Tournaments | Story | 5/26/2018

West Memorial Notes: Day 1

Jheremy Brown        
Photo: Tyler Whitaker (Perfect Game)

One of the most useful things that comes from watching a player from the 14u level all the way up is the ability to follow their progress, both physically and in regard to their skill on the diamond. Such is the case with 2020 righthander and third baseman Jaden Agassi (Las Vegas, Nev.), a Southern California commit who continues to develop every time we see him, and opening day of the West Memorial Day tournament proved to be no different.

The first thing that stands out is the strength Agassi has continued to add onto his frame without detracting from his overall delivery. His delivery, and more notably his arm action, is another aspect of his game that has improved since seeing him last summer. As opposed to his longer and deeper arm stroke he was working with last summer, Agassi is now much more online and compact through the back while maintaining solid arm speed, which in turn allowed for more strikes while consistently working down the in zone.

Over the first couple of frame the former 14u PG Select All-American proved to be nearly unhittable, pounding the zone at the knees and even grew stronger with his fastball as the innings ticked on. Opening up in the 86-88 mph range with his heater, Agassi kept upping the ante with each inning out of the windup, eventually living in the 87-89 mph and once bumped a 90. The velocity dips for him some out of the stretch as he can continue to incorporate additional lower half into his drive, though he also was able to generate more sinking life to the pitch.

Agassi worked mostly off his fastball and rightfully so he punched out four in three innings, but he did flash both a changeup and curveball, each of which were thrown for strikes. He did a nice job of maintaining his arm speed and release point on the changeups he did show, creating fading life down in the zone while running the pitch up to 78 mph. And similar to previous looks, the curveball wasn’t an often-thrown pitch aside from a couple of looks which offered short depth in the low-70s.

There’s no reason to doubt that Agassi will continue to climb in terms of velocity on the mound and with his new arm action, strikes should be a plenty for the current No. 37 ranked player in the class of 2020.

Speaking of former PG Select Fest member who threw for LVR during the opening day, 2021 righthander Tyler Whitaker (Las Vegas, Nev.) came in for a quick look in order to get him some work while conserving his pitch count for later in the tournament. Whitaker has long been on the national scene even though he has just completed his freshman season at Arbor View HS.

At a long and broad 6-foot-4, 190-pounds with ample physical projection still remaining, the future Arizona Wildcat was called in out of the bullpen and quickly did his job, inducing two weak ground balls, the second of which yielded a double play to get out of the jam. And as it did to those first two batter, Whitaker’s fastball lived in the 84-86 mph range with consistent sinking life with which he lived off barrels, yielding steady weak contact.

Part of the reason for the sink is Whitaker’s ability to create extension while releasing the ball out front, showing a lower effort release with plenty of arm quickness through the back. The curveball was his go-to secondary, a pitch that has continued to tighten and shows solid spin in the 72-73 mph range with 11-to-5 shape and depth.

The physical projection is too hard to ignore with Whitaker but you don’t have to dream on the body for future success as he already shows plenty of components and an overall arsenal to make him an alluring prospect, as evidenced by his No. 27 national ranking in the class of 2021.

Listed as a primary third baseman who got the start at shortstop for the San Diego Stars, Ryan Ward (Coronado, Calif.) also hit in the leadoff position and of all his tools, it may be his lefthanded stick that stands out the most at present. Ward, a rising freshman who already stands at 6-foot-1, 165-pounds, offers obvious physical projection like others his age but also possesses wiry strength and quick twitch muscle to his overall profile, two things that help create the bat speed he does a present.

It’s a quiet approach at the dish for Ward as he won’t willingly expand the zone, though he also isn’t afraid to attack when he gets his pitch. And that’s just what he did in his third and final at-bat in the Stars’ opening game as he put his loose hands to work and got extended on a pitch which he turned on for a line drive triple to the right-center field gap, accelerating well from first to third. It was the second barrel of the game for Ward and what stands out as much as his physical projection is the overall ease to his swing in getting the barrel through the zone.

The top ranked pitcher in the class of 2019 out of Arizona and No. 86 overall on the national scene, righthander Chandler Murphy (Peoria, Ariz.) took the mound for AZ T-Rex and though he didn’t have his best stuff, he still competed and put together a solid performance. It was a quick three inning look for the Arizona Wildcat commitment, meaning we’ll likely see him another time in this tournament before he makes his was to Tropicana for the 2018 National Showcase.

