Wednesday marked the beginning of the Early Signing Period for baseball players. For players, putting pen to paper is a reason to celebrate. Make no mistake, signing with any college program is an incredible accomplishment. For college coaches and their programs, seeing commitments become signees is also a reason to rejoice. And, if they’re being honest, coaches and support staff members will find some time to breathe in a deep sense of relief - the recruiting process concluded for those signees, and some of them have been targets or commitments for years.
Let’s take a look around the state of Texas at some 2023 signing class takeaways (we’re focusing on high school commitments/signees from Texas only):
The Houston Cougars are the big winners for 2023
In recent years, I thought Houston leaned too much to the JUCO ranks for recruiting and had fallen off as a presence for top high school talent. Any program positioned in a big city like Houston, Dallas or San Antonio should take advantage of all the talent produced yearly and that’s what Houston did in 2023.
With a move to the Big 12 on the horizon and an excellent move by Todd Whitting to bring recruiting coordinator Ross Kivett over from Tennessee, Houston’s high school recruiting has done a 180. In the updated 2023 Five Tool 55, Houston boasted eight commitments (many of who are becoming signees as I type this Wednesday) after having just one in 2022. Led by two-way talent Nehomar Ochoa Jr. (Galena Park), shortstop Tristan Russell (Cypress Woods), big-time left-handed hitter Ace Reese (Canton) and top right-handed pitcher Diego Luzardo (La Porte), Houston’s class boasts great balance and depth.
In addition to making their presence felt in Houston, the Cougars extended their reach to East Texas with the likes of Landon Bowden (Hallsville) and went down to Weslaco to grab Area Code pitcher Alex Solis (Weslaco East). The Cougars made some excellent early evaluations and while they lost a couple of big names to flips (Easton Tumis, Austin Vargas) they also capitalized similarly with the additions of Russell (one-time FSU commitment), Conner Bennett (one-time Vanderbilt commitment), Bowden (one-time TCU commitment) and skilled shortstop Larry Drake (former Rice commit).
Looking ahead to 2024, it looks like Houston’s big turnaround in Texas high school recruiting is here to stay. Obviously, the big-name programs did their usual damage landing elite players, but U of H's big turnaround is the story thus far.
Mid-major programs continue to do well
DBU, Texas State and Houston Christian (formerly HBU) continued to prove they’re a true presence on the recruiting scene. DBU’s outfielder duo of Aden Howard (Hebron) and Dylan Schlaegel (Mansfield Legacy) is as good as any in the state. JJ Kennett (Ridge Point) is a future leader and has the skill and talent to develop into the type of player coaches and fans talk about for years after he’s gone.
Looking beyond the Five Tool 55, Magnolia West right-handed pitcher James Ellwanger is among the pitchers in Texas capable of making a huge jump and becoming an elite arm; Ben Tryon will again be one of the best left-handed hitters in the state and a force for Southlake Carroll; Rock Hill shortstop Uriah Walters is a great bet on projection and potential; and, of course, David Heefner is probably going to hit. Keep an eye on Anderson right-handed pitcher Jake Melvin. He missed some time with injury, but I wouldn’t be surprised if he bumped 95 MPH or harder this season.
As for Texas State, Judson right-handed pitcher Javier Torres, a Five Tool 55 member, was an excellent early addition and could be a future Friday night arm. Do-it-all ballplayer Samson Pugh (Lake Creek) was a big recruiting win and has been a top performer during high school seasons and the summer for years.
San Antonio Johnson’s Ryne Farber, a skilled switch-hitter with great instincts and the ability to stick on the dirt, is among my personal favorites in the 2023 class; Cypress Woods’ Ethan Farris is quickly becoming one of the best right-handed power hitters in the state and Boerne’s Tyler Garritano, a former Baylor commit, could be a middle-of-the-order bat at the next level. Once again, the Bobcats are building a strong recruiting class.
