The Five Tool scouting department returned from the 36th annual Area Code games in San Diego with tans you shouldn’t be envious of. But the baseball experience? You should be envious of that. And the frequent meals in Little Italy will be remembered for a long time.

Long baseball days began with early mornings that quickly turned into picturesque, perfect nights at the University of San Diego’s Fowler Park thanks to the nation’s best high school baseball talent putting on an entertaining show each game. We didn’t see every pitch of each upperclass and underclass game, but we came pretty dang close. Now, it’s time to share what we saw.

Since we’re based in Texas and made the trip primarily to see how the Lone Star State performed on the biggest scouting stage in prep baseball, we’ll start with a breakdown of the Texas Rangers upperclass (2023 prospects) team before releasing notes on the 2023 national class, Texas Rangers underclass (2024/2025 prospects) and underclass national. Texas often has big, tall, hard-throwing right-handers right? Right.

PITCHERS

The Milwaukee Brewers drew the short straw when it came to scheduling. On August 10th, the Brewers faced the Rangers and the rotation of Travis Sykora and Barrett Kent. Predictably, it went poorly for the team from Southern California.

Sykora and Kent combined to throw 6.0 dominant, shutout innings with 10 strikeouts and just one hit. Starting with the 6-6 flame-thrower from Round Rock, Sykora cemented his status as one of the top prep pitchers in the country with an outing that showcased his secondary stuff – slider, splitter – in addition to a fastball that touched 100 MPH. Before his outing, Sykora remarked the San Diego weather, at least 20 degrees cooler than Texas, added some more heat to his fastball. He wasn’t lying.

But the fastball wasn’t the pitch I left thinking about. Perhaps that’s because I’ve seen Sykora several times already and I probably shouldn’t take plus-plus heaters for granted. Perhaps it’s because Sykora started the outing throwing backwards, using his secondary stuff in fastball counts and showing he’s more than a guy who throws extremely hard. The Texas commitment manipulated his 83-88 MPH slider; at times, he purposely took some MPH off the pitch to increase its vertical break and get it over for a strike and other times he snapped off the pitch with more hand quickness to create a harder, shorter break.

As for the splitter, Sykora threw it 85-87 MPH and showed it against both righties and lefties. He holds it like a true forkball and earlier in counts it took more of a split-change shape while later in counts it was a little harder with some later tumble. He showed some feel for trying to work it down and to his arm side against lefties.

Speaking of feel, I thought Sykora moved his fastball to both the arm and glove sides well. He settled in at 95-97 MPH with remarkable ease considering he’s so tall with length and he fired 25 of his 33 pitches for strikes, an excellent percentage. Sykora remains an efficient mover on the mound and clearly puts the time in away from game action to repeat his delivery. In front of hundreds of scouts and some scouting directors, Sykora, one of the main attractions of the event, delivered and performed on the big stage. Make no mistake, it was a business trip for Sykora, who made sure to find time to get his weight room work in and is very detail-oriented when it comes to his approach leading up to pitching.

While Sykora has long been considered one of the best and most famous right-handed prep arms in the country, Kent, an Arkansas commitment, entered Area Code with his prospect status on the verge of reaching similar heights. After his performance in San Diego, I think the Pottsboro product should be included in any discussion about top right-handed pitchers in the country.

With a fastball that touched 96 MPH and came out easily from a low-effort, easily repeated delivery with a very steady head, Kent breezed through 3.0 no-hit innings. Instead of selling out for velocity, Kent showed he can truly pitch by settling into a 91-93 MPH range with his fastball and moving it to both sides of the plate and down in the zone. Perhaps it was how well the ball came out of his hand or maybe some hint of deception in the delivery or maybe the idea of four pitches for a strike danced in batters’ heads, but some of the best hitting prospects in the event had some uncomfortable takes against Kent.

Kent beat a lot of hitters with his fastball and because he consistently threw it down in the zone it helped his short, sharp 80-84 MPH slider play especially well out of a similar look to the heater. I saw that breaking ball more often than the slightly slower, bigger curveball, but Kent will feature both. The changeup showed well, and like the slider its look to hitters plays off the fastball well with very similar hand/arm speed.

