Well, it wouldn’t be a week of Texas high school baseball, tournament edition, if it didn’t include some wacky cold weather forcing everyone involved to change schedules on the fly. Fortunately, last week only included one day of miserable weather, which meant plenty of opportunities to see some of the state’s best players and teams. And I took advantage of those opportunities. Let’s get to it:

Vandegrift at Round Rock

ROUND ROCK HIGH SCHOOL – Originally, I planned on seeing Floresville shortstop and UTSA signee Preston Freeman play at Boerne but a shoulder injury (he’ll be back relatively soon) forced me to pivot at the last minute. Luckily, I live about 15 minutes from Round Rock High School, which afforded an easy opportunity to see elite 2023 prospect Travis Sykora on the mound against a good Vandegrift club.

As usual, Sykora was dominant. He threw 3.0 scoreless, no-hit innings with eight strikeouts and two walks (strike zone was a tad tight). Slowly being stretched out, the 3.0 innings are the most I’ve seen Sykora throw in one outing, and the hard-throwing righty held his stuff without issue. Working 95-97 MPH in the first inning and touching 98 MPH, the tall, athletic fireballer didn’t see his velocity dip in the stretch or in the third inning. Even more encouraging, Sykora’s early-season slider wasn’t a fluke; its shape, effectiveness and velocity (83-86 MPH) were again consistent.

Sykora showed a new wrinkle, though: he threw a splitter. Against left-handers, the 2023 Texas commitment fired the pitch 86-90 MPH with conviction and hitters didn’t really know how to react to it. At the high school level, Sykora doesn’t truly need a third pitch because his first two are so dominant. But as he works deeper into starts and builds up as one of the nation’s best pitching prospects, a third offering, especially one that could help neutralize lefties and could be used against righties, will improve his prospect status and make him even more difficult for high school hitters to handle.

The only Vandegrift hitter to put the ball in play against Sykora was 2023 Baylor commitment Brayden Buchanan, who passed the eyeball test without question. A physical, athletic backstop with an impressive pedigree on the gridiron, Buchanan looked like he could be an impact player both offensively and defensively. Even though results were tough to come by, I liked Buchanan’s swing and the right-handed hitter looked like he presents gap-to-gap power currently with the ability to pull one over the fence occasionally.

On a night when pitching dominated, the game’s only two runs scored by Vandegrift were the result of an error. Houston Baptist signee Daniel Farrow threw a complete game shutout and was still touching 87 MPH in the final inning during a cold night. The right-hander’s fastball played up and looked like it possessed good spin; his breaking ball had promising shape and there was enough changeup feel to project it moving forward as an average pitch that can be effective.

File this 2023 name away as an interesting one to follow: Round Rock right-handed pitcher Tanner Jackson, currently uncommitted, followed Sykora and threw the ball well. With a fastball up to 86 MPH that sat 83-85 MPH throughout his lengthy outing, Jackson kept Round Rock in the game. His curveball pushed back righties with its spin before breaking back in over the plate and even buckled a couple of hitters occasionally. Physically, he doesn’t possess noteworthy projection, but there’s some present strength in the delivery and the stuff is promising, especially as it continues to tick up; in particular, the curve flashed as a swing-and-miss weapon.

Lake Travis at Cedar Park

CEDAR PARK HIGH SCHOOL – Following a minor back injury, 2022 Lake Travis right-handed pitcher and Texas A&M signee Luke Jackson returned to the mound for a start at Cedar Park. Across 4.0 scoreless frames, Jackson, a Five Tool 55 member, flashed the combination of arm speed, athleticism and stuff that accompanies a tall, lean frame with more room for strength. Occasionally, it looked like Jackson was a pitcher coming off a back injury. He lost his posture, timing and repetitiveness on the mound a few times and tipped his secondary stuff.

However, Jackson also looked like a pitcher who creates efficient velocity and explosive, quick movements in his delivery as well or better than any right-handed pitcher in the state with the exception of Cole Phillips. And I don’t think it’s out of the realm of possibility – I’d actually call it likely – Jackson eventually sits in the mid-90s with the ability to bump into the upper-90s when he wants to. With a clean delivery and the present athleticism, I have no issue projecting, especially with added strength, Jackson as a hard-throwing righty with loud stuff who should repeat an easy delivery with a quick arm and carry that stuff.

