After spending my night at the University of Houston watching the Dodgers Scout Team versus San Jacinto College the day before, I made the trip north to see the Blue Jays Scout Team face Weatherford College at Dallas Baptist University. And the two games couldn’t have been more different.

Hitters hit. All the time. A 2023 infielder continues to prove that and two outfielders could soon join him in that rare tier. Notes:

Recently, we previewed our upcoming 2023 rankings update by releasing new players who will be ranked in the top 10. The Blue Jays Scout Team included two of those players: Southlake Carroll shortstop Ethan Mendoza and Hebron switch-hitting outfielder Aden Howard. Both players smashed homers during last Wednesday’s game and both looked every part of elite Texas prospects.

Mendoza, committed to Arizona State, has the best ability in the class to time pitches and get the barrel to the baseball. He possesses outstanding hand strength and quickness and an innate ability to recognize the ball out of the hand and get the bat to it; it’s rare to see him swing-and-miss, especially against fastballs. For example:

– In his first at-bat, Mendoza took a quality changeup in a 2-1 count that was out of the zone and then pulled a 3-1 fastball very hard for a single. He promptly stole second and third base on a lackadaisical pitcher.

– During his next at-bat, Mendoza let a curveball travel and smoked it just foul the opposite way. He then was challenged with an inside fastball, pulled his hands inside of it, put an angry barrel on it and drilled it into the left field bullpen for a homer.

– And in his third plate appearance, Mendoza took a slider that would get most high school hitters to chase and then pulled a 93 MPH fastball foul before walking. Finally, in his last at-bat, Mendoza was retired when he hit a very hard grounder right at the second baseman.

Everything about last spring, the summer and now the fall continues to suggest Mendoza is the top pure hitter in the 2023 class. And he’s a solid defender with good actions, too. The way we’ve been describing Howard is similar to Mendoza.

The DBU commitment caught our attention during a 2022 preseason scrimmage before his junior season, was excellent at Hebron, carried that into a strong summer with very bright moments at Area Code and is seemingly improving with the bat each time we see him. Since Howard often hits from the left side, I haven’t seen him take many swings right-handed. What I saw was an easy, rhythmic, effortless swing that creates good paths to the baseball with surprising natural juice that’s only going to improve. He made ripping a homer to left field look easy.

Later in the game from the left side, Howard lined out, was caught looking on a tough two-strike pitch and worked a walk to end a competitive, lengthy at-bat. Defensively, Howard showed his athleticism, wheels and improving skill when he ran down a deep fly ball in left-center field.

In that preview story, I didn’t mention Lovejoy’s Aidan Smith would be a new member inside the top 10. At the time I published that, he was just a couple spots outside. However, after seeing the Mississippi State commitment again for the Blue Jays and at the Five Tool and Texas Scouts Association event this past weekend, I moved him inside the top 10. Why? A few reasons:

– Smith’s defense continues to really impress me. This weekend, he nearly chased down a very, very deep fly ball to the warning track in left-center thanks to a good jump, route and speed. The more I see him, the more I think he could play center field at an above average or better level, which is boosted by a plus arm.

– Some players might match him, but no one exceeds Smith’s effort. He’s a shining example of how to play the game. The 6-2 right-hander runs out everything and nearly beat out a routine grounder to second base. Smith is also routinely in the 4.3 range down the line with some 4.2s, too.

– He keeps hitting and is covering the plate while doing so. I haven’t seen many swings and misses this summer and fall against quality stuff. Smith isn’t a hitter with a grooved swing and he isn’t a talented guy who feasts on average pitching or fastballs in fastball counts. He can really hit, which included staying through the fastball and smoking a hard, line drive double over the second baseman’s head after a very deep sacrifice fly his first at-bat.

PITCHERS

The main attraction for professional scouts was White Oak left-handed pitcher Gavyn Jones, who tossed 2.0 solid innings, and he continued to look the part of one of the top left-handed pitchers in Texas. Calmly and confidently, Jones breezed through his outing thanks to his fastball (87-90 MPH) control with some flashes of command to both sides of the plate (strikeout looking to the glove side against a left-handed hitter), control of his short slider (78 MPH), and an 83 MPH changeup he threw for strikes with a fastball release. Jones is unafraid to challenge hitters and the strength of his lower half shows in his repeatable delivery.

