Playoffs are here, which means it’s time to empty the notebook with every last piece of regular-season information and turn the page to the biggest games of the season. This edition of Dustin’s Deep Drives highlights a top MLB Draft prospect in the 2023 class, examines some of the top programs in Central Texas, recaps a trip to San Antonio and much more. Let’s ride.
This season, I made it a point to check in on my surrounding high schools more often than I did in 2022. For a while, Rouse has been one of the top 5A programs in the state and is still alive in the second round of the playoffs. A well-rounded club, Rouse was one of my “teams to watch” in 5A during our playoff predictions because of its depth on the mound.
Earlier this season, I watched uncommitted 2024 right-hander Oscar Salazar pitch 6.0 dominant frames - he gave up just one hit, walked two and punched out 11. At 6-2, maybe 6-3 and 190 pounds, Salazar has a good frame with present strength. His operation on the mound is fairly easy, showing a slight head whack but not an egregious one and he carried his stuff his entire outing.
Even though he moves down the mound into a crossfire look, his best pitch was a 75-77 MPH slider that he routinely executed to his glove side. Salazar’s fastball sat comfortably at 85-88 MPH with some arm side run and he utilized noticeable pronation with his 75 MPH changeup to create movement and whiffs. While some people might see the 85-88 MPH and pause, they’d miss a true pitcher who can create movement, throw quality strikes with three pitches, can carry his stuff deep into starts and also flashed a true curveball.
It’s not easy for a young pitcher to create the movement to the changeup he does and throw a true slider and also be able to create the shape of a true curveball. That’s advanced stuff. As he matures, velocity will come naturally and if he can become a pitcher who sits in the low 90s, he has all the ingredients to get college hitters out with a starter’s profile. Plus, Salazar won't turn 17 until October 2024.
Undersized 2024 right-hander Trey Schlueter is another strike-throwing machine who has efficiently and effectively pitched all season. Hitters don’t see and time his fastball well and it’s showcased elements of arm side run and also carry through the upper half of the zone and his 72-74 MPH curveball plays well off his commanded fastball up in the zone; it’s uncommon to see a pitcher of his stature and velocity routinely beat hitters up in the zone with heaters, but Schlueter does.
When Rayner Heinrich, a 2024 right-handed hitting infielder, blows up this summer after hitting .427 during the regular season with 14 extra-base hits, don’t be surprised. I timed him from home-to-first in 3.81 seconds and he’s built like a badass high school running back with the type of acceleration and speed that sends dirt flying in the tracks behind him. A physical, strong player with a compact frame and impressive athleticism, Heinrich uses a quick bat and swing that shows a direct and not a steep path towards the baseball. He feasts on pulling the baseball (can get around pitches instead of direct to them occasionally) with authority but has shown he can drive the ball into the right-center gap occasionally, too.
Although he swiped just five bags during the regular season, I think that was more team philosophy. If he had the green light some other programs give their speedsters, I think he would have stolen over 20 easily. I haven’t gotten enough of a look at him making plays defensively to get a true feel for the tools, but we’ve already covered he’s an 80 runner who is hitting at a high level and has the athleticism and physicality colleges look for.
Speaking of not getting enough of a look yet, each time I saw Rouse it didn’t use Landon Miller, who has often been used as the team’s closer, on the mound. Committed to Houston after showing big-time velocity this past fall, Miller is a very physical prospect with noticeable muscle throughout his thick, muscular frame. Still relatively new to pitching, Miller hasn’t yet tapped into his physical gifts and gives the appearance of a future reliever on the mound with arm strength/arm speed and noticeable effort in his delivery.
But given his physical stature and how much could change in the delivery, there’s a chance he could be stretched out in the future. Regardless, he’s reportedly been up to 95 MPH this season and is one of the more intriguing two-way prospects in the state for 2024. When he doesn’t hunt for velocity, his delivery is more repeatable with less effort. At times, his stuff is truly dominating and blows away hitters.
Center fielder Kaden Kasper remains one of my favorite uncommitted 2023 prospects. Some whiff does accompany his hitting profile from the left side, but the tradeoff is notable bat speed that accompanies good rotation and a good swing. He runs well, tracked the ball well in center field during the looks I had and the arm looked solid or better, too. Kasper competed well and played the game on his front foot.
Liberty Hill and Rouse are two big reasons why 25-5A is one of the toughest districts in Texas. Right-handed pitcher Blaze Milam caught my attention during the summer and was even better during the high school season. Against Rouse, Milam tossed 6.0 shutout innings and scattered seven hits with one walk and seven strikeouts. His fastball (84-87, T88 MPH) came out of his hand in a way that sometimes created a little arm side sink and other times the movement was more pronounced.
