2019 National High School Invitational Top 10 Pitchers

The 2019 NHSI concluded Saturday night with Orange Lutheran winning its third consecutive championship. Much like previous years, the 2019 “crop of talent” featured a myriad of pro prospects, attracting scouts from college and professional ranks. At this type of event it is common to have several concurrent games, forcing an excruciating choice between top prospects on different fields. Having little exposure to many of these kids, it made the most sense to prioritize the top pitchers. It is a four-day tournament, which means each pitcher will throw once and you’ll only get one opportunity to see them. Let’s walk through the top arms of this year’s tournament*:

1) Brennan Malone (RHP) – IMG – UNC 2019 – Best pitcher of the tournament. Great athlete with excellent mechanics: strong balance and posture through release. Short arm action makes it harder to pick up ball out of hand. Can dream on three potential 60s. Easy velo, fastball 93-95 T96 with frequent tail to arm side and some sink, pitch deadly back doored vs right-handed hitters, tailing back over the plate, looks like a ball until last moment. Slider flashed double-plus and curve flashed plus: slider was 80-83 with more vertical than horizontal break. Malone able to command it for strikes or drop below the zone as a chase pitch. Overhand curve 12 to 6 shape in mid 70s. Some in-zone misses would have been punished in pro ball but the movement was so good La Mirada hitters were unable to capitalize. In later innings Malone pitched backwards going to the curve or slider in 0-0 counts. Chance to be a #2 starter if it all comes together with a mid-rotation realistic role.

2) Jack Leiter (RHP) – Delbarton – Vanderbilt 2019 – Undersized but crafty pitcher with advanced pitchability for a high schooler. Athletic burst in delivery, good momentum: front leg propels body, reminded of Kikuchi but to a lesser degree. Works direct to home with quick tempo, relentless – attacks hitters. Strong finish on front leg reminds of Kevin Abel. Keeps hitters off balance with deep arsenal - throws four pitches for strikes. FB mostly 90-93 T94, 95. Not big movement but plus command and good feel: played with it to cut or run at will. Would sequence high 80s pitch (change/2-seam) off cut fastball, for example. Curveball looks high spin with shape that varies from 12 to 6 or even 1 to 7 with inverted spin axis. Generally good command of pitch at bottom or below zone.  Slider 82-85 added to mix as steal-a-strike pitch later in the game, pitch proj to 45-50. Leiter was very deceptive in the sense he was able to maintain arm/body speed for all pitches. You could, however, argue, Leiter is very polished and subsequently less projectable both in terms of physique and pitchability.

3) Kendall Williams (RHP) – IMG – Vanderbilt 2019 – Tall, athletic pitcher with body that reminded of Forrest Whitley. Well-coordinated, high-waisted, long-limbed elicitor of hyphenated adjectives.  Simple, easy delivery with clean arm action. Back foot triple toe-tap reminded of Matt Mercer, disrupts momentum. Still liked the delivery overall.  Pretty good extension from height/frame but could be better with a lower vertical release point; high three quarters arm slot and high vertical release point eat into extension but simultaneously create plane. Extension still quality, probably somewhat of a perceived velocity bump on FB, which was already 90-92. More velocity possible with body projection. Top secondary was CB 74-78 with 11 to 5 shape: big depth and tight shape, good command of pitch at bottom or below zone. Flashed a SL 82 and CHG 82. SL/CHG used much less often than CB, will need development for success at pro level. VIDEO

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4) Jared Jones (RHP) – La Mirada – USC 2020 – Elite athlete with explosive arm speed, borders on double-plus. Lead foot well out front with hop off back foot which creates plus extension. Effort in the delivery with sporadic recoil at front foot strike. Arm action can get whippy. Supposition: smoother mechanics and better command possible with pro instruction. Plus fastball sat 93-95 and touched 97. Down to 91-92 T93 by the sixth inning. Was able to overpower IMG hitters up, better command to glove side and pitch deadly on black down and away from righties. Low 80s slider with late horizontal bite, flashed plus. Especially nasty when front-doored to right-handed hitters. Ump missed pitch for a called strike a few times. The pitch generated fewer swinging strikes than anticipated. This could also be hitters not wanting a part of it, but IMG hitters seemed to pick it up well. CB 77 was inconsistent but flashed 50-55. Changeup high 80s flat and needs work. Messed with hitter timing via quick pitch and delay a la Stroman.

