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Dustin's Deep Drives (5/22/23)

I would say that I’m trying to catch my breath following a whirlwind of playoffs coverage, but as you’ll see below there are about 5,000 words written. The excitement built as I began writing and the notes from games piled up. Some of the reports are from the first round, second round and most recently the third round and feature teams from Houston, San Antonio and Central Texas. Let's dive in.


(May 4th) 

I don’t know if Cypress Woods is going to win the 6A state championship. But I do know its talent and depth are as advertised. And I can’t imagine a better lineup in the state of Texas this season. Hyperbole? The lineup is filled with major D1 commitments, JUCO commitments and future D1 commitments. It starts with TCU signee Sam Myers, who hits every time I watch him. Every. Time. 

I’ve seen him multiple summers, in the fall for the Dodgers Scout Team and now during his senior season. He opened Friday’s game against Tomball Memorial in the first round by ripping a line drive into the gap for a triple. The left-handed hitter then drilled a ball that was caught at the warning track before burning the center fielder with another extra-base hit later. From a pro perspective, there might not be a future 60 tool, but there are a lot of 50s up-and-down the sheet and Myers could be the best pure left-handed hitter in the state for 2023. 

Texas A&M signee Brady Sullivan hits second and like Myers is a left-handed hitting outfielder who can run. Switch-hitting shortstop and Houston signee Tristan Russell hits third. He had a quiet day at the plate, rolling over pitches a few times from the left side. However, I saw improved physicality, improved shortstop range, improved arm strength and he ran home-to-first in 4.18 seconds, which is the fastest time I’ve ever recorded him at. While we’re on the subject of running down the line, Temple College signee Kolvin Davis put down a bunt and blazed down the line in 3.72 seconds from the right side. Known for impact baseball instincts and an excellent work ethic, Russell, who just eclipsed the 100-hit mark in his career at Cy Woods, is an improved prospect since I saw him at Area Code. 

The lineup then gets to the big right-handed bopper: Texas State signee Ethan Farris. Farris put himself on the map as a breakout performer by beginning his senior season smashing a homer in seemingly each game. The exciting part for Texas State, assuming Farris doesn’t end up turning pro, is he’s not a fully matured, physical slugger who has limited projection; he still has room to fill out through his upper half and future years in the weight room will allow him to tap into more raw power. 

He finished 3-for-4 with all three knocks being hard on the ground and his hands worked through the zone very quickly with the barrel not spending much time in the zone. But he had a feel for making contact with it. Since he has such a big arm, and is a sneaky, intriguing pitching prospect, he’s probably going to get a long look to stick at third base at the next level. 

Junior left-handed hitting first baseman McClane Helton isn’t committed yet, but looks like a prospect D1 programs will intently track this summer. In the game I saw, he drilled a two-run homer over the left-center fence, doing a good job of creating some late hand separation in his load and staying balanced before and during his swing, which featured the type of path that is going to drive extra-base hits in the air. He also came through in the clutch the next round against Oak Ridge and was an offensive star in a come-from-behind win. 

I think Helton moves well enough to play in the outfield at the next level, which should boost his recruiting profile; he simply plays on a high school team currently that features one of the best and fastest outfields in the state. If Helton takes a big jump physically, he could emerge as a major target in the 2024 class because there are present hitting ingredients to hit for impact. 

On the mound, Baylor signee Mason Green offered glimpses of why he’s been one of the best left-handed pitchers in the state this season. He also showed what many pitchers who have thrown a lot typically do this time of the year - fatigue. At times, Green was up to 91 MPH with his fastball that produced a spin rate just above 2400 RPM and showed command to both sides of the plate; other times, he guided his fastball with tired shoulders at around 86 MPH with spin rates around 2100 RPM and poor control. 

Green featured a four-pitch mix but decided the curveball would be the primary secondary option. At 69-73 MPH with spin rates around 2400 RPM, the breaking ball featured noticeable vertical break with some two-plane shape as it neared home plate. He didn’t feature it much, but the slider flashed some major promise as a true offering and although his changeup (around 1300 RPM) is regarded as his best pitch, he barely threw it once it was evident the feel for it wasn’t there. 

