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Desert Baseball Challenge Notebook II


Les Lukach
State Scouting Director

          

PALM DESERT, CA. - The Desert Baseball Challenge is the brainchild of longtime Palm Desert Head Coach Darol Salazar and has become a must stop providing college coaches and pro scouts a last look in a calendar year at some prospects. 

Given the timing of the event in mid-December, many pitchers are on limited pitch counts for their respective outings. That proves to be beneficial for observers like me because I can get a glimpse of the depth of pitching staffs, something that likely will play a big role in the success of a team in the spring. And while yes, it is SoCal, and it is the desert area, the weather, particularly the cold wind, played a role in these games in some cases making what I saw all the more impressive. 

Earlier I posted my first notebook on the event that featured the Game of the Tournament and some notable players including over 10 uncommitted players in various classes who will undoubtedly attract some eyes in the spring. This notebook will feature more notable players along with a couple underclassmen to watch heading into the spring season. 

Video has been uploaded into profiles for all players below and can be accessed with a PBR subscription

FRESHMAN TO WATCH

Freshman are a peculiar bunch in that when they’re thrust into challenging positions a coach can’t really know how the player is going to react no matter the amount of times he’s shown he can handle it in the fall. And while that is the case with freshman, you get the sense that Landon Greenhouse (King HS), the 22nd ranked player in his class, is going to acclimate to the gauntlet that is the Wolves spring season just fine. While the defense is ahead of the offense right now, there’s enough in the bat presently to get a sense of what his potential may be. He runs very well and showed excellent reads off the bat with efficient angles/routes to the ball. The arm works now and will only continue to improve with physical development. There’s accuracy with it, and although throws can at times be rushed, his body remains under control. At the plate he’s slightly hunched and bent at the hips. Showed the ability to pick up spin and fight it off when he was out front. There’s whippiness to his barrel with fast hands and a commitment to his plan - in video in profile he was very clearly trying to go the other way with two strikes. 

SOPHOMORE TO WATCH

One of my favorite things about this tournament is seeing which non-varsity players from the previous season are trusted with starting positions in the field and the lineup and expected to contribute come the spring. It’s a bonus when the player stands out with his play on either side of the ball; double bonus when he stands out on both sides. One such player for me last weekend was sophomore Austin Overn (Foothill HS) who started in center field for the Knights. It didn’t take long for Overn to catch my attention as he took the second pitch he saw and drove it about 15-feet short of the 355 sign in right-center-field to start off the 7:45 PM game at La Quinta High School. It was very loud contact and a sign of his sneaky pop but most importantly it showed his feel for the barrel that he’d show throughout the game. His next at-bat though his discipline showed through as he worked a walk before his final at-bat showed a combination of present tools. As seen in the video in his profile, Overn finds himself in a 2-1 count before reading spin, adjusting the barrel, and dumping the ball into right field for an RBI single. It was a heady at-bat for a sophomore being counted on to contribute this year. I counted two defensive opportunities with one being a rangy play to his right which he made easily. 