In the first inning, Jackson blew 90-94 MPH heaters by overmatched Cedar Park hitters and struck out three, all swinging. Early, his curveball was a bit tighter and harder at 74-75 MPH with a harder changeup at 80-81 MPH. In his fourth and final inning, Jackson’s fastball sat 89-91 MPH, his curveball 70-72 MPH and his changeup 75-76 MPH; the changeup created some ugly swings and misses against lefties and looked like a future weapon. In the future, Jackson should have three average or better offerings with the potential for a plus heater and two secondary pitches that could tick up as well. I’m bullish on his upside.

The embarrassment of riches on the mound for Lake Travis continued in the final inning when I scrambled to try to figure out who the final right-handed pitcher was. I was scrambling for good reason. He was on JV prior to the game and was recently added to the Varsity roster.

Sophomore right-handed Kadyn Leon touched 87 MPH during a scoreless inning that included a couple strikeouts. In addition to a fastball with life down in the zone and easy velocity from a quick arm, Leon also showed a swing-and-miss curveball that featured enough two-plane break to frustrate right-handed hitters when it started towards the inner half. Oh. He also had a really interesting, promising feel of a changeup, too. Yeah, it’s a really, really small sample, but Leon immediately became one of my favorite 2024 pitchers I’ve seen this season and he has more physical growth ahead of him.

Offensively, Lake Travis did its thing. Texas A&M signee Kaeden Kent had a couple base hits; Cole Johnson showed his plus raw power and looked good after a thumb injury earlier this season; Baylor signee Ethan Calder hammered a ball; uncommitted 2023 utility player Hank Benny always hits when I see him and that didn’t change against Cedar Park. The Cavaliers have one of the state’s deepest, most potent offenses to match their deep pitching staff.

It was a tough game for Cedar Park, but it has two 2023 players worth following closely: catcher/right-handed pitcher Louis Alonzo and outfielder Brooks Dillman. Alonzo possesses noticeable physicality already with a strong arm and a swing that looks like it should translate. Dillman caught my eye in the summer multiple times, had 20 steals in 56 Five Tool event games and manned center field.

Some team-by-team thoughts from Thursday and Saturday’s action at the Keith Tuck Memorial Invitational at Dripping Springs High School:

Sinton

Previously, I had an opportunity to get eyes on Mason Bixby (No. 3) and Sykora (No. 2) in the same week, which was a fun exercise when thinking about their 2023 Five Tool 55 rankings. Last week, I was able to see Sykora before our No. 1 ranked player in 2023, Sinton’s Blake Mitchell. We get another year of these guys in high school? Awesome.

The opening act for Mitchell, who played shortstop with Texas signee Rylan Galvan behind the plate, included showing some feel for the bat and getting on base with a single up the middle and a walk. Then, Mitchell started getting loose between the fifth and sixth innings, which meant hearing the piercing sound of catcher’s mitt popping from afar. Mitchell, a right-hander, followed Jaquae Stewart’s excellent 5.0 innings on the mound by blowing away overmatched Stony Point hitters with a perfect inning to close out a win.

A physically impressive junior who looks the part of a future mega-prospect in a uniform, Mitchell, a LSU commitment, fired fastballs 94-96 MPH with some late life up in the zone. He threw one curveball and it was an absolute hammer at 76 MPH; the type of hammer that makes one wonder whether to put a future 60 or 65 on it. If Mitchell was a pitcher only, he’d still be a top two player in the state for 2023. And he’s a better catching prospect than pitcher.

After miserable weather canceled Friday, Mitchell and Sinton were back on the field early Saturday morning to face one the state’s best 6A teams, Smithson Valley. Behind the plate with talented, uncommitted 2022 right-hander Wyatt Wiatrek on the mound, Mitchell immediately showed why he’s a future plus defender at catcher with a plus-plus arm. Smithson Valley leadoff hitter Kasen Wells, who was 3.61 down the line on a draft bunt earlier in the tournament, reached first base in the first inning. As he typically does, Wells tried to steal second. Because why wouldn’t he? He’s one of the fastest seniors and best base-stealers in Texas.

