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High School | General | 4/4/2019

NHSI Day 1 Scout Notes

David Rawnsley        
Photo: Brennan Malone (Perfect Game)

National High School Top 50

You go to a baseball game. You're riveted to your seat the entire game. It ends up 1-0 with both pitchers throwing complete games. Each tops out at 97 mph and their last pitch is 94 mph. Darting sliders ruin at-bats for many hitters. The defense is spotless and occasionally spectacular.

That could be Washington and New York playing with Jacob deGrom and Max Scherzer on the mound. But actually it was IMG Academy and La Mirada High School at the USA Baseball NHSI tournament in Cary, North Carolina with righthanders Brennan Malone (2019, Matthews, N.C.) and Jared Jones (2020, Whittier, Calif.) on the mound.

This scout has seen Malone throw 10-12 times over the past three years and this was his best outing without question. He probably averaged close to 95 mph on his fastball, touching 96 mph in the sixth inning, and while the pitch is straight and doesn't generate the swing-and-miss one would expect from that gas, he did work down in the zone with the pitch consistently and generated soft contact while only rarely dropping his arm slot and getting on the side of the pitch. Malone's out-pitch all night was a well-controlled slider that was mostly 81-83 with sharp late bite. He threw one at 85 mph that was pretty nasty and it isn't difficult to see him further amping up the pitch to a true 87-88 mph power slider at the professional level. Malone flashed a couple of decent changeups during the game and also mixed in some downer 74-77 mph curveballs, a pitch that still needs plenty of work.

The game was very heavily scouted and it is certainly an outing that will be remembered in draft rooms and reflected on draft boards in the weeks and days leading up to the draft.

Jones is a different type of pitcher than the strong and mature 6-foot-5 Malone, with a very athletic 6-foot-2, 175-pound build and two-way potential as an outfielder. His delivery reflects his athleticism, with lots of seemingly random hesitations and tempo changes that only a high level athlete can execute. The Baskin Robbins approach to mechanics and arm slots worked fine on Jones' fastball, which probably averaged between 93 and 94 with occasional outstanding running life and was thrown for consistent strikes. But Jones had issues the entire game commanding his low-80s slider, which at times was a plus swing-and-miss offering but more frequently missed glove side. Jones also showed some developing feel for a changeup he threw a couple of times. Jones is presently ranked seventh in the 2020 class and a case can certainly be made after this outing that even that lofty slotting deserves a bump.

Both team's catchers, IMG's Tucker Mitchell (2019, Bradenton Beach, Fla.) and La Mirada's PG All-American Darius Perry, also deserve mention. Not a single ball found the backstop the entire game and both catchers did a very nice job framing high-level big league quality stuff, with Perry notably plucking several balls from the very bottom of the zone and getting strike calls. Both threw out a rare baserunner with sub 2.0-second lasers on the bag and both took solid game swings, with Mitchell's line drive single accounting for the game's only run.

Malone's only shaky inning was the first inning, when his fastball was "only" 93-95 and finding the middle of the plate. IMG third baseman Josh Rivera (2019, Avon Park, Fla.) made a pair of sterling defensive plays on the first two hitters of the game, the first charging in and the second ranging far into the hole in his best Nolan Arenado impersonation. Perry then came up and lifted a deep fly ball right field that was caught at the edge of the warning track.

Orange Lutheran HS righthander Max Rajcic (2020, Fullerton, Calif.) was his usual effective self on the mound, striking out 10 hitters over six innings and picking up the win. A very good athlete who bats fifth in the Orange Lutheran lineup, Rajcic was up to 93 mph early before settling into the 88-90 mph range with good heavy life low in the zone and played with hitters throughout the game by changing speeds and shape on his breaking ball, anywhere from 72 to 79 mph, and every spot in between. The pitch has the most utility at the next level at its higher velocities but watching Rajcic's mature feel for the pitch is always appreciated. Rajcic has also done lots of good work with his delivery, evolving from a max effort, multi-directional pitcher to a much better paced set of mechanics that really syncs up his lower and upper halves well.

PG All-American Landon Sims (2019, Cumming, Ga.) was the victim of Orange Lutheran's well-balanced offense, allowing eight runs in five plus innings. Sims, who just converted to pitching full-time last year and regularly throws in the mid-90s in shorter outings, topped out at 93 mph early and generally pitched in the 89-91 mph range in his 99-pitch outing. His lack of experience showed the most in his slider and changeup, along with his ability to control Orange Lutheran's hyper-aggressive baserunners. Sims did show a flash of his two-way potential, driving a Rajcic fastball to the warning track in left field on a day when balls weren't carrying at all on any of the four fields.

Florida's Monsignor Pace High School picked up an opening 4-1 win behind a strong performance by Yordani Carmona (2019, Hialeah, Fla.), who went six-plus innings. Carmona has been one of the most consistent pitchers on the PG circuit for the past couple of years and the Miami signee’s methodology and stuff is always the same. Carmona touched 90 mph early in the outing but otherwise worked 86-88 the entire outing, while seemingly never putting a fastball in the middle of the plate. He worked his changeup more and more as the game progressed but rarely used his 78 mph slider, even to lefthanded hitters.

