Welcome to the first-ever edition of Dustin’s Deep Drives sponsored by [insert your sponsor here]. Deep drive… baseball… I spent a lot of time driving… get it? Thought of this all by myself. Anyway, preseason scrimmages are in full swing around the state as the high school baseball season gears up for early-season tournaments just a couple weeks away.

This week, I spent some time in the Cypress area and then ventured down to San Antonio to get a look at some of the state’s premier 2022 prospects, some younger players to follow very closely and put eyes on a few unsigned seniors who are deserving of a college home to keep playing the game.

Tomball Memorial at Cypress Ranch

CYPRESS RANCH HIGH SCHOOL – A big riser in our last 2022 Five Tool 55 update, Jeric Curtis opened his senior campaign with a 1-for-2 performance that included a single up the middle, a fly out, a couple steals, a caught stealing, a walk, and a run. The Texas Tech signee played a shallow center field and showed an accurate arm and a little bit more carry to his throws than summer looks. He’ll be one of the most heavily scouted players in his area and is poised to lead a Tomball Memorial club that appeared to have the ingredients to compete for a district crown.

Speaking of those ingredients, senior right-handed pitcher and Texas State signee Brian Panneton is the ace of the staff. Among the most steady summer performers with perhaps the best control of any high school pitcher in the state, Panneton fired multiple pitches for strikes and looked like his typical self, although Cypress Ranch’s Charlie Feris got the best of him in their first and only matchup.

Feris, Cypress Ranch’s ace right-hander, recognized an 0-2 breaking ball out of the hand in the bottom of the first, sat back, and smashed a RBI double into the right-center gap. He’s best known for his ability on the mound and the righty sat 84-86 MPH and showed some feel for two different breaking ball looks for strikes out of a delivery that features a short legkick. However, he looks poised to provide equal impact – if not more – as a left-handed hitter. Feris, who committed to Texas as a preferred walk-on kicker for football, takes aggressive hacks with some leverage and showed the ability to cut down his swing late in counts. With some time in a college strength program, he could be an intriguing look for the Longhorns as a non-scholarship baseball player.

Rice signee Christian Salazar (back) did not participate for Cypress Ranch but is expected back for early-season tournaments. Feris and senior Joshua Ibe should hit behind him to form one of the stronger lineups in their district. Ibe is a bat-first player without a true defensive position, but he’s a physical right-handed hitter with some intriguing raw power. With his swing and strength, he should get a look from D2 or D3 programs.

Rice 2023 commitment Tobias Motley struggled with timing early in the batter’s box, but in his final at-bat he showed some of his surprising juice by creating some loud contact off the bat. There’s still a lot of physical projection remaining for Motley, an athletic middle infielder. At the top of the lineup, St. Xavier signee Connor Nichols sets the tone. Don’t be fooled by his size because he plays with the presence of a 6-2 leader.

D2/D3/JUCO coaches should get some eyes on Cypress Ranch uncommitted senior right-hander Paul Baba. At 6-4 with a good-looking frame with some lean muscle, the righthander touched 86 MPH and struck out four across 2.0 innings. He did issue two walks, but one of them was the result of being squeezed on multiple pitches. Baba showed some feel for using his slider as a frontdoor breaking ball against righties and it backed up a couple of right-handed hitters. The fastball played well, and in warmups the righty showed an interesting 77 MPH changeup with some split-like, hard fade. While some high school arms would get frustrated at the lack of deserved strikes, Baba kept his cool and kept competing on the mound.

Additionally, Cypress Ranch has more catching depth than many high school programs. 2023 catcher Micah McAfoose leads the way, but uncommitted senior Alex Renfrow worked with some energetic athleticism behind the dish to provide a solid high school presence. Plus, he touched 85 MPH off the mound with a slider that racked up five swings and misses.

In the 2024 class, keep an eye on left-handed hitting outfielder Jackson Priest. He made a fantastic grab in deep left-center to rob Tomball Memorial senior shortstop Robert Oropeza (Alvin JUCO signee), showed impact athleticism and made hard contact with a line-drive stroke. Right-hander Austin Shirley, another interesting 2024 prospect, sat 82-83 MPH and threw strikes with his fastball and curveball. He’ll likely play an important role for Cypress Ranch this season.