RJ Ruias looked like a new man on the mound. When I saw him in the state tournament and then again in the summer, he was clearly fatigued. But the Baylor commitment is a gamer. He was, literally, playing with the Dallas Tigers the next day after Celina was eliminated in the playoffs.

At DBU last Wednesday, the left-hander touched 89 MPH with his fastball and showed a changeup at 77-78 MPH that was easily his best offering and a true bat-missing pitch against right-handers. Ruias’ curveball is thrown hard at 77-78 MPH but has inconsistent shape and looks like a re-work at the next level. That said, he’s an intriguing arm and a true two-way talent because I’m a believer in Ruias’ bat. Later in the game, he ripped a 92 MPH fastball the other way for a double, again showing that timing velocity is a strength.

Texas Tech commit and tall Wakeland right-handed pitcher Carson Priebe sat 89-91 MPH with his fastball that created whiffs. He also used a 77-81 MPH curveball with sharp vertical break that showed bat-missing promise when it was slower with more depth and an 81 MPH changeup that profiles as an average offering and true third pitch. Priebe, who worked exclusively out of the stretch, didn’t throw as many strikes when I saw him this weekend. When Priebe opened up too early, he lost his fastball to the arm side and didn’t get on top of the breaking ball. As he continues to fill out and grow into his 6-6 frame with length, the control should tick up because he moves well on the mound for a player of his age and size.

My first look at Proper left-handed pitcher Dane Burns was a good one. It’s obvious some physical projection remains and there’s a lot to tap into in the delivery, which features impressive hip-to-shoulder separation and opportunities to increase efficiency and better leverage his athleticism and arm speed, which isn’t surprising because Burns isn’t that far removed from injury. He fired strikes with an 85-88 MPH fastball that had some angle with a promising 80 MPH changeup thrown for strikes.

The standout pitch was the 76-79 MPH slider, a sharp, tight breaking ball that plays well off his fastball tunnel before taking a quick dive down and to his glove side. Burns executed that pitch well and it should rack up swinging strikes against both right-handers and left-handers. This weekend at the TSA event didn’t go as smoothly for Burns, who struggled with his control in a short inning. As his reps increase and he builds up for the spring season, I’m confident he’ll throw strikes more often than not.

Another pitcher I had my first look at was Aledo right-hander Bryce McCain. Admittedly, I didn’t know much about McCain, but I quickly learned he’s a candidate to emerge as one of the best right-handed pitchers in the state.

A recent McLennan commitment, McCain is a lean, athletic right-handed pitcher with more physical growth ahead, good elbow flexion and good shoulder rotation. Despite a crossfire look, McCain was able to get his fastball to his glove side thanks to his athleticism. In particular, I really liked the way McCain was able to manipulate the spin and shape of the baseball out of his hand.

Although he has a higher release with his fastball, which occasionally had some sink and weight depending on how he threw it, and uses a lower release for his curveball and changeup, the way he changed his fastball shape and created circle change movement out of his fingers was impressive. He searches for curveball spin with a lower slot, and the pitch is more of a slow breaker than a tight one right now. But I have no doubt as McCain develops he’s going to spin a breaking ball very well in the future.

He’s a very exciting pitching prospect because he’s good right now – fastball was up to 92 MPH with curveball settling in at 70-74 MPH and changeup for strikes at 81-82 MPH – and has so much exciting room for growth ahead. I could see him having a senior season reminiscent of Tate Evans (Flower Mound Marcus), who ended up in the Five Tool 55 after putting up ridiculously dominant stats and has a similar profile.