Carmona's contact-oriented approach works well with this Pace team and its outstanding defense, led by another potential future Miami Hurricane, shortstop Sammy Infante (2020, Hialeah, Fla.). Infante has pro-level defensive tools and skills in the middle of the field, with quickness and range to go with balance and creativity. He made a number of standout defensive plays this game, none more notable than one with a runner at second base when he ranged so far up the middle to get a ground ball that the Pace first baseman had already left the bag to get in cutoff position, basically saying "there is no way that my teammate is going to get this ball." Left with no one to throw the ball to at first, Infante caught the runner rounding third, as he evidently had the same thoughts as the first baseman about the ball getting to center field.

Infante picked up a pair of hits during the game along with a loud line drive to left field and has a loose and well-directed swing with some bat speed to continue to develop. Currently 114th in the PG class rankings, Infante is definitely one to focus on this upcoming summer.

Christian Brothers High School righthander Christian Little (2021, St. Louis, Mo.) may have been the youngest pitcher to take the mound on Wednesday and the 15-year old, who is ranked seventh overall in PG's 2021 class rankings, showed some of his youth in a three-inning outing. He also showed a lot of his talent and extreme projectability. At 6-foot-3, 195-pounds with long arms, Little has plenty of potential growing to do and already has a solid delivery with good flow and athleticism. He worked in the 87-91 mph range with his fastball and could have been more aggressive with that pitch. Little showed plenty of confidence in his low-80s changeup, throwing it frequently in key counts, and also flashed good spin and depth on a mid-70s curveball. He will be a treat to watch develop over the next few years.

– David Rawnsley

NHSI 2019 dawned sunny, cool, and otherwise gorgeous on Wednesday morning in Cary, and the talent level was just as bright and exciting throughout the day. Harvard-Westlake (Calif.) picked up an opening round win over Hendersonville (Tenn.) by a score of 6-0. Sam Hliboki (2019, Valley Village, Calif.) got the W, throwing a complete game shutout in the process.

Hliboki is a long, lean Vanderbilt signee who, while not possessing necessarily overpowering stuff, did a good job of mixing and matching three quality pitches and throwing them all for strikes. He’s young for the grade and will finish high school while still being 17, and he has the physical projection necessary to dream on his upside. He worked mostly in the 85-88 mph range in this look, getting downhill with the fastball and commanding it to both sides of the plate. He has some funk to his delivery and hides the ball well, so it’s certainly a tough look for hitters, as the ball does jump out of his hand well and gets on the hitter quickly.

He mixed in a curveball and changeup as well, preferring to go with the curveball most of the time. He’s comfortable throwing it and while the pitch wasn’t totally consistent, as is the case with pretty much every 17-year old, he has excellent feel for it and it should be a bat-misser for him sooner rather than later at Vanderbilt. The curveball is thrown in the low- to mid-70s with excellent depth, and he shows the ability to change the shape at times from a more traditional 11-to-5 shaped pitch to more of a sweeper across the zone to righthanded hitters, and he was adept at getting both swings-and-misses as well as called strikes on both variations. He threw the changeup exclusively to lefthanded hitters and while there isn’t significant action yet, he throws it with fastball arm speed and does generate a bit of fade that he can throw over the arm-side edge and tempt those lefty hitters with.

Desert Oasis (Nev.) took down Delbarton (N.J.) on Wednesday afternoon to pick up a huge opening round win. Aaron Roberts (2019, Las Vegas, Nev.) has been drawing some draft buzz given his pair of loud tools in his raw power from the right side of the plate as well as his arm strength, which has been into the mid-90s on the mound at times. Roberts was 2-for-2 in this roughly half-game look, and the adjustment he made mid-AB in his first time at the plate was something to take notice of. He swung and missed on a slider down and in, then hit the next slider he saw right past the pitcher’s head into center field for a single. The ball was whistled, and while Roberts’ offensive profile is built around his raw pop, he does show some of the cerebral attributes that good hitters have. He’s likely limited to first base defensively, but could have pretty legitimate two-way upside at Cal, where he is signed.

Shawn Rapp (2019, Mendham, N.J.) got the start for Delbarton and while he wasn’t overly sharp, still shows lots of things to like and has quality upside at the collegiate level, where he’s signed with North Carolina. A good-sized lefty, Rapp has some deception to his operation on the mound, as he’s kind of a slinger in that his arm stroke isn’t overly long and drawn out—he really just loads over the rubber and whips his arm through a three-quarters to low three-quarters slot. The suddenness of the release is definitely deceptive, and Rapp hides the ball relatively well also. His fastball worked in the 84-87 mph range for the most part, coming into the plate with good angle and solid arm-side life. His slider was his better off-speed pitch, thrown in the mid-70s and when he’s on top of the pitch, it’s got good late action at the plate, diving in under the hands of righthanded hitters. He also shows a slower, fatter curveball in the upper-60s that, while a nice change-of-pace, is more of a strike-stealer than a bat-misser at this level.

Delbarton shortstop Anthony Volpe (2019, Watchung, N.J.), a Perfect Game All-American last summer, was his usual self in this game, which is to say he was very good. He smoked a down-and-in breaking ball for a single through the left side in his first at-bat, making the turn in 4.62 seconds, and then squared up another one in his second at-bat that ended up being right at the shortstop and turned into a fielder’s choice, as Volpe got down the line in 4.26 seconds to prevent the double play. Defensively, he has the range, athleticism, and hands to play shortstop, though his arm strength is average, which gives some scouts pause in projecting him at the 6-spot long term. He has excellent bat-to-ball skills and is an above average runner at least, and that in conjunction with his defensive abilities make him a high draft target for this June.

– Brian Sakowski

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