A Saturday night early in the 2017 season is the moment that stands out to South Hills High (West Covina, Calif.) head coach Darren Murphy.
The Huskies were playing in a tournament at Mount San Antonio JC (“It’s like the nicest field in our area,” Murphy said.) and junior righthander Brandon Dieter was on the mound. But Dieter’s performance isn’t what Murphy remembers—he thinks the Stanford commit threw six shutout innings, but he isn’t sure.
What sticks out to him came after the game, when all the other players and coaches—including Murphy—had left the field and headed off to In-N-Out or to grab pizza as normal Southern California high schoolers do on a Saturday night. What sticks out was something that Murphy didn’t even see with his own eyes, but what the South Hills team announcer told him about after the fact.
“He sends me this video in the parking lot,” Murphy said. “It’s pitch-black and he notices somebody walking with a pail over their head. And he pulls up next to him and it’s Brandon . . . probably not the safest thing, but he’s walking with a weighted bucket and he’s doing this workout in the dark.
“It’s the best (work ethic) I’ve ever seen at the high school level. I’ve seen good programs and good kids that work really hard, but a lot of times it’s taught, or it’s expected or the whole team does it . . . I’ll be honest with you, I like to say we have a good influence on him, but this is self-induced. This is just not the norm.”
For Dieter, it has been the norm his entire life. His father, Ken, tried to instill three specific traits in his son that would help him find success, not just in baseball, but in life. The first trait was a strong work ethic, followed by listening and communication skills.
So, while carrying around a bucket of baseballs in a parking lot after a weekend game might seem a bit different, it’s just part of Dieter’s normal routine—mostly.
“I usually do overhead carries with some sort of weight or kettlebell,” Dieter said, “just to keep the blood flowing in the arm. Because I don’t really get sore anymore the next day from all these workouts. I didn’t have any of that stuff with me, so I had a bucket of baseballs, that was the heaviest thing I had, so I was using that just walking up and down the parking lot.”
Dieter has developed a postgame routine centered on active recovery that includes work with Driveline plyo balls, J-bands, overhead carries and several sessions with an electric stimulation machine. That has come from his own personal research as well as working with his trainer, Jonathan Posey.
His focus on off-the-field training was reaffirmed when the 6-foot, 175-pound Dieter found himself looking up at most of his teammates at Perfect Game’s National showcase in Fort Myers this June.
“I was probably one of the smallest guys there, believe it or not,” Dieter said. “Walking into dugouts with all these 6-4 guys, throwing 94 and stuff, so I know that I have to work a lot harder than everyone else to compete with them and be able to perform at the highest level.
“It’s just something that I always do because I know once you go into college or pro ball or wherever you go, hard work’s going to keep you performing at the highest level and staying in the game as long as possible.”
During lunch at South Hills, Dieter routinely asks for the keys to open up the field. He brings along a teammate to hit ground balls to him, or he’ll head out to the football field and run sprints.
“He’s always trying to improve his craft,” Murphy said. “He’s a 17-year-old kid that is 25 years old on intelligence, and understanding what it’s going to take.”
A shortstop and righthanded pitcher for the most part, Dieter has had to play a variety of positions for his South Hills team, with 2017 graduates Jacob Amaya (who was just drafted in the 11th round by the Dodgers and signed for $247,500) manning shortstop on a regular basis and lefthander Karlos Morales (drafted in the 25th round by the Brewers) drawing the scouting attention on the mound.
Now a top two-way prospect in his own right, Dieter has added the versatility he was forced to develop with his high school team to his skill set—and it’s paying off. Dieter was recently one of 40 players invited to USA Baseball’s 18U National Team Trials, and a common refrain among the coaching staff during the team’s selection show was the importance of versatility on the final 20-man roster.
Going into Tournament of Stars—an 80-player tournament hosted by USA Baseball that starts the selection process for the 18U National Team—Dieter understood this, and was adamant about playing all over the diamond.
“With the influx of these new utility guys in the big leagues, I kind of model myself after that,” he said. “At TOS I was playing left field and short, second, third, wherever. Wherever they had me.
“I think those utility guys they have in the big leagues—the Trea Turners, the Ben Zobrists, those kind of guys—that’s a big model for me because if you can play all these positions going into the big leagues and things like that you’re going to stay there a lot longer than if you make yourself stay in one position.”
Dieter pitched well at TOS, throwing three no-hit innings with three strikeouts, two of which came on swings and misses on a low 80s changeup that has solid fading action. He settled in the upper 80s with his fastball mostly, not touching 90 after the first inning on Baseball America’s gun, and averaging 88.6 mph according to TrackMan.
Dieter has a great feel for pitching and locked in his TOS invite after throwing a complete game against then-No. 1 Archbishop McCarthy (Southwest Ranches, Fla.) High in the National High School Invitational, allowing just one run and retiring 11 straight batters at one point.
Still, without the raw stuff that jumps out at you or the projectable builds that many of the top prep pitchers have, most scouts prefer Dieter at shortstop, where he has a chance to stick, and where his arm plays up with quick hands and advanced footwork. That’s perfectly fine for Dieter, who would choose being a position player if he had to pick one or the other.
“I want to be out there playing everyday,” he said, noting the downtime for pitchers at TOS. “Being (only) a pitcher, just standing on the side, just cheering on your teammates . . . I’d rather be out there playing and in the action.”
With one more season left at South Hills—where Murphy is looking for Dieter to become more of a vocal leader, in addition to the leader by example that he presently is—and a commitment to Stanford, Dieter might not have to decide between pitching and playing a position anytime soon.
But his drive to improve could create another interesting, perhaps more difficult, decision next June.
“He is working, and I think his goal is to be a top two or three rounder,” Murphy said. “And that’s the work ethic that’s just really coming out. I think he wants to leave everything out on the table and max himself out to see how good he can be.
“Brandon has great talent, but he isn’t a born 95 mph kid on the mound. He’s not a 3.80 kid down the line. As talented as he is, the thing I’m most proud about is Brandon is exceeding expectations because of the work ethic.”