2019 National High School Invitational: Day 1 Pitchers Notebook
Below are notes on the top pitching prospects and standouts from Day 1 of USA Baseball's 2019 National High School Invitational.
For a continuously updating schedule and scoreboard of the tournament, with standout players from each game, check here. You can also find our 2019 NHSI preview with storylines to watch, top 2019 and 2020 prospects here.
Let's get right into it:
Brennan Malone, RHP, IMG Academy, Bradenton, Fla.
-2019 North Carolina Commit
Malone, the top-ranked pitcher at the NHSI, threw against La Mirada RHP Jared Jones (2020) in Wednesday’s marquee matchup and didn’t disappoint.
The No. 16 overall prospect in the country, Malone put together one of the most complete and impressive outings that Baseball America has seen in-person, throwing a seven-inning shutout and allowing just three hits while striking out eight batters.
Malone came out of the gate with a 94 mph fastball and pitched in the 93-96 mph range throughout his entire outing, dipping down to 91-94 in a 1-2-3 seventh inning, but touching 96 as late as the sixth frame. While he walked three batters and hit another, Malone’s fastball control was solid in this outing, as when he did miss it wasn’t too badly, and he did an excellent job painting the outside corner of the strike zone against righthanded hitters.
The biggest scouting critique of the 6-foot-4, 210-pound pitcher was the lack of a consistent breaking ball. In this outing, you would not have thought that was the case, as Malone’s slider was a menace to batters from the first inning to the last. The pitch sat in the 80-83 mph range and was consistently sharp, with late biting action and two-plane break. He used it effectively as a backdoor offering against lefthanded hitters, as a chase pitch and was also consistent throughout his outing in landing the pitch for a strike. It was easily his best secondary offering and complimented his fastball well.
Malone also threw a 71-76 mph curveball and an 80-84 mph changeup. The changeup had good separation from his fastball and was thrown with solid arm speed. He left the pitch up on one occasion and allowed a hit, but it showed more than enough potential to be a solid offering down the line and generated one whiff. His curveball also flashed solid, with 11-to-5 shape, but Malone struggled to consistently get on top of the pitch, which caused it to hang up in the zone without any bite, hump out of his hand or both.
Five of his eight strikeouts were finished with the slider, two with the fastball and one with the curve.
Jared Jones, RHP/OF, La Mirada (Calif.)
-2020 Southern California Commit
Jones came out on the losing end to Malone in this high-octane matchup, but not for lack of impressive stuff or results. The uber-athletic junior also came out of the gate throwing 94-96 with his fastball, which featured some arm-side running action, though his control was more scattered and erratic than his 2019 counterpart.
Jones throws with some effort, but held his velocity well throughout six innings, still throwing 91-93 in his final frame. He tinkers with his timing on the mound regularly: quick-pitching at times and slowing down his delivery significantly at others. He’ll also add in a double leg-lift or simply pause and wait in mid leg lift to disrupt hitters timing. It’s a testament to his athleticism that he’s still able to pump low to mid-90s heaters with all of the timing mechanisms, but there is still work to do in syncing up his lower and upper half and maintaining a consistent release point if he wants to continue with it.
Jones’ control was scattered at times and erratic, as he walked four batters and hit two. He’ll go through stretches where everything comes out of his hand nicely and he seems in control, only to lose his release point or overthrow for a few pitches during the next at-bat.
Jones go-to secondary was also a slider, in the 78-83 mph range that featured solid horizontal, sweeping life and plenty of movement. The shape of the pitch caused several uncomfortable at-bats, particularly against righthanded hitters, who would freeze up or turn away from a breaking ball that started at their hip only to break back into the strike zone.
Jones also infrequently threw a 77-78 mph curveball with three-quarters shape and broke out a solid 86-87 mph changeup in the sixth inning. There’s plenty of electric stuff with Jones, and it’s obvious why he’s so highly regarded already, but there’s still some polish that he’ll need to add.
Sam Hliboki, RHP, Harvard-Westlake (Studio City, Calif.)
-2019 Vanderbilt Commit
Taking the ball for Harvard-Westlake on day one, Hliboki tossed a seven-inning shutout against Hendersonville (Tenn.). He racked up eight strikeouts and walked just one batter, allowing three hits on 102 pitches—of which he threw 66 percent for strikes.
Hliboki wasn't showing premium stuff in terms of velocity—he was in the 86-89 mph range in the first two innings—but he got a high number of whiffs on the pitch thanks in part to a high spin rate. TrackMan had the pitch into the 2500 rpm range.
