SAN DIEGO – If there is only one lesson that Zach Wadas has learned during his ever blossoming baseball career – and trust us, there’s been a lot more than one – it’s the value of surrounding yourself with players of equal or superior talent.
And that, in a somewhat precise 40 words, describes why the talented class of 2023 first baseman/outfielder out of Phoenix found himself at the University of San Diego’s Fowler Park on Sunday, eager to compete at the elite two-day showcase event known as the Perfect Game Underclass All-American Games.
Wadas, a 6-foot-4, 200-pound left-handed hitter who is just starting his junior year at Hamilton High School in Chandler, accepted the PG Under AA Games invitation knowing that he was going to be performing at the Area Code Underclass Games in Los Angeles in the days before the event. He was going to be in Southern California anyway, so why not stick around another couple of days?
“It was nice because I was already in California so I just had to go from L.A. to San Diego,” Wadas told PG on Sunday, speaking from the first base dugout on Fowler’s Cunningham Field. “I’m just here for today since I have school tomorrow but this is really a [great] event.”
A TCU commit, Wadas is currently ranked as the No. 54 overall prospect in his class and the No. 2 first baseman (he’s Nos. 1/1 in Arizona). He’s already been rostered at 34 PG events in four PG series, a good number for a prospect from the desert Southwest who still has full fall and summer seasons ahead of him over the next 12 months.
The Underclass AA Games are technically the eighth PG event that Wadas has participated in this calendar year, a string that began with the PG South Sophomore MLK Championship in Tomball, Texas, in mid-January; he earned all-tournament recognition while playing with Trosky National 2023.
After that tournament, Wadas got picked up by the nationally acclaimed Canes National program and earned all-tournament recognition at three more prestigious events: the PG 16u Ultimate Baseball Challenge, 17u West Ultimate Baseball Challenge and the WWBA 16u National Championship.
Playing with both the Canes National 16u and Canes National 17u, Wadas was quickly establishing himself as a top prospect whose exploits were filling scouts’ notebooks with words of praise.
The numbers told the tale of the tape: during the 2021 tournament season, Wadas went 30-for-82 (.366) – a hit total that included 11 doubles, a triple and three home runs – walked 18 times (.476 OBP), drove in 24 runs, scored 22 and stole nine bases.
“It was a great summer for me. I played with Canes National out east for the entire summer; I had the most hits on our team so that was real nice,” Wadas said. “It was really great to be with a group of talented kids, probably the [most] talented kids I’ve ever played with; there was no weak spots in the lineup.”
“No weak spots” is a condition Wadas craves and one in which he thrives. His propensity for wanting to be around the best so he can continue to be considered amongst the best himself is a trait that defines him and leads him to PG’s biggest stages.
Wadas was a two-time participant at the PG Junior National Showcase staged in Hoover, Ala., in 2020 and in Marietta, Ga., this past June. The Jr. National is one of the top underclass showcase events in the country and Wadas has used the platform to greatly enhance his profile within the scouting community.
Of course, and here we go again, it never hurts to be surrounded by equally impressive talent, either. At the 2020 Junior in Hoover, Ala., he was on a Red Team roster that included top 2022s Elijah Green (No. 1-ranked), Luke Heyman (No. 31) and Kaden Martin (No. 35), a trio of rising seniors that will be here next weekend for the PG All-American Classic.
“I was batting fourth and Elijah was batting ‘three’ and I was this little skinny kid,” Wadas said with a laugh. “But it was fun to be around so much talent and see what it takes each year to be a top name and be the No. 1 kid and all of that.”
He again found himself on the Red Team roster at the ’21 Junior, along with fellow top 2023s like Aidan Miller (No. 3), Wesley Mendes (No. 8), Dylan Cupp (No. 11) and Cade Kurland (No. 33), among others. Wadas said he was a little more relaxed during his second Jr. National go-around.
“It was really nice to be [at] Junior National this last year because I was with a lot of the top-tier kids,” he said. “It was nice to be around those guys because I’m good friends with them.”
Despite turning in four Top Prospect List performances at showcases in the last couple of years – including at the 2019 PG 14u National Showcase – Wadas insists he’s really not “a big showcase guy.”