Sam Houston State continued to do its thing - evaluate extremely well, hang back and resist temptation to force early commitments, sign ideal fits. Lake Creek do-it-all stud Blake Brown is the quintessential Sam Houston State addition. Jace Martinez (Barbers Hill) was a good early addition who has skill, athleticism and projection. Sinton two-way standout Braeden Brown likely ends up with a bat in his hand, but has proven capable of performing well on the mound.
During the summer, SHSU made the wise move to land Pearland outfielder Brett Smajstrla, who turned intriguing tools into some eye-opening production. Recently, the Bearkats added talented pitchers Brock Rod and Noah Kendrick. And you better believe Sam Houston State will add a couple more 2023 prospects who emerge as dudes this season.
UTSA also continued to do its thing. Katy right-handed pitcher Lucas Moore was one of the best, most productive pitchers in the state last season. Vista Ridge’s Hank Howard is a big, physical, competitive strike-thrower. On the hitting side, Diego Diaz showed exciting tools this summer and Barrett Johnson is a two-way gamer. Hard work on the recruiting trail shows.
Lance Berkman and company continue to do a great job recruiting. Pulling Sinton’s Jaquae Stewart away from basically everyone in the country was an immense addition. Assuming he ends up in college, Stewart could become the best hitter in program history. The class actually has sneaky good depth, too. Brenham’s Lane Sparks, who many top programs wanted, is a good defensive center fielder with athleticism, speed and a swing worth betting on; Corpus Christi Ray left-handed pitcher Keevyn Goss just missed making the Five Tool 55 and will contribute the moment he steps on campus; The Woodlands right-handed pitcher Ethan Coronel has one of the best changeups in the state and Ty Dagley (Tompkins) and Graham Laxton (Katy) are skilled winners.
Could UTA be the next mid-major to watch? Holding onto power-hitter Logan Myers (Arlington Martin) through the coaching change was huge and UTA’s new staff hit the ground runner had a productive summer targeting talented local prospects, like Keller outfielder Jackson Hill, do-it-all ballplayer Will Johnson from Prestonwood Christian, Midlothian infielder Kyzer Harrington and Martin pitcher Matt Hudspeth.
It’s a class light on quantity, but ACU’s quality is outstanding. Lake Travis right-handed pitcher OJ Gonzalez emerged as one of the best pitchers and competitors in the state last season and Ridge Point infielder Zion Stepens was an excellent early evaluation. ACU’s staff continues to find talent at an impressive rate. Speaking of light classes, Rice's is low on numbers and low on Texans. But adding right-handed pitcher Jackson Blank from Magnolia West this summer was a big get.
I saw both Kendall and Kamar Dove this summer and Texas A&M - Corpus Christi did a great job to land commitments from the Doves. Kamar has really intriguing upside on the mound and Kendall is a good athlete for a hitter his size and length. Additionally, landing pitcher Aidan Lamar was a big deal for the Islanders.
You can always bet on Wichita State making its presence felt in Texas. Getting a commitment from Area Code catcher and Five Tool 55 member Jerson Martin was a huge win and Boerne shortstop Cam Johnson should again be one of the best players in his region.
The Big Names…
Following an outstanding 2022 class, Texas A&M again emerged as a force in 2023. In addition to keeping long-time commitments like Boots Landry (Friendswood) and Jason Bodin (Orangefield) in the mix, the Aggies flipped Corpus Christi Ray shortstop Jack Bell from Arizona State and North Lamar left-handed pitcher Jackson Brasseux from Rice. While the current commitment/signee list doesn’t boast as many Five Tool 55 members as last year, it is loaded with guys who just missed the list and could easily make it in the future - Austin Vargas, Noah Paddie, Ty Baker, Weston Moss, Paxton Terveen and Zachary Frye. Could Caden Sorrell become the top outfielder prospect in Texas? He's in the mix among a loaded group of DFW players.
In particular, I’d be stunned if Moss doesn’t emerge as one of the premier pitching prospects this season after recovering from Tommy John surgery and Terveen has the ingredients to be one of the top left-handed pitchers in the state. Plus, I think true two-way talent Caden Ferraro, who is set to lead a loaded Pearland team, is one of the most underrated players in the state.