It was obvious I saw Green on a night when he wasn’t at his best, but he battled into the bottom of the sixth inning and ended up getting a playoff win. Physically, I think Green can add a noticeable amount of strength to his frame, which includes some length and definitely didn’t appear closed to maxed out with muscle packed onto it. As he gets stronger, his true command/control profile should begin to show with a better ability to repeat and throw his four pitches for strikes. It won’t surprise me if he’s started a few weekend conference games by the end of his first season at Baylor. 


(May 11th) 

Billed as a matchup between two heavyweights, although Reagan missing Aidan Coleman (wrist injury) was a huge blow, Round Rock versus Reagan lived up to the hype Thursday night at a lively, packed Tornado Field on the campus of Concordia University. Fortunately, the weather cooperated and delivered a picturesque Hill Country night that matched what turned into one of the best games I’ve seen this season. 

Travis Sykora pitched into the seventh inning with a 6-2 lead and left after walking the first two batters. Sykora punched out 12 batters and after giving up a couple of hard hits in the first inning, he settled in with some of the best fastball command I’ve seen from him. The 6-6, athletic righty worked his heater, which was 94-97 MPH early with a couple of 98s and 93-95 MPH in the final couple innings, well to his glove side, especially against left-handers. Clearly, he wanted to bust lefties in and work inside more to right-handers before establishing his slider (82-85 MPH) away. And it worked. 

Hitters like Brennan Greer and Andrew Ermis, big, physical, powerful right-handed mashers in the heart of the lineup, had success against his fastball in the first inning before whiffing often at sliders in their following at-bats. Sykora effectively worked in his splitter (86 MPH) and routinely made big pitches when he needed to. But he’d be charged with four earned runs because… 


Round Rock elected to go with a left-on-left matchup after lifting Sykora once he uncharacteristically walked back-to-back batters to open the top of the seventh inning. A hit batter loaded the bases and it appeared like Round Rock was a little too slow to get McLennan signee and right-handed pitcher Cade Waibel up in the bullpen. Waibel features a low slot look with a lively heater and a hard, sharp slider with some late sweep; against Reagan, he was up to 94 MPH, the hardest I’ver seen him throw until I saw him again the next week, with a slider up to 80 MPH. But he didn’t get in the game quick enough. 

After Ermis made it 6-3 with a sacrifice fly, Round Rock rolled the dice and let a lefty face Greer. The St. Mary’s signee created pandemonium in the stands when he mashed a no-doubt, three-run tank way out to left field. On this particular night, the ball wasn’t carrying and the college park has bigger dimensions than most high school fields. Greer made it look small. 

The Round Rock side watched in stunned disbelief as Greer tied the game in the top of the seventh inning while the Reagan side exuberantly celebrated its newfound life; players poured out of the dugout and created a celebratory, bouncing mob at home plate while fans in the stands danced and hugged. 

Then, the teams traded outs until the 11th inning when Reagan took a 7-6 lead. Round Rock answered. With one out and the bases loaded, Galveston signee and left-handed hitting slugger Rhenn Andrewartha hit a hard grounder to second base. Sensing the urgency of the situation, he immediately sprinted out of the box as fast as he could, ran down the line in 4.2 seconds, and dove head-first into first base to beat the potential double play throw by a couple steps. This time, it was Round Rock’s turn to come flying out of the dugout as teammates sprinted to meet Andrewartha and mob him. 

As for more stars of the game, Hudson Ellis had two hard-hit knocks, including a two-RBI hit to give Round Rock an early 3-2 lead. The 2024 DBU commit also made two outstanding plays defensively. His counterpart for Reagan was also a star of the show. New Mexico Junior College signee Ashton Beaird is the quintessential gamer and competitor. He smacked a hard RBI single, put down a bunt single, made a fantastic, amazingly athletic tag at second base to catch a runner stealing, played a clean shortstop and put his body on the line by flying into the wall in foul territory trying to make a catch in extra innings. 