The standout offering was a slider (74-77 MPH), and it could be described as a bit of a throwback one because it’s the classic look with the tight spin and dot and not the one with tilt or sweep that is so common now. Milam, who is uncommitted, snapped the pitch off his fingers and out of his hand well, burying it later in counts and executing it to his glove side early in counts. The righty also has the makings of an average changeup that should be a usable third pitch. Known for his competitiveness and strike-throwing, Milam will be a 2024 pitcher to follow this summer.
Two-way player Kade Neuenschwander is heading to Blinn and is talented enough to make an impact as both a hitter and pitcher. A physical senior with a compact, thick frame and strength present in his lower half, Neuenschwander fired fastballs up to 89 MPH when I saw him with a true slider at 77 MPH. He looked like a candidate to throw harder at the next level with a couple of tweaks to leverage his impressive leg strength.
Kudos to the Mary Hardin-Baylor coaching staff because senior catcher Carson Riley is an outstanding get. Riley is a good worker behind the dish who breathes confidence into his pitchers, takes pride in blocking pitches and has solid catch-and-throw skill (2.00-2.10 in-game pops). From the right side, he competes well in the batter’s box with some gap-to-gap power and should grow into a little more in the future. I don’t know what UMHB has at catcher, but I’d be surprised if Riley isn’t a contributor from day one.
Right-handed hitting corner infielder Carson Sharp looked like a major target to track in the 2026 class. Already around 6-3, Sharp will likely grow into an imposing power hitter and is already showing advanced bat-to-ball ability. He utilizes an easy, repeatable swing and approach and is already covering the plate by pulling balls with authority and smacking pitches the other way. I’d be surprised if he doesn’t emerge as one of the top hitters in the area sooner than later.
CLAUDIA TAYLOR JOHNSON (San Antonio)
The Jaguars emerged early as one of the state’s top 6A teams and the depth of the lineup is a big reason why. By now, most people know who 2025 infielder Kayson Cunningham is. During the game I saw versus Brandeis, Cunningham had no issues making contact but did roll over 78-80 MPH velocity multiple times before squaring up a pitch right at an infielder. It happens. Known for his bat, people might not know that Cunningham has some really impressive ability defensively, too.
With his team trailing 3-2 in the bottom of the sixth inning with two outs and runners in scoring position, Cunningham showed range to his backhand from second base, made a diving stop on a hard grounder, and threw out a quick runner from his knees (with some help from his first baseman). He’s a good athlete, should play a lot of shortstop this summer and should move into that position next season at Johnson once Ryne Farber moves on.
Speaking of Farber, I timed him from home-to-first in 3.99 seconds from the left side, which means he’s now in the range of being a 70 runner. He continues to play shortstop impressively with good instincts, a quick transfer, good footwork and confident actions. And he hardly ever whiffs. The more I see him play and watch the way he carries himself and interacts with teammates, the more I think I’m watching one of the best shortstops in Texas. In addition to his work on the field, Farber was awarded the Principal’s Award at Johnson High School, an incredible achievement.
The depth of the lineup extends beyond Farber and Cunningham. Physical right-handed hitter Mason Krahn, who recently committed to Midland College, packs a powerful punch from the right side and has shown a plus arm in right field. Masa Chilcutt, another super sophomore on the roster, showed impressive all-around skill offensively and defensively with the ability to make quality contact. Although he’s a bit undersized for a traditional catcher, the University of Texas commitment moved around with noteworthy agility and quickness and is going to be faster than almost every other catcher in his class. He leverages his short arms to create a quick, good swing in the box that can line extra-base hits into the gaps.
Ty Hawkins is another impressive sophomore who played center field and has intriguing, all-around potential. A good athlete, Hawkins is a big-time quarterback prospect who is likely destined to perform on the gridiron at the next level but does have the talent to become one of the better outfielder prospects in San Antonio. It says a lot about 2024 right-handed hitter Diego Flores that he hit second in the lineup when I saw Johnson. While his team couldn’t break through offensively until the final inning when it put up a huge number to beat Brandeis, Flores helped ignite his team with a very hard single to right-center field in the top of the seventh and later that same inning he roped a run-scoring double down the left field line. In front of Five Tool this season, he’s routinely made quality contact and hasn’t shown much whiff in his profile. An undersized infielder, Flores bounced around the diamond with some twitchy actions and is a player who could grab the attention of college coaches this summer.
