Tournaments : : Story
Wednesday, July 27, 2016

PG World Series Day 1 Scout Notes

Jheremy Brown         Matt Czechanski        
Photo: Perfect Game

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One of the best pitching matchups took place in one of the first games during the first time slot at LakePoint. The EvoShield Canes sent out righthanded pitcher Austin Becker (2018, Ohio.). Becker is about as physically impressive as one can be, listed at a believable 6-foot-5, 185-pounds with long limbs and broad shoulders. He threw from a high three-quarters arm slot and drew his arm back slowly into a hook, but came through it very clean with good arm strength down the mound. He crated very impressive angle with average extension down the mound and working through the ball well. Becker’s fastball opened up 89-91 mph and up to 92 mph in the first inning with tremendous arm-side life. He worked the pitch to both sides of the plate well and did not hesitate to work inside to righthanded hitters. The Vanderbilt commit also showed good feel for his power 11-to-5 shaped curveball on the mound. The pitch showed well above average spin with good depth and late dive. The curveball’s sharpness was a very positive development for Becker. With now a strong secondary offering to back-up his fastball, he possesses two weapons on the mound. Becker carved for the Canes with six shutout innings on the mound, allowing just two hits and registering 11 strikeouts with 14 swings and misses.

Opposing him on the mound and matching zeros across the scoreboard was UVA commit, and rightanded pitcher Ben Harris (2018, Va.). The athletically built Harris stands at 6-foot-1, 170 pounds has some physical projection remaining as he continues to add strength and durability. Harris worked with an up tempo delivery on the mound working with the slight perch and bend his knees, frequently seen with players tied to UVA. His arm worked well with a medium arm action through the back and slight hook. He showed good flexibility on the mound with athletic actions off the mound. There was a crossfire element to his delivery on the mound and some recoil at landing on a stiff front leg. His fastball worked around 87-90 mph in the early going with good downhill plane towards the plate, helping its heavy action. The arm-side life he generated helped him lay off barrels and frequently generate weak ground balls. His command was impressive early on and slipped some as he went through the order a second time, but he challenged hitters inside and showed the ability to get to both sides. Harris showed a 1-to-7 shaped curveball early on with softer spin and some depth. He also showed a changeup in the upper-70s, which he slowed his arm for, but showed some late arm side fade. He threw up six strong innings, the first four of which were of the no-hit variety, allowing four hits and striking out eight batters.

On an adjacent field, the then at the time uncommitted righthanded pitcher Phillip Dull (2018, Pa.) took the mound for US Elite/Team Majestic. Dull committed to West Virginia quickly after the start and impressed on the mound, showing a quick arm with impressive feel to spin. He used a long levered delivery with a long, full arm action in the back with stab in the back. There was a good bit of effort in his delivery, but Dull showed the arm strength to power the ball in and around the zone up to 90 mph. He has very good hand speed with the ability to manipulate the ball and generate lots of spin from a lower three quarter slot. His fastball sat 85-89 mph throughout the start with most of the 90’s popping in the first inning. His fastball had good arm-side life on the mound and would be considered effectively wild with his location. More impressive than his fastball was Dull’s ability to spin the world out of his slider. Working in the upper-2000s with his spin rate for the pitch, Dull had plus spin on the pitch and the sharpness and late snap showed, working up to 78 mph. With 10-to-4 shape, Dull worked off of both of those pitches to collect his eight strikeouts. He also mixed in what caused a good bit of commotion amongst the college coaches in attendance with what appeared to be a knuckle changeup. The pitch showed knuckleball tendencies with stiff spin and shake to both sides before dropping in, but was thrown at 77 mph. He used the pitch selectively, but it was fascinating and was a mess for hitters to deal with.

