Extreme heat, which led to some fields playing like Coors Field, wasn’t the only thing provided at the Z-Sports Plex in Melissa, Texas during Five Tool’s premier 17U event. If you enjoy drama, the AABC Don Mattingly World Series provided plenty. Star players starred in huge moments. New names caught the attention of scouts. And Saturday’s semifinal between Twelve Baseball 2023 Maroon and Dulins Dodgers Prime is a leader for best game of the summer.

Let’s continue with the third part (we’ll have a part for each of the four brackets) of our AABC Don Mattingly World Series scout notes, featuring the MVP bracket and bracket champion, Marucci Elite Texas 2023 – Thames.

(Note: with so many games often going at once, it’s impossible for us to have eyes and ears on each at-bat and pitching performance. So, some players will be unintentionally left off. But our social media team did a fantastic job, like usual, of capturing all the standout moments from each game. All prospects are in the 2023 class unless otherwise noted.)

Marucci Elite 2023 – Thames

Let’s make a case for the pitcher who raised his profile the most in the event, Americas (El Paso) uncommitted right-handed pitcher Stephen Sepulveda: he struck out 17 batters with just three walks in 9.2 innings and 5.2 of those innings came in the semifinal or championship game. Yes, Dulins Dodgers Prime eventually got to the talented righty as his outing progressed in the final, but that shouldn’t take away from how impressive he was.

Working from the stretch, Sepulveda transitioned his weight from back to front well, kept a steady head and attacked hitters with a low three-quarters, nearly sidearm slot. His fastball, which was up to 90 MPH, played well through the hitting zone and often jumped on hitters with the occasional arm side run. But the slider was the weapon and probably the best one in the event; it was a hard, sharp, tight slider with true shape around 78-81 MPH and he executed it well to the backfoot of left-handed hitters and down and away from righties. He also showed a changeup, but the fastball-slider combination was often so good he didn’t need anything else.

Sepulveda repeated his simple delivery from the stretch well and his loose arm worked quickly and cleanly out in front. The performance wasn’t a fluke, either. We saw Sepulveda show similar stuff with similar results against a loaded Dallas Tigers – 2023 Hernandez lineup earlier in the summer.

He didn’t post amazing stats, but what I saw from right-handed pitcher Jackson Low (Foster) was very intriguing. From a tall, lean, 6-3 frame, the uncommitted right-handed pitcher fired his fastball up to 91 MPH and showed a slider (77-78 MPH), changeup (78 MPH) and curveball (73 MPH). Credit Stix 2023 Scout for putting excellent at-bats together against Low, who showed better command than the box score suggests.

Because of the way his arm worked, I think Briley Van has a chance to throw very hard in the future and he touched 90 MPH while sitting comfortably in the 86-88 MPH range. The athletic righty who has present strength accompanying an athletic, football player-like frame, flashed one of the best sliders in the event at 76-77 MPH. As Van likely adds more velocity in the future, the fastball shape could improve because the pitch looked more hittable than it should have been.

Montgomery right-handed pitcher Lance Rudder spun a pretty overhand hook and showed a quality three-pitch mix. Across 6.2 innings, he gave up one run on four hits, three walks and struck out seven. Working energetically and quietly behind the dish with Rudder and the other pitchers was Gage Kimble (Barbers Hill).

In addition to showing a strong arm behind the plate with some receiving skill and an outstanding 1.86 pop time to catch a runner stealing, the 5-10 catcher hit .500/.586/.875 with 10 runs, 9 RBI and just one strikeout. Kimble had quick, loose, strong hands in the batter’s box and had no issues timing velocity.

A couple of very productive left-handed hitters caught my attention: Tre’ Broussard (Shadow Creek) and Michael Herndon (Concordia Lutheran). The former is a major projection candidate because of his thin, long frame and hit .400/.483/.520 from the left side with a fluid, quick swing that is going to add strength and more future impact; the latter smashed two homers from the left side, and although he can sell out for the power occasionally, he should be one of Concordia Lutheran’s best players next season.

 

Also, Broussard showed his noteworthy all-around tools (4.55 seconds down the line on a big turn) by throwing out a runner to end the game and win the bracket.

Rice commitment and Grand Oaks shortstop Larry Drake made a name for himself in last year’s Pudge Rodriguez World Classic by winning Defensive MVP and he was at it again this year during the AABC Don Mattingly World Series. With a physical build that reminds me of Phillies infielder Jean Segura, Drake made all the routine plays and had a few standout moments defensively thanks to his instincts and quick actions and transfer. Drake, who seems to love the big moments and competes very well, hit .393/.433/.607 with just one strikeout in 30 plate appearances.