On the mound, Barrett Johnson has led the way for the Jaguars. A dependable ace for his staff, Johnson has been an impressive competitor his entire varsity career, which includes making some huge pitches in the playoffs last year as a junior against Lake Travis. No situation is too big for the future UTSA player. And when I saw him, he was up to 88 MPH on the mound, held 84-86 MPH all game and competed well despite not having his best stuff. Johnson threw his curveball 72-76 MPH and showed a promising changeup at 76 MPH that should help him against left-handers at the next level. A two-way prospect, Johnson is simply a winner who figures out ways to impact games for his team.
My educated guess is right-handed pitcher and hitter Jonathan Gonzales is going to go down as one of the most beloved pitchers in Bowie High School’s recent history. Make no mistake, Bowie has talent and isn’t a one-man show. But I don’t think many teammates would argue Gonzales has the ability to carry the team to victories, and he’s racked up a ton of them (9-0 in a loaded district; back-to-back wins over Westlake and Lake Travis).
I saw Gonzales against a good Westlake lineup and left extremely impressed with his competitiveness. Across 6.0 innings, he gave up two runs on four hits, one walk and struck out seven. Gonzales sat 85-87 MPH all night with his fastball and touched 88 MPH multiple times. Although the velocity didn’t stand out, Gonzales moved the pitch to both sides of the plate at an advanced level. A strong, physical, workhorse-type pitcher with a filled-out frame, Gonzales can throw a lot of quality strikes because there’s minimal head movement through his finish and he moves down the mound with good shoulder positioning and posture. Truly, he can pitch.
At times, Gonzales’ breaking ball looked more like a short curveball closer to 73 MPH and other times it took the shape of a slider around 76 MPH; my educated guess is he purposely took some velocity off the pitch when he wanted to, and the slider routinely hit the glove side target with feel for burying the pitch in strikeout counts. Gonzales confidently threw his changeup often against left-handed hitters with fastball conviction at 74-76 MPH and the pitch did get a few whiffs. Watching him come off the mound and repeat his delivery suggested he’s a good athlete and the strike-throwing is very real and should translate to the next level. Frankly, it looks like Northeast Texas Community College landed a gem. Oh, he also hammered the ball the entire district season and packs some punch from the right side. And the Eagles wisely brought Gonzales’ catcher along, too. Travis Starkey is a tough, hard-nosed competitor with physical projection and intriguing all-around skill.
I can see why St. Edward’s smartly grabbed a commitment from shortstop Mayson Winters, a very physical senior who can fly and has a good chance to stick at shortstop with a chance to be an impact defender. Another guy who clearly doesn’t miss lift days is Texas State signee and right-handed cleanup hitter Ben Merriman. With a quick, powerful bat, Merriman is a candidate to hit with some power at the next level.
Colleges should keep an eye on leadoff hitter and center fielder Jaden Corzine. He’s been one of the breakout performers in the district this season and can impact games with his bat, speed, glove and athleticism.
- I made the trek to the Gulf of Mexico on Thursday to get a look at Nehomar Ochoa Jr. (Galena Park) versus Richmond Foster. Ochoa has been a long-time favorite of mine since he showed up to a metal bat, 2021 Five Tool tournament with a wooden bat painted like the Venezuelan flag and proceeded to launch multiple homers into the trees. Since then, he’s grown into one of the top prospects in the state thanks to his outstanding physical build and interesting, projectable all-around tools.
A true two-way talent who has been up to 95 MPH on the mound, I watched Ochoa take three at-bats (towering fly out to shallow left field; 6-3 putout and 4.28 time down the line; strikeout looking) and also play center field. Visually, his swing looked pretty consistent with what I saw in multiple summer looks. At times, he cuts down the swing in two-strike counts and negatively impacts his athleticism by becoming too rigid/sweepy - is that a word? - and not rotational as he searches for contact; his bat speed will fluctuate and so will the paths of the barrel, but there have always been glimpses of promising bat-to-ball ability and 60-grade raw power.
There is still so, so, so much the right developmental situation (very likely professional baseball out of high school) can tap into in the future. A year younger than his classmates, Ochoa hasn’t had the specialized background many other top prospects have had and he’s still maturing physically. My main takeaway after seeing him again in person: he loves playing the game. In center field, he wanted the ball any chance he could come close to it. He caught the baseball naturally and easily, showcasing his athleticism by easily controlling his 6-4 frame when chasing down fly balls. On one shallow base hit he tried to throw the runner out at first base without hesitation. I was pleasantly surprised how well he tracked the baseball defensively in center field; in fact, I think he could start out there next year wherever he is. Across the board, I still believe in the future tools and the right development situation could do wonders for him.