Oropeza is a physical shortstop who should have a chance to immediately contribute and possibly make a jump at Alvin. After making a heads-up play to backhand a ball and catch a runner in no-man’s land between second and third, Oropeza botched the rundown. Instead of carrying that weight the rest of the inning, he ended up making a tough play look easy to end the inning.

Senior catcher Nic Pendergast, signed with SAGU as a pitcher, also had a bright moment defensively when he picked off a runner at third base to end the inning. Temple JUCO signee Lance Cantrell picked up where he left off in the fall when he was establishing himself as one of the top left-handed hitters in the area, who should make hard contact at a high rate.

Noticeably more physical than when I saw him in the summer, Texas Southern signee Zach Fields packs some intriguing bat speed and raw juice in the batter’s box, but wasn’t able to tap into it. Clearly new to pitching and very raw on the mound, Fields bumped 92 MPH as a reliever and Tomball Memorial hopes he can be a crucial backend option. Fields occasionally and purposely changed his delivery, torso and shoulder positions to try to create movement on his fastball. Control was a definite issue against Cypress Ranch, but Fields has the athleticism and arm strength to possibly develop into a hard-throwing relief option for his team.

College Station at Cy-Fair

CY-FAIR HIGH SCHOOL – Back in the Cypress-Fairbanks area again Tuesday evening, I again watched two teams who should be in the playoffs and could stay there a while. College Station traveled to Cy-Fair and on this especially gorgeous evening for baseball, big 2022 right-hander and Five Tool 55 member Blake Binderup was on the mound for College Station.

A Texas A&M signee, Binderup looked like he’s added a little bit of muscle and filled out some physically. What makes Binderup particularly intriguing as a prospect is he’s a good athlete, especially for his size, with a clean delivery and clean arm. It’s easy to dream on what he could become on the mound. Binderup came out firing a lot of four-seam fastballs and sat 86-89 MPH in his two innings. But credit Cy-Fair’s left-handed hitters for setting the tone with some loud contact and very competitive at-bats early.

Senior outfielder and left-handed reliever Connor Rodriguez hits leadoff for a solid lineup and worked a walk after some aggressive, yet under control, hacks just missed fastballs and fouled them back. Later, Rodriguez drilled a hard RBI double. Currently uncommitted, Rodriguez played with a lot of energy, confidence and showed some quality baseball instincts on the bases, which allowed him to play quicker than his 4.4 time down the line.

A solid athlete, Rodriguez should be on the radar of D2/D3/JUCO coaches and is one of the top students in his class. He set the tone for his team, a team that looked mentally tough and ready to compete against one of the state’s best arms from the jump. Rodriguez, Alex Dunigan (Colorado School of Mines) and Trevor Sebek (St. Edward’s) hit fastballs hard from the left side. Sebek recently committed and is one of the better defensive third baseman Billy Hardin has coached at Cy-Fair.

But right-handers were overmatched by Binderup’s breaking stuff. The big righty showed a feel for spinning and manipulating the baseball to feature both a curve (73-75 MPH) with bigger two-plane break and a sharper slider (76-79 MPH) with less vertical movement. Binderup was able to bury either pitch later in counts and even buckled a right-handed hitter. He threw a few changeups 77-82 MPH with enough interesting feel to project it as a future third pitch, but it’s a work in progress. As Binderup builds up, expect the velocity to continue to climb – he reached back for 91 MPH – and expect the breaking stuff to continue to rack up swings and misses. The Aggie signee should help form one of the best pitching staffs in the state if Rice signee Ryland Urbanczyk and McNeese State signee Luke Steward continue to progress well coming off injury; it sounds like the former has already been up to 92 MPH and the latter 89 MPH.

Right-hander Amar Tsengeg threw the ball well this summer and his feel for spin was in midseason form during the team’s first scrimmage of the year. He spun a few aesthetically-pleasing curveballs near 2500 RPM and sat pretty comfortably at 83-85 MPH; there are some hidden MPH in the delivery, too, which features a pretty quick arm and noticeable shoulder external rotation. An outstanding student with an extremely high GPA, Tsengeg has a great reputation in his program because of his work ethic. It wouldn’t surprise his coaches if he bumped 90 MPH this season with a breaking ball that’s a weapon.

