Tournaments : : Story
Friday, April 04, 2014

Top '15 lefty seeks out big stage

Jeff Dahn        
Photo: Perfect Game

FORT MYERS, Fla. – It is not an accident that William T. Dwyer High School junior and Palm Beach Gardens, Fla., resident Thomas Szapucki has risen to the top 10 in the Perfect Game class of 2015 national high school prospect rankings. The 6-foot-2, 190-pound, hard-throwing left-hander simply refuses to back away from a challenge no matter how big the stage or how bright the lights.

“I’m looking forward to pitching today,” Szapucki told PG before taking the ball and making the start for the Dwyer Panthers in their opener at the 2nd annual Perfect Game High Showdown at the main stadium at Terry Park Friday afternoon. “I’m just going to come out and try my best and see what happens.”

Simply put, that’s the way Szapucki rolls and always has, for that matter. He has already pitched in three PG WWBA World Championships in Jupiter, Fla., right next door to his hometown. He has now participated in a total of 22 high profile PG WWBA, PG BCS and PG high school tournaments since 2011.

That run includes one memorable start while pitching at the PG WWBA 16u National Championship in Marietta, Ga., in July 2011, the summer before his freshman year at Dwyer. The youngster – a recent eighth-grade graduate – went out at a 16u event and threw a five inning no-hitter, striking out five.

A star was born, one that has since risen to No. 10 in the Perfect Game class of 2015 prospect rankings, one that has committed to the University of Florida and one who helped lead the Dwyer Panthers to a 12-2 win over Concordia Lutheran High School (Texas) in Friday’s PG HS Showdown opener.

“Every year he’s made a progression,” fifth-year Dwyer head coach Frank Torre Jr. said. “This year he’s throwing a lot of strikes … and recently we’ve started to tinker with his mechanics a little so this will be his first time out after making just a couple of small adjustments with his lower half.”

Szapucki worked six innings against Concordia Lutheran and gave up two runs (one earned) on three hits with eight strikeouts and three walks. It’s worth noting that two of the three Concordia hits were singles off the bat of 2015 No. 77-ranked and Tennessee commit Ke’Bryan Hayes and the other was a double smacked by 2014 top 500-ranked John Grimsley, a U. of San Diego signee.

“Szapucki showed again why he is one of the top arms in the 2015 class,” Perfect Game scouting coordinator Jheremy Brown wrote in an e-mail after the Dwyer High lefty completed his outing Friday evening. “His frame is strong and durable (and) he hides the ball extremely well, which when coupled with his lower arm slot and run on his fastball makes him very hard to square up.

“He showed the big velo early on – up to 93 (mph) in the first inning – and located it to both sides well. His slider has a chance to become a wipeout pitch and is a very hard pitch for a left-handed hitter to connect with.”

Dwyer broke open a 2-2 tie with a 10-run seventh inning in the 12-2 win over Concordia. Senior Brian Brooker stroked a pair of doubles, drove in two runs and scored two, and senior Shane Olive was 3-for-4 with two RBI and a run. Only five of the Panthers’ 12 runs were earned.

The Panthers started the season 0-2 but the win was their fifth straight, their sixth in seven games and their 13th in the last 15 to raise their record to 13-4 this season. Confidence is at a premium.

“We want to win the tournament, and that’s kind of what we shoot for every time we play,” Torre Jr. said. “With our team, I feel confident putting different lineups out there while still feeling like we can compete and have a good shot to win. Regardless of what happens, the point is to get these kids out there, to get the exposure … so this will be a phenomenal experience.”

Szapucki, despite all the time he has already spent on the biggest stages, is enjoying playing with his high school team more than anything else. Senior teammate Duke Stunkel Jr. has signed with Florida Atlantic, senior Tristan McGinnis with Concord University and freshman Tyler Aheam has already committed to Florida State.

“We’re all actually really good friends, all of us as a team,” Szapucki said. “We have really good chemistry together and everybody on this team, we all try hard at practice and we all have pretty good individual skill when it comes together really good.” And Szapucki really enjoys playing for Torre.

“He’s really good and he knows all of his stuff,” he said. “He’s probably one of the best coach’s out there and anything you need, he comes in and he knows what he’s talking about.”

Szapucki and his family have enjoyed a long friendship with Dave Parra, the coach of the Miami-based All-American Prospects organization; Parra, a former pitcher in the minor leagues, also serves as Szapucki’s personal pitching coach.

Almost all of his 21 Perfect Game tournament appearances previous to the PG HS Showdown have come playing in PG WWBA and PG BCS tournaments with the All-American Prospects. He pitched in both the 2011 and 2012 PG WWBA World Championship in Jupiter with the Prospects and was with the Royals Scout Team at last year’s PG WWBA World.

With close to 1,000 scouts and college coaches/recruiters in attendance, the PG WWBA World Championship provides about as big of a stage imaginable.

“You don’t really try to focus on (the scouts) that much, but with them being there and having that exposure is really good,” Szapucki said, adding that he feels like he’s been better with each subsequent trip to Jupiter. “I try to work hard every day and try to get better as time goes on (during the offseason). I work on dry mechanics, lifting weights and trying to make sure I stay in shape – all of that kind of good stuff.

“(My game has) kind of progressed as the more Perfect Game events I went to; I’ve gotten used to it, I’ve gotten used to the competition,” he continued. “I was a little bit nervous at first when I was younger but it’s gotten a lot better and it is pretty fun being with everybody out here; all the really good exposure and experience is pretty good, too.”

Torre Jr. has taken note of how much his young ace as matured in the last two or three years.

“Even when he’s not been at his best he’s still competed and found a way to put up zeros, which is something during his freshman and sophomore years he might have struggled with,” the coach said, adding that Szapucki enjoys pitching on those biggest stages. “He always wants to know who he’s pitching against and he wants to pitch against the better teams.

“Any great athlete or great competitor, that’s what they want – they want to go against the best and he’s no different.”

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