If you add up the delivery, physical outlook, shoulder rotation/layback, stuff and present and future control/command, you get a true starter who is going to be one of the most heavily scouted prep arms in the nation and has the makings of being a day one MLB Draft pick.

The right-handers weren’t the only ones making strong statements. Zane Adams (Porter) and Gavyn Jones (White Oak) both continued their ascent to the top of any left-handed pitching discussion in Texas. Heading into Area Code, Adams was a bit more well-known in scouting circles than Jones and a little more experienced on the big stage. After Area Code, Jones assured himself similar prospect status heading into his senior season.

His big rise this summer began with an outstanding performance during the AABC Connie Mack qualifier and ended with 3.0 dominant innings in San Diego. The Texas Tech commitment, who was offered almost immediately after his Area Code tryout, gave up just one hit and punched out six against the Royals, a collection of the best talent in the Pacific Northwest.

With a short legkick and quiet head, Jones featured an easy, simple delivery supported by some present strength throughout his frame and routinely fired strikes with all his pitches; he has the type of build, stuff, arm speed and delivery that confidently suggest he can fill a starter’s workload and pitch deep into games. After touching 93 MPH early in his outing, Jones’ fastball worked comfortably in the 89-92 MPH range and was moved around the strike zone. The lefty showed feel for two different breaking balls – a 77-80 MPH slider and a 75 MPH curveball. New to throwing two different breakers, it’s fair to project both pitches to improve moving forward and the slider looks like more of a future weapon.

The changeup could be the standout, though. Coming out of Jones’ quick arm, the 82-83 MPH offering hit the brakes late near the plate with some arm side fade and will routinely give right-handed hitters issues. Like Kent, Jones checks a lot of boxes that suggest he’s going to throw strikes with multiple pitches. If the stuff continues to tick up, there are plenty of reasons to think Jones is going to be one of the top left-handed pitching prospects in Texas.

As for Adams, it was more of the same – flashes of brilliance and dominance. I thought he fatigued a little later in his outing and lost his legs/posture some in his delivery, which led to four walks in 3.0 innings. And I’d be remiss if I didn’t point out Adams is still recovering from an ankle injury, which could affect his delivery. Otherwise, it was an outstanding outing for the Alabama commitment, who struck out seven with multiple whiffs on all three pitches – fastball (89-93 MPH, T94 MPH), curveball (76-78 MPH) and changeup (81-83 MPH).

At around 6-3, 180 pounds, I’d be surprised if Adams doesn’t fill out and maybe even grow a little more in the future. Although he has a skinny frame, his lead leg is strong in support of an uptempo, active delivery that fairly suggests he’s on the attack and always willing to challenge hitters. In terms of stuff, there probably isn’t a left-handed pitcher in Texas who can match his current and future grades because both the curve and changeup have racked up whiffs all summer long. He’s absolutely going to be on the list for scouts to get an early look at during the spring.

The Blake Mitchell Category

Before we get to the position players, Blake Mitchell deserves his own category. For players of Mitchell’s fame and prospect status, Area Code is for all intents and purposes a make-or-break tryout to solidify elite prospect status. With so many important evaluators, now completely focused on the 2023 class, in attendance a good or bad performance is, fair or not, going to carry an immense amount of weight and will stick with scouts for the next 11 months. Area Code is one of the few opportunities scouts are removed from the previous draft and can see truly great competition versus great competition; if a player goes to Area Code and performs with the bat, he did so against good, great or elite pitching.

Mitchell performed with the bat.

After smashing a double that one-hopped the wall in center field during his first game and hitting a rocket right at the center field the next game, Sinton’s do-it-all megatalent smoked an opposite field line drive over the left field fence for a round-tripper. It was the third time during the event when Mitchell hit a ball so hard it created an audible gasp from the crowd, filled mostly with scouts.

Did Mitchell perform well enough with the bat to help himself in the eyes of key evaluators? I certainly think so. Generally, he displayed promising swing-take decisions (four walks) and the look of his swing visually has always been one worthy of betting on. He got to his power during the game against quality pitching, hardly ever looked overmatched and didn’t whiff at a noteworthy rate. Again, all of this came against the best competition he’s going to see until his next level of baseball.

