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Tournaments | Story | 9/22/2014

PG/Evo Upperclass Day 3 recap

David Rawnsley      Todd Gold     
Photo: Perfect Game

Sunday's playoff matchups bred opportunity to evaluate players in a big game setting and see how they handled themselves in high pressure situations.

One player who thrived in that environment was 2015 infielder Ethan Lopez (Whittier, Calif.), who only went 1-for-3 on the day but his one hit was a big one as he backspun a triple to deep left-center. The hit looked like a double off the bat but he was able to stretch it for a triple that sparked a rally for the defending champions GBG Marucci Navy. 2015 infielder Brandon Shearer (Agoura Hills, Calif.) went 3-for-4 in the game, but aside from him it was tough sledding for GBG, but they would eventually pull out a nail biting 4-3 victory with a four run bottom of the seventh.

2016 infielder Spencer Steer (Long Beach, Calif.) capped off the comeback by lining a first pitch breaking ball into left-center for a walk-off single and advance GBG to the quarterfinals.

GBG Director Mike Garciaparra related that about two months ago Steer approached him and told him he had a teammate at Millikan High School who was interested in playing for GBG. Garciaparra hadn't heard of the player's name before but encouraged him to come out to practice.

That player was lefthanded pitcher Jacob Hughey (2015, Long Beach, Calif.), who threw three shutout innings, striking out five and allowing only one hit in GBG Marucci Navy's 11-3 quarterfinal win over the So Cal Halos Sunday evening. The slender 6-foot-1 southpaw pitched in the 86-89 mph range with his fastball, spotting it especially well on the inside corner to righthanded hitters, and showed a 70-72 mph curveball that had nasty spin on it at times, with a big 1-to-7 break. He also drove in three runs on offense.

A look at the PG database shows that Hughey topped out at 91 mph during the 2014 17u WWBA National Championship while pitching for a different organization. He may have been the top lefthanded pitching prospect who pitched in Phoenix this week.

Garciaparra said he also got a "Request for Tryout" form on his website about a month ago from a righthanded pitcher and infielder from Mayfair High School in Bellflower named Andrew Quezada. Quezada made his first appearance for GBG in the same game, and also his first appearance at a PG event, throwing the final two innings of the run-rule victory. He has a very young looking 5-foot-11, 160-pound middle infielder's build and threw in the 87-90 mph range with one of the easiest and effortless deliveries one will ever see. Quezada also snapped off a couple of mid-70s curveballs that were big and nasty. He's new to the mound and hasn't learned to spot the ball yet but there is big upside potential in his arm with more innings and some physical maturity.

It should be noted that neither pitcher has a college commitment, to which Garciaparra wryly noted "I don't think that is going to be a problem."

BPA DeMarini Elite handed the ball to a pair of elite 2017 pitching prospects in their two playoff games, and both delivered. Righthander Hans Crouse (2017, Dana Point, Calif.) took the ball in the first of those games and threw the most impressive pitching performance that scouts observed Sunday.

Crouse looks the part of the sophomore, with a very slender and high-waisted 6-foot-3, 160-pound build that might be years away from adding adult strength. He has a full dose adult arm, however. Crouse threw six innings in BPA's 7-1 playoff win over the CBA Bulldogs, striking out 10 hitters while only walking one and allowing five hits. Crouse pitched steadily in the 88-90 mph range, touching 91 the entire time, with nice running life on his fastball down in the zone. His out pitch was a sharp breaking 74-77 mph curveball that consistently overmatched hitters with its power and depth. There is little doubt moving forward that Crouse will be one of the top pitching prospects nationally in the 2017 class.

The only ball hit really hard off Crouse was by CBA catcher Dalton Blumenfeld (2015, Los Angeles, Calif.), who blasted a triple deep to center field. Blumenfeld showed his power consistently all weekend along with catching and throwing with a high degree on energy and skill.

2017 lefthanded pitcher and outfielder Nick Pratto (Huntington Beach, Calif.) took his turn for BPA DeMarini in the quarterfinals. Pratto is a two-way prospect for the college level, and if he gets to campus at USC he will likely be a standout both ways as he has swung the bat well throughout the PG/EvoShiel National Upperclass Championship.

But the main reason that Pratto is ranked in the top 10 players in the nation of the 2017 class is his highly advanced ability on the mound. In what was a relatively rusty outing for one of the most polished players in the country, Pratto threw 46 of his 71 pitches for strikes (64.8 percent) and punched out seven while yielding one walk and three hits in a complete game effort. He has been as high as 87 mph this summer but typically works comfortably in the mid-80s with a heavy emphasis on commanding his fastball and mixing it with his advanced mid-70s changeup. The changeup is a swing-and-miss pitch coming out of the same plane as his fastball and is difficult to identify before friction yanks the ball down and to the arm side on the way to the plate.

His curveball isn't yet consistent but has shown progress and he's become increasingly more comfortable with the hand position getting over the top of it, occasionally creating some downward bite in the low-70s.

