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High School | General | 11/22/2021

A Look Ahead: 2023 Class Preview

David Rawnsley     
Photo: Walker Jenkins (Perfect Game)
There is increasing focus within the Perfect Game scouting staff on the Class of 2023 now that the Class of 2022 have moved into their senior season. It’s not too early to break down the class into different positions and look at the top players at each, and what positions look especially strong, and what positions to expect some surprises before next summer, especially with work already underway evaluating the top-300 players in the class in advance of the 2022 PG National Showcase next June. Here’s a look at who and what positions stand out right now, with the caveat that a similar list could look much different by the middle of next summer, just like it does every year.

CATCHER

The catcher rankings for the 2023 class look completely different than the 2022 rankings, that’s for sure. The 2022 group at the same point only had five top-125 players nationally, whereas the 2023 class has 11, including five just in the top-50.



Blake Mitchell (Sinton, Texas)

Mitchell has all the tools you’d want to see in a young catching prospect, with athleticism, strength, a big arm and plenty of left-handed bat speed. His performance at the 2021 PG 16U World Series, where he hit 353-1-6 while also striking out 18 hitters in 9 2/3 innings on the mound while topping out at 93 mph, especially stands out.

Ryder Helfrick (Discovery Bay, Calif.)

Like Mitchell, Helfrick has the athletic chops to stay behind the plate at the next level but stands out in other areas. For the right-handed hitting Helfrick, that area is pure bat speed and loud, hard contact. That equated to a .396-6-31 line in 38 PG tournament games in 2021, including a .563-2-8 performance at the 2021 WWBA World Underclass Championship.

Riley Jackson (Melbourne, Fla.)

The switch-hitting Jackson has been a fixture near the top of the prospect rankings in the 2023 class since they first came out and has played in an impressive 230 games in his PG tournament career, primarily with 5 Star National. He’s a polished defender with plenty of power in his bat.

Raffaele Velazquez (Long Beach, Calif.)

Velazquez participated in both the 2019 13U Select Festival and 2020 14U Select Festival and has continued to grow both as a player and in his physicality and strength. The left-handed hitter checks in at 6-foot-2, 220 pounds with plenty of athleticism to go with his strength.

Campbell Smithwick (Oxford, Miss.)

Smithwick gained his initial prospect marks for his defensive work behind the plate for Canes National, but really exploded with the bat this summer and fall. Another left-handed hitting catcher, Smithwick hit .588 with 6 walks at the 2021 PG 16U World Series then followed up by hitting .368-1-9 with 9 runs at the 2021 WWBA World Underclass Championship.

Watch Out For: Ryan Bakes (Algonquin, Ill.)

FIRST BASE

The two top first basemen in the class, Nolan Stevens and Zach Wadas, are very physically similar to each other as very athletic and projectable left-handed hitters. If you want your classic all-bat slugger, look no further than Pete Craska, who crushed 16 home runs in PG games this summer and fall.

Nolan Stevens (Elk Grove, Calif.)

Stevens is a loose and fluid athlete with big physical projection as a player, not to mention a 93 mph arm off the mound. He significantly resembles another Elk Grove, Calif. native, St. Louis outfielder Dylan Carlson at the same age, as Carlson was also a highly-athletic first baseman/pitcher who was just learning to tap into his power and bat speed.

Zach Wadas (Phoenix, Ariz.)

Wadas is also a plus athlete for a first baseman and is a 6.82 runner who could easily end up in the outfield if his 6-foot-4, 200-pound body doesn’t fill out too much. The smooth swinging left-hander hit .342-3-34 in 51 PG tournament games in 2021.

Jackson McKenzie (Pace, Fla.)

A 2019 14U Select Festival participant, McKenzie has been a two-way standout with a 90 mph left arm on the mound, but his future is as a big bopper at first base. He hit four home runs in 2021 PG tournament play and now has 11 already for his PG career.

Watch Out For: Pete Craska (Gibsonia, Pa.)

THIRD BASE

There is such an abundance of high-level prospects who either play third base now or who project to play third at the next level that we’ve broken them into two groups. Group 1 consists of players currently listed as primary shortstops but whose size and tools profile them to the corner. Group 2 are those prospects who already take their reps at third base.

Reality Check: This scout spent an entire year talking about what a good third baseman Corey Seager would be at the next level. Group 1 players are shortstops until they aren’t.

(Group 1)

Braden Holcomb (Ocoee, Fla.)

Holcomb moves very well for his barrel-chested 6-foot-4, 215-pound build and even runs a 6.72 sixty. But his big tools are his cannon arm, which has touched 95 mph off the mound, and his huge right-handed power. He hit .417-6-35 in 43 PG tournament games this year.

