For the first time in a very long time Google Maps directed me to I-10 for my journey into the Houston area. Once the alert came up about a quicker route, a grin slowly emerged across my face while a fantasy baseball podcast blared through my car speakers. Why? Because I knew at some point during my roundtrip Friday I would stop at Hruska’s. Before we get to the burger, let’s get to the baseball:

Grand Oaks at Tompkins

TOMPKINS HIGH SCHOOL – The second most exciting thing about my drive into Katy was knowing I’d see 2023 Grand Oaks right-handed pitcher, and Five Tool 55 member, Hudson Hamilton against a loaded Tompkins lineup. No offense, Hudson. The burgers are just that good. Anyway, it was my first look at Hamilton and it didn’t disappoint because he matched the scouting reports we’ve seen and heard.

Hamilton, who committed to Texas this past summer, is going to be a quality strike-thrower now and in the future. Known for his outstanding, fiery competitiveness, Hamilton wasn’t entirely amped up. After all, it was just a three-inning scrimmage outing. That said, he didn’t blink and was constantly on the attack against one of the state’s best, most talented lineups and opened his outing by striking out 2023 Ole Miss commit and Five Tool 55 member Drew Markle. The right-hander worked the lower half of the strike zone well with his heater (88-91 MPH early; held 86-88 MPH in the third inning) and confidently threw sliders (78-80 MPH early; looked like some feel for manipulating shape with a couple breaking balls at 74 MPH) with some feel for late-count execution down in the zone and early-count strike-throwing.

Hamilton worked quickly with a simple, repeatable delivery and when the ball started being put in play in the third inning and his defense looked a little shaky, he was completely unfazed. Interestingly, when Hamilton faced big-time 2022 left-handed hitter Jace LaViolette, he featured his changeup, a pitch that had some shape resembling his four-seamer and played well in the mid-80s with some late, arm-side fade. Hamilton showed some feel of executing that pitch with down-and-away location; his misses missed away and down and his strikes landed in an ideal spot, including one that resulted in a whiff against LaViolette.

Speaking of LaViolette, the Texas A&M signee, who is ranked No. 16 in the 2022 Five Tool 55, reached base twice (walk, hit by pitch) and just missed pitches in two at-bats (got on top of a pitch and hit a hard grounder at first base; got just under a pitch and hit a deep fly out). His timing didn’t seem far off and he’s poised to terrorize pitching during district play. LaViolette looked great physically, remains a unique athlete for his size and length, and even spun a nice hook on the mound with a fastball that touched 85 MPH.

Back to Hamilton: it wasn’t a dominant outing, but it was a consistent one. He’s going to throw strikes early and often and profiles as a future starter at Texas who should have the opportunity to pitch on weekends. He also hit cleanup for Grand Oaks and can impact the baseball, but his future is undoubtedly on the mound. Larry Drake had a quiet day at the plate, but he helped Hamilton with a really nice play in the hole at shortstop. The 2023 Rice commitment has grown a little since we last saw him in the summer and his arm appears to have gained some strength across the infield.

Grand Oaks also featured 2023 right-hander Daniel Garcia on the mound. Undersized with a small, yet athletic, frame, Garcia has some arm strength/quickness and touched 86 MPH. There’s some length in the back with a downward stab out of hand-break that affects his control/timing/breaking stuff, but Garcia also has natural gifts to work with. He could look like a much different pitcher, in a good way, in a couple of months. Behind the plate, 2023 catcher Bryce Dwyer is an intriguing backstop who will be evaluated closely by D1 programs. He looks the part physically with room for more. If he performs with the bat this season, he’ll emerge as one of the top catchers in the area.

The game opened up, as most scrimmages do, later on when coaches received additional looks at their depth and evaluated possible in-season bullpen arms. As for Tompkins’ star-studded lineup, it was fairly quiet because so many guys are willing to take their free passes and do a good job of refusing to chase just to put the bat in motion. Jack Little, a Wichita State signee and Five Tool 55 member, looked great physically, ran 4.2 down the line, and stole second base without a throw on a first-move pickoff to first. Basically, he remains very, very fast, showed some impressive bat speed and is poised for a huge season.

Tyler JUCO signee Trevor Esperaza was up to 88 MPH and pitched with a lot of confidence. The right-hander features a very active delivery, but he held his fastball through his shortened start. Rice 2023 commit Landon West nearly hit a homer to left-center field, but the wind kept it in the yard. He also laced a liner just foul down the left field line. West, who was the starting catcher, remains a physical, hard-hitting presence in the middle of a lineup. Another catcher to keep an eye on is 2024 prospect Cooper Markle. Logging varsity innings already for a program like Tompkins is quite the statement.

Georgetown at Lake Travis

LAKE TRAVIS HIGH SCHOOL – All I’ve seen thus far are scrimmages. So, keep that in mind. Having said that, I made the short trip to Lake Travis, on a picturesque Saturday afternoon, hoping I’d see my first standout hitting performance from a senior. For some, timing was just a tad off and many others simply didn’t see much at all to hit. Kaeden Kent delivered.

After being unintentionally buzzed in a left-on-left matchup his first at-bat, Kent responded by smashing a triple to the wall in right-center field. In his next at-bat, he ripped a double to the same wall. With relaxed hands and loose wrists, Kent shows good pitch recognition and times his swing and barrel bath well. Although he starts upright, the Texas A&M signee athletically sinks his hips into his lower half and adds some leverage to his swing. Tall with room still to fill out, especially through the chest, Kent should add some more power in the future and profile as a good source of average and on-base percentage with gap-to-gap power and the occasional big fly.

