Baseball America

Jupiter Day 3: Projectable Righties Rule As Playoff Push Begins

JUPITER, Fla — While playoff baseball has been underway in the majors for nearly a month, it’s just getting started in Jupiter, Fla. Among the many games on Saturday at the World Wood Bat Championship with late-Sunday implications was the matchup between the Orlando Scorpions/Mets Scout Team and Lids Indiana Bulls. Both teams dropped their first games of the tournament before entering the win column in game two.

In the pivotal contest, the home-team Bulls turned to 6-foot-4, 220-pound righthander Jayce Vancena (Lake HS, Millbury, Ohio) while the Scorpions/Mets answered with their own projectable righthander in 6-foot-4, 185-pound Jesse Lepore. Both threw well, inducing more weak contact than whiffs and keeping the game close.

Vancena tossed four innings, allowing two hits and walking none, while striking out two. He settled in around 87-88 with modest boring action, revving up to 90 on occasion during two-strike counts or against the heart of the Scorpions lineup. He mixed in a curveball that has improved since East Coast Pro at 73-74 with 11-5 shape, though the pitch is still round and lacks bite. His best offspeed offering may have been his 78-79 slider, though he used it as his secondary breaking ball. He seldom mixed in a changeup at 81.

The Michigan commit has a broad, physical frame, though there’s still plenty of room to strengthen his core and legs. He worked from a high three-quarters arm slot with some effort, and needs to better incorporate his lower half to take advantage of his considerable size.

On the other end, Lepore featured an 88-91 mph fastball, touching 92 once in his three-inning stint. He limited the Bulls to one hit. From his similarly high slot, Lepore spun a sharp 12-6 curveball between 72-75, and sparingly mixed in a mid-70s changeup with effective arm speed and sink.

Early on, the Miami commit’s biggest issue was getting ahead and throwing consistent strikes, though he eventually settled in the zone with greater regularity. This may have been a product of Lepore’s athletic yet deceptive delivery, which has some effort. He begins slowly, taking his time getting to his balance point, but as he readies to move toward the plate he quickly tilts his shoulders back, creating a better plane. It’s relatively difficult to repeat, and seemed to cause his body to race ahead of his arm at times. In all, he finished with two walks and three strikeouts.

° Because there are so many games going on at once in Jupiter, it’s easy to move around and see handfuls of players during the course of one time slot. However, that typically means that pitchers will be one’s best looks, purely because they’re involved in each play more than a hitter. With that said, a number of other arms stood out on Day Three.

° Jeremiah Muhammad (Coral Springs Christian Academy, Somerset, N.J.) intrigued with his 6-foot-4, 200-pound frame and quick arm in two innings of relief with the Atlanta Blue Jays. Muhammad, who hails from the Garden State but attends school in the Sunshine State, worked in the 87-90 range and was around the zone. He coupled his heater with an 11-5 shaped, 75-76 mph curveball that flashed two-plane bite. At this point, the righthander is raw, more of a thrower who could stand to improve his angle and rhythm, but Muhammad’s physicality and speed of his arm are certainly attention-grabbers.

° A number of underclassmen impressed on Saturday. Kyle Molnar (Aliso Niguel HS, Aliso Viejo, Calif.), Kyle Hatton (Norco HS, Calif.), Wesley Rodriguez (George Washington HS, Bronx, N.Y.), and Anthony Molina (American Heritage HS, Pembroke Pines, Fla.) each had their moments. Statistically speaking, the 6-foot-2, 175-pound Molnar probably didn’t have the outing he wanted, surrendering five runs in five innings against the Reds Midwest Scout Team. Even so, the 2015 grad still impressed with a 91-92 mph fastball in his first three innings.

Pitching for CBA Marucci, Molnar had depth in his arm action, but his athletic delivery and loose arm still allowed the ball to jump out of his hand with ease. He eventually dropped to 88-90 in his final two innings, and also mixed three promising offspeed offerings: a 77-79 slider, a 72-75 curveball with bite, and an 81-84 changeup with run and sink. He is committed to UCLA.

Hatton, a projectable 6-foot-3, 195-pound southpaw, faced off with Rodriguez, a more stout 6-foot-1, 185-pound righthander for GBG Marucci and Texas PG Teal, respectively, in one the day’s four nightcaps. Hatton delivered a complete-game one-hit shutout—the lone knock a cap-shot just reaching the right-field grass in the second inning—with 12 punchouts. The UC-Santa Barbara-commit showed impeccable feel for his two offerings, an 84-87 sinking fastball and 72-75 curveball with two-plane depth. He had a clean, up-tempo delivery and clean arm action from the first base side of the rubber.

Rodriguez, meanwhile, handled the bottomless GBG Marucci lineup, striking out five in three innings to overcome some tough defense behind him. His fastball featured heavy run from a three-quarter slot, ranging between 85-90 and topping out at 92 in the first. He also showed the ability to spin a 74-75 breaking ball that was current average with a good chance for more.

The lone 2016 of this group, Molina caught eyes with his lively 87-92 mph fastball for the South Florida Elite Squad. He also showed a 10-5 shaped curveball in the 74-75 range and a changeup at 76 in his two innings of work. Molina, a very early Miami commit, has a lean and projectable 6-foot-4, 185-pound body. While his arm action was a bit worrisome—it was long and deep and would seem to put strain on the shoulder—he is only a few months into his sophomore year of high school, giving him ample time to develop and fine tune.

° On the offensive side, Evan Skoug (Libertyville HS, Ill.), a 5-foot-11, 200-pound lefthanded hitting catcher, showed an approach and short swing while hitting a mammoth blast to right field for the Midwest Reds Scout Team. The TCU commit, who crushed a similar shot at East Coast Pro in early August, drove a fastball to center field in his first at-bat before depositing his two-run jack in his second plate appearance.

His third at-bat, though, may have been equally impressive. He laid off three lefthanded sliders—including a front-door 3-2 breaker—to draw a walk late in the game. Skoug is visibly strong in his hands and forearms, and he does not use batting gloves. He hits from a slightly open stance with his knees bent and hands near his ear to start prior to producing a short, quick stroke.