrew
Sopko went in the seventh to the Padres.
righthander and 2013 PG All-American Keaton McKinney has a chance to
be the highest drafted player from the region this year, and his
presence almost single-handedly makes the brand new Ankeny Centennial a contender on paper. Centennial is comprised of players from Ankeny high school, which has been one of the state's top programs in recent years. Perhaps Centennial's biggest threat to a potential state title run in their first year is
professional baseball, as the state championship is played in early
August, three weeks after the MLB draft's signing deadline. If
McKinney opts to forgo his scholarship to the University of Arkansas
he will have to end his senior season early to begin his professional
like McKinney in Iowa, two-way standout Jakson Reetz almost
singlehandedly makes Norris High School the overwhelming favorite in
Nebraska. They are the defending state champions, and unlike in Iowa,
the Nebraska state championship does not take place after draft picks
who sign a contract are required to report to their organization.
Thus barring an injury or major postseason upset, Norris is likely to
defend their title.
course, as the 2013 season proved, a whole lot changes occur after
the first pitch is thrown. Hopefully there will be a lot more
positive developments during the season.
Pains Region High School Dream Team
Based on present tools
- Wyatt Cross, Jr., Legacy (Colo.)
is the deepest position in this region and may be the deepest region
for catching in the entire country. Jackson Reetz lands in the
utility spot this year given his two-way abilities. Cross' elite
defensive skills gives him the nod over other deserving candidates
like Slade Heggen, a well rounded catching prospect from Montana,
standout defender Tanner Gragg of Kansas and offensive minded Colby
Fitch of Missouri.
1B – T.J. Martin, Sr., Blue Valley
is a primary catcher, but his ability to handle first base and the
relative depth at his two positions lines up to make him the Dream
Team's first baseman. Martin first arrived on the prospect map when
he hit leadoff as a freshman with fifth overall draft pick Bubba
Starling batting second when they were teammates at Gardner-Edgerton
High School. His bat can certainly play at first for the Great Plains
Dream Team, and while his defensive ability goes to waste, the
ability to pick throws in the dirt should carry over well to his
current secondary position.
- Max George, Sr., Regis Jesuit (Colo.)
who isn't particularly big, has solid tools across the board.
Although he's not a burner, doesn't have a cannon for an arm and
doesn't have tape-measure power, he can run, throw and really hit.
Most of all, what George does extremely well is play baseball. In
terms of winning games at this level this season, he might just be
the best player to build a team around in the entire region, which
includes four 2013 PG All-Americans. He will be counted on to play a
huge role for Regis this year after the graduation of his double play
partner Brody Weiss, who he had played alongside with for his entire
high school career. The Raiders are now George's team, which would
suggest they are in good hands.
MIF - Ryan Lillard, Sr.,
is a lot of competition for this spot. It's very difficult to leave
off two-way standout Shane Benes of Missouri and highly ranked 2015
prospect Nick Shumpert of Colorado off the Dream Team. Power hitter
Brody Westmoreland has made a lot of noise as well, but Lillard's all
around athleticism and polished middle infield skills, combined with
his surprising present power, with more to come, makes him the pick
3B - Ryan Mantle, Jr., Linn (Mo.)
a two-way prospect, has standout arm strength both from third base
and on the mound. He's ahead of the pack at the third base position
which is surprisingly junior heavy, but may have a future on the
mound as well. Greyson Jenista of Kansas and Ty Buck of Minnesota
look to be his competition for this spot next year, but Mantle gets
the nod this year for the combination of his power bat and arm
- Monte Harrison, Sr., Lee's Summit West (Mo.)
makes a return trip to the Dream Team and is one of four players in
the region who was chosen as a 2013 Perfect Game All-American last
summer. Harrison is an elite athlete whose defensive tools are at the
top of the charts, with a plus arm and plus speed at present. He's
still learning the finer points of how to put those plus tools to
use, but he's already one of the best defensive outfielders in the
nation. He should continue to improve if he chooses to stick with
baseball at the next level, as he is also a highly regarded football
recruit signed with Nebraska. At the plate Harrison has plenty of pop
in his bat, capable of hitting home runs and driving balls into the
gaps for doubles that his speed will allow him to stretch into
triples. He is the most dynamic and athletic player in the region,
and while he lacks polish, his moderately refined present baseball
skills are more than adequate for his talent to translate at this
level, making him an impact player.
