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Dustin's Deep Drives (Mar. 24)

I put a theory to the test this past week, a week that included watching my 30th high school game of the young season: Am I a curse? Kidding. Kind of. In all seriousness, I’ve seen a few good senior performances, but I’ve often left the park wanting a little more only to see or read about those same seniors mashing bombs, throwing gems, making highlight plays and the list goes on. Is it me?!

Thanks to some rain in the forecast and most of my week spent in the Houston area, I was provided a perfect opportunity to put this theory to the test. How’d I do it? Let’s get to the most recent Dustin’s Deep Drives column:

Tomball vs. Tomball Memorial

TOMBALL MEMORIAL HIGH SCHOOL AND TOMBALL HIGH SCHOOL – My week of baseball began at Tomball Memorial High School Tuesday night to watch the first installment of one of the top rivalries in that area. Plus, it was an opportunity to see good-on-good with Texas State signee Chase Mora on the mound for Tomball against Texas Tech signee Jeric Curtis and Tomball Memorial.

The first matchup between the two senior studs went Mora’s way. Curtis jumped on a first pitch heater and grounded out to shortstop. He ran down the line in 4.05 seconds and pulled off the gas at the very end as he saw the ball hit the first baseman’s mitt. Unfortunately, Mora’s outing lasted just two innings. He left with an arm injury. The right-hander was up to 92 MPH with a two-plane curve that was generating a lot of uncomfortable swings. And later in the week during the second matchup between these two teams, his arm was in a sling following a MRI. Good news to report: Mora hit a homer Tuesday night for Tomball. So, the injury isn’t serious. He’s also a big-time two-way talent projected to make an immediate impact at shortstop for Texas State.

As I looked at my video of Curtis getting down the line, I was kind of shocked because he was thrown out by a few steps despite showing his 80-grade speed. At the high school level, you hardly ever find shortstops capable of throwing out a guy who is that fast that easily. I peeked up and saw Tomball sophomore Coleman Ryan playing shortstop. And then I was treated to six more innings of perhaps the best shortstop glovework I’ve seen all season.

Ryan, a two-sport athlete who plays defensive back in football, is currently thin and undersized, but he’s yet to hit a physical maturation phase and is a high-waisted athlete. He projects to fill out and grow, but even if he doesn’t substantially, he could emerge as one of the top 2024 shortstops in the state. Ryan was able to throw out Curtis easily because of his clean, confident actions and quick hands and transfer. It might seem silly, but seeing Curtis flying down the line could be enough to force some young players to field with anxiety instead of the confidence Ryan, who converted 10 of the 11 chances he had, showed. Later in the game, Ryan ranged deep in the hole at shortstop and made the best defensive play I’ve seen this season. The sophomore slid, fielded, made a quick transfer, and got the force out at third from his knees as his momentum and slide were still carrying him into left field. Brilliant defensive work.

In addition to the impressive work defensively, Ryan also ran down the line in 4.01 seconds. He can fly. His profile offensively is definitely more contact than power at this point, and he might not have anything more than fringe power. But there’s some feel for contact from the right side in his offensive profile along with tracking pitches and taking walks when presented. As he matures and gets stronger, he should hit for a high average because of his speed and line drive ability. Fortunately, I received an opportunity later in the week to get another home-to-first run time and it came in at 4.11. So, the speed is real.

In the same matchup later in the week, Ryan hit leadoff and played short in place of the injured Mora. He committed a throwing error, but he also was faced with a lot of chances and I felt even better about a possible plus glove at a premium position in the future. Ryan plays with a ‘gamer’ vibe and quality baseball instincts. I sound like a broken record every time I say this, but I bet he’d score well on a S2 Cognition test. Go take those tests, kids.

Back to Tuesday’s matchup: Texas State signee Brian Panneton, who I’ve seen probably six times now after a long summer, did what he does. He sat 87-88 MPH with his fastball early and held that velocity nearly the entire way through a complete game. The righty’s slider looked a tad sharper with tighter shape around 80 MPH, which resulted in some ugly swings and misses early. As the future Bobcat typically does, he threw strikes with his curveball, changeup and mixed speeds all game. Each time I watch him I think he’s going to end up a Sunday starter at Texas State and throw a ton of innings. He competes and he possesses the best control I’ve seen from any senior arm this season.

Tomball Memorial was able to sweep its two-game schedule versus rival Tomball thanks in large part to its offense. Uncommitted senior right-handed hitter Bryson Sellier blasted a no-doubt bomb in Thursday’s matchup. The third baseman hit in the three-hole for one of the better teams in the area and is a good-looking player physically who is talented enough to keep playing somewhere at the next level.