Texas needs to hope for some sort of MLB Draft malfunction that sends Round Rock flame-thrower Travis Sykora to school. Regardless, the Longhorns again made their presence felt in the Lone Star State. Blake Peterson (Westlake), Hayden Morris (Oak Ridge), Hudson Hamilton (Grand Oaks), Lane Allen (Guyer) and Nik Sanders (La Vega) proved to be strong, early evaluations. In particular, Sanders, if he ends up at school, should provide some of the best right-handed power potential on the roster and Hamilton is the future leader of a pitching staff.
Losing Brayden Randle was a huge blow, but Texas did well recently when it gained a commitment from Dee Kennedy (Prestonwood Christian Academy) and flipped Easton Tumis (Friendswood) from Houston. Speaking of Tumis, he has one of the best sliders in the class and is in that tier of pitchers who could jump into the MLB Draft conversation.
Texas Tech’s class is again big on numbers, power hitting and power pitching. Coppell shortstop TJ Pompey and White Oak left-handed pitcher Gavyn Jones are the headliners; the former has been one of the most famous infielders in America for a long while and the latter emerged this summer as one of the state’s top pitchers, which resulted in the Red Raiders making a quick move to lock in his commitment. Waller catcher Davis Rivers, Pleasant Grove third baseman JM Long and Hutto infielder Garet Boehm all possess some of the best hitting power in the state and 6-4 Wakeland right-handed pitcher Carson Priebe could have a Jack Livingstone-esque rise in Texas.
Something I’ve always admired about Skip Johnson is when he sees a pitcher he likes, he doesn’t hesitate to make a move. While others took their time when Keller left-handed pitcher Ty Zahradnik began to emerge this summer, Oklahoma didn’t hesitate to push for a commitment from the tall lefty. In August, OU locked in Weatherford’s Kannon Kemp and it looks like he might have some of the best pure stuff in the state; if he proves capable of carrying it in starts, he’s going to be a popular name among pro scouts. Around that same time, Oklahoma also committed Flower Mound’s Jacob Gholston, another tall right-handed pitcher with promising stuff.
Oklahoma always bets on athleticism, too. Prestonwood Christian Academy Tarris Murray is an elite athlete whose skill comes alive during games and has a lot of untapped potential and raw tools. Van Alstyne’s Dakota Howard is another outfielder who is among the best athletes in the state and is a multi-sport standout. I’m especially excited to follow the progress of Plano East outfielder Dasan Harris, another August Oklahoma commitment who has extremely intriguing tools and can fly. And while we’re on the theme of athleticism, I’m expecting a return to dominance for Celina QB1 and big-time right-handed pitcher Noah Bentley. Bentley, after a very long high school season, looked fatigued when I saw him in the summer and a fresh arm and body should do wonders during his senior season.
In-state rival Oklahoma State recently proved it used the fall to continue evaluating when it landed a commitment from left-handed pitcher Kyle Bade. Bade could always pitch in the truest sense and this fall his velocity ticked up. Lake Travis right-handed slugger Cole Johnson is going to hit a ton of bombs in Stillwater.
The new coaching staff at Baylor is one we saw on the recruiting trail everywhere we went, and it showed on the commitment list with standout summer commitments. After a phenomenal week at the AABC Don Mattingly World Series, the ‘Water Moccasin’ Stephen Sepulveda committed to the Bears and will bring one of the best sliders in the state to Waco. In that same event, Concordia Lutheran two-way standout Michael Herndon swung the bat extremely well and soon became a Baylor commitment.
Smithson Valley left-handed pitcher Jackson Elizondo, who pitches with maybe the steadiest head I’ve seen from any 2023 arm, is an excellent bet to really take off at the next level. Mason Green, another lefty, turned flashes at Cy Woods to summer dominance. Baylor quickly made the move to lock him in and also recently gained a commitment from Five Tool 55 catcher and former OU commitment, Dillon Lester (Deer Park).