Mitchell gunned him down. Easily. By at least 10 feet and probably more. In 1.87 seconds, Mitchell showed his lightning-quick transfer, elite catch-and-throw skill and rocket for an arm with a perfect throw on a line to his teammate’s glove. Even if Mitchell’s bat and power end up being average on the professional tool scale, his work behind the dish is so good that I’m not sure I’ll ever see another prep catcher in Texas who will have better overall grades.

Later, Mitchell slapped an 0-2 pitch through a vacant hole at shortstop for a single. In Sinton’s second Saturday game against Hays, the left-handed hitting prospect lined a rocket up the middle for a single, just missed a homer to right-center field and added another single up the middle. So, let’s just classify Mitchell’s stay in Dripping Springs as productive.

You can label his team’s stay the same way. My favorite thing about Sinton? It is absolutely loaded from top-to-bottom yet it carries itself with an unassuming vibe; Sinton players take nothing for granted and don’t realize how talented they are. Well, perhaps they do, but they don’t carry themselves that way. As good as Mitchell was with the bat from the left side, he wasn’t the best left-handed hitter on his own team. That honor belonged to 2023 HBU commit Jaquae Stewart.

Stewart, who appeared to be around 5-10 and 210 pounds, give or take, hit in any count and showed an advanced feel for the barrel and situational hitting. More athletic than many assume, Stewart hit the ball hard all over the field, including a deep drive to left-center field that hit the wall so hard on the fly you could hear it all over the park. Stewart can hit for average, power and although he wants to put his dangerous bat in motion, he will take his walks, too. Any conversation about the best left-handed hitter in the state for 2023 needs to include him. Heck, maybe any class, period.

On the mound, Stewart punched out nine batters across 5.0 innings of one-hit, one-run baseball and held his velocity – 84-87 MPH – his entire outing. Stewart mixed in a 70-73 MPH curve with two-plane break that racked up swings and misses and also flashed a 73-74 MPH changeup against right-handers. At one point, Stony Point started chirping at Stewart. He responded by striking out the side and shooting the opposing dugout a, “what are you doing?” stare as he confidently walked off the mound. He’s definitely more of a hitting prospect than pitcher, but he’s capable of logging innings at HBU.

You could make a good case Sinton’s catchers are better than most college programs. Galvan, a 2022 Five Tool 55 member, showed a really strong arm from behind the plate and routinely lined rockets all over the yard during the three games I watched. A physical senior who definitely knows where the weight room is, Galvan unleashes good bat speed with a promising path from the right side. Spin occasionally gave him an issue, but he has the hitting tools to show up at Texas and immediately compete for at-bats.

Galvan carried himself with a leadership presence on the diamond, and was vocal when it was needed in addition to working hard for his pitchers. Whether or not he ends up being a catcher at the professional level is still to be determined, which is typically the case with almost every highly-rated prep catcher. But if he continues to work at developing his skill, he has the ingredients to be a starting catcher at Texas. Unfortunately, his brother, Rene Galvan, was limited to pinch-running due to a minor injury.

Back to the mound, Sinton received two very strong performances from 2023 Sam Houston State commit Braeden Brown and Wiatrek. The latter touched 90 MPH, and although his velocity dipped occasionally, he was sitting 85-88 MPH in the seventh inning and bumped 89 MPH. Strong and physically impressive, Wiatrak flashed improved curveball shape (75-76 MPH) with the ability to miss bats, but the pitch did bounce between an 12-6 look at more of a two-plane shape. The uncommitted righty also threw a splitter at 73-75 MPH. He punched out five and gave up just three hits against one of the state’s top lineups. Of note: Wiatrek told me he threw the splitter so much in a previous spot it caused a blister, which scabbed over.