Having been up to 91 mph last summer, Murphy worked mostly in the 85-87 mph with his heater on day one but also filled the zone and punched out four in his three innings without allowing a hit. Murphy did a nice job of working down in the zone and can continue to implement additional lower half and directionality into his drive, though he did create nice cutting action to his glove side. Along with his fastball Murphy also showed a feel for his curveball, a pitch that offered tight spin in the mid-70s with 11-5 shape a nice depth, an offering he could land for strikes or collect swings and misses with.

Righthanders Zach Locke (Los Alamitos, Calif.) and David Utagawa (Phoenix, Ariz.) are two rising juniors who were pitted against one another as Locke’s SoCal Warriors faced off against Utagawa and the Canyon Thunder 16u squad. Both arms showed components to like and while their stat lines looked different at the end of their outings, both are intriguing arms to keep tabs on.

Locke worked 3 2/3 innings and cruised through them, working in the 83-85 mph range early while bumping an 86 in the opening frame, staying short and quick with his arm stroke through the back. He delivery with simple and shows nice tempo, allowing him to repeat and fill the zone while mixing three pitches for strikes regardless the count. An upper-70s pitch, Locke did a nice job of replicating his arm speed on his changeup and mimicked his release while creating nice fading life down in the zone. His third pitch, a 71-73 mph curveball, was yet another pitch he could land for strikes and did just that in striking out five while allowing just one base hit.

Utagawa didn’t have his best command as he walked seven in his 3 2/3 innings of work, though looking at his delivery there shouldn’t be any reason he can’t iron things out and develop a consistent release point moving forward. He’s strongly built at 6-foot-3, 200-pounds and pitched mostly off of his fastball from a higher three-quarters release point. Early in the content the uncommitted righthander worked in the 84-87 mph range and when everything was on time he showed the ability to create plane with some short running life to it down in the zone. The ease of which the velocity comes from his right hand may be the most alluring aspect of his game, especially given that he can continue to incorporate additional lower half into his drive to the plate.

Throughout day one of the tournament at the 14u age group plenty of players were identified for additional looks like this tournament, three of whom happen to be their team’s starting shortstops in 2022 graduates Michael Vasquez (Whittier, Calif.), Noah Rodriguez (La Habra, Calif.), and 2023 Steven Milam (Las Cruces, N.M.). All three showed interesting tools on opening day and like others at this age, will only continue to develop and refine their overall games moving forward.

Vasquez immediately stands out with his 6-foot-1, 165-pound frame and serves as the starting shortstop and three-hole hitter on the West Coast Braves. Despite his age and size combo Vasquez displayed nice body control along with some range in game and soft hands and solid arm strength across the diamond in between innings. He wasn’t challenged at the plate, showing a willingness to take his walks and not expanded as he reached base three times, but did show the makings of solid bat speed with leverage on the few swings he was able to take.

Rodriguez stood out at the 14u West Showcase for his overall athleticism, abilities with the glove, and aptitude for the game. Batting in the middle of the order for MVP Hustle, Rodriguez showed a handle for the barrel with a linear path and can already impact the baseball despite his listed 5-foot-8, 130-pounds. His defensive actions are among the best I saw day one with plenty of quickness to his feet, allowing for range while showing soft hands out front.

The youngest of the trio, Steven Milam hits in the leadoff spot for Wilson Sandlot and despite his age he plays the game with confidence which he exudes in the batter’s box. Listed as a switch-hitter, my first couple of looks of Milam came from the left side due to a matchup with the righthanded arm he was facing. The young New Mexico native may only be listed at 5-foot-5, 130-pounds but in his second at-bat he showcased the ability to whip the barrel through the zone with a short, easy stroke while creating jump on the barrel on a line drive single into left field.

Another player who stood out on a talented Wilson Sandlot team was 2022 righthander Logan Saloman (Chandler, Ariz.) who’s listed as a primary third baseman and is younger for the grade, just turning 14. Though if you were to guess Saloman’s age off his physical stature you wouldn’t surmise him to be 14 as he already stands 6-foot-2, 180-pounds with broad shoulders and long limbs. He took to the mound for a quick 2.1 inning look and impressed, bumping 83 mph with his fastball while living in the 79-82 mph range. His delivery is pretty simple with a hip coil at top and full arm stroke through the back, releasing the ball out front with relatively low effort. The velocity will only continue to improve as he develops physically and he already shows a feel for landing his mid-60s curveball for strikes.

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