Showcase : : Story
Tuesday, December 17, 2013

At home on the Texas Ranch

Jeff Dahn        
Photo: Perfect Game

GLENDALE, Ariz. – Anytime top Texas 2016 catching prospect Garrett Wolforth attends a Perfect Game showcase, it’s safe to say he feels very much at home. The only difference between being home in Spring, Texas, and at a PG event like the National Underclass Showcase-Session 1, is that it’s likely he receives a little more one-on-one instruction when he’s back home at the ranch.

“Baseball is our livelihood, so for us anytime we’re doing something that involves baseball, we’re enjoying it,” Garrett Wolforth’s mom, Jill Wolforth, said the afternoon of Dec. 8 when the PG National Underclass Showcase-Session 1 was reaching its conclusion at the Camelback Ranch Cactus League spring training complex.

“(Garrett) is young, and with a lot of these underclass events, for us it’s a great opportunity to go out and see a lot of the young kids that are playing in the game.”

Ron and Jill Wolforth own and operate a baseball training facility on 20 acres of land near Montgomery, Texas, called the Ron Wolforth Texas Baseball Ranch. The pitcher’s training center has been in operation since 2003.

The Texas Baseball Ranch claims to be the “number-one pitching facility in the world” based on a coaching technique created by Ron Wolforth that, according the facility’s website, emphasizes “seven key elements he found to be critical in developing the ‘complete’ pitching athlete.”

“We work primarily with pitchers … and a lot of people assume that Garrett is a pitcher because of that fact,” Jill explained on an unusually chilly early December afternoon in the desert. “He’s actually a catcher/middle-infielder but because of the fact that he’s around what we do – developing pitchers and arms and velocities – you see (the arm strength) in him, even with him being a catcher.”

Wolforth, a 6-foot-2, 175-pound sophomore at Concordia Lutheran High School in Tomball, Texas, has developed into one of the most highly regarded catching prospects in the 2016 graduating class: he is ranked the No. 74 overall national prospect (No. 5 in Texas) and No. 11 nationally at the catcher’s position.

He said he didn’t start catching until he was around 11 years old, having played shortstop and pitched during his younger years. He continued to do all three for the next several years but now considers himself a primary catcher who can step in at shortstop from time to time (although he has pitched at a couple of PG events). It is his desire to continue to catch throughout his high school career and beyond.

The PG National Underclass Showcase-Session 1, held Dec. 7-8 at Camelback Ranch, provided Wolforth with an opportunity to compare his rapidly progressing skills with many of his contemporaries from other parts of the country.

 “These (showcases) kind of show you where you’re at and what you need to work on and keep improving at,” he said. “That’s one of the main reasons I came here, because me and my dad look at these as a chance to see where you’re at and what you need to work on, and see which areas you need to improve in.”

Many of the leader boards after the various workout sessions at the Underclass-Session 1 were top-heavy with Wolforth’s name. His 1.79-second Pop time was the event’s best, as was his 78 mph velocity on a throw from home plate to second base and his 91 mph throw across the infield.

The 91 mph infield throw was the top infield velocity recorded at a 2013 PG event for a prospect in the class of 2016. The Pop time and infield throw – achieved in near freezing temperatures early on the morning of Dec. 7 – were also personal bests.

“I just always want to keep making steady improvements; you don’t want to plateau for too long,” Wolforth said. “If you plateau that means that you’re not really improving on anything, so I just want to continue to improve on it and continue to make those steady improvements.

“Anytime you do anything competitive you have to come in with those expectations,” he continued. “If you’re not going to come in with expectations you’re not going to be prepared for what’s going to happen out here.”

Wolforth, who has already committed to Dallas Baptist University, boasts another attribute that is appealing to scouts and college recruiters: he’s a switch-hitter. A natural right-hander, he has worked hard at hitting from the left side, and a PG scout noted at the National Underclass-Session 1 that he is “full of quick-twitch muscle” and “has lots of present bat speed from both sides of the plate to grow into.”

“Him being a switch-hitting catcher has its challenges, as well, because it’s double the amount of work,” his mother said. “But that’s the thing he loves to do, and that’s the route he’s chosen.”

The PG National Underclass Showcase-Session 1 was the eighth PG event Wolforth has attended since June of 2012, and that includes 2012 and 2013 appearances at the PG South Underclass Showcase in McKinney, Texas. He was included on the Rawlings Top Prospect List and named to the Rawlings Top Prospect Team at the event last August; his 79 mph catcher’s throw ranked second nationally for a 2016 catcher in 2013.

“For (Garrett) it serves as a partial motivation where he says, ‘OK, I’ve been working and this is an opportunity for me to go now and find out how this work is paying off,’” Jill said of the showcase experiences. “For so many of these young men that are extremely serious about the sport, they’re working hard – they’re ‘grinding it out’ as a lot of them say – and this is an opportunity both to reward yourself for that work and then find out what’s the next step.”

By living and attending high school in the Houston area, and with his dad running a pitching training facility, Wolforth is never lacking for top-notch competition to surround himself with. The Houston-area prospects are able compete the year around, and as he becomes more active in the PG showcase and tournament scene, he’s starting to see a lot of the same people at those events that he sees during the spring high school season.

Wolforth played this past summer with the Houston Hurricanes and now has become involved with the Marucci Elite Houston organization, which will expose him to even more high-level talent. In the meantime, he’s also trying to get to know as many of his other talented contemporaries as possible.

“It’s a lot of fun meeting new guys that you didn’t know before,” he said. “(Highly regarded 2016 Las Vegas shortstop) Nick Quintana is on my team this weekend and he’s one of the top-ranked prospects in my class, so it’s fun meeting with those guys, playing with those guys and playing against those guys.”

Added Jill: “This is a great way for him to come out and find out how he’s continuing to do and play against the other great competition, the other young men that are out here. The boys build terrific relationships that many times will last years and years and years, and so that’s a special thing, as well.”

Wolforth just turned 16 years old in October but decided to get his college commitment out of the way early with his commitment to Dallas Baptist this fall.

The Dallas Baptist program behind head coach Dan Heefner was dominant as an NAIA member for many years, and was twice the NAIA national runner-up. This will be its seventh year as an NCAA Division I entry and in 2011 advanced to the Super Regional before being eliminated by California.

“That was really a special deal with him being only a sophomore right now, and I know that was a unique thing for them to go after someone that young,” said Jill Wolforth, herself an NCAA Division I Academic All-American while playing softball at the University of Nebraska.

“We’re extremely excited about it and feel very fortunate; it is a great fit,” she said. “It makes the rest of the process really nice because that’s out of the way and he can go and have fun and not have that kind of weight on his shoulders.”

With three more Texas high school seasons and at least two more Perfect Game summer and fall seasons still in front of him, Wolforth will play a lot more baseball before he ever steps foot on the Dallas Baptist campus – and that doesn’t include any side work he might get in at his dad’s Texas Baseball Ranch.

It is Wolforth’s goal – even his mission, perhaps – to make a name for himself over the next three years.

“I decided to come out here and see what I could do at this (showcase), and did the best I could,” he said. “I wanted to try to get as good of (workout) numbers as I possibly could and then try to get a higher ranking.

“I would honestly like to set some Perfect Game (workout) records … because that would mean that you’re probably one of the best they’ve ever had,” he concluded. “It’s going to be kind of a mixture for me – enjoying it but also trying to be as competitive as I can.”

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