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Tournaments | Story | 9/28/2014

South Qualifier scouting notes

Todd Gold         Jheremy Brown        
Photo: Perfect Game

One of the most interesting aspects of a regional qualifier like this one is finding new players who haven't had much exposure on the national scene to this point. An especially interesting player from this demographic was 2015 outfielder Dustin Lacaze (Lake Jackson, Texas), a Texas A&M-Corpus Christi commit who is making his first appearance at a PG event. Lacaze is not only new to the showcase circuit, but also to the mound, but he showed eye opening potential there.

He dominated through four shutout innings, allowing just one hit and striking out nine without issuing a walk, topping out at 90 mph and flashing hard arm-side life. He worked mostly in the mid- to upper-80s and was able to live off of his fastball blowing it past hitters consistently. He rarely went to his breaking ball and it was inconsistent, but he has plenty of arm speed to develop a quality breaker. We are told this won't be the last appearance Lacaze makes on the mound, as he's been invited to the WWBA World Championship in Jupiter.

Lacaze opposed another interesting raw upside arm in 2017 righthander Taylor Morgan (Missouri City, Texas) who has a fast, loose arm. His mechanics are still a work in progress and hold him back at times, as his best bolt of the day came on a throw to the plate when he fielded a comebacker. Without the restraints of having to go through a delivery he uncorked a howitzer back to the plate that looked to be well over 90 mph. On the mound he sat in the mid-80s early on and showed hard spin on his breaking ball at times. As is the case with nearly all of his 2017 prospect peers, Morgan is a work in progress from a skills development standpoint, but in terms of arm speed and projection he's right up there with the best of the best, and if he works hard to learn to harness his raw talent he could develop into a high level prospect.

The top velocity of the tournament to this point came from a lefty imported from Southern California, 2015 lefthander Jacob Hughey (Long Beach, Calif.). Hughey threw 25 pitches as part of a committee approach to the Houston Banditos Black opener which saw them use five pitchers in their tournament opener on Friday. Hughey opened eyes at the PG/EvoShield National Upperclass Championship last week and is currently being recruited by a number of high end Division I programs. He backed up his upper-80s fastball, which touched 90 a few times and peaked at 92 mph, with a sharp 1-to-7 curveball which he showed good feel for.

Sinkerballer 2015 righthander Nolan Bond (Spring, Texas) got the start for the Banditos in the opener and sat in the mid-80s with heavy sinking life and pounded the bottom of the strike zone with sinkers with 19 of his 26 pitches for strikes.

The Banditos offense has been paced by 2015 first baseman/catcher Joe Davis (Austin, Texas) who crushed two home runs in his first three games. His first one was a screaming line drive to center field that clearly had the distance off of the bat but the low trajectory left some doubt as to whether it would be high enough to clear the tall center field fence. However, he squared it up with enough backspin that it carried well and the defending champs pulled away in their first game on the power of that impressive shot.

He and teammate 2015 catcher/firstbaseman Michael Hickman (Katy, Texas) provide major punch to the Banditos Black lineup. Hickman showed explosive hand speed with plus strength at contact and has shown a good approach. The sound when he squares a ball up echoes throughout the park, and while he hasn't gone deep yet, he's put a charge into several balls already.

The Banditos Black's underclassman to watch is 2016 outfielder Conner Capel (Katy, Texas) who started out 3-for-6 at the plate and played a solid defensive center field. None of that is news for the highly ranked junior, but his ability on the mound was impressive as well filling in as a secondary pitcher, working 89-90 with good control from the left side.

2016 righthander John Michael Rodriguez (Corpus Christi, Texas) makes up for his lack of size with big arm speed. He has a long, loose arm action and gets good extension out front. He sat 86-89 with feel to both sides of the plate and backed it with a pair of quality off-speed pitches that he also had feel for. He showed hard spin on his mid-70s curveball with bite and feel to both sides, and he maintains his arm speed well on his changeup up to 80 mph with sharp, darting action to the arm side. He retired the first 16 batters he faced in order before running out of gas.

It was a brief look but 2016 righthander Frank Sheehy (Houston, Texas) was impressive in his one inning stint in relief. The tall lanky hurler worked 86-88 from a high three-quarters arm slot and occasionally dropped down lower. His arm is quick and loose and projects well.

