GLENDALE, ARIZ. -- Max Marusak owns two primary tools that can't be taught -- he can run and he can throw.
During the recent Perfect Game MLK Upperclass Tournament at the Camelback Ranch facility in Glendale, Arizona, Marusak took every opportunity during his games with the Sticks Baseball Academy team to show off his double-plus speed and plus arm.
The Amarillo, Texas native was the highest ranked of six participants in the tournament who were listed in the recent Baseball America Top 200 MLB Draft Prospects for the 2018 class, coming in at No. 88. Also playing from the Sticks team in the 25-team event were infielder Jonathan Ornelas (128), lefthanded pitcher Kaleb Hill (155) and infielder Sean Guilbe (164). Outfielder Brennen Davis (144) played for North East Baseball National in one of the tournament's four days and shortstop Seth Halvorsen (150) was a member of the Minnesota Blizzard Elite Blue. No. 66 righthanded pitcher Jaden Hill, a Louisiana State commit, was listed on the preliminary Sticks roster but was not cleared to play due to lingering effects of an injury during his high school football season.
The array of talent at this off-season event, combined with sunny, mid-70s January weather, enticed quite a few area pro scouts to the four-day event. With their loaded rosters Sticks Baseball Academy and North East Baseball National made it to the semi-finals on Monday, but both teams were upset by a surprising Recruits team from Las Vegas that went undefeated in six games. While not having any ranked players on their squad, the Recruits brought a scrappy team consisting of 12 D-1 commits. The most recognizable name on the Recruits roster was 2020 infielder/pitcher Jaden Agassi, a University of Southern California commit who is the son of tennis legends Andre Agassi and Steffi Graf, both of whom were on-site to support their son.
That the Sticks Baseball Academy came to Arizona with such a loaded roster shows how far the Little Rock, Arkansas organization has come since its founding in 2016. They have no problem recruiting quality athletes from around the country for events like this, sticking with a relatively simple philosophy in coaching their players.
"It's the philosophy of being a good teammate and a good player," according to coach Chase Brewster, one of the founders of the academy. "They all have good high school coaches and are committed to good colleges. We're not going to change the kid's swing in four days . . . We're going to teach them about the little stuff . . . being a good teammate, being on time . . . I think we've done a good job and they respond pretty well."
Marusak, a Texas Tech commit, was the Sticks' spark plug from the leadoff position, often wreaking havoc on the bases with his plus-plus speed and high energy, "hair on fire" approach to the game. He uses a leg lift at the plate for timing and gets good carry off the bat with an aggressive swing. He may need to shorten the swing at the next level, but there's plenty of strength and bat speed to project him as a top-of-the-order hitter. A converted shortstop, Marusak covers plenty of ground in the outfield and flashes plus arm strength, although not always accurate.
For Marusak, this tournament was more about shaking off the cobwebs before his final prep season gets underway.
"It's a nice warmup for high school ball," Marusak said. "It's fun and you get to be around a lot of great talents. You want to come out here and win it for sure, but it's about loosening up and getting ready for high school ball and seeing what you've got."
When asked about the nickname "Amarillo Flash" that occasionally gets pegged on Marusak, he laughed and said it doesn't get used too much, but admitted, "My biggest strength is running, so it matches up."
Marusak might be best labeled as a "blue collar player," which is what attracted him to Texas Tech being that a lot of their players and the style of playing fit that mold. "They just get after it," Marusak said. "I like the way they play. It's a good atmosphere in Lubbock."
2018 Draft Notes:
Sean Guilbe had another reason to come to Arizona. Hailing from Reading, Pennsylvania, the Tennessee commit was just glad to get out of the harsh winter weather for a few days. At this time of year about all he and his high school teammates can do is work out in the weight room and take cuts in the cages.
With a strong, athletic build and a hard swing that gets good loft, Guilbe projects as a middle-of-the-order power bat, but he tends to overswing at times. While playing both middle infield positions in the MLK tournament, Guilbe profiles better as a third baseman if the power continues to develop, with his average arm being enough for the position. He's a tick below-average runner now.
Kaleb Hill made two appearances for Sticks over the weekend, taking a break from his high school basketball team to come to Arizona, which he said was fine because he's a baseball player first. The 6-foot-4 projectable southpaw is athletic on the mound with some deception in his delivery. His four-seam fastball was sitting at 87 mph, down a few ticks from his usual low-90s velocity but not surprising for a January tournament. The Ole Miss commit also shows a promising 11-to-4 curveball and uses both a split-finger changeup and a circle change.
Phoenix area high school product Jonathan Ornelas, a Tennessee commit, joined the Sticks team for this tournament, and turned out to be one of the bigger surprises of the event. The righthanded hitting shortstop has gotten noticeably stronger since last summer, consistently making hard contact to the pull side including an impressive home run over the left field fence in the Sticks last game. Scouts are mixed as to whether Ornelas will have the range and arm to stay at shortstop, which could put more pressure on the bat to continue to develop, but some observers see a potential plus runner with an average arm and future average range.
While not currently ranked in the Baseball America Top 200 for 2018, North East Baseball National infielder Justyn-Henry Malloy was one of the keys to his team making it to the Upperclass finals. The well-spoken and intelligent Malloy, who goes by "JHen," is committed to Vanderbilt. Malloy has a strong, athletic build and projects to hit for power to all fields using a swing with some length to it. At third base, Malloy has good footwork and a strong arm.
Like many young baseball players committed to Vanderbilt, he may be a tough sign depending on where he's drafted. Malloy said that he started building a good relationship with Vandy coach Tim Corbin while playing on USA Baseball teams as a 15-year-old. He's developed a similar relationship in his time playing for North East Baseball's travel teams, appreciating the opportunities and the style of play that the organization promotes in its players.
"North East Baseball brings a 'blue collar' attitude," Malloy said. "It's just a lot of tough guys, a lot of guys that have a lot of grit. We just go out there every single day and we do our thing . . . We try to do our best in every single category and mainly we just try to get wins."