Almost three weeks of games and traveling around the state led to looks at standout seniors, a junior pitcher with big-time performances surprisingly flying under the radar, some uncommitted seniors too talented to not have a home and a senior infielder with major MLB Draft helium. Let’s get to the newest edition of Dustin’s Deep Drives, covering games from April 12th through April 28th:

Cinco Ranch vs. Katy

CINCO RANCH HIGH SCHOOL – Cinco Ranch senior right-handed pitcher and UTSA signee Zachary Royse has created a lot of buzz with his performances on the mound this season, which has attracted the attention of area scouts. Against one of the top teams and lineups in the state, Royse, a big and physical right-hander with a compact frame, showed flashes of dominance. He challenged Katy hitters with a fastball that touched 93 MPH in the first inning and settled into the 89-92 MPH range throughout the early innings. The Katy lineup made him labor through some lengthy early at-bats and innings, timing hard fastballs and forcing Royse to pivot to his 78 MPH slider more often.

The slider created some swings and misses, occasionally showing a bit of a slurve look (not a coincidence considering Royse can and will throw two different breaking balls) but most often showing some short break and truer slider shape. Royce pitched often with traffic on the basepaths, but competed well, which included pitching out of a bases-loaded jam in the fifth inning with a big strikeout. Credit Katy for controlling the strike zone and preventing Royse from really being able to lean on his fastball early and get to his full arsenal ahead of counts. With better fastball shape, Royse looked like he could pitch out of the UTSA bullpen immediately and given how he was able to pitch fairly deep into the game, a common thing this season, he looked like a future weekend starter.

But it wasn’t Royse who stood out most on the mound, which isn’t necessarily a negative. In a thrilling, 4-2 win for Katy, junior Lucas Moore pitched deep into the game, executed extremely well and put himself firmly on the major D1 radar. I’m not going to pretend to know every emerging junior in the state, but Five Tool does go out and see a ton of games. After his first inning on the mound, it was immediately obvious I needed to know exactly who Moore was. Earlier in the season, the Katy starting pitcher handed Tompkins its only loss of the year, which is a very loud statement considering the district rival might have the best lineup in the state. I saw why once Moore, a thin, high-waisted athlete who has physical projection remaining, started attacking Cinco Ranch’s solid lineup with a quality three-pitch mix.

Because of the build, delivery, arm slot and shape of the stuff, watching Moore reminded me some of what Aaron Nola looks like on the mound. No, I’m not saying Moore is destined to become Nola, but the body movements and stuff profile led me to picture Nola in my head as I watched. A good athlete who looks like he has a natural ability to rotate his shoulder, torso, and pelvis with a loose, quick arm, the uncommitted junior seems to check a lot of boxes in his delivery and should be able to add velocity, especially as he gets stronger through his lower half and fine-tunes an arm path that eventually gets to a good “layback” position. With a fastball that he could execute with sink, Moore sat comfortable at 87-89 MPH and held 85-86 MPH into the seventh inning. Moore paired his sinking fastball well with split-changeup at 77-80 MPH that routinely racked up swings and misses against left-handers and even baffled righties, too. Against lefties, Moore pounded the arm-side with his fastball and then the split-change played off it beautifully. Of his seven strikeouts, a majority came from the changeup, including one against a right-hander.

With a big-breaking curveball that had a little two-plane vibe at 68-72 MPH, Moore looked like he had a natural feel for spinning a hook that flashed as another weapon capable of generating whiffs and being used early in counts, something Moore did with advanced pitchability. Combine the stuff with consistent command, execution and competitiveness, and Moore had all the ingredients present to become a major D1 prospect. Those who wait on the radar gun to start spitting out 90 MPH and above could miss out on a right-hander who can already pitch, execute and get outs at a very promising rate. Of the seven hits Moore scattered, three were the result of defensive misplays on a very windy night. He gave up just one earned run across 6.2 innings with seven strikeouts.

