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High School | General | 1/5/2021

Finest in the Field: Class of 2023

Tyler Russo        
Photo: Raffaele Velazquez (Perfect Game)
Finest in the Field: Class of 2021 | Class of 2022

Pitcher: James Hays (The Westfield Schools, Hawkinsville, Ga.)

When it comes to pitchers, especially in the younger classes, it can be difficult to gauge defensive ability because there isn’t much of a sample size of defensive play. Hays checks a ton of boxes in terms of his capabilities on the mound as he possesses one of the cleanest operations in the class and a fastball already up to 93 mph, but his athleticism that shows in his 6.74 60-yard dash time plays largely into his ability to repeat that delivery. He dominates the zone often, evidenced by a nearly 3:1 K:BB ratio and is versatile enough to also impact the game offensively and at either corner of the infield.

Honorable Mention, Pitcher: Thomas White (Mass.), Ethan Robinson (Tenn.), Chance Mako (N.C.), Jakob Schulz (Texas), Connor Crisp (Ga.)

Catcher: Raffaele Velazquez (Huntington Beach HS, Long Beach, Calif.)

A prospect that stormed into the national spotlight over the last year or so, Velazquez has now become one of the top-ranked players in the entire country, regardless of listed position. His offensive capabilities are undoubtedly up there with the best, but his prowess behind the dish is something not to overlook. He has low-80s arm strength out of the crouch already to pair with athleticism in how he sets up and maturity to how he handles a variety of talented young arms. His physicality at 6-foot-1, 210 pounds gives him a solid mass to block pitches with and should give him plenty of long-term success as he refines a combination of strength and athleticism.

Honorable Mention, Catcher: Ryder Helfrick (Calif.), Brady Neal (Fla.), Stone Lawless (Ala.), Dillon Lester (Okla.)

First Base: Zach Wadas (Brophy College Preparatory, Phoenix, Ariz.)

First base is another position that goes a bit under the radar when it comes to defensive ability, but Wadas is a player who has shown an innate ability to impact the game from this position. In a workout setting, he works quickly to and through the baseball with confidence in how he comes to receive the ball and sound footwork when moving into his throws. He has just low-80s arm strength across, but his accuracy helps in his ability to make plays when called upon in game action and his athleticism and physical upside should only continue to help in the impact he makes on both sides of the ball.

Honorable Mention, First Base: Jackson McKenzie (Fla.), Matthew Ossenfort (Fla.), Nolan Stevens (Calif.)

Middle Infield: Dylan Cupp (Cedartown HS, Cedartown, Ga.)

Known unanimously as one of the elite defenders in the class, it is no surprise that Cupp is recognized here as one of the finest in the field for the class. It takes a combination of athleticism, confidence in your abilities and arm strength, among other things, to make it at the shortstop position long term and he very much checks all of those boxes. He has elite hands and footwork through the baseball as he takes great angles and has no problems adjusting to tough hops on the dirt. His arm strength clocks just into the mid-80s but plays up when you take note that he gets rid of it quickly and can do it from almost any arm angle on the move.

Middle Infield: Steven Milam (Centennial HS, Las Cruces, N.M.)

Milam has had similar notoriety as a defender as Cupp, and it is for good reason as he stands out as one of the flat-out winners in this talented class. His hit tool has taken him to multiple MVP awards on the biggest of stages, but defensively he impacts the game each time out up the middle. He’s ultra-athletic with outstanding footwork both on the dirt and around the bag, showing efficiency to how he gets to the baseball and arm strength that works especially well from the second base position. The physical upside is less important when it comes to being an elite defender at the second base position, but his athleticism, hands and baseball IQ should carry him throughout his career on the dirt.

Honorable Mention, Middle Infield: Brett Denby (Ind.), Austen Roellig (Calif.), Antonio Anderson (Ga.), Carl Schmidt (Calif.), Eric Bitonti (Calif.)

Third Base: Cam Collier (Mt Paran Christian, Austell, Ga.)

Collier is regarded as the most talented position prospect in the class at present. He can swing it with authority already and run a fastball into the low-90s, but his defensive abilities are similarly impressive as he holds his own at the hot corner both in a workout setting and in game action. He has strong hands, arm strength in the upper-80s across the diamond, and a surprising level of athleticism given the physicality of his 6-foot-2, 210-pound body as he clocks in around a 7.2 runner, a solid time for a power-hitting third baseman profile.

Honorable Mention, Third Base: Braden Holcomb (Fla.), Nazzan Zanetello (Mo.), Jarren Purify (Mich.)

Outfield: Walker Jenkins (South Brunswick HS, Oak Island, N.C.)

Jenkins burst onto the national scene at the Freshman All-American Games to kick off his showcase experiences and was equally impressive at every stop on the fall tournament circuit. The 6-foot-3, 195-pound lefthanded hitting outfielder has monster power in the bat but can really hold his own in the outfield. He runs a 6.75, an impressive time for someone of his size and physicality and has arm strength clocked up to 93 mph in defensive workouts, a number that sits near the best in the class. He’s aggressive in his routes to the ball and has the foot quickness to patrol the outfield to either side of his body, making for a coveted prospect profile.

Outfield: Michael Graziano (Naples HS, Naples, Fla.)

Graziano is another outfield prospect who surged into the national spotlight for his showing on the circuit this fall and also put his tools on display at the Freshman All-American Games. Also standing at 6-foot-3, 195 pounds, he has great athleticism and runs especially well, as evidenced by his 6.65 run time in the 60-yard dash. He takes excellent routes to the ball in the outfield and showed great reads off the bat while playing center field in a few of the WWBA World events. Pair those abilities and run times with his arm strength in the upper-80s and you have another especially strong defender who can really swing the bat.

Outfield: Cooper Milford (Blessed Trinity Catholic, Cumming, Ga.)

Milford, who sits a single spot behind Graziano in the national rankings, may have his defensive abilities in the outfield as his leading tool in the overall prospect package right now. At a lean 6-foot, 155 pounds, he is not the same physical presence on the field as the other two listed, but his athleticism and arm strength match as a 6.58 runner who has also been clocked into the upper-80s during defensive workouts. He has a sound fundamental approach with looseness through the operation and accuracy to go with the arm strength to bags.

Honorable Mention, Outfield: Maxwell Clark (Ind.), Derrick Mitchell (Texas), Owen Egan (Calif.), Drew Burress (Ga.), Dean West (Calif.), Reid Haire (N.C.)

Utility: Aidan Miller (JW Mitchell, Trinity, Fla.)

The utility position of these awards is usually the type of prospect who is ultra-athletic and can virtually impact the game from every position on the diamond, but what Miller can do from a number of spots on the field is impressive. He’s a primary third baseman who locks down the hot corner with his strong hands and arm strength from multiple arm angles but can also be impactful in the outfield with good jumps off the bat and a baseball IQ better than most. Add in that he’s lights out with a low-90s fastball and advanced secondaries on the mound and you have a prospect that is deserving of being ranked third overall in the class and on this list.

Honorable Mention, Utility: Zion Rose (Ill.), Walter Ford (Ala.)

 

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