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Tournaments | Story | 10/25/2016

World Championship Day 5 Notes

Matt Czechanski     
Photo: Perfect Game

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The Dirtbags, en route to winning the 2016 WWBA World Championship, had to take down both the Midland Redskins and then Team Elite Prime on Monday, and did so in impressive fashion.

Mason Hickman (2017, Tenn.) is committed to Vanderbilt, and like many of the other Vandy commits in this event, he’s a big, physical righthanded pitching prospect with big upside. At 6-foot-6, 230-pounds, Hickman possesses the size and frame consistent with an innings-eater with a durable profile and the stuff to match. Working in the upper-80s consistently with his fastball, scraping 90 mph a time or two throughout the game, Hickman held Midland off the board in the semifinals, throwing a run-rule shortened five inning complete game, scattering three hits, walking no one and punching out five hitters. He worked the fastball to both sides of the plate and kept it down in the zone early in counts, elevating to get swing-and-miss strike threes, and for the most part showed pretty solid fastball command. In addition to his five strikeouts Hickman recorded eight of his outs via the groundball, and most of those came on fastballs, speaking both to his ability to command the pitch down in the zone as well as the heavy spin he’s able to generate. He didn’t really need a breaking ball on this day but showed a solid slider in the upper-70s with slurvy shape, but flashed the ability to sharpen up the tilt on the pitch when need be. He was on cruise control for essentially the entire the game, throwing nearly 70 percent strikes, with a good majority of his 72 pitches being fastballs.

In what really was a pitchers’ duel, the championship game of the WWBA World Championship between Team Elite Prime and the Dirtbags lived up to the hype. It’s probably safe to say that neither starting pitcher had their A+ raw stuff, but the “compete” level in both arms was absolutely off the charts, something fans, scouts and coaches alike really like to see from young players.

Carmen Mlodzinski (2017, S.C.) and Angel Zarate (2017, N.C.) started on the mound for Team Elite and the Dirtbags, respectively, in what ended being a Carolinas battle, both in terms of home states as well as a glimpse into a possible future collegiate matchup, with Mlodzinski committed to South Carolina and Zarate committed to North Carolina.

Mlodzinski was solid, working 5 1/3 innings, allowing a pair of runs on four hits and three walks while punching out three. He worked mostly in the 87-89 mph range with his fastball, bumping into the low-90s early on in his start. He was really just out there coming right after the hitters, often getting ahead 0-1, and despite the three walks, the command was pretty solid. He challenged hitters to both sides of the plate with his fastball, and worked in a pretty sharp curveball when necessary, showing advanced feel for the pitch when he consistently back-footed it to the left-anded hitters of the Dirtbags’ lineup, in addition to mixing in a quality changeup.

Zarate, for lack of a better phrase, really just pitched his butt off. He went the distance and earned the Championship game victory for the Dirtbags, allowing two runs on seven hits and two walks while striking out six hitters. He definitely fits into the mold of crafty lefthander, using deception, feel and pitchability to have more success than his raw stuff would indicate, something very important for evaluators to keep in mind when watching young arms. Zarate worked mostly in the mid-80s with his fastball, generating good arm-side life and working to all four quadrants of the strike zone. He was very adept at throwing his breaking ball for a strike and often got ahead in the count by doing so, and he kept hitters off balance so much that when he did throw his fastball he was often getting empty swings on it due to the success he had setting the pitch up with his other pitches.

– Brian Sakowski

The eventual co-Most Valuable Pitcher of the event, Ethan Hankins (2018, Cumming, Ga.), continued his run of dominance at PG events this year. He closed with maybe his most impressive performance firing 6 1/3 innings of shutout baseball with six strikeouts against an offensively loaded AZ T-Rex club. Hankins is incredibly projectable with a long, fluid arm action and near effortless release. He works easily through the ball with plus extension down the mound. His long limbs are in control throughout his delivery with the ability to repeat with effortless arm speed. His fastball showed its usual arm-side life working 90-93 mph and hitting 93 in his final inning. He worked the corners of the zone with efficiency and threw his curveball for strikes. He set the pitch up well by attacking hitters with heaters up in the zone before turning to his breaking ball to freeze hitters in the zone. His curveball showed 10-to-4 shape with moderate levels of spin, but he threw it with the same extension and arm speed up to 75 mph. Hankins is a good candidate to incorporate a slider at some point from his extended arm slot that he’d likely be able to generate more spin on with a harder velocity.

For a stretch of four games there may not be a hitter that showed more consistent ability to drive the ball in the air than Davis Schneider (2017, Berlin, N.J.) for the eventual champion Dirtbags. Schneider hit yet another extra-base hit in their semifinal matchup, driving a ball to the wall for a double. Schneider has shown the desire to hunt fastballs left up in the zone and look to punish them with a higher launch angle swing with good leverage through the point of contact. The Rutgers commit earned MVP honors for the event, and rightfully so, with four extra-base hits in the Dirtbags five total playoff games.

A player who impressed with a strong performance in his team’s consolation game was Aaron Brown (2017, Mount Juliet, Tenn.). Brown has an impressive starter’s build listed at 6-foot-4, 205-pounds with good strength and physicality in his frame. He showed a very long arm action with a very big arm circle before throwing from an over-the-top arm slot. There was effort to his delivery but he repeated it well with good athleticism to maintain. He showed good arm strength with a fastball that worked 88-91 mph with mostly true life, but the pitch worked well around the zone. He fired two innings without allowing a hit and struck out four batters. He also showed a slider that showed short shape at 75 mph with moderate feel to spin. What impressed about Brown was his ability to throw his changeup. He did so with ease and deception as the pitch showed good depth down and out of the zone with fade. He didn’t hesitate to throw the pitch to same-handed hitters and often doubled down on it with two strikes.

– Matt Czechanski

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