Stix 2023 Scout

Unfortunately for Stix 2023 Scout, it was on the wrong end of Broussard’s game-ending laser to Kimble. But after losing its first game, Stix 2023 Scout won its next four and could have easily competed for the title thanks in large part to a couple of hitters. Let’s start with Southlake Carroll shortstop Ethan Mendoza because when I think about the AABC Don Mattingly World Series standout players, Mendoza is the first player who comes to mind.

There wasn’t a better pure hitter in the event. Following a phenomenal junior season when he starred for 6A state champion Southlake Carroll, Mendoza showed his hitting gains were real by slashing .529/.609/1.059 with four weeks and zero strikeouts. A 5-10, 170-pound shortstop, Mendoza won me over on his first at-bat. Against Puerto Rico, Stix 2023 Scout’s first two players struck out and it looked like it might be a long day at the park against some solid stuff with a hard fastball. Mendoza confidently stepped into the box, timed a hard fastball, and smacked a screaming grounder through the middle of the infield. It was a sign of everything to come, which included a no-doubt bomb to left-center field later in the same game.

It wasn’t just the production, the barrel feel, the rhythmic weight transfer/efficiency and the lightning-quick hands Mendoza showed, although those are all very, very good things. Mendoza can get away with a high elbow and hands that actually pointed towards the pitcher when he loads because his hands are so fast that it actually works as a way to help them stay on time. Believe it or not, what stood out the most to me was the way Mendoza took pitches and tracked the ball out of the hand. I think you can tell a lot about how a player’s brain processes and how natural of a hitter a player is by watching how well they recognize spin out of the hand and how easily they time fastballs. Of course, we can remove a lot of the “guessing” with an S2 Cognition test.

Back on track: Mendoza wanted to put his dangerous bat in motion, but he did an excellent job of putting it in motion against the right pitches and handled all types of pitches in different counts and locations. An Area Code team member and Arizona State commitment, Mendoza looked like one of the best hitters in the state and also made some excellent plays at shortstop, too; his actions were clean and transfers very quick.

I left Melissa even more excited about the long-term outlook for DBU commitment and Mansfield Legacy outfielder Dylan Schlaegel. Clearly a dedicated player in the weight room, the physical, twitchy, explosive 5-11, 175-pound athlete has added muscle to his frame without sacrificing any speed or athleticism. With some of the best bat speed and all-around tools of any outfielder in the state, Schlaegel tracked down balls in center field, showed an above-average arm and hit .450/.560/.900 with two homers and four steals; he looks like the type of prospect who could have average-or-better future tools across the board.

Schlaegel’s summer and high school teammate Parker Ibrahimi smacked a mammoth homer and is going to be an interesting right-handed hitting prospect for D1 coaches to track. Burleson two-sport standout and two-way player Kyndall Cassidy hit in the middle of a strong lineup with an under control, short-armed swing built for liners to all parts of the field. On the mound, the competitive lefty, who had an extremely productive junior season, filled up the zone and his fastball/curveball shape led to his stuff playing up.

On the mound for Stix 2023 Scout, Oklahoma commitment Parker Hutyra and uncommitted right-hander Trevor Tranberg had scoreless starts. It’s easy to see why OU is betting on Hutyra, a Birdville product who tossed 4.0 clean innings with two hits and three strikeouts. He’s going to be a big, physical, hard and strike-throwing right-hander because of the promising arm speed and shoulder rotation, and the slider has a real chance, too.

As for Tranberg, he touched 89 MPH with his fastball and sat early at 85-88 MPH. I thought his fastball had some noticeable jump on hitters with what looked like promising shape and against a very solid, competitive Houston Athletics 17U Gold lineup, the righty gave up just one hit, walked two and struck out four across 6.0 innings. From an uptempo delivery with a three-quarters arm slot and some crossfire, Tranberg looks like he has a big velocity jump coming in the future because of his physical outlook and arm speed with the type of “layback” we so often see from really hard throwers. His hard, firm slider was up to 78 MPH and didn’t miss as many bats early, but it was clear the uncommitted pitcher has some feel for manipulating breaking stuff because as the outing progressed he began to generate whiffs with a slightly different spin shape.

Mansfield Legacy – man, that program is going to be loaded next year – right-handed pitcher Blake Julius was recently named to the Area Code team and while his overall numbers from the AABC Don Mattingly World Series – 6.2 innings, 4.2 ERA, six hits, five walks, nine strikeouts – don’t look great, that was driven by a relief appearance, his third outing of the event, when he walked four in .2 innings.

During his strong start against Marucci Elite Texas 2023 – Thames, Julius showed four pitches – a four-seam fastball (much straighter and true than the one with arm side run he showed earlier in a relief appearance because the fastball can come out of the side of the hand sometimes) at 86-89 MPH, a curveball at 69 MPH, a slider 74-75 MPH and a changeup at 78 MPH, which to me looked like his best secondary offering at present because he threw it with fastball conviction for a strike with late fade. The curveball was a short breaker and the slider was more of a slurve look with late horizontal break.