- On a chilly, windy night at Liberty Hill when gripping the baseball wasn’t ideal and the wind sent hats flying off heads every other pitch, I watched TCU signee and Glenn High School right-handed pitcher Holden Harris for the first time. Long-armed with a tall, lean frame, Harris sat 83-86 MPH with his fastball and touched 87 MPH. His breaking ball looked like a slider/cutter with late, short, sharp break around 75-77 MPH and there were signs of a changeup, too. Harris didn’t receive any help from his defense and Liberty Hill capitalized on inconsistent control to routinely hit in fastball counts. At the plate, Harris smacked two very hard base hits, including one at-bat when he didn’t let a couple of whiffs deter him or affect his confidence.
- A trip to San Antonio to see 2024 Vanderbilt commitment and Harlan right-handed pitcher Tristan Bristow resulted in one of the most interesting of my career. Of his 90 pitches, Bristow threw 83 fastballs. 83! I don’t recall ever seeing anything like it. You never know for certain without asking, but it appeared to me like each pitch call came from the dugout. Bristow, who is noticeably more physical and stronger compared to when I saw him last season around the same time, touched 93 MPH with his fastball and held 88-90 in the final part of his 6.2 innings. His fastball played down likely because he threw so many of them and because the shape is just okay, both things that can change in the future.
Of the seven sliders he threw (76-79 MPH), five of them resulted in whiffs. I truly believe if he threw 37 sliders instead of seven, he might have struck out 15 batters instead of five because hitters had no chance against the pitch; it’s a much better offering that the curveball I saw during the 2022 high school season and also the breaking ball he had at Area Code, but I’ve still never seen a third pitch. The upside Bristow showed during this look is more than I’ve seen before, and it wasn’t just because of the added strength and physicality. The slider looked like a future 60-grade pitch and his delivery showed good shoulder/chest position near foot plant. He’s an obvious candidate to throw much harder in the future and better fastball shape with signs of just an average third pitch would put him into a special tier of pitchers.
- The Brandeis 2024 duo of Christian Hallmark and Drew Saucedo stood out during their game against Johnson High School. Hallmark, the son of UTSA head coach Pat Hallmark, plays the game with outstanding energy and competitiveness; he’s also on his front foot and thinking a play ahead of the action, looking to take an extra base and anticipating action defensively. The left-handed hitter, with long arms who has added strength and will add even more in the future, smacked a hard extra-base hit into the gap and carries himself with immense confidence in the batter’s box; to him, every pitch is a battle and he’s going to win each battle more often than not. He’s a future D1 player who coaches are going to love.
I’ve timed Saucedo in the 4.0-4.1 range down the line two years in a row and against Johnson he smoked two doubles down the left field line. He kept his hands and weight back against a curveball in one at-bat and in the other capitalized on a fastball that ran up-and-in after missing its spot away. Saucedo plays shortstop for Brandeis, but I think he’s a future second baseman at the next level with good speed and interesting hitting ability from the right side.
- You can read another detailed report on Lake Travis HERE because a couple of recent looks revealed much of the same. I saw Kadyn Leon as a starter for the first time and he threw 4.0 no-hit innings (three walks, nine strikeouts) versus Austin High, primarily using his fastball on a night when he looked somewhat fatigued and didn’t have his breaking ball feel. This came after he threw a no-hitter at Dripping Springs the week prior.
Each time I’ve seen Leon - I’m up to four looks now - the velocity has been present each time, and most recently he closed out the game against Westwood in a one-game playoff with a fastball up to 94 MPH. Against Austin High, his heater racked up a staggering 22 whiffs. He started showing a slider/cutter to add to his arsenal recently and also has thrown his curveball much harder than earlier this season. I actually prefer the one he showed against Westlake that was around 72-74 MPH often with more depth, spin and overhand look instead of the harder, more power-like hook he’s used recently at 76-78 MPH. Regardless, he continues to throw really hard, has now shown four pitches and is racking up whiffs.
Against Westwood, rain suspending the game Friday night and resulting in a Saturday restart couldn’t stop ACU signee OJ Gonzalez. He fired 5.0 shutout innings, threw strikes with all his pitches and his 81 MPH changeup continues to improve. I’ve now seen talented catcher Gavyn Schlotterback in relief twice and the second time he was up to 90 MPH. He’s a sneaky good pitching prospect who has flashed a future plus changeup in the past with a heavy heater and two breaking balls. College coaches need to track him closely in the summer.
And also keep an eye on 2025 right-handed David Womack, who threw the final 6.1 innings of the seeding game to end district play and didn’t give up a run. His slider was really tough on right-handed hitters.
Cole Johnson is heating up at the plate and I can’t recall him whiffing the last two games I’ve seen of Lake Travis and St. Edward’s signee Hank Benny has been pulling hard line drives routinely and making a consistent impact in the batter’s box.
Next: Look for updates on Richmond Foster, Cypress Woods, Klein Oak and more playoff action.