Ermis caught three runners stealing, drove in two runs with base hits and looked the part of a D1 catcher. Junior right-hander Ryland Rangel carried a shutout into the fifth inning before Round Rock started to get to him the second and third time through the order. He sat 82-84 MPH with his fastball and his big, sweeping breaking ball around 68-70 MPH was tough on right-handers. Caleb Cuppuccio is a sophomore to watch. A standout dual-threat quarterback, Cuppuccio covered a lot of ground in center field, had a solid night at the plate and is an impressive athlete. 

Round Rock beating Reagan set the stage for… 


(May 18th and May 20th)

If two of the state’s best teams and crosstown rivals play with everything on the line and you live about 15 minutes away, you go see them play. When in Rome, right? Anyway, I made the short drive to Round Rock to see Travis Sykora versus Westlake in the series-opener Thursday night before checking out the winner-take-all game three on Saturday at Concordia University. 

By now readers should have a pretty good idea who Sykora is as a pitcher because he’s been the subject of extensive coverage. Against Westlake, the tall, hard-throwing righty threw 6.0 shutout innings and gave up just one hit - 2024 Houston commitment Sage Sanders pulled a two-strike slider on the inner half into right field for a single - while walking just two batters and he struck out eight. His fastball touched 98 MPH early and settled in at 94-96 MPH during the middle innings. 

Interestingly, Sykora featured a breaking ball that looked more like a short, power curve as opposed to a true slider. He threw a few true sliders with hard bite for whiffs but elected more often to take a little off the pitch to “shape” it into the batter’s box for a strike. Sykora threw his splitter up to 87 MPH versus lefties, but the pitch didn’t have its usual look and tumble. Once again, Sykora showed solid command of his fastball and routinely fired strikes with it and his breaking ball. 

On the other side of the field, junior lefty Chance Covert threw as well as I’ve ever seen him pitch. He pitched deep into the game with his fastball (81-84 MPH), curve (71 MPH), cutter (80 MPH) and changeup. In particular, Covert, who is committed to Texas, had one of the best hooks I’ve seen him use during his high school career and his control and command profile was much, much better than early-season looks. He rose to the occasion, but it wasn’t quite enough this night.

Thursday’s game went scoreless into the bottom of the seventh inning, which set the stage for 2024 DBU commitment Hudson Ellis. The skinny, right-handed hitting shortstop battled deep into the count against Westlake’s Joe Sockwell, who attacks hitters with a sidearm slot and a heavy fastball to go with a sweeping breaking ball. Ellis, understanding the situation, cut down his swing with two strikes and looked to punch something the other way or spoil a sinker in; he was able to get a breaking ball out over the plate and smacked a hard single through the right side of the infield, which allowed the speedy Cade Algaier to beat a good throw from right field. 

I’ve been fortunate to see Ellis extensively over the last month and each time he’s either come through in the clutch with the bat, made really tough defense at shortstop look easy or has done both in the same game. Ballplayer and big-time defender at a premium spot. 

The Chaps have figured out ways to win games all season long, and set a school-record for wins weeks ago. Even without star shortstop Theo Gillen, Westlake hasn’t missed a beat and plays with a unique poise at the high school level - nothing seems to rattle it. Unfortunately for Round Rock, Westlake rallied to force a third game thanks to uncommitted senior right-hander Nathan Duvall throwing another gem. 

I haven’t seen Duvall pitch since March. Back then, he looked like a very intriguing right-handed pitcher with a velocity jump on the horizon and the makings of a starter’s profile - fastball with promising shape, overhand curve and changeup for strikes. Word around Westlake is that his velocity has ticked up and he’s now thrown back-to-back gems in playoff games. When he’s not pitching, he hits second or third in the lineup and plays shortstop or third base and does so well. 

Speaking of poise and being rattled, Round Rock felt the pressure of a game three while Westlake benefitted from one of the top pitching performances I’ve seen this year. Junior right-hander Jack Brady, a Five Tool Academic Team alum, pitched the game of his life in the biggest game of his life. Brady, a tall, long, skinny right-hander with big shoulders who continues to build arm strength and has projection remaining, went the distance in extremely impressive fashion. He gave up just one run on four hits, two walks and struck out 10. 

