High School : : General
Friday, February 21, 2014

Regional HS Preview: Southwest

Todd Gold        
Photo: Perfect Game

2014 Perfect Game High School Baseball Preview Index

Region: Arizona, Nevada, New Mexico, Utah

Tucson emerging as epicenter of baseball talent

The Las Vegas area has made headlines in recent years for producing an incredible dynasty as Bishop Gorman's streak of seven consecutive state championships finally came to an end this past season. They saw their streak snapped as they lost in the best-of-three state championship series 2-1 as Coronado ran a pair of Division I signees to the mound in back to back games to come from behind and win the series. Las Vegas has also turned out an impressive crop of impact power hitting prospects
, including Bryce Harper, Joey Gallo and Kris Bryant.

While New Mexico hasn't been a traditional hotbed of talent, 2012 Albuquerque Academy graduate Alex Bregman was one of the most exciting players in the nation as a freshman at Louisiana State last year. The previous class of New Mexico talent produced a first round draft pick in catcher Blake Swihart, who appears to have graduated from A-ball and appears poised to move up to the upper levels of the minor leagues.

Typically the state of Arizona is the strongest in this region, which should come as no surprise given it's significantly larger population. But much of that population is concentrated in the Phoenix metro area, and thus that is historically where most of the state's talent can be found. But the state's second biggest city, Tucson, has begun to change that perception in recent years.

Tucson lost MLB spring training when the Colorado Rockies and Arizona Diamondbacks packed up and moved to Scottsdale in 2011 and recently lost their second AAA Pacific Coast League franchise in the past five years when the Tucson Padres moved to El Paso for the 2014 season. The city hadn't produced many top level high school prospects in recent years. But that is now changing in a big way. Not only has the city's amateur ranks been bolstered by a recent resurgence at the University of Arizona, where the Wildcats captured the 2012 National Championship, but the high school talent in the next two classes is strong.

The top 2014 prospect in the entire region is clearly Alex Verdugo of Tucson's Sahuaro High School. He has a good chance of being selected in the top 50 picks in the draft this year, though what isn't clear is whether he'll be chosen as a lefthanded pitcher or an outfielder.

Verdugo isn't a flash in the pan for southern Arizona either. The top two ranked prospects in the state's 2015 class are both righthanded pitchers from the Tucson area, Saturnino Santa Cruz and Jio Orozco.

While it remains to be seen how long Tucson can maintain it's recent status as a hotbed for producing pitching talent, a look around the region shows that it can match up with any other city in terms of top end 2014 and 2015 high school talent.

The last team from Tucson to win an AIA state championship in a large classification was Catalina, who captured the 2011 4A Division II crown. Ironwood Ridge made a deep run in the Division II playoffs last year before losing in the final four to the eventual champs, Notre Dame Prep. Verdugo and his Sahuaro teammates were also knocked out by Notre Dame Prep a round earlier, and on paper look like southern Arizona's best bet to capture a Division II title.

High School Dream Team
Based on present tools

C - Jordan Hand, Sr., Arbor View (Nev.)
In a region that has produced impressive power hitting high school catchers in recent years such as Bryce Harper and Blake Swihart, the best power hitting catcher in this class is Hand. While he doesn't live up to those lofty standards, he has present home run power and is a solid defender behind the plate in addition to being a good athlete.

1B - Andrew Shaps, Sr., Chaparral (Ariz.)
The two-way lefty may have a better future on the mound, but his lefthanded bat is the most advanced part of his game at this point. His arm strength plays well in right field and he is a strong outfielder as well, but the lack of depth at the position this year leaves him the obvious choice despite only playing there in a part-time role for the Firebirds.

MIF - Cadyn Grenier, Jr., Bishop Gorman (Nev.)
Grenier's plus speed is not only an asset on the bases, but he combines his straight-line speed with a quick first step and good lateral agility to give him plenty of present range at shortstop. Already one of the best defenders at one of the deepest positions in the region, Grenier has a chance to become one of the top prospects in the 2015 class. He's a contact hitter at present, with a short swing and quick hands that should allow him to hit for a high average in the short term, while added strength as he matures should allow him to begin developing doubles power as well which would push his value near the top of the 2015 class.

MIF - Cole Tucker, Sr., Mountain Pointe (Ariz.)
Tucker's combination of athleticism and arm strength at shortstop is impressive and makes him a high level defender. He runs well and is a switch hitter with gap power and is one of the top all around players in the region. While there are several deserving candidates who missed the cut, the most notable is junior shortstop Alejo Lopez of Greenway High School in Arizona.

