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Impressive Arms

MERRITT ISLAND, Fla.—One day before the start of the Division I college baseball season, Merritt Island (Fla.) High School proved to be the biggest baseball event in the country, as around 20 scouting directors and over one hundred scouts gathered for day one of the PBR Florida Preseason Classic.

With four players among the Top 200 MLB Draft Prospects slated to go in two games Thursday night, it was a double-header overflowing with talent, featuring two of the top six prep pitchers in the country (No. 19 Mason Denaburg and No. 25 Carter Stewart) as well as toolsy outfielder Elijah Cabell (No. 78) and projectable righthander David Luethje (No. 178).

We’ll break down each of these players below with video, in addition to several currently unranked but exciting 2018 prospects and one 2019 lefthander who impressed.

Mason Denaburg | RHP | Merritt Island (Fla.) High | Florida commit

Denaburg’s to-do list this spring was to show consistent secondary offerings. Considering his breaking ball was more impressive than Stewart’s—largely considered the best breaking ball in the class—Thursday night, that’s one pretty big step in the right direction.

Denaburg came out of the gates with adrenaline pumping, working his fastball mostly in the 93-95 mph range and touching a 96 and a 97 on Baseball America’s radar gun. His first batter—Cabell—reached on an error before he allowed a single up the middle and a hard hit double to deep right-center field, spotting TNXL Academy a 2-0 lead in the top of the first.

In the next three innings Denaburg settled down, throwing his fastball from 90-93, touching 94 regularly and struck out eight of the next ten batters he would face.

“I felt pretty good out there. You always have a lot of adrenaline when you see all the people out there, but you just have to breathe and then it’s just like any other game,” Denaburg said. “I just came back in the dugout, relaxed, took a couple of breaths and just said ‘It’s going to be alright.’ Came back in the next inning and just tried to pitch instead of throw.”

What was particularly effective was a 77-80 mph curveball. Or slider. Or tweener. Denaburg said he threw a harder slider with a spike grip last summer, but recently found a new breaking ball grip while throwing long toss and flat grounds. Whatever you want to call the pitch—it worked. Denaburg got at least 10 swings and misses on the pitch, which looked like a plus offering most of the night with three-quarter shape that resembled a curveball more often than a slider. The pitch occasionally got more horizontal when he threw it to the glove side, but was effective wherever he threw it, ending eight of his strikeouts with the offering, including his final five.

The Florida commit also mixed in an occasional low 80s changeup, but relied predominantly on the fastball and breaking ball.

Carter Stewart | RHP | Eau Gallie HS, Melbourne, Fla. | Mississippi State commit Stewart’s velocity was higher in this preseason outing than it was last summer, when he usually sat in the upper 80s and lower 90s. Thursday night, Stewart sat 90-93 with his fastball and touched two 95s in the first inning and 94 and 95 again in the third.

His curveball—which regularly registers 3,000+ rpm spin rates and was voted the best breaking ball in the class in Baseball America’s preseason All-America ballot—flashed the plus grades that scouts have gotten used to writing down besides Stewart’s name, but was less consistent than it’s been in the past.

It was at its best during the first inning, when he used the pitch to get a swinging strikeout on a huge, 82 mph hammer and then freeze the next batter looking for strike three with an 80 mph offering that had impressive two-plane breaking action.

In Stewart’s second and third innings, he struggled to get on top of the pitch at times and that would cause him to lose the release point on his fastball immediately after as well, though he made adjustments with both pitches throughout the outing.

“It’s a pitch based on the hitters that I face, so it needs to work off of them,” Stewart said. “I can throw it a lot of times on command and usually when I come back it’s good, but I still need to improve it more… It was getting better and better as I progressed.

“Usually first time through I try to keep it somewhat consistent, throwing it 0-2 in the dirt or throwing it for a strike when I need it to. But as I progress and see more hitters I’ll see their tendencies, maybe standing off the plate, standing on the plate and move the pitch… Slow the pitch down or speed it up depending on the batter… Just depends on what their tendencies are and I’ll adjust to that.”

While his fastball velocity is a tick up—thanks to added strength and weight this offseason—the pitch also showed some arm-side running action and sink, and he used it effectively inside to righthanded batters, jamming them on the hands on several occasions.

Stewart finished with five strikeouts, allowed two singles and hit one batter.