Eric Bitonti (Hesperia, Calif.)

Bitonti is exceptionally young for the 2023 class, having just turned 16 years old, but already has high-level tools and a very athletic 6-foot-4, 205-pound build. His left-handed swing is exceptionally fluid and easy with lots of present whip and more to come.

Brandon Winokur (Huntington Beach, Calif.)

A right-handed hitter, Winokur creates huge leverage in his swing with lots of natural lift and it’s easy to see him becoming one of the top power hitters in his age group when he fills out his long and lanky 6-foot-5, 200-pound build.

Stone Russell (Bradenton, Fla.)

Russell is a pure hitter who just seems to hit everywhere he goes, especially against better pitching. He hit .404-3-43 in 46 PG tournament games this summer and fall and was a standout for IMG Academy in the spring playing in that older, star-studded program.

(Group 2)

Aidan Miller (Trinity, Fla.)

When Miller isn’t throwing 94 mph off the mound, he’s crushing baseballs with a swing already geared for power and the strength in his 6-foot-2, 210-pound frame to pull it off. He hit .395-6-28 in only 86 at-bats in 2021 and now has 15 homers in his PG career.

Daniel Cuvet (Fort Lauderdale, Fla.)

Cuvet really looks like a corner infielder at a well-proportioned and extra strong 6-foot-4, 220 pounds, but he has solid actions defensively and is light and agile on his feet with 90+ mph arm strength. He dominated tournaments all summer, including hitting .500-2-10 with four doubles at the WWBA 16U National Championships and .474-3-9 at the PG 16U East Memorial Day Classic, both with the Elite Squad 16U National.

Edward Phelps III (Norcross, Ga.)

Phelps is an unusually quick twitch athlete for a primary third baseman, with 6.71 speed in the sixty that plays faster on the baseball field. That obviously helps him on defense at the hot corner and also helps him on the bases, where he stole 31 bases in 61 games in 2021 and actually had more triples (9) than doubles (8).

Watch Out For: Francesco Capocci (Cumming, Ga.)

MIDDLE INFIELD

Each of the players listed projects to stay at shortstop and there are some surprisingly high offensive ceilings for middle infielders in the class, as befits the direction the middle of the field seems to have taken in Major League Baseball.

Dylan Cupp (Cedartown, Ga.)

Although Cupp has no single tool that jumps out as elite, he is a pure shortstop defensively with a high offensive ceiling as he fills out and gets stronger. His best tool might simply be “baseball player” with his combination of polished skills and ability to bring them to the park every game.

Arjun Nimmala (Valrico, Fla.)

Nimmala has one of the highest offensive ceilings in the 2023 class to go with a strong chance of staying in the middle of the field defensively. He was the MVP at the WWBA East Labor Day Classic (Underclass) and somehow managed to be even better at the 16U BCS National Championship, hitting .609-0-8 and scoring 18 (!) runs in 9 games for Ostingers Baseball Academy.

Antonio Anderson (Atlanta, Ga.)

Anderson has played in an eye-opening 156 PG games over the last two seasons, so the PG scouting staff has certainly got a long look at the multi-talented 6-foot-3 switch-hitting shortstop. While Anderson is a middle-of-the-field level athlete, his biggest potential tool is his future power.

Roch Cholowsky (Chandler, Ariz.)

The son of 1991 first round pick and current Reds scout Dan Cholowsky, Cholowsky showed his own potential especially well at the 2021 PG Underclass All-American Games, especially as far as his skills and pure physical projection were concerned.

Kevin McGonigle (Glenolden, Penn.)

The left-handed hitting McGonigle picked up two MVP trophies this summer playing for Canes National 16U, first early in the summer at the 16U Ultimate Baseball Championship and topping it off by repeating at the WWBA World Underclass Championships. Overall, McGonigle hit .479-5-29 with 20 steals in 37 games in 2021.

Watch Out For: Nolan Souza (Honolulu, Hawaii)

OUTFIELD

There’s a nice combination of power and speed in the 2023 outfield class, with the classes’ top prospect, Indiana outfielder Maxwell Clark, combining both in an especially high ceiling fashion. There will be a couple of first round picks out of this deep group.

Maxwell Clark (Franklin, Ind.)

Clark is the top prospect in the 2023 class and there really wasn’t any debate among the PG staff. The left-handed hitter has dynamic tools across the board and plays the game with passion. There is plenty of Jarred Kelenic in his tool set and approach.

Walker Jenkins (Oak Island, N.C.)

Jenkins' 6.75 speed, 93 mph arm strength and strong 6-foot-3, 205-pound build all profile well, but it’s the fact that he just mashes every event that has him second in the 2023 prospect rankings. The left-handed hitter hit .417-5-32 in 32 PG games in 2021 with a 1.311 OPS.