While it's not a major point of emphasis in the scouting world, the defensive prowess on display at first base by 2016 Lael Lockhart (Friendsport, Texas) was highly impressive. He showed the ability to utilize his length well to stretch for close plays as well as picking low throws, often combining the two. He moves well around the first base bag and has good reaction time on balls hit his way. He also showed an advanced approach, and when necessary utilized a low effort swing to go the opposite way for singles when his team needed a baserunner. He then got on the mound and worked 82-84 with good control in relief and located his deep 1-to-7 curveball well.

Lockhart's Banditos White teammate, 2015 righthander Karan Patel (Sugar Land, Texas), impressed on the mound as well. He sat at 84-88 mph with arm-side life and advanced feel for a sharp 78-80 mph slider that allowed him to dominate opposing hitters. He struck out nine over six innings and worked around three errors behind him. His battery-mate, 2016 catcher Jaxx Groshans (Magnolia, Texas), also showed off a strong arm as well as good athleticism behind the plate.

Arguably the best all-around present ability player in attendance this weekend is 2015 middle infielder Ford Proctor (Beaumont, Texas). He lacks the size and strength of some of the other elite prospects in attendance, but he utilizes the strength he has well and showed doubles power to all fields at the plate along with high level defensive ability up the middle. He had a huge game at the plate on Saturday, going 3-for-4 with a double off the wall to both left and right fields, as well as a single, and his only out was a loud fly out to center. He plays a high energy shortstop with a quick first step and light actions. If his arm strength develops he has a chance to stay at shortstop, and even if he doesn't, he has plenty of athleticism to stay up the middle at second base.

Starting the first game of the tournament for the Houston Heat was
Jordan Hicks (2015, Houston, Texas), a University of Tulane commit, who was appearing in his first Perfect Game event in a exactly a year. Hicks threw at the 2013 WWBA South Qualifier as well, topping out at 87 mph while working in the mid-80s. Since then, Hicks has grown an inch and sat comfortably in the 86-89 mph range, touching 90 mph once Friday evening.




Over the course of his four innings on the mound, Hicks showed a strong feel for the strike zone with all three of his pitches, spotting up in the lower quadrants of the zone. Showing a small hip turn at the top of his delivery, Hicks loads his weight up on his backside before driving to the plate, showing a fast arm and creating excellent downhill plane on his fastball. His fastball comes out of his hand cleanly, showing late run and sink to his arm side and projects for more velocity as he continues to incorporate his lower half, especially given how live his arm is.

Helping him to pick up nine strikeouts was not only his fastball but a sharp 12-to-6 curveball, which like his fastball, he kept low in the zone and featured late, sharp life at 73 mph. Rounding out his three-pitch mix, all of which he located well, was a changeup that shows slight fade to his arm side at 77 mph.

If one was to judge righthanded pitcher
Stephen Keller (2017, Huffman, Texas) and guess the year in which he would be graduating, odds are they would say he was a 2015 and beginning his senior year, not sophomore year. Standing at 6-foot-2 with broad shoulders and a physical 220-pound build, Keller is able to maintain looseness in his actions, which when combined with his strength, made for interesting stuff on the mound.

Keller came out from the shoot and set the tone with his first warmup pitch of the game, coming in at 89 mph and repeatedly pounded upper-80s fastballs, which he carried into game action. Over the course of the first two innings, Keller sat at 88-90 mph with his heater, working downhill nicely with the pitch while generating late sinking life. With those two factors working, along with the velocity, Keller was difficult square up – evidenced by the two hits he scattered over four plus innings – and when the batter did put the ball in play, more often than not it was pounded into the infield grass for a routine ground ball. There is some drop and drive to his delivery, but his arm is quick coming through the backside and the ball leaves his hand cleanly, so with a slight adjustment in his lower half, it’s easy to project more velocity on its way.

As the game wore on, Keller settled into the 85-87/88 mph range, still showing the ability to get to his glove side, but began in mix in his off-speed pitches more frequently. The pitch he showed regularly and had the strongest feel for was his slider, which he worked at 77-78 mph and featured short, late 10-to-4 break to it. Like his fastball, Keller did a nice job of getting on top of his curveball, which has a noticeable difference in shape and depth when compared to his slider. Thrown more in the mid-70s, he was able to generate consistent 12-to-6 shape on the pitch with nice depth and ability to locate it in the zone.