Aidan De Leon, a definite name to follow in the 2024 class, should also help the College Station pitching staff because of his feel for spin and mid-80s velocity. However, De Leon appears destined to be a standout on the dirt somewhere. Athletic and quick with some present strength, De Leon has an intriguing right-handed swing, which led to one ball being hit near the wall in deep left-center field; it’s a swing that should eventually do some damage with fly balls carrying over the wall. In the meantime, De Leon started at shortstop, played catcher and moved around the infield. He looked like a future D1 prospect. De Leon wasn’t the only interesting 2024 prospect on the diamond. Cy-Fair’s Austin Godwin should provide some big thump for his lineup from the right side and looked like a hitter that should be on D1 radars.

College Station is excited about the potential of physical 2023 catcher Tyler Abdalla and 2025 pitcher Holden Hering. Big-time football standout Dalton Carnes, a senior center fielder for Tomball Memorial, smashed a bomb to left-center field. Athletic and twitchy with strength packed into a compact frame, Carnes did come up empty in a couple other at-bats, but his approach should result in a few more big flies this season. While we’re discussing two-sport standouts, Cy-Fair 2023 center fielder Kyle Chambers was a first-team all-district receiver, is a big-time academic student, and is a really good athlete with speed that translates on the diamond. Currently uncommitted, Chambers should have the attention of elite academic institutions.

Clark at South San

SOUTH SAN ANTONIO HIGH SCHOOL – After back-to-back nights just off Highway 290 in the Cy-Fair area, I spent some quality time with I-35 and ended up, along with at least 20 professional scouts, at South San Antonio to see Clark High School. The main attraction was 2022 shortstop and TCU signee Anthony Silva. Rated No. 13 in the updated 2022 Five Tool 55, Silva looked like he grew a little and filled out with some more muscle.

Unfortunately for evaluators, Silva wasn’t challenged by quality stuff or velocity on the mound and also didn’t see much action defensively. He finished 2-for-3 with a single, double to right-center, walk, stolen base and was part of the many runs scored by Clark. With a solid all-around skill set, Silva is a good bet to hit for a high average, get on base, and play clean defense at shortstop this season for a team poised to make a deep playoff run. Like he did in the summer, Silva’s presence seems to be one teammates love being around and has a bit of a calming confidence that rubs off on the roster.

It definitely rubs off on his little brother, 2024 switch-hitting catcher Jacob Silva. Like his older brother, Jacob didn’t see many strikes and controlled the zone well. His swing was legitimate from both sides of the plate and it looked like he has a chance to become an impact bat for his team this season. 2023 teammate Kole Kinnison is another switch-hitter at Clark who started at third base and pulled a hard single through the right side his first at-bat. With a compact frame that looks like it’s already carrying some strength, Kinnison should provide some gap-to-gap liners for his team this season.

On the mound, 2024 right-handed pitcher Jake Neely is poised to become one of the top arms in his class. During his first of two innings of work, Neely touched 91 MPH and sat 88-90 MPH with his four-seam heater, showing some feel for throwing strikes to his gloveside and his heater played well up in the zone. In the second inning, his fastball sat at 85-88 MPH and with a simple, repeatable delivery featuring a quick arm and strong front leg to support effort through his finish, Neely is a good bet to hold even better velocity as he matures, builds up and increases his shoulder strength and rotation.

Neely didn’t have to use the full arsenal during his two innings. He threw a few curveballs 71-73 MPH and one flashed as a future plus offering. In warmups, the uncommitted right-hander, who appeared to be around 6-1, showed legitimate and promising feel for both a slider and changeup, too. It was obvious Neely’s feel for spin is advanced for his age and he looks like a major D1 prospect. I can’t imagine there are many 2024 right-handers in Texas with more potential and present ability.

Random Thoughts from the Road

I keep getting unintentionally suckered into Starbucks that are located inside a Target because local coffee shops are closed on certain days. C’mon. Coffee shops shouldn’t be closed during normal business hours. And cruise control is one of the best achievements in automobile history.

Dustin McComas
Senior Editor
Five Tool Baseball

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