Like almost every catcher at the event, Mitchell at times uncharacteristically struggled to catch the ball behind home plate. It didn’t happen often. I don’t know if this is an excuse or an explanation, but I know that’s been a theme at Area Code games for catchers for a while now – catchers uncharacteristically struggling to receive the ball. It can be explained by catching hard-throwing pitchers they’ve never caught before and pitchers overthrowing for the radar gun. I have zero doubt about Mitchell’s ability to receive the baseball and his plus-plus arm and good athleticism were on display behind the dish. If there is a better high school catcher prospect in the country, I’d be surprised.

POSITION PLAYERS

Let’s start with the position player who helped himself the most in San Diego: Jack Bell. Bell, a recent Texas A&M commitment, had a really good AABC Don Mattingly World Series. The left-handed hitting shortstop was even better at Area Code with a very strong all-around performance.

The Ray High School (Corpus Christi) prospect has always possessed an intriguing feel for the barrel. Even when he’s been in two-strike counts or is out of sync and unable to get a good, balanced swing off, Bell has shown an advanced ability to get the barrel to the baseball in different parts of the zone. He did that again at Area Code and cut down on his whiff rate.

Bell took aggressive, confident swings early in counts and was tough to strike out later in counts while showcasing the ability to keep his hands back and smack a liner the opposite way for a single. In addition to his noteworthy feel for the barrel, the ball is coming off the barrel with a surprising amount of impact, which speaks to his hand-eye coordination and also added strength. Bell remains a good bet to continue adding strength in the upper half and growing.

Defensively, Bell looked like one of the top bets to be the best defensive infielder in the state. And it wasn’t only because of the way he performed on the dirt and the way his hands and arm (strong enough for shortstop) worked, which was all promising. The game comes naturally to Bell in a way that makes it seem he’s sometimes a step ahead of the action. In one instance, he backed up an off-script play at third base, made a very athletic play to get to the baseball and fired an unbalanced throw home on one hop that probably should have been caught to complete a miraculous play.

Another player who helped himself: Southlake Carroll shortstop Ethan Mendoza. Be careful throwing Mendoza a first-pitch fastball because he reinforced he’s ready to ambush a mistake heater while proving he’s able to time elite gas. While some players struggled with timing the first two games, Mendoza had two of the hardest hit balls for the Rangers, including a very hard line drive the opposite way against a good fastball. As the event progressed, Mendoza proved capable of using more than the opposite way and also hit a hard lineout against a breaking ball. Maybe more importantly, after his beloved red wooden bat finally broke after racking up hits all summer, Mendoza picked up a knock with his new bat, too. Tracking pitches and getting on time seems to come naturally to Mendoza, who carries himself and performs with a natural hitting ability unique even at an event like Area Code.

Defensively, Mendoza, like all the infielders, played at multiple positions. He’ll handle shortstop well at the high school level and maybe profile there if the Arizona State commitment goes the college route because of how quickly his hands work. But looking long-term at this prospect outlook, I think he eventually fits as a solid second baseman with the ability to hit being the carrying tool. Because of his hand strength and quickness, it’s fair to project the present gap-to-gap power with an eventual mistake pulled over the wall to become more power in the future. Basically, if we’re listing top pure hitters in Texas for 2023, how many names do we put ahead Mendoza’s? It’s a small list if it’s any at all.

Speaking of settling in, Hebron’s Aden Howard proved to be the type of exciting prospect everyone was talking about this summer. He began timing pitches from both sides of the plate with multiple hard hit balls from the left side and a very hard-hit ball from the right side. After a rude encounter with the right field fence earlier in the event, Howard made a sensational grab in left field as he crashed into the wall.

Most importantly, Howard proved he isn’t just an intriguing projection candidate with noteworthy future tools. The DBU commitment showed he can play on the big stage.