3B - Jayden Eggimann, Sr., Desert Ridge (Ariz.)
As a junior last year Eggimann shared the left side of the infield with the region's top prospect, Riley Unroe. After Unroe was selected 60th overall by the Tampa Bay Rays, Eggimann will be counted on to lead the charge for Desert Ridge as a senior this year. He put up solid power numbers a year ago and should develop those further this season with a year of added strength to help him begin to tap into his power potential.

OF - Gerard Hernandez, Sr., Pinnacle (Ariz.)
While some scouts believe that Hernandez profiles as a first baseman at the next level, he is a solid defensive center fielder in high school. He takes good routes and gets quick reads to create surprising range for a player of his physicality. His raw power will allow him to profile at any position, and when he connects the ball explodes off of his bat. He has an aggressive approach at the plate and is one of the most feared power hitters in the state of Arizona.

OF - Jakob Goldfarb, Sr., Desert Mountain (Ariz.)
While his present power may not quite stack up to that of Hernandez, Goldfarb is an imposing power bat in his own right. He has solid run/throw tools and can handle right field at this level. The Wolves graduated a lot of talent from the 2013 state championship team meaning Goldfarb will be a big key for their offense, and if he can begin to reach his lofty potential they could make another deep run.

OF - Marcus Still, Sr., Queen Creek (Ariz.)
Still's speed and defense in center field provides a good balance to the Dream Team's outfield as Still is flanked by the two power hitters on the corners. He is a contact oriented switch hitter who frequently employs the bunt to get on base, and can turn routine ground balls into singles with his speed.

UT - Alex Verdugo, Sr., LHP/OF, Sahuaro (Ariz.)
For the second year in a row Verdugo is the obvious choice for this spot. He is a potential early round draft pick as both a lefthanded pitcher and outfielder and is easily the best player in the region at both positions. He is also arguably the best two-way talent in the class of 2014. While lefthanders who can snap off a hammer curveball like Verdugo does rarely wind up swinging the bat everyday at the next level, Verdugo offers enough promise as a right field prospect to make it a debate, which says a lot given his ability on the mound.

P - Ryan Castellani, RHP/OF, Sr., Brophy Prep (Ariz.)
After being a better hitter than pitcher in the early part of his high school career, Castellani has really come along as a pitcher. As he transitioned from his sophomore to junior seasons he began to run his fastball into the low-90s, though he would do so with significant effort that came at the expense of his control. Fast forward to this year and Castellani is now a mature pitcher, and while his raw stuff has settled in, he has developed the ability to locate and execute and has leaped ahead in the developmental curve. He is now the most polished pitcher in the region and should be ready to hit the ground running at the next level.

P - Gabe Gonzalez, RHP, Sr., Arbor View (Nev.)
Gonzalez arrived on the national scene a bit late considering he plays for one of the more visible high school programs in the state of Nevada. Former teammate Zach Quintana was a third round pick of the Milwaukee Brewers out of Arbor View in 2012, and Gonzalez has a real shot of joining him as another top five round pick. Gonzalez has a fast arm and gets very good extension out front, allowing his low-90s fastball to play up a tick and feel like mid-90s to opposing hitters. His control can get away from him at times but when he is on he can completely shut down opposing lineups.

P - Saturnino Santa Cruz, RHP, Jr., Sahuarita (Ariz.)
The Tucson area not only has the top 2014 pitching prospect in the region in lefty Alex Verdugo, but it also has the two top arms in the 2015 class in Jio Orozco and Santa Cruz. Scouts have given rave reviews about Santa Cruz with the ability to run his fastball up to 93 mph already with remaining projection.

P - Nolan Kingham, RHP/SS, Jr., Sierra Vista (Nev.)
The age/height combination for Kingham is one that typically causes most pitchers in the category to struggle to control their lengthy levers and throw consistent strikes. But within that demographic Kingham is well ahead of the curve, and is well coordinated as a 6-foot-4, 17-year old pitcher who has begun making the transition from being a primary shortstop. He has already begun to reach the low-90s and uses his length to create good downhill leverage, and the rapid improvement suggests we may only be seeing the tip of the iceberg.

P - Dakota Donovan, RHP, So., Pine View (Utah)
The only sophomore to make the cut on the dream team, Donovan is only in the mid- to upper-80s with his fastball right now, but he shows advanced pitchability for his age and projects to continue making progress with his raw stuff. He has the makings of two good off-speed pitches and has shown the ability to mix and utilize them effectively while commanding his fastball.