The loudest tool in
Donovan Langston’s (2017, Frisco, Texas) toolbox is his speed, with which he can impact a game on both sides of the ball with it. After a strong showing last weekend in Arizona at the PG/EvoShield National Underclass Championship, Langston hasn’t slowed down a step this weekend. Already showing average speed for the next level with a 4.28 home-to-first time, Langston projects for more as he continues to gain strength on his 5-foot-9 frame, which is full of quick-twitch muscle. It’s that speed that also puts pressure on the defense whenever he puts a ball in play, taking fielders out of their comfort zone and making them do things a little quicker on a ground ball. He moves well on his feet at shortstop with light actions to either side and a strong arm across the diamond with nice carry.

Per his Perfect Game profile page,
Montana Ellstrom (2015, Cypress Lake, Texas) is an uncommitted senior who is making a strong impression in his Perfect Game debut. Batting in the middle of the lineup for Alex Cintron Baseball, Ellstrom shows a balanced, rhythmic swing with a fluid stroke while showing nice control of the barrel head and interesting strength off his barrel to his pull side. Jump towards the bottom of the fifth and Cintron found themselves in a bases loaded, two out jam and summoned Ellstrom in to help get out of it. He did just that, showing a 85-87 mph fastball, which he bumped to 88 mph to record the third out via strikeout, and showed a sharp, late breaking 11-to-5 curveball low in the zone at 72 mph.

Another player who is beginning his sophomore year of high school,
Mason Vicknair (2017, Mandeville, La.) showed strong promise on the mound with a projectable frame and stuff. The Louisiana native stands 6-foot-3, 190-pounds with long, loose limbs, which he controls well throughout his delivery, remaining balanced and shows an easy arm action coming through.

Throwing a steady diet of fastballs in the first inning, Vicknair sat at 83-85 mph from a high three-quarters arm slot with a compact takeaway and a short arm action in the back. Against the first batter of the game Vicknair was opening his front side just a bit early which had him missing up and out to his arm side, and ended up walking the batter. Once he got to the stretch however, Vicknair was able to simplify his delivery and began to get on top of the ball much better, working downhill and pounding the strike zone. He carried the momentum through the rest of his outing, picking up five strikeouts over his three innings of work.

As he began to establish his fastball, Vicknair started to mix in his off-speed, both pitches he showed a strong feel for. His curveball shows 11-to-5 life with late break and depth to it at 68 mph and kept the pitch low in the zone. The righthander also flashed a changeup in the low-70s which showed fade back to his arm side.




Playing shortstop for the Austin Banditos,
Ricky Martinez (2016, Pflugerville, Texas) can grab your attention defensively with a single play on a ground ball. With his lean 5-foot-11, 150-pound build, Martinez shows very smooth and easy actions to and through the ball with extremely fast hands and solid arm strength across. The uncommitted Martinez shows a quick first step to the ball with sounds actions and range to either side as well.

One of only two current sophomores on the roster for the Columbia Angles this week, left fielder
Cole Turney (2017, Richmond, Texas) finds himself not only playing, but also batting in the heart of the Angles lineup. At 5-foot-11, 180-pounds, Turney shows nice balance with fluidity in his lefthanded stroke. He has been putting the ball in play consistently throughout the weekend, displaying a strong feel for the barrel with the ability to drive the ball to the opposite field gap. He moves well in the outfield with solid routes to the ball and showed a strong, accurate arm on the few throws he made during Friday’s action.

Mitchell Walter
(2016, Baytown, Texas) may not be showing the velocity of the pitcher’s mentioned above just yet, but he shows plenty in his delivery which point to him throwing harder in the future. During his Friday night start, the righthanded Walter topped out at 84 mph and worked comfortably in the 81-83/84 mph range throughout his three innings while striking out seven batters. Using his long, loose limbs, Walter shows an easy arm action with very nice extension out front upon his release of the ball. He stays a bit tall with his lower half at release, but with the extension he creates, Walter consistently gets on top of the ball and worked his fastball to both sides of the plate knee-high extremely well. Walter also mixed in a changeup at 76 mph which he showed a feel for, and if his pitching wasn’t enough, he also picked up three singles in the game.


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