At times, like later in the scrimmage against Georgetown, Kent’s strikezone awareness is so advanced it can unintentionally get him into trouble. For example, a couple of pitches just off the plate are takes to Kent but were strikes in his third at-bat, putting him into a hole. If I could let him in on a little pro tip from covering college baseball for 15 years, it would be this: the strike zone will get worse at the next level.

Anyway, I’m convinced Kent is a future big leaguer because of the way his mind works – I bet his S2 Cognition test would be outstanding – on the field, the way he carries himself and competes, his defensive actions and his natural feel for hitting from the left side. He made a couple tough defensive plays look easy at shortstop, but he did boot a do-or-die slow roller. In the future, I think he would profile well as either a third baseman or a second baseman with the ability to play shortstop if needed for the Aggies.

Unfortunately for Lake Travis’ competition this season, the Cavaliers have a loaded roster beyond Kent. They have players on the bench who could be all-district caliber starters at numerous other 6A programs. Head coach Mike Rogers’ biggest challenge this season will probably be getting at-bats and reps for his very talented depth and finding the best mix of nine to use each night. That doesn’t guarantee Lake Travis anything, but it is the most complete and deep team I’ve seen thus far and that was without Oklahoma State 2023 commit Cole Johnson, a power-hitting first baseman, in the lineup (thumb injury; out 4-5 weeks).

Cooper Scott, a very physical, power-hitting presence who hit cleanup, will provide some thump in the middle of the lineup while Johnson is out. A 2023 right-handed hitting first baseman and designated hitter, Cooper’s swing features some ferocious length, which can lead to some swings and misses. But the ball screams off his bat, as it should for a player as physical as him. Ethan Calder, a 2022 Baylor signee, typically plays center field, but will have to play some first base in Johnson’s absence. Calder gives off some instinctive “ballplayer” vibes with a promising swing from the left side and looks like one of the area’s top left-handed bats. And on the hitting side, the list goes on with 2023 right-handed hitters Hank Benny and Liam Richards; both players recorded loud extra-base hits.

While we’re discussing ballplayers, Georgetown middle infielder and 2022 Houston signee Zack Zavala looks like exactly that. He made hard contact multiple times and stood out in the field because his body language, actions and energy never looked anything close to overwhelmed in anything he did. And typically, those types of veteran players stick out that way because there aren’t many of them who can hit, field, run and look calm while doing so. Although he’s short, Zavala is filled out and can create some loud impact off the bat.

Baylor signee and left-handed hitting catcher Zachary Mazoch caught a couple of innings, unleashed an aggressive swing at strikes and looked the part physically. Uncommitted 2022 right-handed pitcher Wade Denton is one to keep an eye on. Although it looked like a relief profile, Denton was up to 88 MPH and shared a sharp slider up to 79 MPH with enough feel of a 77 MPH changeup to make it a third pitch. He’s talented enough to keep playing baseball collegiately and improved fastball shape and the likely uptick in velocity could make him a solid bullpen option for someone with the possibility of more.

OJ Gonzalez, a 2023 uncommitted prospect, hammered a double off the left-center wall on the fly and hit in the five hole. But he’ll provide even more of a presence on the mound. The righty tossed 3.0 quality innings and held 86-88 MPH throughout his outing. Gonzalez features a bit of a unique four-seamer because it occasionally flashes late, arm-side run reminiscent of a two-seamer. He also showed some feel for manipulating his breaking ball that ranged 74-79 MPH. At times, Gonzalez showed a sharper breaking ball and a slower one with bigger, more two-plane break. What didn’t change was his strike-throwing. Even as Georgetown began to put the ball in play the second time through the order, Gonzalez continued to attack hitters with strikes.

From the side, it looked like Gonzalez’s elbow flexion was greater than 90 degrees, his hand positioned closer to his head. His lead leg looked strong with noticeable knee flexion at foot plant before quickly pushing back off (lead knee extension velocity) and straightening his leg. Of course, the only way to truly know would be through biomechanics data, but the delivery looked pretty clean for a high school arm. Considering Gonzalez is set to play a crucial role for one of the best pitching staffs in the state, he likely won’t remain uncommitted much longer.

His classmate, 2023 right-handed pitcher Jackson Baker, didn’t remain uncommitted long after a promising fall included more strikes and velocity. A true sinker/slider profile with a low arm slot, Baker presents a unique look for high school hitters. And when he doesn’t overthrow his sinker, it dances and occasionally darts thanks to its late life. The Alabama commitment sat 86-89 MPH and featured a sweeping slider at 75-79 MPH. Baker threw some front door sliders to right-handers, often freezing those hitters because the pitch looks like a ball for so long before it breaks in for a strike on the inner half. He threw one changeup at 80 MPH, and it was clearly a work in progress. If he throws strikes like he did in this scrimmage, he probably won’t need to feature that pitch often against high school hitters, but it’ll certainly be something he’ll need at the next level to keep lefties off fastballs.

As usual, Lake Travis has more talent in the pipeline, too. I was especially intrigued by a couple of 2024 prospects – left-handed pitcher Wyatt Gatlin and catcher Gavin Schlotterback. The former struck out the side during his only inning, and although he only touched 81 MPH, his fastball had promising shape hitters didn’t see well, which was aided by a swing-and-miss overhand curve that also featured promising shape. Gatlin has yet to hit a big maturation phase physically and should be a physical left-handed pitcher in the future with a big velocity gain and the type of stuff that could profile as a starter. As for Schlotterback, he had a 1.97 in-game pop time, moved athletically behind the dish and as a promising catcher profile.

Random thoughts from the road…

Okay, so about the burger: it’s simple, classic, and delicious. Hruska’s is known for its kolaches and fairly so. They’re outstanding. But make time for the burger because it’s one of those throwback, diner-style burgers that comes off their grill in a way you can’t make at home.

Dustin McComas
Senior Editor
Five Tool Baseball

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