Another outfielder who did the same is Aidan Smith (Lovejoy). After a superstar performance at the AABC Don Mattingly World Series, Smith, an athletic, right-handed hitter, hit at least four hard line drives during Area Code competition. I hadn’t seen Smith take in-and-out until Area Code and saw a good arm in the outfield that can profile in any spot and his athleticism/twitch wasn’t lost in the shuffle on a field full of the nation’s best talent. Basically, I think he solidified his status as one of the top outfielders in Texas – maybe the top outfielder – and more than held his own offensively while showcasing strong tools (4.2 – 4.3 down the line).

When I saw Tristan Russell during the high school season the Cy Woods prospect impressed me with his skill and ability to slow the game down. So, it wasn’t surprising to see Russell, now a Houston commitment, do the same on the biggest stage. The switch-hitting infielder never looked overwhelmed on the field and took quality swings from the left side with a promising swing capable of driving pitches gap-to-gap for extra-base hits.

With the skill to play second, third and shortstop, Russell made plays defensively on the dirt and moved well. He wants the baseball and you can tell from the way he handles it he’s comfortable being a part of the action. Immediately following Area Code’s conclusion, Russell boarded a flight to the Czech Republic to represent Germany in the U-18 European Baseball Championship. He’s currently hitting .476/.714/.522 for Germany.

Mr. Intrigue

Watching Nehomar Ochoa Jr. move at 6-3 and around 215 pounds was worth the price of admission because he stood out as one of the more impressive prospects physically in the entire event. Why is he Mr. Intrigue? Because he’s basically a year younger than most of his peers, has very intriguing tools and when scouts think what he could be next year, three years from now and 10 years from now, it’s almost impossible not to be excited about the potential.

Ochoa Jr. has a plus arm from the corner outfield, moves especially well for his size (multiple 4.3 times down the line), has plus raw power and his swing/take decisions and bat paths strongly suggest he has a real chance to hit. And then there is the look on the mound…

Ochoa was up to 93 MPH at Area Code, but opposing hitters had no issue timing his fastball. I think the lack of deception and fluidity in the delivery make it easier for good hitters to see his fastball and time it. For an impressive athlete for a young player of his size, Ochoa’s delivery is too methodical, likely the result of not having as many reps. As his short outing progressed, his slider began to flash as a promising pitch with true shape.

Looking way ahead, would it surprise me if Ochoa is sitting in the low-to-mid 90s as a starter with an improved delivery or flirting with triple digits out of the bullpen? Not at all. And if we’re classifying Travis Sykora as purely a pitching prospect and not a two-way, Ochoa is currently the best two-way prospect in the state who isn’t named ‘Blake Mitchell.’

Quick Hitters on the Rest of the Roster

– The event didn’t start well from Coppell’s TJ Pompey, who committed an error on a routine play at shortstop and uncharacteristically struggled to field the baseball cleanly during the Rangers’ first game. However, he settled in as the week progressed and ended on a high note with an impressive extra-base hit and a near homer to left field. Although the right-handed hitter did whiff at an elevated rate, he also showed some ability to impact the baseball because when he put it in play it often was hard contact (led the team with two doubles).

While some prospects might have felt the pressure and dug a deep mental hole after a slow start, I thought it was especially noteworthy that Pompey, who showed mental toughness, kept competing and elevated his performance. Pompey experienced failure and responded admirably, proving his status as one of the top shortstop prospects in the nation. That’s the type of thing that’s going to help him at the next level whether it’s at Texas Tech or in professional baseball.

– Jackson Brasseux, who flipped his commitment from Rice to Texas A&M days after the event, threw his lively fastball (horizontal movement) 87-90 MPH and challenged hitters. The lefty, who looks great physically, showed the strike-throwing profile I think we’ll see long-term. He missed bats with his fastball, although the command was too loose at times. As for the breaking ball, sometimes it showed more of a truer, hard curveball shape and others a little more slider sweep at 77-79 MPH.

Regardless, it proved difficult for hitters to handle. The exciting thing for Brasseux and Texas A&M is I think the breaking ball could really, really take off with improved pitch shape and more consistent hand finish with help from the arm action because it’s already a swing-and-miss pitch against lefties and righties.