The web gem of the day, and possibly the weekend, belonged to 2015 middle infielder Kevin Heiss (Silver Spring, Md.). Playing shortstop for the CrabFest All-Americans in their playoff matchup against the Marlins Scout Team, Heiss read a ground ball to his right that had left field written all over it. He took a good first step and attacked it, making a diving stop, and then quickly got to his knees and made the long throw across the infield to nail the runner at first. It looked like an impossible play off the bat, and while he may have benefited from the batter thinking he had a clean single and not hustling the full 90 feet to first, getting to the ball alone was impressive. The switch hitter went 1-for-2 with a walk out of the three spot in the order and did his part to give his team a chance to win in a closely contested playoff battle against a nationally based scout team.

The standout of the weekend for the Marlins Scout Team was 2015 middle infielder Nico Hoerner (Head-Royce, Calif.) who went 4-for-9 during their three game playoff run on Sunday while playing a quality shortstop and even picked up a save by getting two outs on two pitches (at 85 and 86 mph). Hoerner is a Stanford commit whose power and defensive actions make him a potential impact player at the Division I level who will also get some draft interest.

His double play partner 2015 second baseman Duncan McKinnon (Manhattan Beach, Calif.) has a very different type of game from Hoerner, but his grinder approach served the Marlins well as the two hole hitting second baseman put up a .550 on-base percentage and played a high energy second base. He remains uncommitted, and while none of his five tools stands out, he's a ballplayer who has willed his way to contribution every time we've seen him play, both on the national stage and in high school ball.

2015 outfielder Chad Smith (Snellville, Ga.) is the top ranked prospect on the Marlins Scout Team and his 2-for-3 effort in their opening round playoff victory helped spark a run to the third round and his play in center field certainly stood out as well.

One of the more intriuging prospects on display at the PG/EvoShield National Upperclass Championship is 2015 third baseman Tyler Nevin (Poway, Calif.). Nevin is the son of the No. 1 overall pick in the 1992 MLB Draft, Phil Nevin, who played in the major leagues for 12 seasons.

Tyler is a player who made a strong impression as a lanky, young-bodied third baseman during his underclass years before missing time with an injury. During the time away Nevin has matured physically and is now a well built 6-foot-3, 195-pound athlete with room for additional muscle mass as he continues to add strength. He went 2-for-3 with a hit by pitch in CBA Marucci's come-from-behind quarterfinal victory over the CBA Wave and showed off both hand-eye coordination and easy power.

After homering on the first day of the tournament, Nevin has done a good job of staying within his swing and letting his power come naturally, roping hard line drives with his natural swing rather than over-swinging. The results have spoken for themselves, as entering Monday's final four Nevin his 5-for-10 with six walks and a hit by pitch with two doubles and a home run.

The other offensive standouts for CBA Marucci's final four bound squad was 2015 outfielder Luke Williams (Laguna Niguel, Calif.) and 2015 C Tyrus Greene (San Diego, Calif.).

Williams, a Cal Poly commit, plays the game in fast forward with fast gears that he maintains good control and coordination of, he's a well above average runner with quick hands and his recent strength gains have turned him from a slash-and-run type of hitter into a line drive gap-to-gap hitter who can drive the ball for extra bases. He also showed off his throwing arm Sunday by hosing a runner at the plate with an on-line, no bounce strike and is 7-for-13 at the plate thus far with six runs scored. According to a Cal Poly coach, Williams is just as talented defensively at shortstop and, surprisingly, at catcher, and could play anywhere in the middle of the field when he gets to the next level.

Greene is a small, athletic catcher with deceptive power from the left side. Opposing pitchers are more prone to making mistakes to Greene, whose 5-foot-10 frame fails to alert them to the power he possesses. He maximizes his available leverage with an efficient swing and his power plays to all fields, and he showed it with a well-timed opposite field RBI double late in CBA Marucci's come-from-behind quarterfinal playoff victory.

CBA Marucci lefthander Kyle Robeniol (2015, Alta Loma, Calif.) has been a regular on the circuit for some time and did what he frequently does on Sunday by throwing a complete game five-hit shutout in CBA's first playoff win, a 5-0 victory over JG Baseball. The Oregon commit doesn't do anything fancy except pound the strike zone with a 83-85 mph fastball and drop in a very nice changeup at just the right times. Robeniol's fastball is pretty straight and his curveball is his third best pitch, and rarely used, but the combination of being lefthanded, pitching to the low corners with his fastball and knowing exactly when to throw his changeup has been a tremendous combination for him.

A player to watch on the JG Baseball team going forward is junior corner infielder Austin Ruiz (2016, Chino Hills, Calif.). Ruiz has a big, strong build, especially in the hips and thighs, and has a very smooth and loose swing with very good use of those strong hips to generate very nice bat speed.

If there was a defensive player of the tournament trophy to be handed out, a very strong candidate to take it home would be GBG Orange County third baseman A.J. Curtis (2015, Pleasanton, Calif.). Curtis has made what sounds like from accounts from PG field scouts about a half dozen diving plays in both directions to snag ground balls or line drives and turn potential extra-base hits into outs.

Trosky Baseball lost in the first round of the playoffs to the CBA Bulldogs but they had a shortstop who stood out on both sides of the ball in Taylor Bush (2015, Temecula, Calif.). Bush has very nice actions on defense, where he works through the ball aggressively with balance and plenty of arm strength. His righthanded swing was similarly aggressive with good bat speed and some gap power potential. He doesn't have a college commitment but easily looked capable of playing middle infield at the college level.

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