Tall, athletic and projectable, Brown probably ends up as a position player at the next level, but he threw well enough on the mound to wonder if he could legitimately do both in college. Once the right-hander warmed up, he repeatedly sat around 85 MPH and attacked hitters with a sweeping, slurve-like curveball around 73 MPH that played well from his slot, shoulder angle and delivery. With the bat, he had one of the loudest hits for Sinton, a rocket into the right-center gap for a double, but was frustrated in some other at-bats.

Sophomore Marco Gonzales hit leadoff for Sinton and played second base, which is a pretty loud statement considering who else is on the roster. His skill and physical build suggested he’s next in line to be a D1 prospect at Sinton. Big, power-hitting first baseman and 2022 Tyler JUCO signee Canon Chester should slot into the middle of Tyler’s lineup in the future with the chance to add some thump to that lineup.

Smithson Valley

Sometimes, getting a good feel for a high school player’s defensive ability can be tough. Maybe you watch them for three games with no in-and-out before the game and they get one ball during gameplay. Good luck with that. Fortunately, Kasen Wells didn’t have that problem. After seeing Wells in a couple more games, I came away confident he could stick in center field and play it at an above-average level and perhaps even better. The speedy Texas A&M signee tracked deep fly balls near the wall with natural, instinctive ease; had good awareness on the diamond; read balls off the bat well; and simply looked like catching the baseball came very easily to him. His arm looked to be above-average, too.

With the bat, Wells continued to make hard contact the other way and recorded two hard hits the opposite way. However, he also lined a very hard single up the middle. I’m nitpicking, but I’d like to see Wells tap into his twitchy athleticism even more in his swing with more pull-side damage. Regardless, he remains one of the state’s top outfielders and found the barrel with better timing than when I saw him in a preseason scrimmage.

A couple of Smithson Valley’s underclassmen stood out on the mound. First, left-handed junior Jackson Elizondo. Once Elizondo, who appeared to be around 5-10 or 5-11, warmed up and found his rhythm on the mound, he was tough to handle. He began the game sitting around 85-86 MPH with a dip out of the stretch to 82-83 MPH. But as the outing increased, his fastball began to hold its velocity better (still touching 86 MPH in the sixth inning) and played up in the zone; at times, it looked like he unintentionally cut his heater and it had better success with truer four-seam shape up the ladder.

Elizondo’s best secondary weapon was his slider when it was around 77 MPH with a true left-handed slider appearance instead of looking more like a slower, two-plane curveball. Elizondo, who is uncommitted, also showed a changeup around 80 MPH with enough feel to label it a pitch he’s going to be able to use in the future. Although it wasn’t clear if it was intentional or not, Elizondo did change the shape and velocity of his stuff throughout his outing. When Elizondo gathered himself out of his windup with a slightly bigger legkick and more pause, his stuff played better.

Second, sophomore right-hander Zack Gingrich looked like a major arm to follow in the 2024 class. High-waisted with long arms and an athletic frame, Gingrich looks like he’s going to grow into a very physical, tall, hard-throwing pitcher. The righty’s delivery included a strong lead leg and a simple, quick arm path and delivery. Gingrich threw his fastball 83-86 MPH and both his slider (75-77 MPH) and changeup (76-77 MPH) created swings and misses. Although he fumbled away a good bunt near the first-base line, Gingrich bounced off the mound quickly and athletically; both those traits showed up on offense (he hit fifth in a loaded lineup during one of the games I watched) too.

Sticking with the underclassmen theme: Texas Tech 2023 commitments David De Hoyos and Ethan Gonzalez both had moments of very loud contact and also some swinging-and-missing and guessing; Gonzalez created contact at a higher rate and just missed a couple of home runs foul while De Hoyos’ glove stood out but had issues completing throws to first. Bryce Wells, a 2025 Texas commitment, showed the type of impressive raw power both his teammates above did. His movements and build strongly suggest he’s going to be a big-time catcher prospect, and if he does end up outgrowing the position, his bat will be able to play fine at a corner spot. But he looked every bit of a strong varsity catcher.