The Katy roster is filled with signed or committed players and with good reason. It is undoubtedly one of the top teams in the state and a true title contender thanks to the length of its lineup, mental makeup, athleticism and pitching depth. Junior infielder and HBU commit Graham Laxton is a tough out, athletic and can run; senior Odessa College signee Parker Kidwell sets the tone for the team with a high level of competitiveness, especially in the batter’s box; senior HBU signee Ryan George looks like he can cover a lot of ground in the outfield (4.19 down the line from the right side) and his athleticism shows in his swing.

But there is a list of very intriguing uncommitted players, in addition to Moore, too: junior Andrew Hilton is known most for his work on the mound, but the right-hander also plays shortstop and ran 4.28 down the line from the right side; sophomore outfielder Sutton Hull hammered a double off the wall from the right side and looks like he has potential to be the next big hitter in the Katy lineup; I came away impressed with the swing and bat speed of senior first baseman Jhonnathan Ferrebus (EDIT: Ferrebus just recently committed to Delgado College), who steps into the box from the right side with a presence and a plan. Hilton looks like he’s going to be on the DI radar and Hull, too. As for Ferrebus, he’s too talented with the bat not to play at a JUCO or D2 level and his swing looked like it can turn his raw power into game power.

On the hitting side for Cinco Ranch, Texas A&M signee and left-handed hitting center fielder Blake Hansen looked quicker and faster (4.25 down the line from the left side on a swinging bunt) than I recall with improved bat speed and defensive ability. When I first saw him in the summer, I was skeptical about the athleticism and ability to move. I left a fan of both aspects. Physical QB1 Gavin Rutherford hammered a ball into the right-center gap and looks like a bat-first player with intriguing power. Keep an eye on sophomore shortstop Brock DeYoung, who showed impressive athleticism and baseball instincts. He isn’t just likely to stick on the dirt at shortstop. He could end up an above average or better defender at the premium position. DeYoung’s father played at Ole Miss and is 6-5, which suggests his son has a lot of physical projection remaining. Tall two-way player and junior Charlie Atkinson also caught my eye with his look in the batter’s box.

Alamo Heights vs. Dripping Springs

DRIPPING SPRINGS HIGH SCHOOL – The last time I watched left-hander Brandon Arvidson he had a very impressive, short outing for the Dodgers Scout Team at Texas A&M versus Galveston College. He was equally impressive against Alamo Heights, pitching his team to a win with 6.0 innings of one-run (earned) baseball. The future Aggie gave up just three hits, walked three, and struck out 12.

Besides one tough inning when Arvidson’s control escaped him and he had to pitch out of a jam, the tall, athletic lefty made quick work of Alamo Heights. Often, Arvidson worked up the ladder with his fastball (87-89 MPH) and coupled that with his 78-80 MPH changeup, which remains easily his best secondary offering and racked up swings and misses with an occasional few flashes of being a future plus pitch. Later, the lefty started working the fastball more to his glove side and then pairing that with changeups out of the same look.

Arvidson spun a big 71-73 MPH curveball, and although it was on the softer side, its depth routinely caused hitters to pause. Rarely, Arvidson showed his feel for throwing another breaking ball, a more sharper slider/slurve look at 74 MPH. At times, I think Arvidson is so good at throwing his changeup that his hand action/release can sometimes stick in changeup mode, impacting the shape of his other stuff. That said, there is a ton that Texas A&M is going to have to work with because Arvidson can make a lot of gains with his efficiency and arm path thanks to his athleticism and present talent/stuff already. I left thinking the same thing I thought when I first saw him: this is one of the best left-handed pitchers in the state with clear upside to become more in the future.

The 6-1 victory for Dripping Springs didn’t feature a lot of offense because it capitalized on some very shaky control on the mound early in the contest. A guy who definitely stood out, though, was Dakota State University signee and left-handed hitter Aidan Perry. Perry took the best swings and at-bats of the game regardless of team and looks like a great pull out of the Lone Star State for Dakota State. A big reason why there wasn’t much offense either way was uncommitted senior right-handed pitcher James Sobey entered in the fourth inning for Alamo Heights.

