Tournaments : : Story
Monday, October 14, 2013

World Underclass Day 4 notes

David Rawnsley        
Photo: Perfect Game

I watched virtually the entire playoff game between the Marucci Elite and Team Elite Prime at the 11:00 a.m. slot at the Stadium Field at Terry Park, a rarity for me at a tournament. It was the kind of game that you’ll stay riveted to until the end, with outstanding players, pitch-by-pitch pressure from early in the game and extra innings tension. The Red Sox vs. Tigers game Sunday night was the second best game I saw all day.

Marucci pulled it out 3-2 in eight innings after tying the game in the seventh inning.

The starting pitchers were both outstanding. Andy Pagnozzi, son of three-time Gold Glove catcher Tom Pagnozzi, threw seven innings for Marucci, striking out ten hitters and allowing only four hits and a single run. The righthander worked in the mid-80s with pinpoint command, topping out at 88 mph, and needed only 87 pitches. His low-70s curveball kept the Team Elite hitters off balance and was a weapon late in counts.

Team Elite starter Nick Neidert matched him into the seventh inning, striking out 11 hitters before tiring. The Georgia righthander topped out at 91 mph and was consistently in the upper-80s the entire game. His breaking ball went between a slower curveball that hung occasionally and a harder slider that was tight and biting.

When I told the Marucci coaching staff, including Tom Pagnozzi, after the game that Neidert was a primary shortstop, their reaction was “The kid must be a heck of a shortstop because he is an absolute beast on the mound.”

Neidert’s successor on the mound for Team Elite was almost as impressive. 6-foot-5, 220-pound righthander Brooks Crawford looks even bigger than his listed size and his pitching style is to rear back and fire the ball has hard as he can, which in this case was 89-91 mph. He’ll have to develop a workable breaking ball, but the junior’s size and arm strength stood out.

There were lots of little plays in the game that made a big difference and resonated with the huge crowd of college coaches in the stands. Daino Deas from Team Elite as well as Desmond Lindsay and Bryce Denton from Marucci each did things that don’t show up in the box score but had coaches around me turning to each other in admiration.

Notes from the 8:30 a.m. playoff games:

Marucci won their first playoff game 9-1 over the Next Level Titans. First baseman and outfielder Greg Pickett was the star of the game with a booming bases loaded double up the left-center field gap that cleared the bases. The 6-foot-4, 210-pound lefthanded hitter from Colorado had a fly ball earlier with a 6.55-second hang time, which is elite level. Third baseman O’Neal Lochridge had a strong game at the plate, as did outfielder and lefthanded pitcher Kyle Hatton.

The East Cobb New England Expos scored four runs in the bottom of the seventh inning to shock Chain Baseball Black 4-3 at Clemente Field. Catcher Gian Martellini is a 6-foot-2, 200-pound junior from Rhode Island who looks very strong both with the bat and with his throwing ability. Todd Gold mentioned him yesterday in his scout notes as well. 6-foot-5, 220-pound first baseman Seamus Curran also stands out for the Expos with his size and power.

- David Rawnsley

There are days at events like this one that you spend hopping from field to field to find the highest quality of players. Then, there are others days like Sunday where a number of potentially elite players keep you busy for an extended period of time. I continued to be occupied by watching the offensive talents of the Upstate Mavericks’ squad on Sunday, and the more I watch their talented young shortstop, Grant Bodison, play the more impressed I am.

By late Sunday, though, my focus had shifted to the Tri-State Arsenal Underclass team, who seemed to be able to roll out an endless supply of quality hitters in their lineup.

Among those hitters, none are more notable than John Aiello, who entered the tournament as Perfect Game’s No. 13 ranked prospect in the 2015 high school class. And, quite frankly, all Aiello did this weekend was potentially improve upon that status. His play at shortstop was superb, showing outstanding lateral movement and footwork on plays up the middle. And, he also has the arm to back up some of these very difficult plays. The common opinion is that his large, projectable frame will eventually grow out of the shortstop position, but as of this moment his skills there are a major asset. He has the soft hands, the range, and the plus arm that we’ve seen from him for some time now.

As far as offense, I came away no less impressed with Aiello than I was on the defensive side. I like his present power more from the left side at the moment, where I thought his overall swing mechanics looked more comfortable. But, he also did some very good things from the right side. He’s very balanced, keeps his head very still and really trusts his hands. He’s a difficult hitter to beat with a fastball, mainly because he’s willing to use the opposite field. And, as he fills out his lean, young build, he’s going to evolve into a significant power threat from both sides of the plate. In other words, Aiello continues to be the elite 2015 prospect we thought he was, and then some.