– Kendall George ran 3.5 down the line on a bunt and also 3.7 and 3.8 on balls in play during the first game. Unsurprisingly, he proved to be the fastest player at Area Code and also one of the most difficult to strike out. George again showed he understands who he is as a player and in two-strike counts (only player not to strike out for the Rangers) sold out for contact to put pressure on infielders.

– Mansfield Legacy right-handed pitcher and Oklahoma State commitment Blake Julius threw strikes – caught too much of the strike zone against the White Sox the final day – and continued to show his changeup has a chance to be a difference-maker and a swing-and-miss pitch against left-handers.

– Recent Texas commitment Dondreone ‘Dee’ Kennedy took walks (four walks and just one strikeout), tracked pitches and although he didn’t have a loud performance with his bat, there remains a lot to like about his quick, compact right-handed stroke. After seeing him again at Area Code, I think he’s a second baseman or an outfielder with plus speed and athleticism.

– Jerson Martin, a Wichita State commitment, just missed a few pitches and hit a few soft liners off the end of the bat. There’s a lot to like about the bat, which showed on the big stage. Receiving the baseball proved difficult occasionally, but, like noted with Mitchell, that was a running theme throughout the event.

Speaking of catchers, Mac Rose swung the bat well, proving he could get on time and he didn’t look overmatched while also carrying himself with confidence in the box. He competed well behind the dish and tossed a shutout inning during the final game. Rose, an uncommitted prospect from Rockwall, again proved he’s a true two-way talent who could contribute at a high level as both a pitcher and hitter at the collegiate level.

– Accustomed to the biggest events and a top performer from a young age, right-handed pitcher MJ Seo unsurprisingly tossed 2.0 no-hit innings with one walk and three strikeouts. Seo, a LSU commitment, touched 92 MPH with his fastball, created whiffs with his slider (79-81 MPH), spun a curveball (76 MPH), and also generated whiffs with his changeup (81 MPH).

– Recent Tennessee commitment and The Woodlands two-way standout Brayden Sharp threw his fastball 85-89 MPH, down from the high school season when I saw him up to 95 MPH. To my eyes, Sharp’s shoulder/arm looked a bit tired and he didn’t find better timing and sync to his uptempo/active delivery until the final batters when his competitiveness and willingness to challenge hitters really showed. Regardless, he remains one of the top left-handed pitching prospects and two-way talents in Texas.

Along those same lines, Cooper Strawn, a Texas A&M commitment, issued nine walks and hit three batters during his 3.2 innings and also struggled to find timing and a consistent feel for his stuff. The big right-hander did flash his promising changeup, which is his best pitch and a big difference-maker against lefties.

– Houston commitment and Weslaco East prospect Alex Solis struck out five during 3.0 innings and gave up just one unearned run. He did miss up to his arm side some with his fastball (three walks), but when the heater (89-93 MPH) was in the zone, it played well. Solis’ again executed his slider to his glove side (77-80 MPH) and I think it’s one of the better sliders in the state capable of creating whiffs against both lefties and righties. At times, Solis looked to pronate too much to create changeup movement/spin. As he gains more reps, I think throwing the pitch with a hand finish more similar to his heater will make it a tough pitch for lefties because of its late tumble and arm side run.

– Drew Markle ran as fast as 4.12 seconds down the line and his wheels and athleticism continue to stand out. Understandably frustrated because he put the ball in play a lot with nothing to show for it, I chuckled when Markle recorded his first hit on the final day and asked for the baseball. The Ole Miss commitment played at multiple spots in the infield and also in center field, too.

Select teammate and Sinton prospect Jaquae Stewart displayed his impressive hand strength/quickness and left-handed swing. But he just missed several pitches and seemed to be on the verge of hitting one off the buildings in right field as the event ended. Stewart, because he fouled so many pitches with quality swings, often found himself in two-strike counts and facing good stuff.

We didn’t see him on the mound, but we did see David Heefner. He profiles as a bat-first corner infielder with developing power that could look noticeably different in 12 months. Although he didn’t experience the type of success he’d like, Heefner looked like a different hitter, in a good way, who has improved and grown over the last year.

Dustin McComas
Senior Editor
Five Tool Baseball

Drew Bishop contributed to this report

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