NOTABLE PLAYERS

Perhaps no player in SoCal has had a better last seven months than senior shortstop Milan Tolentino (Santa Margarita HS) given what he’s done and where he's been. After winning a CIF-SS D2 title in Dodger Stadium, the UCLA commit played in the prestigious Area Code Games before moving on to win a Gold Medal with USA Baseball’s 18U National Team. What he’s done along the way is see his value in the MLB Draft climb with his play this weekend cementing what many scouts already believed, that Tolentino has worked himself into the discussion as top player in California - he’s currently #5 in the Class of 2020 state rankings. Against Foothill he made a play on the second base side of the bag that was a short hop near the grass cutout before firing a rocket to first to get the runner by a step. It left onlookers with the "how'd he do that?" look on their faces. The next day he hit a homer to center-field before later making a play to the 5.5 hole where he backhanded, gathered and threw the runner out at second base. Think Jeter minus the pirouette. The same look from the day before adorned onlookers faces….While it might not be seven months of good feelings like Tolentino has had, senior outfielder Isaiah Greene (Corona HS) has had the type of run since late summer that all the spring “pop-up” guys have as it pertains to the MLB Draft. While Greene will never be a pop-up guy to area scouts - he’s been a known guy since freshman year - the feeling on Greene going into the Area Code Games was “if not now, when?” Well, he certainly has responded to that challenge since then and this weekend was no different. On Saturday in front of close to 20 pro scouts, Greene showed the type of tools - speed, pitch recognition, projectable power - that have him, in some cases, close to the top of scouts lists. He appears more balanced at the plate and while there’s still room for improvement there, his contact rate has improved giving him a chance to use his 6.73-sixty speed. That came into play once when he reached base on what should’ve been a groundout. The slightest bobble on the play gave Greene the chance to be safe. The arrow is clearly pointing straight up for the Missouri commit...Sophomore righthander Matthew Porchas (Santa Margarita HS), the #1 ranked player in the Class of 2022 state rankings, was making one of his first appearances since summer against Foothill and the Texas commit came out looking a bit different than my last viewing. Naturally his velocity wasn’t the low-90’s stuff we saw in the summer, but it was his delivery that stood out. Porchas appears to have slowed his body down a tick and as a result the delivery looks like it’s using less effort without affecting the natural arm speed. Porchas worked 88-89 mph with the fastball while his curveball was 72-74 mph and while his command deserted him a bit at times, he showed he could regroup and execute pitches when he needed too….Staying on the Santa Margarita theme, junior left-hander Ethan Flanagan (Santa Margarita HS) was a guy I marked my schedule to see last weekend. The UCLA commit was back on the mound after missing all of last year with an injury - he had been hitting in the Eagles lineup, holding his own at the plate. Naturally there were some hints of rust for Flanagan who saw his command of all pitches desert him at one time or another. Nothing to be concerned with given the time off after recovering from last year's injury. The southpaw appeared a bit juiced up in the first inning and it showed on the gun as he touched 89 mph while pumping plenty of 87-88 mph with the fastball. The changeup worked primarily 78-79 mph while his curveball was 68 mph. Flanagan has been tinkering with a cut slider that flashes a lot of movement in on righties and was very difficult to pick up out of the hand. There were a handful of each pitch that could’ve gone the either way that didn’t go his way….Senior right hander Corbin Ellis (El Dorado HS) is going to make a college program very happy they recruited him, whether that’s next year or after a year at a JUCO, now that Ellis’s focus is exclusively on baseball after playing football in high school. The 6-foot-4, 205-pound right-handed pitcher/outfielder is physical, athletic, and highly academic; he’s also raw and projectable from a pitching standpoint and you can’t help but think that now that his focus is solely on baseball that the gains will follow. Worked 85-86 mph with the fastball on a downhill plane which he paired with a 75-76 mph slider that shows downer action from the same tunnel as the fastball. For good measure he threw a more traditional curveball at 74-75 mph. Nothing was hit hard and most outs were recorded via groundout. I mentioned the academics earlier, HE’S A 4.3 GPA KID….Sophomore right hander Seth Sumner (Damien HS) was another arm I wanted to be certain to see last weekend as I have been told there have been some strides made since summer. Sumner is all of 6-foot-3 with long levers and a high waist. He showed a loose arm whose slot he repeated from his simple delivery. Like many pitchers last weekend his fastball command was inconsistent, and like most others he too was able to regroup and get back to basics and throw strikes. Fastball worked mostly 82-83 mph while touching 84 mph repeatedly. It shows some running life at the plate and he manages to keep the pitch at or below the knees consistently. There’s lots to like from Sumner who will undoubtedly see his frame continue to fill out….Sticking with the Spartans, junior outfielder Matty Clark (Damien HS) has always had the look of a defensive back to me and after seeing him for the first time in a couple of months that thought was magnified. The Arizona commit appears thicker from the shoulders down, particularly in the lower half. That noticeable strength showed itself on Saturday when he destroyed a fastball and put it over the left field fence for a home run (see video). He appears more upright with his back while a little lower in the crouch maximizing that lower half strength in his drive into the ball. The 27th ranked player in the Class of 2021 state rankings, Clark is primed for a big spring after a summer that saw him perform very well in the Underclass Area Code Games….Sophomore Andrew Walters (Corona HS), the 10th ranked player in the Class of 2022 state rankings, is a recent San Diego State commit whose prowess at the plate I first saw at this tournament last year when he banged a loud double off the left-center-field wall at College of the Desert. Walters looks different at the plate with a more upright setup - he used to hunch over at the waist - which seems to be paying off. He’s able to clear his hips more freely allowing him to tap into his power more regularly. In a game on Saturday he smoked the first pitch he saw foul for a home run. Two pitches later he did it again (see video), this time keeping the ball fair into a three-club (golf reference) wind. The change in his setup could lead to increased power numbers which would be welcomed for Corona whose schedule in 2020 has a chance to be amongst the most challenging in the Southern Section….The last game of the weekend for me featured right handed pitcher Jake Brooks (Fountain Valley HS) and his Barons teammates. I have not seen the righty throw since the Area Code Games so when I heard he was throwing Saturday night I made sure to be there. And while it was only an inning of work in which he threw 13 pitches and struck out the side, Brooks did throw a couple of changeups, the present difference making pitch in his arsenal. He registered his final strikeout with a 77 mph incarnation of the pitch that just disappeared into the back foot of the right handed hitter (see video). His fastball worked 88-89 mph showing hints of run on a couple of them. When you watch the video, watch the trees in the background for an indication of the wind during this game, it was blowing as hard as it had at any point in the weekend….Last but certainly not least, junior outfielder and Washington commit Coly Wallace (Santa Margarita HS) was a highly sought after recruit before choosing the Huskies. He showed this weekend why come a year from now he may be a highly sought after draft prospect. All Wallace ever does is hit the ball and hit it hard. He had some big hits for the Eagles in their run to a CIF-SS D2 title last year and my money is on him doing more of the same these next two spring seasons. He’s definitely added mass to his 6-foot-4 frame that is listed at 200-pounds as he looks thicker in the upper half. Hit two balls hard in one game and had nothing to show for it; one of them was tracked down deep in right-center-field, while the other was right at someone. On Saturday he crushed a ball that one-hopped the right-center-field fence for a standup double - was 4.37 around the bag. The swing is easy from a simple setup - he just attacks the ball. Wallace will be a very intriguing follow this spring and beyond as we look way ahead to the 2021 MLB Draft.



UPCOMING EVENTS

SHOWCASE STATE DATE LOCATION
Orange County Preseason All-State CA 01/04 JSerra High School
Winter Update Series powered by EM Sports CA 01/07 EM Sports - San Diego
Central Valley Preseason I.D. CA 01/11 Clovis North HS
Winter Update Series powered by EM Sports CA 01/13 EM Sports - Rancho Cucamonga
California Far North Preseason I.D. CA 01/18 Chico HS
NorCal Preseason All-State CA 01/25 Islanders Field at River Islands
Winter Update Series powered by EM Sports CA 01/27 EM Sports - Long Beach
Super 60 Pro Showcase NATIONAL 02/02 The MAX - McCook, IL

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