Dean West (Woodland Hills, Calif.)

West might be the top speed player in the 2023 class with an outstanding first step and elite-level top end speed. His approach at the plate is already ideal for a leadoff hitter, as he drew 25 walks in 36 games in 2021 PG tournaments and posted a .518 on-base percentage.

TayShaun Walton (Emporia, Va.)

Everything about Walton and his 6-foot-3, 220-pound build speaks strength and physicality and the ball just comes off his barrel differently than most hitters. He’s an impressive runner for his size as well, with a 6.75 sixty to his credit.

Cole Eaton (Elkhorn, Neb.)

Eaton’s prospect stock exploded at the 2021 PG Junior National Showcase when he went out and ran a 6.50 sixty and threw 98 mph from the outfield to loudly show his physical tools. He’s a right-handed hitter with a quiet and compact swing that produced a .390 average in 30 PG games this summer and fall.

Gavin Grahovac (Orange, Calif.)

If there was a Utility position in this feature, this hard-hitting Californian would be a shoe-in for the top of the list. He literally played every position except pitcher in 2021 at PG events and seems comfortable at all of them.

Watch Out For: Michael Graziano (Naples, Fla.)

RIGHT-HANDED PITCHER

This group doesn’t have the alpha right-hander that the 2022 class had in Dylan Lesko, nor the impressive depth of the 2022 group at the same stage. But it isn’t lacking in very projectable arms that could take that jump between now and the 2022 PG National Showcase.

Zander Mueth (Swansea, Ill.)

PG’s first look at the lean 6-foot-5, 185-pound Mueth was at the 2021 PG Underclass All-American Games in August and the Illinois native went straight to the head of the pitching class with his loose and whippy arm, 92-95 mph fastball and big and sharp slider. His dominant performance in Jupiter backed up his prospect status.

Bryce Eldridge (Vienna, Va.)

Eldridge is an exceptional athlete given his extra long and young 6-foot-8 build, and that helps him keep his delivery together and consistent well. He worked between 91-95 mph all summer to go with a low-80s breaking ball and is an obvious high-ceiling talent.

Travis Sykora (Round Rock, Texas)

Sykora is listed as a primary shortstop and hits far more than he takes the mound, but is considered a pitcher in the future by both the PG scouting staff and professional scouts. He works in the 94-97 mph range when he does take the mound, to go with a slider and changeup and struck out 29 hitters versus only 3 walks in 13 PG innings in 2021.

James Hays (Hawkinsville, Ga.)

Hays isn’t as projectable as any of the other right-handers on this list, with a presently-strong 6-foot-2, 210-pound build, but then he really doesn’t need to be with a present fastball that reaches 97 mph to go with a power slider. He’s a plus athlete who is a potential two-way college player as a hitter.

Chance Mako (Salisbury, N.C.)

What an end of the 2021 season for the 6-foot-5, 180-pound Mako. Pitching for the South Charlotte Panthers, Mako pitched a combined 8 innings at the WWBA Underclass World Championship and WWBA World Championship without allowing a hit and striking out 18 hitters while being named the Most Valuable Pitcher at the Underclass. He works in the 90-93 mph range with a swing-and-miss curveball.

Watch Out For: Garrett Baumann (Oviedo, Fla.)

LEFT-HANDED PITCHER

The class of 2022 left-handed pitching crop is outstanding, with at least four southpaws having realistic chances of going in the first round with strong springs. If those same arms exist in the 2023 class, they haven’t emerged yet, however.

Thomas White (Rowley, Mass.)

White rarely ventures out of New England but when he does, he shows an extremely fluid and easy arm that produces a 92-95 mph fastball to go with a true four-pitch mix of curveball, slider and changeup. There’s still a ton of projection left in White’s 6-foot-5, 200-pound frame as well.

Wesley Mendes (Tampa, Fla.)

Mendes is a true two-way talent who could end up on either side of the ball eventually and could certainly fill both rolls at the college level. He features a 90-92 mph fastball on the mound to go with an 80 mph breaking ball that can flash plus at times.

Adam Hachman (Wentzville, Mo.)

Hachman gained 10 inches, 70 pounds and 23 mph on his fastball between June 2019 and June 2021, an incredible jump that has left him with a present 92-95 mph fastball to go with a hammer curveball. When his delivery and ability to repeat his mechanics catches up to his present talent level, watch out.

Kade Anderson (Madisonville, La.)

Anderson was abusive in his three PG tournaments in 2021, striking out 30 hitters in 17 innings while allowing only 6 hits and 2 walks. He works up to 91 mph on his fastball with advanced feel for his curveball and changeup.

Watch Out For: Tommy Roldan (Poolesville, Md.)
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