Sobey, who appeared to be around 6-3 and maybe 6-4 with a noticeably athletic build with lean strength, tossed 3.0 no-hit innings with five strikeouts. With a quick, loose arm, Alamo Heights’ right-handed pitcher and quarterback touched 89 MPH with his fastball and commanded it up in the zone and to his arm side. Dripping Springs hitters did take some aggressive hacks against his heater until Sobey started mixing in the non-fastball offerings, which led to dominance.

The main attraction was a 78-79 MPH changuep. Sobey threw two changeups that were the best changeups I’ve seen during the high school season. With fastball arm speed, conviction and look out of the hand, the changeup hit the brakes near home plate and baffled hitters because of the fastball appearance. The uncommitted righty also showed a 73-74 MPH curveball, which had the type of spin and shape that pushed right-handed hitters off the plate, nearly buckling a couple, before dropping back into the zone for a called strike; it wasn’t the swing and miss weapon the changeup was, but it had the look of a future above-average pitch if Sobey could consistently find the feel for the spin and promising shape.

Considering his build, athleticism, arsenal, delivery and arm action, Sobey projects as a starting pitcher in the future and any D1 program, especially one that can improve the fastball shape, on the hunt for a late arm should look his way before a big-time JUCO program swoops in and grabs him. In district play, Sobey has posted extremely impressive numbers, including some huge strikeout totals.

Alamo Heights senior shortstop and Santa Clara signee Bennett Angulo can really fly and made one of the best defensive plays I’ve seen this season when he ranged into the hole to rob Dripping Springs standout Nico Ruedas of a hard single. His arm might be more suited for second base, but his athleticism and speed should make an impact wherever he plays. Alamo Heights sophomore second baseman Parks Zunker really competed well in the batter’s box and his short, quick swing played well against Arvidson. He wasn’t at all overwhelmed by some of the best stuff he’d see all season.

Lake Travis vs. Austin Westlake

AUSTIN WESTLAKE HIGH SCHOOL – After moving from behind home plate in the fourth inning and getting some looks at swings down the line, I realized what was surrounding me: the best high school baseball atmosphere I’ve seen this season. Down the right field line, it was standing room only as a sea of blue and red from the stands turned into a seemingly never-ending line of fans all standing and all fixated towards the field, living and dying with every single pitch. Down the third base line, it was more of the same, with some more Lake Travis red and black sprinkled into the mass of humanity, which included members of the decorated Westlake offensive line making sure their presence was felt and their voices heard nearby the Lake Travis dugout.

Yeah, it was electric, and the nervous energy created by the home crowd slowly crept towards the diamond before spilling over onto it and making its presence felt in the game’s defining moments. This column has always gone in the order I saw the games, but perhaps I’m burying the lede by putting Lake Travis at Austin Westlake in the three hole.

Longtime rivals and two of the top 6A teams in the state, Lake Travis and Westlake delivered one of the games of the year, although it emphasized a point Drew Bishop and I hammer home on the Five Tool Podcast more often than your dentist hammers home flossing during each visit: games often come down to playing catch and getting outs on time. Westlake ended up winning the first installment of the rivalry matchup 4-3 in extra innings despite being outhit 13-4 because it capitalized on some uncharacteristic Lake Travis issues.

It appeared like Lake Travis would ride the right arm of Luke Jackson to a victory. After cruising through 3.0 innings and carrying a no-hitter into the fourth inning, the Texas A&M signee called out the coaching staff and trainer after a pitch and left the game with an injury. Hopefully, it wasn’t a serious one because Jackson was commanding a good fastball to both sides of the plate that touched 93 MPH early and settled in at 89-92 MPH. Early, Jackson went to his harder slider (77-81 MPH) more often, and it did flash a couple times with late, short, vertical break. However, once he began mixing in his 74-77 MPH curveball, it looked like the better breaking ball and actually helped him find the shape of his slider. Prior to the injury, Jackson looked like one of the few senior pitchers in the state with an arrow pointing up.