5) Christian Rodriguez (RHP) – Orange Lutheran – Uncommitted 2020 – Projectable pitcher with prototype body. 6’5” with room for good weight. Looked a bit stronger in chest than 2018 NHSI. FB 90-92 early.  Did not maintain velocity, more high 80s later in game. Cut fastball in 88-90 range early. Little effort in the delivery, easy arm. Mechanics may benefit from pro instruction: lower half not well-incorporated. Little strength flows from back leg, weak landing on front foot, and upper body/arm carry disproportionate burden. Possible mechanics change coupled with physical projection inspire optimism for more velo. Top secondary a 12 to 6 hammer CB 72-74 with excellent depth, comfortably plus when located down. Backed up on occasion but generally commanded it well. Opened some 0-0 counts with changeup, showed burgeoning feel for the pitch, 79-81, and used it right on right once. Do not remember changeup from 2018 NHSI viewing.

6) Christian Little (RHP) – Christian Brothers – Vanderbilt 2021 – Great athlete with projectable frame and stuff. Fifteen-year-old sophomore pitched well against older competition. Notable: struck out Riley Greene and Vaughn Grissom. Needless to say advanced for his age. Good balance and repeatable delivery. Smooth, efficient delivery with clean/short arm action and little effort. FB 87-89 with some natural cut. Follow through to the first base side results in better command to glove side. CB flashed plus with sweeping 11 to 5 shape, early break, used to both sides of the plate. Nascent feel for low 80s changeup with little movement at present. Follow with intent the next couple of years, could be a big riser.

7) Landon Sims (RHP) – South Forsyth – Mississippi State 2019 – Physical athlete with near prototype body - visibly strong chest and upper legs. Perhaps limited body projection.  Clean, effortless mechanics. Easy arm action/delivery from windup: good stride with lead foot well out front and excellent lower half strength, efficient transfer through hips. Fastball sat 89-91 T 93 early. Velo dipped 88-90 in the third. FB-heavy mix. High 70s CB with 11 to 5 shape flashed 55 but was inconsistent. Show me change at 83. Looked to be over-throwing as game wore on: off-balanced finish and follow through toward first lead to struggles with glove side command, a few balls to back stop. Loved the athleticism and body overall but would like to see secondaries more heavily involved. Big reliever risk without a more rounded arsenal.

8) Aaron Roberts (RHP) – Desert Oasis – CAL 2019 – Strong, physically imposing pitcher. Possibly 6’3” 220. Looked like man amongst boys. More of a thrower than a pitcher at present. There is big effort in the delivery but also good arm speed. Slow to home with poor momentum: 3.85 first movement to foot strike from windup. Big head whack at foot strike. FB-heavy mix. Mostly 90-92 T93, 94. Reached back and fired with long arm action from the windup. Solid deception, ball stays behind back. Arm slot borders on over the top, creates plane. FB cuts in high 80s, also showed ability to run FB. Overall control over command right now. CB primary secondary in 72-75 range with inconsistent shape. 12 to 6 when good but did not reliably command pitch. Not much body projection but room for improvement with command, sequencing, and mechanics.

9) Max Rajcic (RHP) – Orange Lutheran – UCLA 2020 – Shorter pitcher with plus command. Consistently threw strikes and repeated mechanics well. Strong balance accompanied with upright finish. Big deception, low three quarters slot and short arm action from point where hand comes forward; hitters did not see ball well out of hand. FB generated more swing and miss than you’d anticipate from its velocity. Worked the whole zone with fastball 89-92 and also expanded the plate with it; had success working both sides and changing eye levels. FB looked high spin with swing and miss up. Played with FB to cut or fade. Mid 70s CB flashed plus with tight 11 to 5 shape. Low 80s slider used sparingly. Notable: faced South Forsyth, one of the weaker teams in the tournament. Would have loved to have seen him against a tougher lineup.

10) DJ Radtke (RHP) – Blessed Trinity - Auburn 2021 – Physically advanced pitcher with unrefined mechanics and youth on his side. Radtke was one of the more impressive sophomores in the tournament. Easy delivery with “playing catch” motion. Can dream on more velocity with age and better lower half utilization. FB 82-85 T86 with quality sink and natural arm side run. CB high 60s with 11 to 5 shape was inconsistent and average at best. The baseball skills need to take a step forward from what I saw in this limited look. Radtke is still worth mentioning due to his age and raw tools/body. Keep an eye on him as a player capable of taking a big step forward as an upperclassman.

*Also considered:

Sam Hliboki (RHP) – Harvard-Westlake – Vanderbilt 2019 – Righty with great body and double-plus extension. Poor momentum and balance in delivery. FB 86-88, CB 73-74. Has a reliever look. VIDEO

Josh Sharman (LHP) – Desert Oasis – UNLV 2019 – Short lefty with great secondary stuff. CHG 74-75 best of the tournament, CB 72-75 also very good. Limited by his fastball 80-84.  VIDEO

Shawn Rapp (LHP) – Delbarton – UNC 2019 – Lefty with good feel to pitch but not quite enough stuff. FB 86-88. Tight spin on CB 68-75. Occasionally dropped to lower arm angle. Pitchability guy. VIDEO

*Did not see the championship game – unable to comment on Evan Adolphus

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