- Greg Pickett, Jr., Legend (Colo.)
is the name of the game for Pickett, who features plus bat speed from
the left side and plenty of strength to hammer the ball out of any
part of the park. He has the arm strength to stand out in right field
at this level as well, though his middle of the order power
production is clearly the reason that he's an obvious selection to
the Dream Team as a junior.
- Jack Benninghoff, Sr., Rockhurst (Mo.)
is technically a Kansas resident and appears on prospect lists ranked
amongst Kansas players as he resides just west of the Missouri river
in the Kansas City suburb of Overland Park. However, he attends
nearby Rockhurst High School, located on the Missouri side of the
border. Benninghoff has a well rounded skill-set highlighted by a
plus arm. On this Dream Team he'd be the right fielder because of the
elite athleticism of Harrison, but he's plenty rangy for a center
field at this level. He has good offensive tools as well that should
allow him to hit for a high average and power. Others considered
included 2015 Missouri grads Matthew Vierling and Marquise Doherty as
well as Colorado product Keenan Eaton.
- Jakson Reetz, Sr., C/RHP/OF, Norris (Neb.)
returns to the Dream Team after being selected as the team's catcher
as a junior a year ago. At the time this spot was occupied by elite
two-way prospect A.J. Puk, but with his graduation Reetz makes the
obvious move from the catcher position – where he profiles at the
next level – to the utilility spot, which is much more reflective
of his current role in the high school game. For Norris High School,
Reetz's primary contribution is as the ace of the pitching staff.
He's one of the top catching prospects in the class and has the
athleticism to be a right field prospect as well long-term. Reetz was
named the MVP of the 2013 PG All-American Classic and has signed a
letter of intent to play at the nearby University of Nebraska.
- Keaton McKinney, RHP/1B, Sr., Ankeny Centennial (Iowa)
has continued to progress steadily since impressing as an
underclassman and earning a scholarship offer to Arkansas. McKinney's
biggest improvement in the past year has been the development of his
changeup, which is arguably the best in the nation. The changeup
plays well off of his low 90s fastball that has seen steady
improvements in the command department and a quality upper 70s
curveball with good depth and bite. Combining his elite ability on
the mound with his power bat makes him easily the most valuable high
school player in the state of Iowa.
- Bryce Montes de Oca, RHP, Sr., Lawrence (Kan.)
massive flame-thrower missed last season after undergoing Tommy John
surgery. If he can make a full recovery he should regain his previous
status as the most intriguing pitching prospect in the region and
become an overpowering presence for the Lions. When healthy he sat
93-95 with his fastball showing a hard breaking curveball and the
makings of a quality changeup.
- David Peterson, LHP, Sr., Regis Jesuit (Colo.)
will miss most, if not all of his senior season with a fractured
right fibula in his landing leg. It's a huge blow for Regis Jesuit,
who were among the preseason favorites in Colorado's 5A class. They
won't be completely depleted, as it was a deep team and fellow senior
lefty Reagan Todd is well equipped to fill the role as a staff ace.
Peterson's low-90s fastball features good life and he has added a
quality slider that has enhanced his repertoire that counts four
pitches at times, though he rarely had a need for his changeup at
this level. Peterson is committed to Oregon, and while the injury
increases the likelihood that he honors that commitment, there should
still be plenty of draft interest. He has not been completely ruled
out for the state tournament yet, and if he were to surprise with an
early comeback it could be a huge boost to the Raiders.
- Alex Lange, RHP, Sr., Lee's Summit West (Mo.)
physically imposing Lange features an elite slider and an
overpowering fastball. When he's on he can completely dominate a
game. He has begun to show more consistency as he gains experience,
and if he can continue that trend he could be in line for a big
season for the Titans who boast a pair of Dream Team selections with
he and outfielder Monte Harrison.
- Garrett Hutson, RHP, Sr., Eldorado (Kan.)
becomes the only underclassman to win a spot on the Dream Team's
pitching staff this year, after three made it a year ago. With all
three returning this year, spots were limited, but Hutson's advanced
present stuff and ability make him the choice over several older
candidates. Righty Gage Hinsz hails from Montana, one of just two
states that does not participate in high school baseball, and
therefore is not eligible for the list but would have warranted
consideration for this spot otherwise. Brad Archer, Ryan Ralston and
Mitch Keller were also considered.
Great Plains Region
Best Hitter For Average: Max George, Sr., MIF,
Regis Jesuit (Colo.)
only did he hit .468 last spring for Regis, George did plenty of
hitting while playing on the national stage over the summer as well.
