After spending last Wednesday night at DBU to check out the North Texas Scout Team, I made the trek down to Houston to get a look at the Dodgers Scout Team Tuesday evening at San Jacinto College. The Dodgers, otherwise known as the south version of the fall scout teams, played San Jacinto in a nine-inning exhibition game. Like the north version, the Dodgers group didn’t lack talent. Some thoughts, notes and more:
1) Following a fantastic summer, which included winning MVP honors at the AABC Don Mattingly World Series, Madisonville catcher/first baseman Caden Miller picked up right where he left off. On an annoyingly warm, slightly muggy September night at San Jacinto College, Miller was easily the best hitter in any uniform. Of his five at-bats, four of them resulted as follows: hard, deep fly out to right-center field; loud line drive right at the right fielder; hard line drive single through the right side of the infield; and a home run over the wall in right-center field. While some hitters looked understandably rusty and struggled to make hard contact, Miller showed why he emerged this summer as one of the best left-handed hitters in the state. Miller did catch some, which could be his high school role again this upcoming season; long-term, he’s probably a first baseman at Houston Christian, although he moves well enough (6.76 60-yard dash at Texas Twelve this summer and 91 MPH arm from the outfield) to possibly profile in the outfield. Regardless, Miller can rake. Don’t be thrown for a loop by the slightly unorthodox setup; Miller gets an accurate barrel into the zone efficiently with a short, quick swing and does a good job of keeping his energy back while he strides from a slightly open stance before a quick rotation and balanced stride.
Events like this are especially fun from an evaluation standpoint because when a player stands out on a team like this in a setting like that, it’s especially noteworthy. And it was obvious to me that as much as we really liked Miller in our updated rankings, last night suggested we're still too low. He probably needs to move up from No. 45 in the 2024 Five Tool Texas 55. He’s not physically imposing, but he has some sneaky strength through his hands/wrists/forearms and he’s repeatedly impacted the ball with a wood bat. Is he Jared Thomas, who was such an elite hitter that his defensive profile, first baseman first and outfielder second, could almost be overlooked? Not quite. That’s meant to be a knock on Miller. Thomas was a $1 million-plus type of high school prospect who finished No. 5 on our final 2022 Five Tool Texas 55 and ended up hitting .321/.398/.484 as a freshman at Texas. You won’t find a bigger fan of Thomas’ hit tool than me. But like Thomas, Miller is athletic enough to possibly profile in the outfield and he has played some third base in his past. And he could push to become the best, pure left-handed hitter in the state.
2) Besides Miller, it was a fairly quiet night on offense for the Dodgers. Omar Serna, a 2025 prospect from Dobie, again showed he’s one of the premier hitters in the nation for his class. A strong right-handed hitter committed to LSU, Serna just missed hitting a homer to left field, which resulted in some colorful commentary from the San Jacinto dugout off the bat, and also smacked a hard single up the middle. He caught a runner stealing, which allowed him to show his plus arm strength. Like Area Code, his receiving behind the dish remains the one area where he can create the most impactful and substantial growth as a player and prospect. And like Area Code, Serna easily stood out as a hitter despite being surrounded by top talent.
3) Elkins center fielder Braylon Payne provided the defensive highlight of the night when he tracked a deep fly ball well off the bat, ran it down, and painfully crashed into the wall instantly after completing the catch. The Houston commitment immediately fell to the ground and was in some pain for a couple of minutes before shaking it off, realizing he had no serious shoulder injuries and he then remained in the game. Earlier in the contest, Payne also tracked a ball well into the left-center gap to make a catch on the run and his arm strength during in-and-out looked a tick better than I recall this summer. It was my first extended look at Payne running down fly balls because despite watching him a ton this summer, he was hardly challenged defensively. I came away with a positive outlook of his long-term outlook in center field, especially considering his foot speed (he slipped after slowly getting out of the box during his final at-bat and still ran down the line in 4.28 seconds). At the plate, Payne started to find his groove later in the game after his upper and lower halves looked consistently out of sync during his first three at-bats. In his fourth at-bat, he smacked a hard single through a vacated area near shortstop.
4) A few more hitting thoughts before we get to pitchers:
Summer Creek right-handed hitting outfielder Donovan Jordan had three hits, although they were all soft and one came on a broken bat (4.47 seconds down the line). His bat-to-ball skill was noteworthy. He carries a bat-first profile.
