Rare Look At Elite Arm In Jupiter
JUPITER, Fla. — In late October, many high school pitchers start to shut things down. After pitching at showcase after showcase across the country — and in the case of Team USA pitchers, across the continent — many pitchers have thrown enough innings for the year and are ready to start winding things down.
That's been the case for many of the top arms in the 2018 MLB Draft class this year at Perfect Game's World Wood Bat Association (WWBA) World Championship. They are either in Jupiter, but not pitching — as is the case with No. 12 prospect Mason Denaburg and No. 24 J.T. Ginn — or they aren't here at all.
Including Denaburg, none of the nine pitching prospects among the top 15 overall high school players in the country have thrown a pitch at this year's WWBA, which is annually the biggest scouting event on the calendar.
That's part of the reason why the Canes National-DRB Elite game Saturday morning had such a huge crowd of pro and college scouts: Ohio righthander Austin Becker was on the mound, and, as the No. 25 prospect in the 2018 prep class, he is one of just four pitchers among the top 50 prospects to toe a WWBA rubber through the first three days of the tournament.
We've got a big crowd here for Ohio RHP Austin Becker. No surprise. pic.twitter.com/x1teXuswWX— Carlos Collazo (@CarlosACollazo) October 21, 2017
"I’m trying to keep my innings down," Becker said after throwing the first two innings of a 7-2 win. "Especially next year being the draft. I was fortunate that I only had about 60 innings before I got here, so I’m well under my limit."
Becker wasn't throwing late in the season because he didn't care about the milage on his arm. The opposite is certainly the case.
Becker's father, Kevin, who pitched three seasons with the Red Sox organization, has been keeping a careful eye on his son's workload since he was around 14-years-old.
"(You have) to have rest," Kevin said. "That’s the biggest thing with these guys. We talk about teams or guys who don’t shut it down. They just continue to throw 12 months out of the year . . . In today’s game game guys are throwing all the time. And that’s part of the problem with the Tommy John epidemic."
In order to avoid overthrowing, Becker has limited his innings load in each season that he's competing. This year it was 30 innings max for high school ball, with Big Walnut High (Sunbury, Ohio), 50 innings for the summer, which includes events like the Perfect Game All-American Classic, and 20 innings for the fall season.
After coming into the WWBA with around 60 innings under his belt, Becker will have thrown from around 47-60 innings each year since his freshman season in high school. That sort of care is something that Major League clubs care about deeply, and only heightens the environment when Becker does take the rubber.
While he threw just two innings, Becker showed some of the most impressive stuff of any pitcher of the tournament, including touching 96 mph with his fastball—which is the highest velocity that scouts have seen to this point.
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Druw Jones, the son of former Braves outfielder Andruw Jones, was one of many talented prospects who impressed.
Becker used a three-pitch mix that included his fastball, a 75-77 mph curveball and an 87-89 mph changeup to limit DRB Elite batters to two hits and a walk.
93-96 for Austin Becker in the first. One strikeout, one lineout, one flyout. Here's a nice pitch spotted on the corner: pic.twitter.com/bcHHajpg78— Carlos Collazo (@CarlosACollazo) October 21, 2017
"I felt really good in the bullpen spotting up," Becker said. "My offspeed was working really well, my changeup, my curveball — throwing them for strikes. So I just had a good feel and carried it over in the first inning."
After a 1-2-3 first inning that featured three swings and misses on his fastball, Becker's control tapered off a bit in the second inning, where he also showed an impressive pickoff move to first, nailing a runner who had reached on an infield single.
In his third year at Jupiter and his second straight season at the WWBA World Championship with the Canes, Becker is focused entirely on winning the biggest tournament of the year. But after this event he — like so many other pitchers in the class—will be shutting it down.
"His plan after he leaves Jupiter, he won’t (throw a bullpen) until March 1," Kevin said.
Instead, Becker will workout with Dean Hansen, who is the Ohio State baseball team's strength and conditioning coach. On Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays he'll lift weights, focus on building muscle and, most importantly, rest his arm. When he does start throwing again, likely around late February, Becker has one main focus:
"Working on my fastball," he said. "Command of my fastball. I’ve heard a lot of people talking about how that’s something I need to work on. So I’ll work on that."