Alvin College signee Robert Oropeza created some loud contact and was a presence, again, in the heart of the Tomball Memorial lineup hitting behind Temple College signee and left-handed hitting first baseman Lance Cantrell. Cantrell just missed one pitch during the week, which resulted in a sky-high fly ball, and was a menace to Tomball pitchers with his bat control during Thursday’s game.

Keep an eye on junior outfielder and right-handed hitter Chase Lovick. A two-sport standout who starred on the gridiron in the fall, Lovick completed an amazing catch Thursday in foul territory down the left field line that sent him tumbling over the fence. Football fearlessness. Lovick is physical, strong, athletic and still has some physical projection. All those things showed in his swing when he burned the center fielder for a triple that nearly was an inside-the-park homer.

On the Tomball side, junior pitchers Thomas Williamson and Cade Daniell showed some intriguing upside. Williamson, a righty, was up to just 83 MPH with his fastball, but we’ve heard reports on Williamson throwing much harder in the fall. The splitter was a weapon, though. Williamson created a lot of swings and misses with the offering around 75 MPH and the slider also had a couple swings and misses at 74-75 MPH. But the inability to throw quality strikes with his fastball ended his outing early. It’s also possible Tomball needed to piece together the entire game after Mora went down earlier in the week and saw that Williamson’s velocity was down.

As for Daniell, he touched 86 MPH with his fastball, but his velocity bounced all over the place; it was as low as 79 MPH and his fastball also featured a cutter look at times. Daniell’s two-plane curveball was inconsistent, but his changeup at 72 MPH looked like it could be a future weapon against right-handed hitters. The lefty probably isn’t going to end up being a physical presence on the mound, but he showed the possibility of an intriguing three-pitch mix.

The standout arm for Tomball was Central Missouri signee Hayden Hansen, who pitched out of the bullpen Thursday. A right-hander, Hansen touched 87 MPH with his fastball. However, his slider was the standout. At 77 MPH with true slider shape and sharp, tight bite, Hansen already has an above-average breaking ball at present and it’ll probably be plus in the future. He didn’t show a third pitch and probably profiles in the bullpen at the next level. Regardless, tip of the cap to Central Missouri for coming to Texas and getting that slider.

Florida commitment and 2024 Tomball standout Cade Arrambide put on a show during the Tuesday batting practice session I watched. At present, he already possesses average raw power and you don’t need to dream on the physical frame, strength and bat speed to see plus raw power in his future. In warmups, Arrambide showed a 1.90 pop time thanks to his very strong arm. He played left field in Thursday’s game and, as many sophomores are, is still raw all-around. In particular, spin in the batter’s box both offensively and defensively presented difficult challenges. That said, as the reps continue to pile up, the skill should improve. Very exciting and interesting sophomore prospect to follow.

A final thought on Curtis, who remains one of the most heavily scouted players in the state: I think he’s seeking outcomes in the batter’s box instead of just using his outstanding athleticism and reacting naturally with his usual swing. Basically, I think he’s in his own head some, which showed in the swing mechanics. During Tuesday’s game, his backside collapsed and he got too big trying to hit balls over the yard; on Thursday, it looked like a swing searching for contact to avoid swinging and missing. It happens. I watched him hit all summer, fall and early in the spring.

Cinco Ranch vs. Katy… actually, Tompkins vs. Morton Ranch

KATY HIGH SCHOOL – Did I mention the curse thing? I planned on seeing 2023 Vanderbilt commitment and Memorial left-handed pitcher Jakob Schulz pitch Thursday after the first Tomball versus Tomball Memorial game but Memorial changed his pitching schedule. He instead pitched earlier in the week. Okay, time to pivot.

I decided to head instead to see Cinco Ranch at Katy because there was a chance rising senior right-handed pitcher and UTSA signee Zachary Royse threw out of the bullpen thanks to the bigger break between district games. Plus, Katy is a good team with a few exciting underclassmen. With a light rain following and the chance – I emphasize ‘chance’ – of more rain to come, the two teams decided to postpone the game. Here’s a lesson, boys and girls: being a scout isn’t just being a scout. You’re also an amateur meteorologist, too. After checking one of my three trusted weather apps, I texted a professional scout I knew was watching Tompkins to check and see if the game was still on. It was.

So, despite both games being on grass and being separated by about 15 minutes, one game was postponed and the other one was going on as scheduled. Time to pivot. Again.

MORTON RANCH HIGH SCHOOL – I don’t intend for this to sound cruel or mean-spirited at all, but Morton Ranch and Tompkins are on opposite ends of the talent spectrum, and it showed on the scoreboard because Tompkins won 14-0 in five innings. Getting back to that whole, “am I a curse?” thing: the first at-bat I saw from 2022 Texas A&M signee Jace LaViolette resulted in an opposite field homer over the left-center wall. It was a matchup that heavily favored LaViolette, an intriguing MLB Draft prospect tapping into his power during games more often, and on a night when the rain was falling and ball wasn’t carrying well, he did what very talented, good players should do in those types of matchups.

