JUPITER, Fla.—The World Wood Bat Association World Championship has long been a place where high school prospects can establish themselves as elite players against high-level competition. Matt Smoral, a lefthander from Solon (Ohio) High has always been considered to be among the top pitchers in the country, but he may have solidified himself as the top southpaw with an impressive outing on Friday.
Smoral took the hill for the Midland Redskins/Royals Scout Team and lit up radar guns immediately, sitting 90-92 mph and touching 94 twice in the first inning. He remained in the low 90s for the first three innings before settling in at 88-91 in his final inning. He throws from a three-quarter arm slot and has a fairly easily delivery. His second-best pitch is a hard tilting slider in the low 80s.
"I felt great, I really wanted to come down here and show my stuff," Smoral said. "Show I've been working hard. My arm felt great. I had a little trouble commanding the fastball at times, but I tried to battle through it and get the team a W."
Smoral's command did come and go, and he occasionally got around his slider, making it more slurvy. He also flashed a changeup at 82.
"I throw a four-seam, a two-seam sometimes, and my out pitch is a slider," Smoral said. "Right now I'm working on a changeup. It's a work in progress. Obviously a three-pitch pitcher is a lot more affective than a two-pitch."
Smoral is committed to North Carolina and has some roots in the Tar Heel state. His dad played basketball at North Carolina State and his aunt works in the front office for the low Class A Greensboro Grasshoppers of the South Atlantic League.
Also from Ohio is righthander Taylore Cherry, who threw for Midland today. Cherry wasn't as sharp as he has been in the past, sitting 89-91 from a three-quarter slot. He has an easy, balanced delivery and some life to his fastball. There wasn't much differential between his fastball and changeup as it sat 83-85. He also mixed in a 78-79 slider that was slurvy at times.
Smoral said his school is trying to set up a game so he and Cherry can go head-to-head in the spring.
• Smoral wasn't the only arm to impress on Friday. Righthander Mitchell Traver of Houston Christian High started for the Houston Heat against the San Gabriel Valley Arsenal. He sat 92-94 with good life and mixed in two offspeed pitches—an 82 mph changeup with some sink and a nasty, power curveball at 80 mph.
• Canes Baseball has gotten good outings from a few arms this week. Nathan Kirby, a lefthander from James River High in Midlothian, Va., showed some improvements in his outing on Friday, sitting 90-91 down in the zone and a good, hard curveball in the high 70s. Righthander Josh Sborz—brother to former Tigers righthander Jay—also stepped up his game, sitting 90-92 and mixing in a mid-70s curveball with depth as well as an 81 mph changeup. He attends McLean (Va.) High. RIghthander Mitchell Brown of Century High in Rochester, Minn. came on in relief and was 89-91 with a mid-70s slurve.
• Lefthander Alex Robinson of Holy Trinity Diocesan School in Hicksville, N.Y., was a tough look for hitters on Friday. He has a high leg kick and hides the ball well, but comes from a low three-quarter arm slot and sits 88-89 with his fastball. Hitters took a lot of defensive swings against him. He also mixed in a 78-80 slider and 83 changeup with sink.
• Righthander Walker Weickel from Olympia High in Orlando was his dominant self today for the Orlando Scorpions. Weickel pitched four innings, giving up one hit (a home run to catcher Austin Rei from Campolinado High in Moraga, Calif.) with eight strikeouts and three walks. His fastball sat in the 90-92 mph range, topping out at 94. He threw his fastball to both sides of the plate, mixed in a sharp 72-74 mph, 12-6 curveball and an 80-82 mph changeup. When Weickel stays on top of his fastball, he gets steep plane on the pitch, using his 6-foot-6 height to his advantage. But the pitch also has a tendency to flatten out a bit and become hittable.
• The Marlins Scout Team has featured several prominent arms this week. On Friday, righthander Felipe Perez from Fairmont Preparatory Academy in Anaheim looked sharp. He has a physical 6-foot-3, 200-pound frame and an easy delivery. His fastball sat in the 90-92 mph range and he mixed in a big 12-6 curveball around 74 mph. On Saturday, righthander Connor Baits from Point Loma High in San Diego sat in the 90-91 mph range and peaked at 93. He has a big, filled-out frame at 6-foot-5 and 220 pounds and a little bit of some funk to his aggressive delivery. He's not afraid to pitch inside and has a swing-and-miss slider in the 79-81 range. Later Saturday night, two more California righthanders lit up radar guns. Paul Blackburn from Heritage High in Brentwood has a clean delivery that he repeats well, giving him the ability to throw with control and command. His fastball showed good down angle and he used an effective curveball that has proper shape. Finally, Cal Becker from Redwood High in Visalia pitched in the low 90s but peaked at 95. He mixed in a hard 81-83 mph slider and a 75 mph curveball.
• Two ABD Bulldogs pitchers threw well on Saturday. Righthander Andrew Potter from Eastside High in Lancaster, Calif., has a thick build with broad shoulders and muscular thighs. His fastball sat in the 90-92 mph range, topping out at 93, though the pitch doesn't have a lot of movement. He mixes in an inconsistent 75-77 mph curveball. His teammate, righthander Justin Garza from Bonita High in La Verne, Calif., sat in the 91-92 mph range and topped out at 94. He's likely smaller than his listed 5-foot-10, 160 pounds, but has legitimate stuff—he lives at the knees and mixes in a sharp curveball.
• In an event where few hitters have stood out, it has been impossible to ignore outfielder Courtney Hawkins of Carroll High in Corpus Christi, Texas. Playing for the Houston Banditos, Hawkins looks the part with a physique similar to that of an NFL strong safety at 6-foot-2 and 210 pounds. He leverages his strength with good bat speed allowing for plus power potential. Over the last two days, Hawkins showed the ability to drive the ball to all fields including an opposite-field home run in Saturday's final set of games. In the field, Hawkins combines plus speed with solid instincts in center field while showing the ability to cover significant ground on balls in the gap. Possessing an arm which has hit 91 mph on the mound, Hawkins showed it off while limiting runners from taking the extra base on several occasions. Although he is raw and his aggressive approach is occasionally vulnerable to quality offspeed stuff, Hawkins' set of tools combine for a very intriguing package.
• Also impressive at the plate today was Joseph Jae Roberts of Hammond School in Columbia, S.C. The 2013 outfielder is athletic and strong with a sound approach at the plate. Roberts squared up pitches in multiple at-bats today, staying up the middle in each of first three at-bats. A physical presence at the plate, Roberts impresses with a quick bat and strong hands producing solid, hard contact with a swing he is able to repeat.
Contributing: Conor Glassey, Tim Ednoff & Ty Boyles.
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