If Jackson is out for an extended period of time, Lake Travis will need pitchers like OJ Gonzalez to step up. Asked to come in unexpectedly, Gonzalez’s lively fastball touched 89 MPH with some sink and he manipulated his breaking ball to more of a harder, slider look at 77 MPH with success. But Westlake’s talented lineup started putting the ball in play hard and it was just a matter of time before the bats of guys like Blake Peterson (Texas commit) and Sage Sanders (Houston commit) made some noise.

Jackson got the best of Peterson early, but the junior right-handed hitter made quality in-game adjustments to get on time versus velocity later in the game and put the barrel on the baseball in a key moment. His hard single to break up Lake Travis’ combined no-hitter pumped some confidence into his dugout and life into the rowdy, energetic home crowd. Later, he’d play a starring role in creating a frenzy in the stands by scoring the game-winning run on junior catcher Ben Longoria’s, who worked really hard behind the plate and had a strong game, hard single up the middle. Peterson has a knack for swinging a heavy barrel that naturally finds the baseball at a higher rate than most hitters in Texas.

As for Sanders, I came away extremely impressed considering it was his first game back in the lineup and he smashed a hard Jackson fastball his first at-bat right at an infielder. Later, Sanders showed his ability to cover the plate by hitting a hard RBI single up the middle to push across the first run of the game for Westlake. The left-handed hitting sophomore has the look of a physical player who could emerge as one of the best hitters in the state, especially as he matures and adds strength.

He didn’t have a loud game with the bat, but Aiden Bennett’s swing from the right side showed promise. And on a night when defense proved to be the separator, Bennett filled in at shortstop for injured Theo Gillen and played extremely well. Consistently challenged from first pitch throughout the game with constant grounders, Bennett confidently and calmly made all the plays. An uncommitted junior, Bennett looks like a future utility player because his glove could profile at second, in the outfield, shortstop if his team needs it and he’s even caught some in the past. He’s simply a ballplayer.

Bennett’s glovework allowed sophomore lefty Chance Covert to settle in against one of the best lineups in the state. But Covert didn’t need much help. Although he appeared like he was around 6-1/6-2 and 175 pounds, Covert carried himself on the mound like he was 6-4, 220 pounds. With a fiery competitiveness and willingness to challenge anyone with whatever the catcher put down, Covert, a Texas commitment, navigated some early-game trouble to pitch effectively and deeply into the contest. With a sinking fastball that touched 85 MPH early and played up throughout the outing and a 74-76 MPH changeup that flashed plus, Covert kept his team in the game. He mixed in a 66 MPH curveball, but the harder slider showed more promise.

Some of the early-game trouble was caused by Lake Travis senior Kaeden Kent. I’ve said it once, twice… heck, I’ve said it countless times. Every time I see Kent he hits. Every. Single. Time. Kent smacked a double early in the game, drove a liner to the warning track later in the game, and was intentionally walked in the final innings, which was undoubtedly frustrating but also undoubtedly the smart move by Westlake. His left-handed swing can play against righties, lefties, and any type of stuff because he’ll spray liners all over the field instead of being married to one approach. I could say a lot of similar things about Baylor signee Ethan Calder, too. Junior Dylan Schlotterback had a very loud base hit and continues to stand out with the bat.

Sometimes, the Baseball Gods deliver signs it’s simply not going to be a team’s night. After a questionable call at first base, Oklahoma State 2023 commit Cole Johnson, a big, physical, imposing masher from the right side, smoked a two-strike, two-out pitch into the right-center gap with two runners on base.  It only scored one run to tie the game in the seventh inning because it bounced over the wall for a ground-rule double. Johnson was understandably frustrated with himself after dropping a fly ball in foul territory in the eighth inning, the inning Westlake went on to win the game. But his bat, as it usually does, stood out and he’s doing a good job of taking care of his big frame.

Vista Ridge vs. Round Rock Stony Point

VISTA RIDGE HIGH SCHOOL – Let’s get to the important things first: shout out to the Vista Ridge senior parent who purchased Chick-Fil-A for everyone at the park. That was a pleasant surprise. Who doesn’t love some baseball on a gorgeous night with some free Chick-Fil-A?