For the East Cobb Astros, third basemen Kendall Simmons (2018, Ga.) turned in another impressive day at the plate and in the field. Simmons continues to be one of the better all-around athletes with an easy plus arm from the left side of the infield paired with elite bat speed at the plate. He moves very well at third with sure hands and some gather into his throws. His elite arm strength helped him generate insane carry across to first with what looks like beach ball action as it rises. At the plate, he hits slightly off his front side, but has the bat and hand speed to get through the zone well. He smoked a double to deep left-centerfield with an impressive 4.59 time on the turn around first base.

Uncommitted righthander Aidan Frye (2018, Pa.) toed the rubber for FTB in their matchup against the Banditos. Frye has good athleticism with modest projection left in his frame. He starts on the mound with a big leg kick and slight crossfire element, throwing across his body. He showed a longer arm action from an extended three-quarters arm slot with some stab at the end of his arm circle. His fastball worked 84-86 mph and hit 87 mph several times in his fifth inning of work. His fastball had true action and was mostly flat through the zone with the ability to place it where he wanted. Frye also showed an 11-to-5 shaped curveball that flashed sharpness with late tumble. The pitch offered good depth, but was most effective because of his sequencing and ability to drop it in for a called strike. Frye tossed a strong five innings on the mound allowing only an unearned run and struck out six batters.

Recent Florida commit, righthanded pitcher/third basemen
Roberto Pena (2018, Fla.) pitched in opposition of Frye on the mound for the Banditos. Pena stands with a medium build and present strength throughout his lower half. He pitched with a long, mostly loose arm action with slight wrist wrap from an extended three-quarters arm slot. He showed a quick arm, running his fastball up to 90 mph early on and holding 87-89 for the first several innings. Pena’s fastball showed heavy arm-side life to the lower third with late wiggle that worked well, in on the hands of righthanded hitters. Pena uses the athleticism he’s shown at third base on the mound with a balanced delivery to both sides of the plate. Pena also showed a feel for sequencing his pitches on the mound between his fastball and his slider. His slider showed good, 10-to-4 break at 77 mph with tight spin and shows as a legitimate swing and miss offering. The pitch comes out clean with close to replicated arm speed and dives late out of the zone to righties.

Moving from center field in to catch for the Banditos was catcher Alerick Soularie (2018, Texas). The athletic Arkansas commit, impressed as a defensive stand out behind the plate and showed tools at the plate as well. Defensively as a catcher, Soularie moves well behind the plate with strong blocking skills. He also showed off a strong arm, gunning down a runner attempting to steal third with a quick transfer and good carry to the bag. At the plate, he starts with a slightly stiff hand set, but they come through well with intent. His bat speed is clear and present with the ability to drive the ball. It’s a bit of a longer swing at present, but he has the strength and ability to alter it to stay inside the ball more and work it to all fields.

In the second strong head-to-head pitching matchup of the day also included the Evoshield Canes who sent out LSU commit, righthanded pitcher Landon Marceaux (2018, La.). Marceaux has a strong build with good physicality in his frame. He uses a drop-and-drive element to help incorporate his lower half with a longer arm action through the back. He created very impressive angle on the mound with his fastball and coupled with its arm side run generated a several swings and misses off the pitch. He located well and showed the ability to get to both sides with 65 percent of his pitches for strikes. He varied his effort on the mound and his arm speed, opening the game working 87-89 mph, then dialing it back to 84-86 mph in the second, then back up to 88 mph in the third. Where he ran into some trouble was elevating his fastball, with the heavy life on the pitch it should be held low in the zone to generate weaker contact. Marceaux showed good feel for his changeup on the mound at 78 with good fade low and out of the zone. He also threw a curveball in the low-70s with developing spin and saw it flash depth. He struck out five batters in his five scoreless innings, allowing only two runs.