Brady has some of the best control, command and competitiveness I’ve seen in the 2024 class and can flat out pitch. When it was all clicking, Brady, currently uncommitted and also an excellent student, commanded a fastball up to 87 MPH that created whiffs up in the zone and was used to both sides of the plate and his slider was a bat-missing weapon all seven innings. At 79-81 MPH, Brady’s true slider featured tight shape and late, short diving action to his glove side. He commanded the pitch very well, often burying it with two strikes. 

He didn’t use it much, but Brady also flashed a true hook at 70-74 MPH and when it came out of his hand the right way, it had an overhand appearance with spin and depth. Once Brady found his changeup feel, he began to baffle lefties with it at 79-81 MPH because he threw it with complete conviction and its spin created a four-seam look while also dying as it approached the batter’s box. 

Westlake fed off Brady’s demeanor and capitalized on uncharacteristically sloppy control and defense by Round Rock. Plus, credit junior uncommitted outfielder and right-handed leadoff hitter Braeden Babb for making a fantastic diving catch in left field to keep the game tied in the fourth inning. Cade Waibel, who was up to 95 MPH in one relief inning against Weslake on Thursday, couldn’t consistently find his timing and release on the mound, which resulted in arm side misses all game long and free passes or hit batters. Still, the McLennan signee possesses very intriguing upside and loud stuff when it’s all clicking on the mound. 

As the traffic on the bases mounted, Westlake put pressure on the Round Rock defense and a few runs was more than enough for Brady, who ended the game by fielding the final ball in play and underhand-tossing it to first before turning towards the Westlake faithful with celebratory arms raised. Teammates sprinted out of the dugout to tackle him and the crowd began chanting, “JB!”. Texas High School Baseball at its best.


(May 19th)

My last look at The Woodlands’ star left-handed pitcher and center fielder Brayden Sharp was at Area Code. So, I jumped at the chance to see the Tennessee signee pitch and hit against a very good Tomball team this past week. I left impressed, unsurprisingly, with Sharp, but I didn’t think I’d leave thinking about a splitter. 

A San Francisco Giants fan who models the grip off Kevin Gausman’s famously elite splitter, Sharp showed a dominant one of his own. It looked like a changeup at times out of hand (the tweet says changeup but I confirmed with him after the game it’s a splitter), but he killed the spin while still throwing it as hard as 84 MPH. On this night, it looked like a current 60-grade pitch turning early flashes into consistent dominance against right-handers thanks in large part to his commitment to throw it with fastball arm action and intent. 

Sharp, who I saw up to 95 MPH last year, touched 91 MPH with his fastball multiple times early before settling in at 88-89 MPH, which he carried the length of his outing. Sharp’s arsenal is especially fascinating because his four-seam fastball routinely carries around 2400 RPM and he features what he calls a “spike” curveball around 72 MPH that also posts strong spin rates. And at around 76 MPH, Sharp showed a slider that had the look of a slurve, giving him an option against lefties. 

Last year, Sharp’s delivery featured a noticeably bigger, more active leg kick with higher hands at pause before working downhill. This year, I saw a shorter leg kick with a more compact gather on his back leg before working downhill. I thought Sharp’s control and command were both better than his line - 6.0+ IP, 2ER, 3H, 5BB, 7K - indicated and two of those walks came in the top of the seventh inning when Sharp came back out to try to finish the game. A good runner who is noticeably stronger with more muscle mass on his frame, Sharp doesn’t lack athleticism. So, I think his strike-throwing and velocity will both improve under a new set of developmental eyes either in professional baseball or at Tennessee. 

Sharp’s delivery creates the appearance of a high, near over-the-top release when in reality it’s his shoulder tilt towards his glove side that turns a three-quarter’s release into that look. At times, the shoulder tilt and effort towards the glove side worked against the hand placement and arm action working more towards home plate. Yes, we’re deep into a dissection here, but I think these are elements that make Sharp so exciting as a prospect - there’s still a lot to work with in the delivery to tap into his gifts and we know he has premium velocity in the tank in addition to a 60-grade pitch and the makings of a really strong arsenal. 