A Vanderbilt commit, Hliboki also threw a 72-76 mph curveball that had big, three-quarters shape. There’s potential with it, but could use more sharpness to become a real out-pitch at the next level. Hliboki has long legs and some room to add more weight to his frame, but had plenty of success Wednesday throwing from a three-quarter slot from the far first base side of the rubber with cross-firing action in his lower half.
Max Rajcic, RHP, Orange (Calif.) Lutheran
-2020 UCLA Commit
The back-to-back defending NHSI champs threw an impressive 2020 RHP in Max Rajcic Wednesday against South Forsyth (Cumming, Ga.) and 2019 RHP Landon Sims. Rajcic responded by tossing six innings without allowing an earned run, striking out 10 batters and and walking just one, scattering five hits.
Rajcic’s first six outs came via the strikeout, as the UCLA commit posted a 1-2-3 first inning before allowing a leadoff single in the second and then striking out another trio of Georgia hitters. He showed above-average fastball control in the first two frames, spotting an 88-93 mph heater wherever he wanted.
Rajcic also threw a 76-78 mph in-between breaking ball that had solid movement with plenty of depth that made a few righthanded hitters look silly. Rajcic is another 2020 prospect to watch in a loaded Southern California prep class.
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Josh Hahn, LHP, Huntington Beach (Calif.)
-2019 UCLA Commit
Lefthander Josh Hahn made the start for Huntington Beach against Northwest Guilford on Wednesday afternoon. He threw 78 pitches to get through five scoreless innings, walking three batters and striking out four.
Hahn has a good frame for a pitcher and is an athletic presence on the mound. He shows quality arm speed and throws from a slightly lower three-quarter arm slot with consistency. Hahn is under control on the mound, showing poise and the ability to focus with runners on base.
He worked mostly with his fastball which topped out at 88 mph. Hahn tossed it mostly arm side and struggled to hit the inside part of the plate against righthanders. The pitch had some arm-side, two-seam type run early on in the outing.
His secondary offerings consisted of a curveball, slider and changeup. His curveball was mostly in the lower 70’s with inconsistent shape. It tended to pop out of his hand, and was more of a different look to hitters. At best, the pitch showed two to seven shape with a bit of depth. It didn’t generate much swing and miss, and was only throw for a quality strike a handful of times.
His slider was in the lower 80’s and had a tight break on it with more lateral movement. He threw very few, and the pitch didn’t do very much for him. The secondary offering that showed the most promise was his changeup. Although he slowed his arm action down from time to time, the pitch registered at 77-79 mph and had some sinking action. It helped get hitters off his fastball, which helped him to be effective throwing north and south. The pitch generated some swing and miss as he was able to keep it down and on the same plane as his fastball before sinking underneath the barrel.
Hahn showed a solid arsenal and has some tools to work with as he moves forward in his pitching career.
Shawn Rapp, LHP, Delbarton (Morristown, N.J.)
-2019 North Carolina Commit
Rapp took the mound for Delbarton against Desert Oasis (Las Vegas) on Wednesday. He tossed six innings, scattering seven hits and allowing three earned runs before making his exit.
The lefthander has a quality pitcher's body with a strong, wiry upper half and slightly thicker lower half. He throws from a low, three-quarter arm slot and tends to drop it down even further to a sidearm slot from time to time. His arm action is sling-like and he is able to repeat his motion for the most part.
His fastball topped out at 87 mph but sat comfortably in the 85-86 range. He wasn’t afraid to attack hitters with it, and dropped down to give them a different look. While this worked at times, the ball lost its angle to home plate on other occasions and came across flat. Rapp was able to attack hitters inside with the pitch, which opened up more opportunities for him to use his secondary pitches.
Rapp used a curveball that registered in the upper-60s but the pitch lacked consistent shape. It wasn’t a very competitive pitch, and didn’t generate any swings and misses. On the other hand, he did manage to throw a slurve-like pitch at 75 mph that had good downward tilt and was particularly effective against right handed hitters. The movement was more 2-to-7 and was disguised well, working to get hitters off of his fastball.
He also threw an upper-70s changeup that was straight but didn’t have any discernible difference in arm action. On occasion he was able to throw it with some arm-side fade which helped him to generate some swing and miss.
Rapp has an interesting arsenal and stayed aggressive during his outing. It will be interesting to see how he develops with his ability to attack the strike zone as he continues to develop feel for secondary pitches.