Ryan Shinn
had one of the most single most impressive swings of the day on Sunday, launching a fastball out over the plate deep to left-center field in the Arsenal’s playoff contest against the Scorpions. The ball hit off the base of the wall in a ballpark that isn’t exactly forgiving for righthanded batters. His bat speed and loud contact had stood out previously, but this was a swing that really put an exclamation point on his weekend.

Of the many two-way talents on display this week in Fort Myers, Joseph Baran was among the most intriguing. The Boston College commit stood out on the mound and perhaps even more at the plate on Sunday. Baran’s day began on the mound, where he touched 89 mph in the early part of his outing, before settling in the 83-86 mph range. He also displayed a sharp, downer curveball at 69-70 mph with good shape and depth. But, Baran may also be his team’s (Tri-State Arsenal) best outfielder as well. He has impressive range, and his speed is quite obvious going down the first base line – we’ve timed him consistently around 4.1 seconds to first base. At the plate, he shows off impressive bat speed and gap power to right-center field. He keeps his lefthanded stroke very direct and the ball came off his bat with a lot of life on Sunday afternoon.

The final stat line may not have been what Andrew Noviello was looking for on Sunday, as he took the loss for the Tri-State Arsenal Underclass squad, but what he did show was a significant amount of progress as a pitching prospect. The Massachusetts native reached 90 mph with his fastball, sitting mostly between 86-89, something that we’ve seen from him before. What improved, however, was his choice of off-speed pitches. He mixed the sharp 73 mph curveball he’s shown in the past, but also used a highly effectively slider quite frequently as well. He threw that slider mostly at 77-79 mph, and it showed very legitimate tilt and late breaking action. Command of his pitches is still something Noviello needs to work on but there is no doubt he has next level type stuff on the mound.

The Tri-State Arsenal Underclass squad had a lot of young hitters to like, and some like John Aiello are hard to miss. Others, like A.J. Wright, you need to see more of to appreciate. The owner of one of the more compact, direct swings you’ll find, Wright was a line drive machine on Sunday. He rarely missed his pitch when he get it and also rarely expanded the strike zone. The righty swinging infielder out of Cherry Hill, N.J. does an outstanding job of keeping his hands back, letting the ball track and trusting his above average hand speed.

Bryan Scheker
is a player you notice very quickly when he steps on the field. You’d be hard pressed to find a more athletic looking player, and he has the strength to match. David Rawnsley and I, while taking in a Scheker at-bat down the first base line, both noted some improvements in Scheker’s swing since we last saw him at the Junior National Showcase. He’s doing a better job of getting his weight transferred and using that extra strong lower half. And, those improvements were yielding some outstanding results. Scheker hit some of the hardest line drives I had seen all weekend, including a 97 mph line drive into the left-center field gap. He’s a righthanded power bat in the making if he can continue to improve his lower half use. Not to mention, his play in center field was very strong all day as well.

Michael Zimmerman
of FTB Chander Mizuno continued my string of seeing projectable lefthanders with a feel for this secondary pitches with his Sunday morning outing at the City of Palms Park Auxiliary field. He worked mostly between 82-84 mph with his fastball, touching 85 and 86 mph very consistently. There is clearly more velocity in the tank and room to add strength on his 6-foot-3, lean frame. He works from a deliberate, repeatable delivery and does an outstanding job of locating his secondary pitches. The Naples, Fla. native spotted his sharp, downer curveball at 68-69 mph and was able to miss bats with it consistently. His upper-70s changeup also proved to be a solid weapon for him. This is a lefthander mixing pitches and attacking hitters with a very advanced approach.

Drew Denkinger
, an Iowa resident, is no stranger to Perfect Game events, and his stuff on the mound on Sunday remained very consistent with what he has shown in the past. Working mostly between 84-86 mph with his fastball, Denkinger consistently topped out at 87 and missed some bats along the way. His best weapon is still his curveball, which he does an excellent job of locating down in the zone around 70 mph. It’s straight downward action will allow it to continue to be a swing-and-miss pitch at the collegiate level.