He has put up, in his mind, some pretty good, top-of-the-class numbers at the events but not really anything particularly attention-grabbing. It’s nice to have the numbers out there, of course, but he also thinks game-play can be a separator as well.
And, of course, the six rosters here at the Under AA Games are teeming with some outstanding 2023 talent as well, led by California outfielder Dean West (No. 9, UCLA commit), Georgia shortstop Antonio Anderson (No. 10, Georgia Tech) and California first baseman Nolan Stevens (No. 20, uncommitted). Stevens is the only 2023 first baseman in the country ranked ahead of Wadas.
Also on hand are California shortstop Eric Bitonti (No. 28, uncommitted) and Kansas outfielder Ashton Larson (No. 48, LSU), and let’s not forget California outfielder Derek Curiel, the No. 1-ranked overall prospect from the class of 2024.
“I know that I’ve definitely played with a few of these kids; played against them,” Wadas said. “These are a lot of the West Coast kids so, yeah, I do see a lot of familiar faces...It’s nice to be around other talented kids, kids I’ve known who can help me and I can help them out with swings and fielding and all of that.”
Although he made the decision to transfer to Hamilton from Brophy Prep, Wadas said his old coaches at Brophy, Josh Garcia and Raul and Riccio Torres, played big roles in his development. He also credited his hitting coach Bobby Patton, who has a training facility in Phoenix.
Wadas continues to climb the prospects rankings and he admits they’re something he pays fairly close attention to.
“Nationally is the big thing I like to look at because I always want to be moving up; I want to get in the top-15 eventually and hopefully I can get that next year,” he said. “And in Arizona, I know a lot of other good kids so I know I have to keep working.
“I just transferred to Hamilton High School and I know there’s a couple of kids there than can beat me out if I don’t keep working,” he added. 2021 PG All-American Gavin Turley will be a key clog in the Hamilton HS baseball machine in the spring of 2022.
With two more high school seasons in front of him, not to mention what will be a very important fall of 2021 and summer and fall of 2022, Wadas understands that he has a long ways to go to achieve his ultimate goals. That said, he’s also been pleased with the way his game has developed to this point.
He’s seen his travel ball batting average climb 55 points in a similar number of plate appearances between 2020 and ’21 and his extra-base total increase to 15 from nine.
“I’ve been able to barrel baseballs, I’ve been able to start putting the ball oppo, which is something I’ve been working on in high school,” Wadas said. “I also know my baseball IQ has gone up a lot, and that’s really helped me in the games.”
Many of the top prospects who have been at the PG Underclass All-American Games in late August before starting their junior years in high school have used the showcase as a springboard of sorts to come back to San Diego the following August.
That return trip would require an invitation to the PG All-American Classic, which this year will be played Aug. 22 at the Padres’ Petco Park in downtown San Diego. USD’s Fowler Park is a wonderful venue with hillside homes sitting beyond the outfield wall, but it’s every prospect’s dream to one day play at Petco.
“That’s on my mind; I definitely want to make that team,” Wadas said. “It’s been a big goal since I was little.”
He missed out on being invited to the 2019 PG 14u Select Festival and that snub has driven him to want to keep improving. He’s still ranked the No. 2 first baseman prospect in the country but he’s also started to play some outfield and he figures if he can keep lowering his 60 time, playing the outfield full time is certainly an option.
“I think it will be a great transition eventually,” Wadas said. “I think I can be a good corner guy and make a difference there.”
It’s quite likely that Zach Wadas will continue to be a difference-maker while he continues to climb the ladder of top prospect viability. You’ll see him at the top PG tournaments. You’ll see him at the most high-profile PG showcases like the 2022 PG National. And you’ll see him surrounded by tons of talent at just about every stop along the way.
“I think it’s been a great ride,” Wadas said. “Travel ball is my favorite thing. It’s great to get to know some of the top players in the country and they’re great experiences. You know some of the players you play with, hopefully myself included, are going to be big names someday. They’ll be big-leaguers and it’s great to be around that talent and have these experiences.”