High School : : General
Wednesday, May 9, 2018

PG Iowa Spring League Wrap

Patrick Ebert        
Photo: Jarred Kelenic (Perfect Game)

Although Mother Nature didn’t allow for things to go quite as planned the past two months, the Perfect Game Iowa Spring League wrapped up on Sunday as the Wisconsin-based Hitters Baseball program played a doubleheader against the host Iowa Select Black team in Independence, Iowa. Iowa Select won both games, storming back from a 4-3 deficit in the top of the ninth of the second game to win 8-4 after winning the first game 4-2.

The seven-week series was initially set up by Perfect Game’s Steve James and the Hitters’ R.J. Fergus as an opportunity to showcase the players from each program, and as expected it was the bats of the Hitters and the arms of Iowa Select that stood out the most. There were quite a few scouts to take in Sunday’s action, with numerous cross-checkers in town to watch the action with particular interest in PG All-American outfielder Jarred Kelenic.

Jarred Kelenic, OF, Hitters Baseball

Kelenic is a well-known player, one of the top high school prospects in the nation who could be taken among the top 10 overall picks in this year’s draft. He participated in last summer’s Perfect Game All-American Classic, and while he impressed at the plate there he especially stood out by making a really nice running catch to rob fellow PG All-American and lefthanded slugger Nick Decker of extra bases.

After going 8-for-9 with three doubles and a home run on Saturday, Kelenic continued his hot hitting into Sunday’s action facing Iowa Select Black’s impressive collection of pitchers. He opened the first game with his hardest hit ball of the day, a line drive double that was scorched up the middle. The Hitters Baseball program emphasizes the importance of staying on top of the ball and hitting lasers to all parts of the field and Kelenic has done a good job to embrace this approach. He added another double in the second game of the doubleheader on Sunday as well as a hard hit single up the box off of the game’s hardest throwing pitcher, Connor Van Scoyoc.

Kelenic’s physicality is evident, as he’s a tightly wound and well-put together athlete that still has room to add strength without losing the looseness to his actions. A lefthanded hitter, he has a direct swing path to the ball with lightning quick hands and wrists, which gives him very good bat speed. While he can (and does) hit home runs, when he does hit them out they tend to be more of the laser variety than the tall, majestic variety since he stays on top of the ball so well. His bat-to-ball skills are impressive, as when the bat leaves his shoulder he has a knack for squaring the ball up and hitting it hard to all parts of the field.

He didn’t have the opportunity to put his speed to the test but he glides to balls in the outfield, gets good reads and is always moving in the right direction off the crack of the bat. Kelenic has run the 60-yard dash in the 6.50-6.60 second range in the past and can stretch extra-base hits on the basepaths.

His best defensive tool is his arm, as he had the opportunity to show off that tool a few times in game action, firing seeds to both both third base and home plate that resembled how the ball looks off of his bat. Not only were the throws made with great velocity but they were online and on the money and didn’t appear to sail more than 10-15 feet off the ground.

Alex Binelas, 3B, Hitters Baseball

We last reported on Binelas about a month ago, when these two teams matched up at the Hitters’ indoor facility in Southeastern Wisconsin. Binelas and Kelenic have been teammates on the Hitters for several years now and you can see a lot of similarities in their setup within the lefthanded batter’s box and their overall hitting mechanics.

And also like Kelenic, Binelas enjoyed a strong showing at the plate over the weekend. On Saturday he was 3-for-7 with a home run and five RBIs. In the two games on Sunday he went a combined 3-for-8 with a pair of doubles, and all three hits came off the bat hard. On one of his doubles he did a nice job staying back on the pitch and driving it oppo to the gap in left-center field, and he also went back-to-back with Kelenic in the third inning of Game 2, ripping a single off of Connor Van Scoyoc that brought home Kelenic.

Binelas’ approach is no-nonsense, as there aren’t wasted movements and he does a good job making consistent, hard contact with advanced bat-to-ball skills. There is somewhat of a swing-and-miss element to his game, but there’s also very exciting offensive upside with the ability to drive the ball from one gap to the other. While he currently stays on top of the ball well, like Kelenic, to hit line drives, it wouldn’t be surprising to see him develop more loft power as he swings the bat more like a prototypical lefthanded slugger.

Defensively he has more than enough arm strength for the hot corner (he also made an appearance on the mound to get the Hitters out of a bases loaded situation with one out in the final inning) and made all of the plays he needed to. He has rangy, well-proportioned strength at a listed 6-foot-2, 210-pounds, and it’s easy to envision him bulking up to the 220-225 pound range in the next 3-4 years, which could occur at Louisville, where he has committed to play collegiately.

AJ Vukovich, 3B/RHP, Hitters Baseball

Vukovich is a name to tuck away for a couple of years, currently a sophomore in high school that has been playing up due to his size, physicality and impressive skills on a baseball field. Like Kelenic and Binelas, he too has committed to play at Louisville. Vukovich still has refinements to be made at the plate, but thanks to the leverage he creates in his righthanded swing due to his 6-foot-5, 205-pound stature, he already can put a charge into the ball with the ability to drive the ball out to any part of the park. On Sunday he only collected one base hit, but it was a memorable one, smoking a line drive single to the outfield that drove in a run. He’s at his best staying short to the ball but that can be difficult at times given his long levers, but when he’s able to extend out front the ball can travel a long, long way.

Due to Binelas patrolling third base Vukovich spent most of his day at first, but he has more than enough athleticism and arm strength to play the hot corner or even a corner outfield spot at the next level. However, some may view his talents to be greater on the mound, as he has already touched the low-90s on occasion with a promising breaking ball. While he did throw a couple of innings on this day, allowing just one base hit while fanning a pair of batters, his fastball and curveball were both down in the velo department as compared to past viewings; his fastball sat in the mid-80s and his curveball was thrown right around 70 mph.