Southwest Region Best Tools

Best Hitter For Average: Cole Krzmarzick, Sr., OF/IF Bishop Gorman (Nev.)
When he stays within his swing mechanics Krzmarzick has outstanding bat to ball skills with a quick loose balanced swing that generates hard line drive contact to all fields. He hit .451 for Bishop Gorman as a junior last year while playing all over the diamond defensively, and another year of development could do wonders for him as he continues to develop physically.

Best Hitter For Power: Alex Verdugo, Sr., LHP/OF, Sahuaro (Ariz.)
It's the same two-horse race it was a year ago and the result will remain the same as Verdugo continues to edge out Gerard Hernandez. Hernandez has a bit more raw power, which is saying a lot, but in terms of playable game power Verdugo overtakes him, though each have their merits in this debate. 

Best Baserunner: Billy Wilson, Sr., OF, Tolleson (Ariz.)
One of the fastest runners in the region, Wilson can absolutely fly and swiped 23 bases in 25 attempts as a junior last season.

Best Defensive Catcher: Ryan Oberg, Sr., Sunnyslope (Ariz.)
This is a difficult category, as there are several deserving candidates including Brady Weiss of Perry (Ariz.) and Michael Blasko of Bishop Gorman (Nev.). But it's Oberg's combination of receiving and catch-and-throw ability that give him the most well rounded defensive profile of the region's catchers.

Best Defensive Infielder: Cadyn Grenier, Jr., SS, Bishop Gorman (Nev.)
Despite the depth of middle infielders in the region, Grenier's range makes this a fairly easy decision, as he's not only the best defensive infielder in the region, he's one of the best defensive players at any position in the 2015 class.

Best Defensive Outfielder: Alex Verdugo, Sr., Sahuaro (Ariz.)
While he's a solid athlete, it's the arm strength that gives Verdugo the best overall defensive outfielder edge over the competition.

Best Infield Arm: Cadyn Grenier, Jr., MIF, Bishop Gorman (Nev.)
Another category won by Grenier but this one is much closer. Cole Tucker of Arizona has more arm strength, but Grenier's release time is considerably faster than Tucker's, which makes up the difference.

Best Outfield Arm: Alex Verdugo, Sr., LHP/OF, Sahuaro (Ariz.)
Verdugo hangs onto this spot for the second year in a row and does so by a huge margin. He plays a good centerfield at this level but easily has the arm strength to handle a potential shift to right field at the next level.

Best Fastball: Gabe Gonzalez, RHP, Sr., Arbor View (Nev.)
Gonzalez is the region's biggest flamethrower, he's touched 94 mph in the past and has the arm speed to potentially climb a tick or two higher at times. His fastball doesn't just feature quality velocity though, it has good life exploding out of his hand and released closer to the plate than more pitchers, thus it gets to the plate quicker than most fastballs thrown at the same velocity while featuring arm side tailing action.

Best Off-speed Stuff: Alex Verdugo, LHP/OF, Sr., Sahuaro (Ariz.)
While he looks the part of an outfield prospect and can swing the bat well enough that there is temptation to view him as an position player long term, it's his hammer curveball that settles the debate in the minds of the scouts who prefer him on the mound. It flashes 12-6 shape at times though often has a bit more of a 1-7 break, but consistently features with big depth and bites hard. He shows good present control of it, throwing it for consistent strikes and doesn't hang it all that frequently which is rare for a young pitches with so much depth to the curveball. He also has a quality changeup, and while it doesn't quite measure up to the impressive curveball, it is a very advanced high school changeup that should continue to develop once he reaches the next level and will have more use for it.

Best Command: Ryan Castellani, RHP/OF, Sr., Brophy Prep (Ariz.)
Castellani has undergone a dramatic makeover in the past year and change, going from a high effort chucker to a polished control artist who consistently executes pitches and can deftly navigate his way through an opposing lineup.

Best Pitchability: Tyler Frost, RHP/OF, Sr., Greenway (Ariz.)
While Frost fits the mold of a center fielder better long term, the 5-foot-9 righty is one of the most effective high school pitchers in the region with a mid- to upper-80s fastball. It's his quickness and surprising pop at the plate that will allow him to have success at the next level, but his advanced pitchability drives hitters crazy at present and went 8-1 with a 0.93 ERA and 94 strikeouts to just 11 walks over 60 innings as a junior last year.
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