Later, he hammered a triple to the same area that was hit harder off the bat but didn’t quite get the same loft. So, thank you, Jace. I know it’s not me. Senior Jack Little, a Wichita State signee and Five Tool 55 member, finished 3-for-3 with a loud rocket to the wall in deep left-center field that resulted in a triple. In the previous at-bat, Little ran 4.28 down the line despite getting out of a muddy batter’s box a tad slow. Little is in fantastic shape physically and remains one of the most exciting all-around position players in the state.

St. Thomas vs. St. Pius X

ST. THOMAS HIGH SCHOOL – My lovely wife and soon-to-be two-year-old son Jack tagged along to Houston for the long weekend and following a morning spent at the Houston Aquarium, I made the short drive over to St. Thomas High School to see it face St. Pius X and big-time sophomore Casan Evans. I walked to the parking lot after the game wondering if I just watched the best 2024 pitcher in the state.

The athletic right-hander bumped 94 MPH in the first inning and repeatedly touched 92 MPH in the early innings. However, the most impressive part about Evans’ performance – 5.0IP CG, 1ER, 2H, 4BB, 9K – wasn’t the velocity, although throwing that hard is extremely impressive. Evans could actually pitch, too.

Evans confidently featured his changeup (78-82 MPH) against left-handers early and it immediately resulted in multiple first-inning swings and misses. The pitch played off his fastball and arm slot well, especially because he does feature the occasional sinker. At times, his slider popped out of his hand with poor shape, but when he was on top of it with the right feel out of the hand, the sharp breaking ball was up to 82 MPH and very tough for right-handed hitters to handle. Evans also took a little off the pitch to throw it for strikes in early fastball counts and showed some feel for executing the pitch in the dirt, like the changeup, when he was ahead.

Currently uncommitted but likely at the top of every major D1 program’s list for 2024 pitchers in Texas, Evans also showed some fastball execution by moving the pitch around the strike zone north-south and east-west. Was he perfect? No. As his outing progressed, his control began to dip, but that’s not unexpected for any pitcher, especially a sophomore. Regardless, Evans has a chance to feature a plus fastball and two future above average offerings with the chance for both to be better than that. If it sounds like I’m very excited and bullish about this young arm it’s because I absolutely am.

A great thing about seeing a pitcher like this is you get to see if any hitters can time the fastball knowing it’s very hard and it’s not the only quality pitch he features. St. Thomas sophomore left fielder Jaden Deshauntelle stepped into the box from the left side and smacked a hard liner that found an outfield glove to start the game. Undersized but athletic, the uncommitted prospect caught my attention and looks like a possible D1 player in the future. Junior right-handed pitcher Brayden Holle also stood out for St. Thomas and was up to 86 MPH. With wide shoulders and a broad chest, Holle could be a hard-throwing, big pitcher in the future. But in this matchup, St. Pius X was too much for St. Thomas.

Speaking of uncommitted, athletic sophomore outfielders, St. Pius X’s Ethan McMinn, a two-sport standout, hammered a double off the center field wall on the fly and is one to definitely follow. Senior catcher Miles Daughtry, a TLU signee, showed a strong arm and 2.08 pop time behind home plate. Kyle Winkler, a Sam Houston State signee as a left-handed pitcher, smashed a mammoth homer way out to right field.

Cypress Woods vs. Bridgeland

CYPRESS WOODS HIGH SCHOOL – My most recent Tuesday night, after some quality time with Highway 290 and a kolache stop, was spent at Cypress Woods High School to see a big-time district matchup between Cy Woods and Bridgeland. On the mound for Bridgeland, on a night when it got colder and windier each inning, was TCU signee Murphy Brooks against a loaded Cy Woods lineup. Cy Woods won the battle.

Conditions impacted grip and Brooks struggled with his control initially. He walked two and hit a batter in a long first inning that included senior second baseman and Northeast Texas Community College signee Carson Lorch very aggressively scoring from third on a ball in the dirt. After Brooks got the best of 2023 FSU commitment Tristan Russell in the first inning with a ground out, Russell provided the biggest swing of the game in the second inning.

In a two-strike count, the switch-hitter hit a rocket off the scoreboard in right-center field for a three-run homer. Russell actually cut down the finish of his swing a little to go down and catch the pitch with his barrel just out in front of his lead leg and finished athletically, also showcasing his strong hands and wrists. The big blast put Cy Woods up 5-0.

In the next matchup between the two Five Tool 55 members, Russell was caught guessing and struck out looking. The duo’s battles are a good representation of Brooks’ night. At times, he racked up the strikeouts with ease and other times Cy Woods put the barrel on the baseball to create hard contact or took a walk. Brooks threw a four-seam fastball 87-89 MPH and touched 90 MPH multiple times with some feel for spin, which helped the pitch play up in the zone. The TCU signee’s curveball bounced between more true overhand shape and more 11-5 break at 74-76 MPH with feel for a changeup at 81 MPH and a slider at 80 MPH.