One of the single sweetest swings on Sunday belonged to
Anders Green, a lefthanded swinging Oregon State commit. Sometimes single swing moments can be telling, and in this case that couldn’t be more true. Green took a fastball out away from him during the Upstate Mavericks’ mid-day game and took what appeared to be a very fluid, effortless swing. What resulted was a rocket with outstanding carry into the left-center field gap. Green’s 165-pound frame is highly projectable, and if he can drive the ball that way to the opposite field, he’ll need to be watched very closely.

- Frankie Piliere

The old adage “good pitching beats good hitting” held true in the first round of playoff games at the 5-Plex, as each team threw their top arm available. Some pitchers were fresh, some just flew into Fort Myers, and others are throwing on two days rest.

When Samuel Bordner walks by you notice him and odds are if you want to speak with him you’ll find yourself craning your neck upward. At 6-foot-6, Bordner took the mound for the Ohio Elite Baseball-Lee squad in their playoff game against the Florida Burn, who always seem to make a run. With an ensemble of college recruiters looking on, Bordner did his thing on the mound, repeating his delivery very well for a big kid, and sat 88-89 mph in his five innings of work, often touching 90 mph. Athleticism is evident in the way he repeats and is able to get downhill each time. His fastball showed good arm-side run with which he attacked hitters and flashed both a softer curveball up to 71 mph, a slider at 76-78 mph and a straight change which he used effectively to disrupt hitters' timing. His arm speed slows on the curveball, but he maintained both the arm speed and three-quarters slot on the two other off-speed pitches he showed.

Alex Scherff
is one of the youngest pitchers in attendance, being a 2017 graduate pitching for the Houston Banditos Tx team. Standing 6-foot-4 200-pounds, Scherff doesn’t look like a freshman and his stuff doesn’t come out of his hand like a freshman. With a fastball that sat 83-85 mph early on (I’ve seen up to 87 mph this summer), and a short-breaking slider at 77, Scherff was able to go unscathed through five innings. There are some mechanical adjustments that will need to be made, but with four years of high school baseball ahead of him, he certainly has time to figure it out.

Nick Slaughter
was the starting catcher for Houston Banditos Tx and showed good strength and bat speed at the plate, turning on a ball and getting an exit velocity of 94 mph on a line drive to the shortstop.

Marucci Elite 16s have two pitchers in the 2016 class that are extremely projectable and have thrown well every time they have take the mound. Easton McGee (6-foot-5, 180-pounds) and Tyler Thompson (6-foot-4, 170-pound) are both righthanded pitchers that sat in the mid-80s. McGee sat at 84 mph in his five inning no-hitter with late, hard arm-side run and a curveball that was up to 73 mph which he showed a nice feel for. Thompson pitched in three different games, an inning apiece in the first two before starting the first playoff game for Marucci. With a lean, lanky build and a high waist and long limbs, Thompson topped out at 86 mph in each of his three appearances. Throwing from a three-quarters arm slot, Thompson was able to throw his slider for strikes, with 10-to-4 break at 78 mph. As both pitchers continue to mature and fill out, they should see a jump in their stuff and will be fun to watch.

Josh Smith
started at shortstop and has very quick, soft hands and stayed in control of his body while making a throw charging in on a ball.

Although I was only able to catch the second inning of Reid Schaller’s two-inning outing – a consolation game that the coach wanted all his pitchers to get work – he was impressive. Showing some of his best velocity, touching 91 mph, Schaller worked 88-89 mph with a short arm action in back quickly gets his arm through, throwing from a three-quarters slot. He would miss on the arm-side at times as his front side would open early, but he made adjustments to throw two scoreless innings.

Throwing from a low three-quarters arm slot with good arm-side run on his fastball, Brady Singer was effective in his inning of relief. Throwing with an easy, loose arm action and topping at 88 mph, Singer was able to get a lot of swings and misses with the fastball/curveball combination that he used. At times he will pull his curveball across his body giving it sweeping break, but when he stays with it his curve shows a late 11-to-5 break.

Starting the game behind the plate for Chet Lemon's Juice Black was 2016 Jake Sullivan from Durant High School. Sullivan moves well behind the plate and has a very quick transfer, turning in a 2.00-second pop time in between innings. A righthanded hitter, Sullivan shows good leverage in his swing with both quick hands and a quick bat.