TCU does a lot of damage outside state borders, but it again landed some gems in Texas. Sam Myers is one of the best pure hitters in the state, a winner, can run and his future defensive tools are above average. Five Tool is higher than the industry on Rockwall infielder Micah Kendrick and I admit I’m very bullish after just a limited look. But I’ll bet on that skill, instincts and swing from both sides. Coaches who have been around him love him and he seems to elevate his game during big moments.
It was a big bummer to hear Mason Bixby underwent Tommy John surgery, but he remains a strong bet to be a successful, all-conference-type of weekend starter in Fort Worth. Glenn High School two-way standout Holden Harris is a player I’m excited to see this season and his quick arm, demeanor and swing-and-miss profile could profile in the backend of TCU’s bullpen quickly.
The usual out-of-state suspects again came to Texas to find some dudes…
LSU (Blake Mitchell), Arkansas (Barrett Kent and Kendall George), and Mississippi State (Aidan Smith) will all have signatures from at least one top ten player for the second consecutive year.
Ole Miss (Brayden Randle and Drew Markle) continues to make its presence felt in Texas and Tennessee is increasing its reach and capitalizing on its momentum by coming to Texas more often, too. The Vols flipped Brayden Sharp from Baylor. As it typically does, Vanderbilt landed a talented pitcher from the Lone Star State (Jakob Schulz).
Arizona State was ahead of seemingly everyone when it gained a commitment from Ethan Mendoza. All he did this past high school season and summer was emerge as the best pure hitter in the state. The Sun Devils continue to recruit Texas consistently. Alabama turned Zane Adams’ affinity for the Crimson Tide growing up as a commitment from one of the premier left-handed pitching prospects in the nation. Its big rival, Auburn, gained a commitment early from Concordia Lutheran's Alex Petrovic and it looks smarter each time he toes the rubber.
JUCO baseball continues to rise…
As the transfer portal continues to be a safety pillow for D1 college coaches, JUCO baseball is becoming increasingly more popular among the most talented players in Texas. In particular, McLennan has added several big-time commitments, like Clayton Freshcorn (Waller), Bryce McCain (Aledo), Five Tool 55 member Mac Rose (Rockwall) and more. McLennan showed its strong evaluation skills when it grabbed under-the-radar shortstop Eli Hellmann out of Georgetown and Cade Waibel from Round Rock.
Temple College recently added talented Cypress Woods outfielder Kolvin Davis, wisely swooped in to add talented two-way player Mason Gerrard (Lake Belton) and gained a commitment from Round Rock pitcher and Five Tool Academic Team standout Tanner Jackson.
Tyler Junior College, after landing Five Tool 55 member Rene Galvan last year, remains a strong presence in the state with recent additions like physical, hard-throwing and hard-hitting Grayson Lincecum (Memorial) and one of my summer favorites, Levi Risenhoover.
San Jacinto does a lot of its recruiting nationally and even internationally. The Woodlands catcher Ethan Perozo was a sharp add by San Jacinto because he's proven capable of catching elite stuff. Cameron Williams, a hard-throwing, athletic left-hander, recently committed to Odessa College and joined a list that already included one of the summer’s top catcher performers (Gage Kimble) and a potential diamond in the rough, hard-throwing lefty Andrew Del Hierro. Blinn College, led by a new coaching staff, has been extremely active and productive and recently landed a big commitment from Smithson Valley catcher Ethan Gonzalez. Wharton with guys like Tyler Sunseri, Midland, Grayson with guys like Andrew Schultz, Navarro with the likes of Lathan Van Ausdall and the the list goes on... they all continue to add talent to their programs and are capitalizing on more players looking towards the JUCO route.
A quick note about the Early Signing Period…
It is and should be a day players, families and coaches never forget. But for those 2023 players who aren’t signing today or during the early period and remain uncommitted, by no means has the recruiting clock expired. Good players will continue to find opportunities and colleges of all levels will continue to look. College rosters will continue to change and more scholarship money will become available.
When I covered the Texas Longhorns some of the best players I covered didn’t sign until very, very late in the recruiting process. And each season, colleges of all classifications plan on finding rising seniors who emerge as prospects. Good players always find a baseball home.
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