Opposing him for Elite Squad was an impressive uncommitted righthander in
Alex Rao (2018, Fla.). Rao has a good bit of physical strength in his 6-foot-4, 240-pound frame with a compact lower half and broad shoulders. Rao starts with a hand raise over his head with a bigger leg kick over his waist before coming to the plate. He showed a long levered delivery with a deep plunge in the back of his arm circle and slight pause at that point. He came through the ball well with good arm strength with a fastball that was up to 89 mph and sat comfortably in the 84-88 mph range. His fastball was impressive with big time angle and run when working on top of it and keeping it in the lower third of the zone. He also laid off barrels and hit his spots with 69 percent of his pitches going for strikes, despite the effort in his delivery. Rao did an impressive job of getting to his glove side with the same wiggle to his fastball, keeping it inside on hitters. His top secondary offering was a show-me curveball in the low-70s that flashed depth, but he primarily worked with his fastball over his seven innings. He allowed only one run, what proved to be the difference in the game, while striking out eight batters.

Pitching in the 16u Evoshield tournament was righthanded pitcher Chance Huff (2018, Fla.). Huff has a tremendous physical build on the mound, listed at 6-foot-4, 190-pounds with good strength, broad shoulders and long limbs. He should continue to add weight and fill out further with good strength. Huff also showed a long levered delivery with a long arm action and stab in the back to go with a big cast of his front hand. He threw from a high three-quarters arm slot with good arm strength and a very short stride to the plate. He stayed tall on his backside with limited effort working to the plate. His fastball showed good arm-side life and opened up the game hitting 91 mph on several pitches before settling in at 87-90 mph. The Vanderbilt commit showed a pair of breaking balls on the mound, with the slider proving most effective. Huff threw the 10-to-4 shaped slider in the low-80s, topping out at 82 mph, with good, late bite low in the zone. The pitch shows as a projectable out pitch at the next level. The second was a more traditional 11-to-5 shaped curveball with softer bend and bigger depth in the upper-70s. The pitch was a get-me-over breaking ball that should be seldom used off of the slider and fastball. All in told, Huff carved in their second pool play game tossing 5 2/3 innings of one run ball and striking out eight batters.

Closing out the evening for the Banditos was Texas &M commit, righthanded pitcher
Mason Englert (2018, Texas). Englert turned in a dominant performance on the mound as he fired 6 1/3 scoreless innings allowing just three hits and punching out 11 batters. Englert showed big time arm strength on the bump, holding 87-91 mph with his fastball that showed good, heavy life. There was a drop and drive element to Englert’s delivery with a slow draw back of his arm into a quick stab before coming through an extended three-quarters arm slot. One cause for concern in his arm action is the high back elbow at the point of the stab. He used a very short stride on the mound and landed closed, fighting his front side some with crossfire action towards the plate. Despite the short stride, Englert worked well through the ball and generated good extension down the mound. There was controlled effort in his delivery, with good balance at landing and the ability to repeat his mechanics. He showed a softer, sweeping curveball on the mound up to 72 mph with 10-to-4 shape. The pitch had very soft spin with still raw feel. Englert did show a changeup in warmups and one time in game up to 81 mph with short fade and close to replicated arm speed.

– Matt Czechanski

It’s not often that uncommitted 2018 righthander Jacob Pfennigs (Post Falls, Idaho) makes it out on the summer circuit and in fact it’s nearly a calendar year since I had my initial viewing in last summer’s 15U World Series. Now listed at 6-foot-7, 185-pounds, the long limbed and high waist Pfennigs has made noticeable improvements in his all-around game, something that should be a given with his age, size, and geographical presence.

In terms of his delivery the overall mechanics are similar to what he showed last summer, though there is more balance which has helped lead to a more consistent arm stroke which in turn, has naturally led to more strikes. And along with the increase of strikes, the added physicality has allowed the young righthander to hold his velocity much better than in my past viewing, sitting comfortably in the 86-88 mph range, bumping an 89 or two, while showing a bevy of 87s and 88s late into the seventh inning. He carried a no-hitter into the seventh against a talented Elite Squad offense and part of the reason was the consistent cut action to his fastball, which came rather easily.