Although it was from a day earlier, Eric Jenkins had a nice game for the Dirtbags showing off all of his tools. Leading off the game, Jenkins turned on a pitch and drove it down the right field line for a home run. Not knowing if the ball went over the fence, Jenkins held up at third and had to be told by the umpire that the ball did indeed go over the fence. On a ground ball Jenkins showed off his speed, getting down the line in 4.18 seconds. In his next at-bat, he laid down a push bunt and got to first in 3.62 seconds. His speed plays well on both sides of the ball, as he was able to track down a deep fly ball in center field, a ball that looked like it would be over his head off the bat.

Hunter Bowling
started the first of three games on the day for Palm Beach PAL and impressed with his outing. Standing 6-foot-7, Bowling, a lefthander, topped at 87 mph with his fastball, showing both a changeup at 78 mph and a late-breaking slider up to 75 mph. He keeps his big, strong frame balanced throughout his delivery with a clean arm and got arm-side run on his fastball.

Hailing from Hubertus, Wis., 2015 righthander
Bryant Jordan made the most of his two innings on the mound for the St. Louis Pirates. Reports of him being up to 90 mph seem very possible, as he sat 85-87 mph with a loose, quick arm with the ball coming out of his hand cleanly. He attacks hitters with his fastball and is able to spot it up where he wants, whether it be in or out, up or down. He uses his lower half well and is able to get good downhill plane on his fastball, which shows good running life. Jordan also mixed in a sharp 11-to-5 curveball, with late break and depth and maintained his arm speed on the pitch.

- Jheremy Brown

Day 4 in Fort Myers was arguably the best day of the event, as nearly every team played, with consolation games taking place in addition to the playoffs. While the intensity of pool play games in a high level national tournament creates a good environment to evaluate players, playoff games are played at a level that simply cannot be simulated.

The highlight of the day for me was finally getting to lay eyes on 2016 righthander
Anthony Molina, a highly touted prospect whose name I have heard from multiple people over the past year. The immediate reaction when I saw the 6-foot-4, 180-pound teenager walking calmly towards the mound to start a second round playoff game was “alright, I think I might have heard right.” His calm, measured demeanor was as promising as his lanky projectable frame, and it served him well.

The first few warmup pitches were casually tossed to the catcher in the mid-70s before the second to last pitch exploded out of his hand at 91 mph and served as a "game on" notice. Molina's long, loose arm action is responsible for a very large majority of his velocity, using a very simple delivery with little momentum toward the plate. He has a very live arm, and features arguably the best upside of any 2016 pitcher that has participated in a Perfect Game tournament or showcase to this point. Now, before the temptation to crank up the hype machine to 11 gets the best of anyone, it's important to point out that we are talking about a high school sophomore, and as such there are still significant developmental hurdles to clear before we can definitively say that he is a high level draft prospect.

His fastball hit 92 mph repeatedly in the first inning as he struck out the side, and hit that mark a few more times in the second before settling in at 87-90. The ball comes out of his hand very cleanly and he throws it with little effort. On occasion he was able to get it down to the bottom corners of the strike zone, though he typically was able to just blow it by hitters regardless of location, and as a result he occupied the heart of the plate quite comfortably. He showed fairly advanced changeup at 76-77 mph with very similar arm speed and plane, coupled with an ability to throw it for strikes consistently. The changeup still has a ways to go, but it was easily the best changeup I saw
up to that point and he is likely to develop into a plus pitch over the next 32 months between now and the 2016 MLB Draft.

The question mark will be his breaking ball. Right now he throws a sweeping curveball from his mid three-quarters arm slot, which is a difficult hand position to release a true curveball from. While one of his curveballs showed some sharpness at 75 mph and a couple of others flashed decent break as well, it was typically more of a get-me-over pitch and one that will be challenging for him to develop as a result of his arm slot. He has the raw athleticism to potentially do so, though he may want to develop another breaking ball that is more conducive to his arm slot to give him an out-pitch to be able to finish off high level hitters – he already has the w
eapons to set them up.

Some scouts may be tempted to nitpick about the things he doesn't do well enough for the professional level yet, but he has not yet reached a stage in his development where you shoulder reasonably expect, or draw meaningful conclusions from the separation between his natural talent and developed skills. If everything goes right he has a chance to be the best player, regardless of position, in the 2016 class, though we won’t know how likely that is to occur for a while.

Molina's final line: four innings, one hit, zero runs, zero walks, seven strikeouts. It was an excellent first impression and I look forward to watching him develop as a pitcher over the next few years.