And he can really hit, too. It was a quiet night at the plate, but I was reminded how much I like his swing and his long-term outlook as a hitter. Sharp features good bat speed from the left side in the state and easily and consistently creates good paths to the baseball that can do damage; it’s a fluid, easy operation at the plate with legitimate bat-to-ball skill and barrel feel that’s so fun to watch I ask myself… is he a better pitching prospect or hitter? I think the consensus is pitcher because it’s difficult to find a lefty with Sharp’s physical traits and stuff, but I think as just a center fielder and hitter he’d still rank as an elite prospect in the state. 

The heartbreak The Woodlands watched unfold after Tomball stunned it by winning on a walk-off error didn’t last too long. The Woodlands ended up winning the rubber match to advance, but it probably gave longtime coach Ron Eastman a few gray hairs by committing an error with the bases loaded on a catch at second base to allow Tomball to score two runs and win, 4-3. Credit junior Braeden Scherzer, a longtime Five Tool favorite, for battling and putting the ball in play hard on the ground with two strikes to force The Woodlands to make a play. 

As for Tomball, its extremely young roster is poised to be a major state title contender next year and beyond. Freshman right-hander CJ Sampson sat 82-85 MPH with his fastball and showed a promising four-pitch mix. Classmate and Texas A&M commitment Catcher Hopkins looked the part of a major prospect in the 2026 class, showcasing advanced hitting ability, an already impressive physical frame and promising all-around skill. Junior Keegan Demmer smashed a solo homer off the scoreboard against Sharp. The physical, strong right-handed hitter jumped on a first-pitch fastball and tattooed it. Later in the game, he rocketed another ball off Sharp for a single. He’s going to be a very interesting prospect to follow this summer because he’s getting to impressive game power and taking high-quality swings against top arms. 

Junior catcher Cade Arrambide, ranked No. 2 in the 2024 Five Tool 55, showcased his plus arm behind the dish and looked the part of an elite prospect physically. He featured maybe the best right-handed bat speed I’ve seen this year, and I think it’s current 60-grade raw power. Yes, current. And it might be a future 70. He cut down his swing with two strikes and nearly hit a homer to dead-center field. But he also whiffed consistently, including coming up empty on a big hack in the seventh inning with two runners on base. As Arrambide matures and sees more stuff, he’s a good bet to consistently harness his big-time bat speed to show the bat-to-ball skill we saw in San Diego at Area Code, when he performed like one of the premium 2024 talents in the nation. 

Some quick hitters… 

- Before driving over to Cypress Woods versus Tomball Memorial, I stopped at Cypress Falls for a few innings of its game against Klein Oak (May 5th). I wanted to get a fresh look at Klein Oak 2024 outfielder and Oklahoma commit Matt Scott II. In his second at-bat, Scott blasted a grand slam to left-center field, blowing the game open after recognizing spin and showing the discipline to keep his hands and weight back before putting a dangerous barrel on the pitch. Scott played with a competitive fire and was unafraid to make his voice heard in his dugout; after running in from the outfield with some loud words to fire up his team, Scott immediately backed up his talk with the grand slam. In his first five playoff games, he hit four homers, including two off talented Grand Oaks pitchers. 

Senior outfielder Owen Smith showed impressive bat speed from the right side, athleticism and speed. Great get for McLennan. Junior outfielder and left-handed hitter Makoy Stone ran down the line in 4.1 seconds and showed a promising swing. He could be the next Klein Oak outfielder to star at the top of the lineup as a senior. Meanwhile, junior shortstop and Tarleton State commit Austin Hardy looked very impressive physically, moved well at shortstop and performed well in the playoffs.

- We recently featured Tomball Memorial senior outfielder Chase Lovick in our 2023 Uncommitted Spotlight story and he opened the game against Cypress Woods by smashing a 91 MPH into the right-center gap for a hit. Keep an eye on 2025 shortstop Jake Barron: he made a few excellent defensive plays at shortstop and showed a promising future as a possible impact defender at the premium position with range, football, hands and a good baseball clock. 