Elijah Cabell | OF | TNXL Academy | Louisiana State commit

Cabell had a fairly uneventful night at the plate, though he did reach in his first at-bat against Denaburg, hitting a high chopper on the infield that was misplayed at third. Even with a clean grab, Cabell likely would have beaten out a throw.

In his second at-bat, Denaburg pitched Cabell backwards, starting him off with back-to-back curveballs. Cabell took the first for a strike and swung through the second before swinging and missing on a 94 mph fastball for strike three.

In his final at-bat of the game, Cabell made hard contact on a low line drive, but the ball was scooped up at shortstop for a routine groundout. In batting practice he showed a balanced swing with a small leg kick and a level bat path, with easy pop to all fields. At times he pulled out early, but when he allows the ball to travel and stays on time, his strength and natural bat speed does more than enough to pepper balls deep into the outfield.

Defensively, Cabell had several chances. One of which came on a ground ball to center field, which he fielded cleanly before making a strong and accurate throw to the plate with good carry. The throw would have prevented a run but the catcher misplayed the ball. Later in the game, Cabell showed a solid jump on a well-hit ball to the deepest part of the park, tracking the ball down with a clean route to rob what looked like an extra-base hit off the bat.

David Luethje | RHP | Vero Beach (Fla.) High | Florida commit

While perhaps not as loud as the performances of Stewart and fellow Florida commit Denaburg, Luethje was effective during his three innings Thursday afternoon, shutting out Eau Gallie and giving up only a pair of ground ball singles.

The 6-foot-5 righthander has a lanky, projectable frame and pitched off of an 87-89 mph fastball with tons of running action throughout his outing.

His mid-to-upper 70s curveball varied in shape, ranging from a standard three-quarter breaking curve when he kept his arm slot at the same level as his fastball release, to a more horizontal, 2-to-4 offering that wasn’t quite as sharp when he would let the arm slot drop down. The pitch broke early at times but also flashed good depth, showing some intriguing potential down the road.

Players of Note:

Eau Gallie righthander Nick Pogue was another impressive arm Thursday, showing a powerful 91-93 mph fastball out of a big, 6-foot-5, 225-pound frame. In addition to the fastball, Pogue threw a 77-81 mph 12-6 curveball with impressive late-breaking depth that he buried for swings and misses several times. On top of that he flashed an 83 mph changeup with good arm speed though he also left that pitch up earlier in the outing. While Pogue showed impressive raw stuff, the command needs some work, as he too frequently left his pitches up and missed arm side regularly, with his arm trailing his lower half several times throughout his four-inning stint. Still, he sat in the low 90s easily for the majority of his outing and did a nice job finishing low and over his front side in the delivery. Pogue, another Florida commit, struck out five batters.

Merritt Island catcher Kyle Dentmon hit a colossal two-run home run in the bottom of the first inning against TNXL Academy. Dentmon took a pair of fastballs out of the zone from 2019 righthander Hylan Hall, before swinging through an 87 mph fastball low. After watching a 74 mph 12-6 curveball in the dirt, Dentmon jumped on an 88 mph fastball that was left over the plate and hit a no-doubt bomb to left-center. Dentmon recorded a hard hit single into left field later in the game, rounding first in 4.90 seconds. He is committed to Air Force.

2018 Vero Beach infielder Brendan Vasquez hit the ball hard multiple times in game one, showing little difficulty turning around velocity. After striking out against a plus Carter Stewart curveball in his first at-bat, Vasquez pulled a 91 mph fastball into left field his second time up. Against Pogue, Vasquez flew out in his first at-bat, but came back a second time and worked a 2-1 count before singled through the left side vs. a 91 mph fastball once again. Vasquez is big-bodied and listed at 5-foot-10, 212-pounds, but showed a knack for putting the barrel on the ball. He is currently uncommitted.

2019 lefthander Hunter Patteson raised a few eyebrows when he took the mound in game one for Vero Beach thanks to a three-pitch mix and an athletic delivery, in addition to striking out the side in his first inning. Patteson threw a fastball that ranged from 83-87 and touched 88 several times, with great running action. He was extremely comfortable throwing an upper 70s changeup that got several swings and misses with fading life, and also dropped in a low-to-mid 70s 2-to-7 curveball to top it off. Patteson throws from a low three-quarter slot that gets down to sidearm at times and is committed to Central Florida.

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