His quick hands and hand-eye coordination make him an extremely tough
out thanks to his advanced approach and willingness to take a walk if
he doesn't get a pitch he can drive. He has a short swing with good
feel for the location of his barrel within the strike zone and he
squares the ball up very frequently.
Best Hitter For Power:
Greg Pickett, Jr., OF, Legend (Colo.)
obvious choice in this category, Pickett's only real competition
comes from Monte Harrison, Brody Westmoreland and pitcher Keaton
McKinney, who has good raw power in his own right. But Pickett's high
level bat speed and big, physical frame combine to create impressive
power at a young age.
Best Baserunner: Monte Harrison, Sr.,
OF, Lee's Summit West (Mo.)
his biggest offensive asset is his ability to take the extra base on
balls hit into the outfield, turning singles into doubles and doubles
into triples. While his 60-yard dash times are impressive in the
6.6-6.7 range, his in-game speed is even more impressive, and
Best Defensive Catcher: Wyatt Cross, Jr., Legacy
is not only the best defensive catcher in this region, he's the best
defensive catcher in the 2015 class. In fact, with the graduation of
Reese McGuire last year, Cross became the best defensive catcher in
all of high school baseball. Choosing between Montana's Sledge Heggen
and Kansas' Tanner Gragg would have been a tough call in this
category if it weren't for the presence of Cross, who is a runaway
Best Defensive Infielder: Nick Shumpert, Jr., MIF,
Highlands Ranch (Colo.)
athleticism and arm strength allow him to make spectacular and
routine plays alike. He's the kind of live-bodied athlete who scouts
can confidently project to stay up the middle as he progresses to the
next level, and has all of the raw physical tools necessary to be a
Defensive Outfielder: Monte Harrison, Sr., Lee's Summit West (Mo.)
not only the best athlete in the region but he also has the best arm,
and by a significant margin.
Infield Arm: Shane Benes, Sr., MIF/RHP, Westminster Christian (Mo.)
two-way star will miss the season with a torn ACL, which is a huge
blow to the Wildcats who had not only one of the best infielders in
the state, but also one of the best pitchers in Benes. The son of
former big league righthander Andy Benes, the No. 1 overall pick in
the 1988 draft, Shane's arm strength is a huge asset to his defensive
game and will continue to be so when he recovers from his injury.
Outfield Arm: Monte Harrison, Sr., OF, Lee's Summit West (Mo.)
a lot of classes Harrison would have the best outfield arm in the
country, but he happens to be in a class that is extremely deep in
this area and still ranks amongst the elite in the nation.
Fastball: Bryce Montes de Oca, RHP, Jr., Lawrence (Kan.)
de Oca remains
the pick in this region despite missing 2013 recovering from Tommy
John surgery. While there is always the risk that he may not be able
to regain the form he showed before the injury, there is also the
chance that a fresh ligament in his elbow will allow him to come back
throwing even harder. If he's the same guy he was pre-injury, the
big-bodied flame-thrower is an obvious choice in this spot.
Off-speed Stuff: Keaton McKinney, RHP/1B, Sr., Ankeny (Iowa)
year Alex Lange took the category as a junior because of his slider,
and it seemed like he was poised to repeat the following year as a
senior. But McKinney's tremendous strides with his changeup has
placed that pitch at the very top of the class nationally. His
present plus changeup, which is very rare to find in a prep arm, is
complemented by a quality curveball that gives him a pair of high end
off-speed pitches that go well with his low-90s fastball that peaks
at 94 mph.
Command: Keaton McKinney, RHP/1B, Sr., Ankeny (Iowa)
combination of stuff and command is impressive for McKinney, and it
is thanks to his continued development over the past year. He went
from having control, but not command to actually commanding the
baseball in several notable outings where numerous scouts were on
hand last summer. He not only locates his fastball consistently but
shows feel for his plus changeup and has made strides with
controlling his curveball as well.
Pitchability: David Peterson, LHP, Sr., Regis Jesuit (Colo.)
about Peterson as a pitching prospect is good, but yet he doesn't
have one defining attribute. He throws hard, but he's not quite a
flame-thrower. He has a good slider and flashes a good curveball and
shows the makings of a good changeup as well. He also shows command
but that's not his carrying tool either. Rather, it's his overall
combination of a good fastball with good movement and quality
secondary stuff thrown with advanced command that allows him to
dominate. It doesn't hurt that he's a 6-foot-6 lefty either.