Anyway, the real reason I showed up – let’s be honest, knowledge of free Chick-Fil-A beforehand would have only increased the likelihood I picked this game – was to get a look at a talented Vista Ridge club against Round Rock Stony Point. Specifically, I wanted to get some eyes on standout uncommitted junior right-hander Hank Howard, who has been performing exceptionally well in a tough district for a playoff time. I wasn’t disappointed.

It speaks to how good Howard is that he didn’t have his best stuff and still managed to throw 6.0 quality, shutout innings and gave up just five hits, issued no walks and punched out 10. Early, Howard’s fastball, which has some natural run to the arm side, sat 84-86 MPH, but the big, physical, workhorse-like righty sat 86-87 MPH in the sixth inning with ease and touched 88 MPH. Howard commanded his fastball to his glove side, which created issues for right-handed hitters.

When Stony Point began trying to jump on early heaters, Howard began throwing a 73-77 MPH curveball that racked up swings and misses and uncomfortable takes. At times, the sharp breaking ball had more of a slurve look than a curveball looked, but that worked in Howard’s favor because he also commanded it some to his glove side against right-handed hitters, which led to some late break out of the hitting zone in a place where he was throwing heaters. Howard showed a couple changeups at 78 MPH he had feel to use for strikes, but it was definitely a “show me” pitch. For a big, physical guy, Howard repeated his delivery well, fired strikes routinely, and looked like the type of guy who could stand on the mound and throw strikes for seven innings every single game.

Howard worked well with junior catcher and Seattle University commit Jake Wagoner. Smart add by that coaching staff to jump on his commitment early because there looked to be enough catch-and-throw skill and definitely the right type of makeup and agility to work behind the plate in college. As good as Vista Ridge is this season, it barely has any key seniors. Junior leadoff hitter Alex Berndlmaier didn’t have a loud game with the bat, but you could see the hitting talent, athleticism and quickness. Future QB1 and junior second baseman Jackson Harrell took perhaps the best swings of anyone from the right side, showcasing his promising bat-to-ball ability and projectable athleticism. Then, I had to do a double-take upon realizing shortstop Ethan Sanders is just a freshman. Like Harrell, he took some really good hacks from the right side, routinely hit the baseball hard and appears to have special upside. Remember the name.

It was a quiet night for Stony Point’s bats, but uncommitted junior Lawrence Lara, a big right-handed hitter, did stand out because he hammered the ball three times against Howard. Lara is also a key pitcher for Stony Point and seemed completely unbothered by the good stuff he was facing and carried himself with quiet confidence.

QUICK HITTERS

— Enjoyed a beautiful drive through the Texas Hill Country to Llano to get another look at 2022 Houston Baptist signee and Five Tool 55 member Dylan LaRue. The left-handed hitting catcher looked the part of one of the top all-around catchers in the state, smacking the ball hard in three of his four plate appearances and showing catch-and-throw skill behind home plate. LaRue looked even better physically and moved around the diamond well, especially for a catcher.

Midland College signee Ryne Kaiser is a big, tall (listed 6-8 looked accurate), athletic right-handed pitcher who fired strikes with good control. His slider flashed as a future average pitch occasionally, but Midland has a lot to work with. He could look much different in a year and his ability to repeat and throw strikes is very promising.

Uncommitted senior utility player Caleb Meyer is talented enough to keep playing at the next level (JUCO, D2, D1 walk-on). Strong, athletic and physical, Meyer hit a sky-high fly out with a 7.2-second hang time, which accurately represented his intriguing raw power that’s boosted by his noteworthy bat speed. He played second base for Blanco and would have a bat-first profile at that position and is athletic/fast enough to move to the outfield. Interestingly, Meyer has a strong reputation for his catching skill, thanks in part to years of work with teammate LaRue and LaRue’s father, former longtime MLB catcher Jason LaRue. Regardless, his bat, even with some swing-and-miss present, and physical/athletic profile are definitely worth taking a chance on. He plays hard and has a strong makeup reputation.