Bowie

Bowie should be a force in its district because it has some intriguing depth throughout the order and a good mix of athleticism and some power, too. Texas State 2023 commitment Benjamin Merriman’s timing was a tad off in his return to game action, but his right-handed swing is one worth betting on. I liked how 2023 catcher Travis Starkey moved with energy and agility behind the plate and his arm caught my eye, too.

Left-handed hitting outfielder and dual-sport athlete Brody Miller definitely carries himself with the type of talent, mental makeup and baseball mind to keep playing at the next level. He was in my notes several times for making hard contact and I liked his swing, which had some quickness, from the left side. Senior right-handed hitting shortstop Jayden Francis, another uncommitted prospect, ran 4.2 from home-to-first, handled shortstop confidently and understood his game in the batter’s box is to make contact and use his speed. He’s likely a future second baseman, but D2/D3 schools should take a look.

Big, physical left-hander Patrick Collopy, who also played first base, closed out both of Bowie’s wins that I saw with a fastball that bumped 90 MPH and sat 87-88 MPH. Collopy has a unique hand placement in his arm path which creates some sinking action to his heater but negatively impacts his ability to throw a breaking ball. If that’s re-worked, he could be a diamond in the rough. He’s planning to walk on at Louisiana.

In terms of prospect status, perhaps the strongest bet that I saw is sophomore right-handed pitcher Cole Miller. Miller, who didn’t lack fire on the mound and looked like an intense competitor who will learn how to keep that engine from running too hot in the future, threw his fastball 81-84 MPH and featured some unintentional cut at times. The right-hander had a feel for both a curveball (63-65 MPH) and slider (73-74 MPH). His defense let him down, which affected his mood and control on the rubber. Regardless, his combination of physical build, arm speed and stuff is worth tracking closely.

Westwood

I didn’t get to see him pitch, but right-handed hitting sophomore Ridge Morgan looks like a major two-way talent to follow in 2024. Tall with noticeable room to fill out, Morgan repeatedly put the baseball in play and spent a lot of time on the basepaths. Morgan’s swing does feature some noticeable length, but he also created paths to the baseball that repeatedly resulted in contact, mainly up the middle. It’ll be really interesting to see what his power looks like as he matures. Excite to see him on the mound, eventually.

Right-handed hitting center fielder Caleb Moore caught my eye. In the first game I watched, he hit leadoff and had a really nice at-bat when he adjusted to spin; the first time he saw a curveball, it nearly buckled him and on the very next pitch he saw it again and smacked a base hit. Moore had an athletic, quick-twitch-type of bounce on the diamond and ran as fast as 4.1 down the line. He hit in the nine-hole in the second game I saw but that didn’t prevent him from again putting the ball in play multiple times with some success.

Dripping Springs

On a cold night against a good Smithson Valley lineup, Tyler JUCO signee Nico Ruedas held his velocity (up to 90 MPH; sat 85-89 MPH) the entire night and showed a bit of everything – curveball, slider/cutter, and changeup. Ruedas also threw a fastball with a hint of arm-side run to righties on the inner half and then threw another fastball with a dash of cutting action to the glove side. At times, mixing and matching speeds, shapes and pitches put him behind in the count, but he was always willing to challenge hitters with heaters even when his defense created some late-game headaches.

Freshman Taylor Tracey, who evidently has major #DudeAlert potential on the mound, looked the part of a future major D1 prospect in center field and in the batter’s box. He’s tall, athletic and has a very bright future ahead. Senior outfielder Luke Hudson put down a drag bunt and ran 3.83 seconds to first base from the right side. Speed never takes a day off.

Random thoughts from the road…

Are kolaches – non-meat division – considered ‘sweets?’ I vote ‘no.’ They’re bread, fruit and cream cheese. Traveling often to Houston means passing a place with delicious kolaches. It’s like a requirement of highways and small cities in the area. I gave up sweets for Lent and someone – hint: my wife – made me feel a tad guilty for viewing kolaches as non-sweets. Official ruling needed.

Dustin McComas
Senior Editor
Five Tool Baseball

©2021 Five Tool Baseball.

All rights reserved. Privacy Policy.

About. Contact.

Director Login | Login / Register

Five Tool Baseball