Editor’s note: Brooks told me after this was published he pitched with a jammed ring finger, which would obviously impact some control/command and feel for pitches. 

As rough as Brooks’ outing was, I came away thinking TCU is going to like what it has to work with because there’s a present feel for four distinctly different offerings, which makes him a candidate to possibly be a weekend starter in the future. There is some effort in the delivery, including a noticeable head whack. Being able to repeat better in the future with better control and command could make Brooks an important piece of the TCU program for multiple seasons.

Brooks might not face a better lineup this season. In addition to Russell, Brooks’ future teammate, 2023 TCU commitment Sam Myers, was willing to take walks and was hit by a pitch. He fouled off a few pitches and the swing looks as promising for a high rate of contact as it did this summer. Junior third baseman Ethan Farris is a physical, tall, bat-first player who didn’t swing with stiffness in the batter’s box and looked like he could emerge as one of the better right-handed 2023 hitters in the area. He struck out his first at-bat versus Brooks in a lengthy battle, but just missed a pitch and hit a towering fly out to center field the next one.

It says a lot about the Cy Woods lineup that Kolvin Davis hits ninth. He struck out one at-bat, made hard contact in another and his swing looks a tad better than it did in the summer. Playing left field, he did drop a fly ball. Recent 2023 Texas A&M commitment and left-handed hitter Brady Sullivan didn’t have a productive night, but he showed his wheels flying down the line to prevent a double play. Sign me up as a big believer in uncommitted 2024 left-handed hitter Wyatt Wimberly. He hit a rocket up the middle that caught Brooks in the leg, hammered a line drive single up the middle against Brooks in the next at-bat and looked the part of a young hitter who could hit for average and some power.

The Bridgeland lineup was pretty dang good, too. Mississippi State signee Ryan Williams drew a walk in the seventh inning to load the bases with one out and walked and was hit by a pitch earlier in the game. He had a good feel for the strike zone and showed his catch-and-throw skill and strong arm when he nearly backpicked a runner at second base with an excellent throw. UT Dallas landed a steal with the signing of Nico Fernandez. Very interesting hitting profile with bat speed from the left side and intriguing catch-and-throw skill showed during warmups because he plays behind Williams, one of the state’s best catchers.

Keep an eye on two Bridgeland sophomores: shortstop Hudson Pollard and outfielder Miles Syptak. Both are high-ceiling sophomores and Syptak in particular looked like an excellent athlete with some speed. Once again, I left a game very, very intrigued by senior outfielder/first baseman/utility player Joshua ‘Jojo’ Comeaux, a Ranger College commitment. A standout basketball player with elite athleticism, Comeaux’s swing caught my eye in the summer with Victus Elite and it again caught my eye last night. Want to see the athleticism on the hardwood? Look at this:

Getting back to Russell: he ended the game with an unassisted double play with the bases loaded, two outs and his team clinging to a 5-3 lead. Earlier in the contest, he made a nifty flip with his glove to Lorch at second base to start an inning-ending double play to erase a jam. Although he fumbled the ball on a tag, Russell made an excellent read on a first-and-third, two-out designed steal attempt to get in a rundown. He knew exactly where to be immediately and anticipated the action. With a commanding presence on the diamond, Russell carried himself like a player who always wants the ball hit to him on defense.

Random thoughts from the road…

There are two restaurants any trip I take into Houston must include: Pinkerton’s BBQ and El Tiempo. I will put Pinkerton’s BBQ up against any BBQ restaurant in the country. It was no weakness. Typically, I don’t enjoy turkey. So, I don’t order it. But I order it at Pinkerton’s because it’s juicy and more flavorful than any turkey I’ve ever tasted. And it’s probably the third-best meat on the menu, trailing elite brisket and elite pork ribs with candy paint glaze. All the sides are made from scratch and if you’re into desserts, you’ll love those, too.

As for El Tiempo, the sizzling fajitas with the butter sauce can’t be beat. Sure, you can find cheaper fajitas, but you can’t find better quality. Unlike most places, El Tiempo features warm salsa and a fantastic green salsa with their chips. Both are excellent. I immediately cross any Tex-Mex place off the list that doesn’t have good chips and salsa. Also, shout out to Mio Brew coffee shop in the Montrose area. Great hospitality to match the great coffee, and I was also introduced to a Colombian cheese bread called pandebono. It was phenomenal. And they were giving it away for free.

Check out Drew Bishop and I discussing some of these games and more on the Five Tool Podcast.

Dustin McComas
Senior Editor
Five Tool Baseball