With a steady tempo and overall pace to his delivery, Pfennigs showed the ability to move the ball around the zone and to either side of the plate all the while generating solid plane to the lower third of the strike zone. From the side you can see just how fluid and easy the delivery it and you’ll also notice that he doesn’t fully gather over his backside, something that will only further unlock additional velocity moving forward.

Almost more impressive than his ability to hold velocity deep into the game was his improved slider feel and implementation of a third pitch in his changeup. Though he’d get over rotational at times which led to an inconsistent release point at times on the breaking ball, varying the overall shape, when he stayed on line and on time his slider proved to be a solid offering. An upper-70s pitch with tight rotation, Pfennigs was able to create short tilting action on the pitch, similar to the cutting life on his heater, which gave him two pitches that appeared similar with a 10 mph difference. His changeup was a pitch that was rarely thrown last summer and proved to be a solid and consistent third pitch yesterday with late tumbling and fading life in the 77-79 mph. He did a nice job of replicating his arm action on the pitch and showed nice comfort for the pitch, able to throw it at will for strikes in any count.

During the 16u WWBA World Championship 2018 righthander Slade Cecconi (Oviedo, Fla.) got the start game one and immediately impressed, showing an uptick to his arsenal from the Junior National and topped out at 94 mph early in the first inning. As I said then we all had expected the jump in velocity, topped out at 90 mph at the Junior National, but just didn’t expect it to happen that quickly. Well opening day of the World Series he proved it to be no fluke as he sat in the 90-92 mph range range, bumping a 93 and did so with the same full and loose arm action while generating big extension out front.

Listed at 6-foot-3, 192-pounds, the future Miami Hurricane shows the ideal build on the mound with long limbs and a high waist and still oozes projectability given his age and all around youthful look. Don’t let that fool you though as Cecconi continued to show big time stuff on the mound and carried his velocity much better in this viewing, still hitting 90 mph on the 90th pitch of the game. And as impressive as the pure velocity was, the amount of heaving running life and Cecconi’s feel to spill it back over the outer half to a righthanded hitter was just as, if not more, impressive. In fact, on the very first pitch of the game, an 89 mph heater, Cecconi shattered Ryder Green’s bat on a 1-3 putout.

The other takeaway for me was the development of his slider, which appeared to be sharper this viewing and a true swing-and-miss type pitch in the 76-78 mph range with late two-plane bite. His low- to mid-70s curveball offered distinctly different life as it was more 11-5 with sharp depth and he showed comfort in working the pitch to the back foot of lefthanded hitters. He generally worked off of those three pitches though he did flash a changeup in the upper-70s and a two-seamer in the upper-80s, a pitch that featured some sinking life down in the zone. Overall, this is another high end, ultra-talented arm in the 2018 class who already shows the type of stuff and feel that stands out in a field comprised of the best.

If there was a category for the “least shocking thing of the day” it would be that 2018 outfielder and Louisiana State commit Elijah Cabell (Winter Park, Fla.) hit the ball hard. A breakout star who went from unranked to a national presence at this event last summer, Cabell has done nothing but impact the ball ever since and has the type of tool set that stands out amongst the best. Physically built and ultra-athletic with his 6-foot-2, 190-pound frame, Cabell provided some fireworks early in the morning as he went deep to center field, just to the left of the batter’s eye, for a ~400-foot homerun that registered 100 mph off the barrel. He has a high leg lift trigger which he uses for timing and shows nice rhythm to his swing before unleashing his explosive hands which helps produce possibly the best bat speed in the entire class. In the second game of his team’s double-header Cabell connected for another piece that in all likelihood was at least in the upper-90s coming off the barreled as he lined a ball over the third baseman’s head for a hard single.