Brayden Frazier, SS, Iowa Select Black

Frazier is a gamer, a player quickly identified as a coach’s favorite (and not surprisingly his father serves as a coach for the Iowa Select program). He’s not especially toolsed-up but he plays the game hard, is a good athlete and always seems to come through with a big hit and/or play defensively. He has played all over the infield and shows good lateral movements, soft hands and a strong arm across the infield. While he’s not an especially twitchy athlete, he just gets the job done and should be able to play the shortstop position at least through college as he has committed to play in-state at Iowa with enough versatility to play second and third base as he progresses.

His tools are solid across the board, with low-90s arm strength across the diamond and solid straight-line speed. In the batter’s box he does a nice job squaring up the baseball, showing mostly gap-to-gap power at this point in time, although there is some over-the-fence pop, both presently and in regards to future projection. He has a strong and athletic, broad-shouldered build at 5-foot-11, 190-pounds.

In the second game of Sunday’s doubleheader Frazier collected a pair of hard-hit doubles smacked to the outfield gaps, and overall went 3-for-6 on the day, adding a hard-hit single in the first game. That hit might have been the most impressive of the day, as he did a nice job dropping the bat head down to make contact on a pitch down in the zone to drive it back up the middle. He ended up advancing to second base on the throw as the hit drove in a pair of runs.

Tyler Lewis, RHP, Iowa Select Black

Lewis has been an interesting pitcher to watch develop, with a large and burly 6-foot-4, 235-pound frame. He attacked hitters on Sunday slinging the ball from a deceptive three-quarters arm slot, which helped create a fair amount of late movement on his fastball. For the most part he pitches to contact and is able to induce ground balls early in the count when his command is on. He also throws a low- to mid-70s curveball, a hard-spinning pitch that he does a pretty good job of dropping in for strikes while keeping hitters’ timing off when sequenced well with his fastball.

Throwing three innings in the first game of Sunday’s doubleheader, Lewis didn’t allow a base hit, allowing two runs (one was earned) on three walks while striking out three. He has committed to play at Indian Hills CC and will be an interesting player to follow year-by-year at the junior college level.

Connor Van Scoyoc, RHP, Iowa Select Black

Van Scoyoc is no stranger to Perfect Game events and has been part of the Iowa Select program for quite some time. He quickly passes the eye test with a tall, strong and well-proportioned 6-foot-5, 200-pound athletic build. He has good balance and rhythm on the mound and repeats his mechanics well. It’s easy to envision him having another velocity jump let in the tank, as he peaked at 93 mph indoors about a month ago and reached 92 in the second game of Sunday’s doubleheader, which made him the hardest throwing pitcher of the day.

He did a good job to cruise through the first two innings of work but ran into trouble the next two during his four-inning stint, which included back-to-back hard-hit RBI singles allowed to the Hitters’ top two batsmen – Jarred Kelenic and Alex Binelas – in the third inning. His fastball settled into the 88-90 mph range, and he did a good job mixing in his usual low- to mid-70s curveball. He also tossed a changeup or two in the low-80s, a pitch that shows promise that he’ll need to simply throw more often to gain more comfort with.

There remains quite a bit to like about Van Scoyoc’s profile given his size, ability to power the ball downhill and the potential for a strong three-pitch repertoire. While that gives him the potential to be drafted this June, he could join his brother, Spencer, at Arizona State for further development.

Nic McCay, RHP, Iowa Select Black

After Hitters Baseball scored a pair of runs in both the third and fourth innings to take a 4-1 lead of the second game of Sunday’s doubleheader, Nic McCay came in and shut things down, something he has done all spring long during league play while giving his teammates the opportunity to come back and win the ballgame, which they did. He fired four hitless, scoreless innings on this day, walking a pair and striking out eight Hitters’ batters. The fastball sat in the 86-89 mph range, peaking at 90, while mixing in a low- to mid-70s curveball. He did a nice job sequencing between the two pitches to keep the opposing hitters off balance with a fearless, bulldog-type approach on the mound.

It’s easy to envision him adding a few ticks to his current velocity as his arm works really well with good arm speed and a clean delivery. His curveball is an advanced pitch, with good shape and bite while getting explosive downward movement towards homeplate. At a listed 6-foot-2, 180-pounds, he is a well-balanced, well-proportioned athlete that has committed to play for South Dakota State.

Levi Usher, OF, Iowa Select Black

Usher didn’t stand out at the plate as much on Sunday as he did roughly a month ago in my last viewing. In each of the two games he went 0-for-2 with a walk, and the walks stand as proof of his advanced discipline at the plate and willingness to take a free pass. In all of his plate appearances he did a good job taking pitches and waiting for something he could barrel up, something he didn’t do particularly well on this day, but the approach still helped his team win.

What did stand out was his arm strength. Usher, like his 2017 PG All-American West squad teammate and fellow outfielder Jarred Kelenic, had a few opportunities to show off his impressive arm during game action, which included one outfield assist. On a high fly ball to center field and a runner at second base, Usher came up firing to third base after making the catch, throwing a laser to the third baseman to nail the runner (Alex Binelas) trying to advance. He also made a few throws home, all of which were thrown with great velocity and on target.

That arm strength served him well on the mound as well, as he tossed an inning in the first game of the doubleheader firing 85-88 mph fastballs that led to a pair of strikeouts. He has committed to play near his hometown at Kirkwood CC, but it will be interesting to see where he goes in the draft given his game-changing speed, arm strength and overall offensive upside.

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