- It was good to see Foster shortstop and Kansas State signee Micah Dean again. An injury cut his junior season short at the very end and I hadn’t seen him in well over a year. The right-handed hitter smacked two doubles before drilling a mammoth bomb during their playoff-opener versus Galena Park (May 4th). Dean is an explosive athlete who rotated very well in the batter’s box and has a physical, compact frame. 

He creates impact with his ability to rotate, bat speed, and barrel feel. Defensively, he played a clean shortstop with a quick first-step, very confident actions and although he didn’t show his big arm, it’s in there. Interestingly, he’s regarded as a potential impact center fielder at the next level, but could profile in the infield, too. His tools were visible, productive and promising. 

On the mound, 2024 left-handed pitcher and Arizona State signee Chase Batten threw 6.0 shutout innings and gave up two hits, walked two and struck out 10. Once he found his rhythm on the mound, he racked up the strikeouts and barely gave up any contact. It looked like his lower slot, and release with some extension created a tough look for hitters, especially lefties, and allowed his 83-86 MPH fastball to play up. 

He did reach back for a max effort 88 MPH fastball in one instance. He threw a slider at 74-76 MPH and showed the makings of a changeup around 79 MPH. Batten has a noticeable arm swing out of his takeaway and that did create some occasional timing issues as he tried to sync everything up. As he matures and adds some strength, it should make a notable difference. 

- When James Ellwanger is pitching 30 minutes from your house, you go see James Ellwanger and Magnolia West. Ellwanger wasn’t as good as he was when I saw him against Lake Creek, but I wasn’t expecting him to match that unbelievably impressive performance. He was still plenty good, though. Against an overmatched Pflugerville lineup (May 12th), Ellwanger threw a complete game and gave up three runs on four hits, three walks and struck out 10. The final pitch of the game was a 94 MPH fastball for a strikeout. 

Interestingly, it seemed Ellwanger, a 2023 DBU signee, didn’t get loose until the later innings. His fastball was around 88-92 MPH early and he didn’t have quite the same arm speed and looseness to his shoulder rotation as he did earlier in the season when I saw him and even in the final innings of this outing, when he was able to add a couple ticks to his fastball. What he did, again, was compete very well. He wanted the ball and once he got it, he didn’t waste time attacking the opposition, which led to 71 strikes on 104 pitches; many of his misses were quality misses, like splitters in early counts against left-handed hitters in the turf, fastballs up in late counts and breaking balls just off the plate. 

As for the breaking stuff, there were times when it again blended together, but there was also an extended stretch when he showed a true feel for spinning a quality curveball at 74-77 MPH and a slider at 77-82 MPH. Unlike earlier in the season when I saw him, Ellwanger showed a better curveball than he did slider in this start with the former showing better shape and command and the latter often missing up in the zone instead of down and to the glove side. Ellwanger continued to give the pro scouts in attendance plenty to think about because there signs of a four-pitch arsenal to match his athleticism and arm strength. 

For the second straight look, 2025 outfielder Cody Palacios really stood out with the bat. He smacked a go-ahead homer to left field, showcasing the ability to create some surprising carry and impact off the bat despite his smaller frame that has yet to physically mature fully. Could he be a guy who blows up this summer after a good spring? It sure does appear that way. 

Also in the 2025 class, Caldwell McFaddin really impressed me with the way he took pitches and tracked them; he didn’t expand to simply put the bat in motion. I continue to believe he’ll emerge as one of the top hitters in the state for his class. Both sophomores are uncommitted and should be in demand once colleges can contact them August 1st. Junior Trenton Buckley smacked a couple of hard base hits and his tools are going to make him a prospect coaches follow closely this summer. On the Pflugerville side, keep an eye on the development of 2026 right-handed hitting first baseman Cole Taylor. A big, tall quarterback in the fall, Taylor fearlessly competed in the batter's box and has the makings of becoming a big-time hitter. 

Dustin McComas
Senior Editor