— In a loaded district, Brandeis just missed a playoff berth, which means 2022 Texas signee Jalin Flores will soon play his last high school baseball game. So, I made the trip to North East Stadium in San Antonio to get one last look at the shortstop, who is one of the few seniors in the state generating some MLB Draft buzz. By the way, North East Stadium is about as close to perfect as a high school stadium can be. Brand new with outstanding seating, turf and setup, players who get to call that field “home” during the season should consider themselves very lucky.

As for Flores, he did something I have never seen before. He was hit by a pitch on his back foot and yet somehow convinced the umpire it was a foul ball. A couple pitches later, he lined a solo homer over the left field fence to open the game. Because of course he did. Flores added a hard single through the left side later in the game, a walk and struck out once with a swing that just missed hitting another homer out to left field.

I’ve seen Flores three times this high school season and I leave thinking the exact same thing, which speaks to his consistency and the way he carries himself on the diamond. Flores has average or better future tools across the board and plays the game with a unique smoothness; he never looks overwhelmed in any part of the game and often makes things, like fielding routine grounders, look effortless. Simply put, the game comes easy to him.

I’m a believer. Heck, maybe I’m a big believer. Yeah, there’s a chance Flores eventually moves off short as a pro player because he’s probably going to add 15-20 pounds of good weight/muscle and there is a reason why 6-4, 220-pound Carlos Correa is considered a unicorn at shortstop. We simply don’t see many tall, 200-pound or bigger shortstops at the pro level. But there’s also a chance he doesn’t; perhaps it’s a small chance, but there is a chance. He’s recorded improved run times this year; plays shortstop with good bend/flexibility/footwork; has the requisite athleticism to play shortstop at a solid level currently; and his actions are good, clean, and quick, boosted by arm strength that I think is underrated. If he ends up at Texas, he’s a shortstop in college.

Looking way ahead at projecting the bat, I think there’s more raw power in that frame, which is negatively impacted by how often Flores hits topspin liners instead of towering fly balls. However, I think his natural ability to make contact and his impressive hand-eye coordination suggest with proper development his swing could start catching those balls out in front with the type of extension that drives through or under the ball as opposed to just a tad too much on top of it with hands rolling a little too early.

Is he the best position player prospect in the state not named Jett Williams? I asked myself that same question after leaving the park and he’s made a really, really strong case. During a year when there aren’t many early-round MLB Draft prospects in Texas scouts can dream on, Flores is one of the few that could make scouts daydream a little when thinking about the future player because he certainly doesn’t lack potential.

The Brandeis infield could be in good hands once Flores moves on because uncommitted sophomore Drew Saucedo again impressed. He ran 4.33 seconds down the line on the turn and I’ve timed him as fast as 4.0 in the past. The undersized right-handed hitter lined two balls hard and looks like he could develop into an intriguing top-of-the-order second baseman.

Props to Howard Payne for doing homework on a nearby catcher and landing an intriguing one because I liked what I saw from senior Freddie Matthews. The speed of the game was a little quick at times, but so was his pop time – 1.90 one time and then 2.02 on a caught stealing. Matthews has a strong arm, is athletic and hit cleanup with some signs of impact from the bat. Howard Payne has to be thrilled with his development.

Random thoughts from the road…

The road included some air travel this past week because my wife and I took a quick weekend trip to San Diego as one last hurrah before child No. 2 arrives in late June. Of course, we went to Petco Park and were treated to Yu Darvish and the Padres beating the Dodgers in thrilling, extra-innings fashion last Saturday.

We sat about 30 rows up on the first base side behind home plate, which meant a great look at the open side of right-handed hitters. Immediately, I was reminded of a couple things: good luck making the big leagues if you don’t have at least above-average bat speed and don’t have a good swing. Because those guys? They all checked those boxes.

As for the food, the burritos – California style with the fries, of course – were probably bigger than what my daughter is going to be when she’s born. And they were delicious. That said, the real highlight was Mike’s Taco Club in Ocean Beach. I went with the steak and shrimp and battered fish. They were both a strong 70 on the food grading scale. Outstanding. Like the burritos, the tacos are huge and two were plenty.

Dustin McComas
Senior Editor
Five Tool Baseball

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