Rice commitment and Shadow Creek two-way standout Blaine Brown took some quality left-handed swings, which resulted in one rocket right at the center field and some hard ground balls to the right side. Defensively, Brown’s arm is impressive from a corner outfield spot, which showed on the mound. He was up to 91 MPH from the left side with a hint of natural sink to his heater, which beat hitters through the zone. He’s a legitimate two-way talent and I honestly don’t know which one he’s better at. I’m assuming Rice is going to give him a crack at both.
In four of his five at-bats, Devin Nunez either walked or was hit by a pitch. He has impressive plate skills and one of my favorite left-handed swings in the class. Although he didn’t connect with a hard ball in play when he swung, his timing and barrel paths were just barely off from smashing a couple pitches.
Carson Luna muscled a soft RBI single the opposite way, was barely jammed and hit a fly ball at the left fielder and also walked in two other at-bats. Like Nunez, his swing looked good, which it did all summer when he hit everywhere he went.
Lucas Franco took some quality swings, which resulted in hard contact in one at-bat. But he couldn’t shake the rust in three other at-bats with strikeouts. On the defensive side, he completed all but one of his chances in the infield, an infield that was a tough one to play on.
5) For the Dodgers, eight pitchers took the mound with one of those pitchers, uncommitted lefty Jaden Barfield, logging two innings. Barfield, a Pearland product, struck out three over 2.0 scoreless frames and used his fastball (87-90 MPH), slider (73-76 MPH) and showed a changeup (82 MPH). As usual, Barfield’s breaking ball spin (2658 RPM) was impressive, and he showed some feel for taking some MPH off the pitch to add a little more sweep and depth. In one instance, Barfield struck out a right-handed hitter on a slider that hit the batter after the whiff. A short, stocky lefty, I remain a fan of Barfield’s delivery/operation on the mound, his feel for pitching, strike-throwing and mound makeup. A strong offseason and some time off should result in some improved physicality and the velocity, perhaps even more, we saw to end last spring, when he was up to 94 MPH in the playoffs.
6) Barfield’s high school teammate, Ryler Smart, was also impressive on the mound. He featured the best fastball of the night, and it sat in the 91-93 MPH range while repeatedly racking up whiffs inside the strike zone. In addition to the velocity and life of the pitch, I think Smart’s conviction and mound makeup help his fastball play up, too. Hitters need to be ready the moment they get into the batter’s box because Smart works quickly and confidently attacks. Although his breaking ball feel was a tad inconsistent in a short look, Smart flashed a curveball at 79 MPH with some late bite that resulted in a swinging strikeout to end the inning. There’s also some feel for a promising changeup at 82-83 MPH, too. Looking ahead I think scouts will want to see if the strike-throwing/control progresses positively. He’s an imposing presence on the mound who can still tap into his physical gifts more as he continues to develop. If that ends up being in the bullpen at the next level, he has the ingredients, including the mound presence, to be a leverage arm in the backend of games with power stuff.
7) In terms of prospects the 20-plus MLB scouts were most interested in seeing, Bryce Navarre was the top of the list for pitchers. In one inning, Navarre threw his fastball 88-90 MPH, spun his curveball at 74-76 MPH with spin up to 3006 RPM and also showed a promising 79 MPH changeup. Basically, Navarre was his usual self on the mound after a very strong summer and will be someone scouts pay especially close attention to the rest of the fall and coming out of the winter.
8) Magnolia West two-way prospect and recent ULM commitment Trenton Buckley was up to 91 MPH and spun a slider up to 82 MPH with spin near 2800 RPM. You can tell he’s still very new to pitching and the control/repeatability were inconsistent along with the conviction in his stuff. However, there is some really intriguing arm strength/speed, natural feel for spin and athleticism on the mound. Buckley’s summer teammate, Foster left-hander and Arizona State commitment Chase Batten, threw a scoreless inning with a fastball in the 82-85 MPH (touched 87 MPH) and a curveball/slow sweeper at 73-75 MPH.
9) A couple more pitching notes: Grand Oaks tall righty Collin Toedter was in the 84-87 MPH range with his fastball and Pearland two-way prospect Isaiah Castaneda was in the 85-86 MPH range with a 69 MPH curveball and 76 MPH changeup that flashed with promise. Toedter, who came from football, looked understandably tired while Castaneda was operating at less than 100 percent effort on the mound.