Listed at 6-6, 210 pounds, Julius, an Oklahoma State commitment, has a long torso, but generally controls his length and size well and should be a strike-thrower with a simple delivery. As he continues to refine his breaking stuff and mature, I’m expecting the stuff to trend positively.

More Notes from the MVP Bracket…

– Covered Colorado Yard Dawgs – Bates right-handed pitcher Max Stanley at length in our early takeaways piece, but he was so impressive he’s worth nothing again because the strike-throwing with command of four distinct, quality pitches was very impressive, especially from a projectable frame.

It was easy to see why Stanley’s teammate Casehl Dugger (Valor Christian; Colorado) is a Michigan commitment already because he was one of the best left-handed hitters in the event and consistently created good bat paths to make quality contact (.500/.611/.643 with zero strikeouts). Arizona State commitment and two-way player Brok Eddy showed impressive skill and juice when he extended his arms.

Finley Bates, a San Diego State commitment, is undersized, but had some of the quickest hands in the event, which helped his surprising pop show from the right side.

– Any discussion about the best, most dominating pitcher in the event needs to include MVP 2023 left-handed pitcher Colin Fisher (Noble; Oklahoma). With a competitive fastball up to 89 MPH, swing and miss curveball at 74 MPH with tight, sharp, late dive and an 81 MPH changeup for a swing and miss with fastball conviction, Fisher struck out 12 in 6.1 innings and gave up just four hits and walked one (three unearned runs). It was obvious why Arkansas already secured his commitment.

Teammate and right-handed catcher Ethan Gillespie (Mcalester; Oklahoma) was one of the most productive players with the bat in the event and plays with good energy.

– Houston Athletics 17U Gold right-handed hitting outfielder Brett Smajstrla continued his strong summer and put himself on the map as a player D1 coaches should be paying close attention to. You can read more about him HERE.

Milby two-way player and left-handed hitter/pitcher Art Perez remains one of my favorite players to watch. Every time I see him, he hits. It’s undoubtedly a hit over power profile, but it’s also been a high contact bat the entire summer; for pitchers, his bat-to-ball skill and willingness to spoil pitches by using the whole field is extremely annoying. The uncommitted prospect hit .571 with a double, triple and zero strikeouts. I like him more as a future hitter than pitcher, but he’s thrown strikes with three pitches routinely this summer, too.

 

Speaking of strikes from the left side, Johnathon Canter has done that all summer and gave up just one earned run on four hits and two walks across 8.1 innings with six strikeouts. He pitches with deception in the delivery/arm path with a big curveball and fastball command.

– Temple Christian uncommitted right-handed pitcher and NTXBC Dirtbags – 2023 Woods/Sedberry standout Tanner Wiggins created some buzz around the state when he bumped 94 MPH during a previous Five Tool event. With college coaches and professional scouts in attendance, Wiggins touched 91 MPH during his AABC Don Mattingly World Series outing with an inconsistent but sharp, 77-78 MPH slider that flashed as a swing and miss pitch with hard bite. Wiggins’ delivery comes with a noticeable head whack and some effort, but at around 6-1 and 175 pounds, Wiggins still has some physically maturation and growth ahead of him to add more velocity to an already strong arm. Wiggins has been predominantly a two-pitch pitcher, but showed a deeper arsenal in the bullpen prior to his start.

– Texas Oilers 17U Hamblin/Hancock shortstop Connor Clark (Sherman) ran down the line in 4.18 seconds from the right side and hit .385/.429/.538. Listed at 5-10, 155 pounds, Clark is definitely thin, but he’s very athletic (football standout), has good bat speed for his size and is going to add weight/strength to his frame without sacrificing the kind of athleticism that can profile in multiple spots defensively.

Left-handed hitting first baseman Tyler Townsend didn’t have issues timing velocity for hard contact and teammate Max Ciemenski (McKinney Boyd) was the team’s most productive hitter (.500/.600/.750).

– Puerto Rico right-handed pitcher Byron Perez kept a good Stix 2023 Scout lineup in check thanks to a quality fastball that played up and touched 89 MPH. He utilized a delivery and arm path that reminded me of current Rays right-handed pitcher Corey Kluber and also threw a hard slider.

Really enjoyed watching right-handed hitting shortstop Alex Bruno, whose confident actions were present in both the batter’s box and on the turf defensively. With a thin frame, Bruno has plenty of room to fill out more. Center fielder and right-handed hitter Jose Ortiz used solid all-around tools to make standout plays defensively and showed bat speed.

Dustin McComas
Senior Editor
Five Tool Baseball

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