While Molina's playoff performance made it very easy to get a feel for his ability to handle pressure packed situations, my first look at 2016 shortstop and righthanded pitcher
Greg Veliz was less conclusive, through no fault of his own. Veliz was a priority to watch for me this morning after seeing an internal report to the PG scouting staff about his performance the previous day, where he took the mound and hit 91 mph. It's fortunate that he pitched and we have that record of his arm strength, as he played seven full innings at shortstop without having a single ball hit to him, and while his between innings throws confirmed that he has a strong arm, it would have been difficult to quantify the extent of that arm strength without that prior information. Veliz was also intentionally walked in his third and final plate appearance. The lefthanded hitter hit a hard line drive to shortstop his first time up and popped up while swinging aggressively at the first pitch of his second plate appearance. While it’s impossible to draw any definitive conclusions from such a showing, he checks all the boxes with athleticism, bat speed and physical projection and is a player that we will be keeping an eye on going forward.

While the playoff atmosphere was a stage where several players rose to the occasion, one player in particular impressed in a consolation game. 2016 outfielder and righthanded pitcher
Seth Beer, currently the No. 2 ranked player in the 2016 class, slid in very hard to break up a double play after taking a walk in his first plate appearance. He came up limping, and given the context of the game, it would have been completely understandable if he had come out of the game as a precautionary measure. However he remained in the game, running with a slight limp but managed to make every play that came his way in right field. His next time up he roped a hard single to right field before lining out to center field and then being intentionally walked in the bottom of the seventh.

In that same game I was also impressed with 2015 IF
Jon Meuse in my first look at him, he showed very aggressive actions at shortstop, attacking the baseball with a good first step and making play after play look effortless.

One player who we have seen in the past who improved his stock in my mind was 2014 third baseman and righthanded pitcher
Ryan Mantle. He was impressive at the Junior National Showcase, and was recently named the MVP at the Kernels Foundation Championship, but was viewed by the PG staff as more of a third base prospect who also has potential on the mound. After seeing him come on to close out the St. Louis Gamers’ third round playoff victory, it’s hard not to speculate that his future may be on the mound. He sat 88-91, as he did at the Junior National, but relied less on his fastball than he did the last time we saw him and the results were impressive. His best present pitch is his changeup, and it bumped Anthony Molina’s changeup off the perch for the best one I saw all tournament. It comes from the same arm slot, from the same plane and with the same arm speed as his upper-80s to low-90s fastball, but leaves the hand at 81-83 mph and dives right before it gets to the plate with very good sinking action. He also showed an ability to impart hard spin on his curveball at 77-79 mph, and while he gets on the side of it creating a slurvy break, it’s still an effective pitch already and could develop further. I missed out on seeing former Arkansas Razorbacks closer Colby Suggs pitch in high school, but having seen him pitch in college – where he was one of the most feared closers in the NCAA this spring before being drafted in the second round – I couldn’t help but wonder how Suggs compared to Mantle at the same age, as there are some strong similarities. Of course Mantle’s offensive ability may prevent us from ever finding out if he can follow suit as a pitcher.

In the final time slot of the day there were several consolation games to choose from, but it was an easy decision as to which game to watch as I hadn’t had a chance to see the Dirtbags play yet. Not only are they reliably filled with numerous D-I prospects on an annual basis, but I’d heard good things about several of their players from earlier in the weekend. 2015 third baseman
Steven Oakley was mentioned along with several other talented players, and he was the one who stood out most in the game I saw. The two players with older brothers who are high level players – Wil Myers of the Tampa Bay Rays and recent Giants second round draft pick Ryder Jones – get most of the attention, and deservedly so as Beau Myers and Utah Jones are both highly talented players who have been discussed significantly in the past, and will likely continue to be in the future. But for me, Oakley is the player I would be the most concerned about if I were managing the team in the opposing dugout. He has a strong, athletic build at 6-foot-3, 185-pounds, generating very good bat speed with a long aggressive swing that creates a lot of torque to drive the ball with serious authority. Oakley crushed a towering fly ball that landed on the warning track in dead center field and hit a couple of other balls very hard. While he has several highly projectable teammates who could eventually out-develop him long term – 2015 outfielder and middle infielder Eric Jenkins comes to mind – Oakley is a safe bet to generate runs at the next level.

- Todd Gold


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