Both 2018 lefthander Matthew Liberatore (Peoria, Ariz.) and fellow 2018 righthander Carter Stewart (Melbourne, Fla.) have been covered in exquisite detail throughout the summer and they’ve continued to draw in hordes of college coaches as both still remain uncommitted. Stewart was the first of the two starters and worked comfortably in the 85-88 mph range with his fastball, showing a full and rather easy arm action with solid angle and plane from a high three-quarters slot. He did a nice job of regularly working to his glove side and should continue to add velocity as he continues to implement more lower half to his drive. His breaking ball was inconsistent from pitch-to-pitch but when he got on top of the ball he was able to generate tight spin and short depth on the 76-78 mph pitch, occasionally gets around it and giving it more slider shape.

Liberatore came out sitting in a similar range as Stewart as he opened up 86-88 mph and eventually settled in the 84-86 mph range with more 6s than 4s later in his outing. He’s listed at a strong 6-foot-3, 190-pounds and will continue to add velocity, that’s a given, as his arm is plenty quick and he’s continued to make refinement to his delivery throughout the summer. In my first look at the Junior National he was swinging his front hip way open, which lead to an open landing, and in turn meant and inconsistent arm stroke coming through the back as it would tend to drag especially in the later stages. Last night however, the uncommitted lefthander did nice job of staying on line and was able to work over his front side some with steady balance and comfort pounding down in the zone with solid angle. The feel for his 78-80 mph changeup was still there as he flashed a couple, as was his big low-70s breaking ball which he was able to locate for strikes with solid depth and showed the ability to locate back door to a righthanded hitter.

If there was a contender against Cabell and the least shocking category it would be that the Central Florida Gators can hit, and hit with authority. The quartet of infielders Nolan Gorman (Glendale, Ariz.), Andrew Roberts (Altamonte Springs, Fla.), Connor Ollio (Renfrew, Pa.), and Tyler Callihan (Neptune Beach, Fla.) all showed well at points with the bat over the course of the team’s double header. Gorman, an Arizona commit and one of the better pure bats in the 2018 class, consistently finds the barrel with lightning fast hands and tremendous whip to the barrel and can impress even on deep fly outs. Roberts and Ollio have been two of the more consistent bats throughout the summer and each picked up a couple hits apiece as Roberts singled a few times, showing a nice feel for the barrel and ability to adjust to spin, while Ollio doubled off the left field wall and tripled to the pull side gap.

The final player of the four is 2019 shortstop Tyler Callihan, a recent South Carolina commit, who impressed on both sides of the ball. Already listed at a strong 6-foot, 195-pounds despite just finishing his freshman campaign, Callihan shows a rather simple approach and lefthanded stroke in the box with a sound feel for the barrel which helped pick up a double down the left field line. And as good as he’s been with the bat, he was just as impressive up the middle making a couple nice off balance plays while charging in, one of which he picked on the charge and threw a strike to first base practically from his hip with a simple flick of the wrist.

If you blinked then you may have missed uncommitted 2018 righthander Connor Thurman’s (San Tan Valley, Ariz.) outing. A broad shouldered 6-foot-1, 190-pound arm Thurman came out pounding the strike zone and needed less than a dozen pitches to finish off the Gator’s victory. In that span of pitches Thurman sat at 90 mph with an extended and loose three-quarters arm action while showing solid sinking life down in the zone which he’s able to create by landing slightly open with his strike foot. And while the fastball is enough to get outs at this level now, Thurman’s sharp and late breaking mid- to upper-70s slider is a pitch that could potentially get outs at the college level right now. Both pitches come out of the same slot and by the time the hitter read the spin it was too late for them to make an adjustment.