QUICK HITTERS

– Weatherford right-handed pitcher Garrett McLaughlin was absolutely dominant and opened his two-inning appearance by striking out the side. He fired a fastball up to 90 MPH with some natural cut, but the 81-84 MPH slider was the standout pitch. McLuaghlin, who is uncommitted, commanded his slider to the arm side versus lefties and glove side versus righties; in one at-bat, he started the pitch to break into the zone as a strike before starting the next one on the outer edge to break out of the zone for a whiff. McLaughlin, who also featured a 79 MPH curveball, is a physical 5-8 prospect who clearly doesn’t skip weight room workouts and is definitely a D1 prospect.

The only hitter to take a good swing against McLaughlin was Texas commitment and Denton Guyer prospect Lane Allen. The big, physical right-handed hitter hit a slider on the outer edge hard and right at the center fielder. Allen’s bat continues to stand out each time we see him.

– This was my first look in a long time at Texas A&M commitment and Flower Mound Marcus outfielder Caden Sorrell, and I’m all-in. Sorrell ran from home-to-first in 4.26 seconds, is very athletic with projection, showed noteworthy left-handed bat speed, covered ground well in the outfield and has at least an average arm. Looking way ahead at his future tools, Sorrell rates as having average or better across the board. There is a twitchy suddenness to his game that accompanies promising skill on both sides of the ball.

– I’ve seen 2024 Prestonwood Christian Academy catcher AJ DePaulo several times over the last couple of months, and each time I become more convinced he’s going to stick at catcher, impact games defensively and is going to hit. The Vanderbilt commitment always brings energy to the ballpark and competes with maturity. Another 2024 catcher, Zane Becker, held his own and didn’t look lost among JUCO players and top 2023 prospects.

– Tall, lean right-handed pitcher Jacob Gholston touched 91 MPH with his fastball from a lower slot and when he got to his slider (74-76 MPH), it showed some promise. Texas State commitment and Denton Guyer right-handed pitcher Brad Pruiett was also up to 91 MPH and showed a hard slider/cutter at 84-86 MPH, and one breaker that looked like a curveball at 79 MPH.

This past weekend at the Texas Scouts Association and Five Tool event, Pruett threw a good changeup with late fade and was excellent across 5.0 shutout innings.

– Coming back from injury, Southlake Carroll right-handed pitcher Jared White, now recently an uncommitted prospect, threw strikes with his fastball (85-88 MPH), curveball (73-75 MPH) and changeup (76 MPH). Unafraid to challenge hitters, White worked quickly and confidently on the mound. As his reps pile up and he is further removed from injury, his arm speed should increase.

– I can see why Oklahoma State recently secured a commitment from Plano left-hander Kyle Bade. He was up to 88 MPH last Wednesday, which is the best velocity I’ve seen from him. Always a competitive strike-thrower with multiple pitches (78 MPH changeup stood out), Bade appeared a little bigger on the mound and the added strength showed on the radar gun.

– Hitting at his future college park, Mansfield Legacy outfielder Dylan Schlaegel burned the right fielder with a line drive, hit a hard sac fly, and continued to show exciting hitting ability.

– Against his future teammates, Tanner Wiggins touched 91 MPH and also threw an 82-83 MPH changeup, which I hadn’t seen a lot in the past. The more the third pitch comes along, the better the odds he could start some games at Weatherford. But looking way ahead, it’ll be tempting to throw his future premium velocity and slider in the backend of a bullpen.

Cooper Strawn also touched 91 MPH and threw a 77-82 MPH slider. The big righty’s control remains a work in progress with fastballs missing up and to the arm side, but the velocity was a tick better than Area Code and AABC Don Mattingly World Series.

– In my final days of covering the University of Texas, I heard how much excitement there was about Jack Arthur’s bat. Now at Weatherford after transferring, Arthur, a high-waisted athlete with some projection remaining, showed his impressive bat speed when he drilled a no-doubt three-run bomb.

– 6-5, 210-pound redshirt freshman Matthew Rheaume touched 94 MPH and featured a slider in the 81-82 MPH range. A physical righty with arm strength, Rheaume looked like he could profile somewhere in a D1 bullpen with some room for growth in stuff and command.

Dustin McComas
Senior Editor
Five Tool Baseball

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