It wasn’t a long look at recent Texas Christian commit Marcelo Perez (Laredo, Texas) but you were able to see what the TCU coaching staff saw in the 2018 righthander. Though he may not be the biggest in terms of stature as he stands 5-foot-11, 158-pounds, he makes up for it in terms of ease and fluidity to his arm action. Coming out of the ‘pen Perez sat comfortably in the 88-90 mph range and lived there over the course of his two innings with late whiffle ball type run and an attack mode demeanor as he wasn’t afraid to challenge in. We’ve seen him up to 94 mph this summer and as he continues to add strength there’s no reason to believe he won’t bump that number consistently and become yet another power arm for the Frogs. I didn’t see a changeup in this particular look though have in the past but what he did show was his slider which is another solid offering in the mid- to upper-70s. He retains the same loose and clean arm action that he shows on the fastball and has the potential for an above average breaking ball as it features hard bite and sharp to the back foot of lefthanded hitters, something he realized and tripled up with at one point against a lefty. We’ve seen Perez in a starting role and he’s very much capable of doing so at the next level as he maintains his fastball velocity exceptionally well and has a solid feel for two distinct off-speed pitches.

Whoever ends up committed 2018 shortstop Alexandro Bello (Hialeah, Fla.) will be getting a good one as he can impact a game defensively and shows an adequate handle with the barrel from the right side. A wizard of sorts with the glove who always seems to make at least one “wow” type play when I see him, Bello was at it again yesterday on a slow roller up the middle in which he slid on one knee, picked the ball, popped up and spun while delivery in absolute strike to first base to make a difficult play look more than routine. And as the baseball gods would have it, Bello comes to the plate the next inning and broke up Pfennigs’ no-hit bid with well struck double over the left fielder’s head.

The complete opposite from Bello in terms of physicality, 2019 first baseman Triston Casas (Pembroke Pines, Fla.), who’s listed at 6-foot-5, 240-pounds, continues to make strides to his all-around game, even if he doesn’t necessarily fill up the box score. There’s no doubting his brute strength as we’ve seen him hit some home runs that players his age shouldn’t be hitting and though this particular ball didn’t get out it was still impressive as he got caught out on his front foot on a changeup and still drove the pitch to the warning track in dead center field with plenty of loft off the barrel. And as he continues to strengthen his frame he’s also continued to increase his overall athleticism (7.15 60-yard at Junior National) which has helped improve his footwork around the first base bag defensively with lighter actions and sound balance.

Speaking of strength, 2017 outfielder Christian Robinson (Lake Butler, Fla.) continues to come into his own this summer and yesterday showed comfort in working the opposite field with strength, something I hadn’t readily seen in my prior viewing. As physical as any player in the tournament at 6-foot-2, 208-pounds, Robinson will obviously be a young one come draft day next June given his reclassification prior to the start of the summer circuit, something that will only better his cause especially if he continues to swing it the way he has. Though the first at-bat I saw resulted in a 6-3, which he got down the line in 4.26 seconds, he showed comfort in going with the outer half pitch and barreled the ball hard a pitch after driving a long foul ball down the left field line. He continued to work the opposite field in his team’s second game and blasted a no-doubt home run over the 20-foot high fence at East Cobb Field 2, once again showing off his power and working in rather uncharted territories for a player of his age.

In terms of overall repertoire and feel on the mound, you’d think Jacob Smith (Calera, Ala.) would be listed at 5-foot-10 rather than his given 6-foot-6, 235-pound, broad shouldered frame. The balance he shows on the mound is, and has been, an exceptional trait for a young pitcher who’s already as big as he is. And on top of the balance he shows a feel to throw four distinct pitches at any time and can do so at will. Over the first couple of innings Smith lived in the mid-80s, predominately at 86 mph with an up-tempo pace, receiving the ball and immediately toeing the rubber. His arm action is plenty quick and he does a nice job of hiding it through the backside and the ball comes out clean though more importantly is his ability to throw all four pitches out of the same chute. Smith proved he was in complete control from the first pitch of the game as he dropped in a first pitch curveball for a called strike at 71 mph and continued to throw the big breaker for strikes at will with quality depth. He threw his slider a little bit firmer in the 71-73 mph range, which showed shorter and tighter life while his changeup sat in the high-70s with short fading life. Smith continues to do what he’s done since the first time I saw him last fall and that’s comfortably mix four pitches, pound the strike zone, and do so with the utmost confidence.

– Jheremy Brown

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