Top Underclass Standouts From USA Baseball's 17U/16U Program
Several of the top 2023 players in the country and a handful of 2024 players played together in a series at USA Baseball's 16U/17U National Team Development Program from Aug. 6-9.
Below are reports on some of the standout players from the event, which took place at the USA Baseball National Training Complex in Cary, N.C. and at the home of Triple-A Durham.
Max Clark, OF, Indiana (BA rank: No. 1)
Clark is the top 2023 player in the country, with his performance in Cary just the latest demonstration of what makes him such a talented player. A Vanderbilt commit, Clark went 4-for-8 with a walk, showing a smooth, compact swing with good path through the hitting zone from the left side. Clark has a keen sense of the strike zone, excellent hand-eye coordination and rarely swings and misses. At 6-foot-1, 190 pounds, Clark has a strong but lean, athletic build and the strength to drive the ball with impact, with an approach geared toward putting the ball in play and hitting line drives to all fields. He's a plus-plus runner with a strong arm who moves well in center field with good breaks off the bat and routes. Clark did all the little things well too, from baserunning to a perfect bunt single up the third base line.
Walker Jenkins, OF, North Carolina (BA rank: No. 7)
Jenkins is already a top-10 player in the class, but after watching him in Cary, his No. 7 ranking is too low. He's an imposing 6-foot-3, 205 pounds, with the strength and bat speed that produced some of the best raw power in the group from a player who is one of the most advanced hitters in the class. Jenkins swings from the left side with quiet hands and keeps his barrel behind the ball well, helping him hammer the ball with authority to the opposite field, including a double off the left field wall in a left-on-left matchup. Jenkins has been one of the top offensive performers in the class both in terms of hitting ability and power, and he showed good plate discipline in Cary, including on a couple of called strikeouts where he seemed to know the strike zone better than the umpire.
A North Carolina commit, Jenkins also shined defensively. He read the ball well off the bat and took clean routes to the ball, with a highlight catch in center field where he was shading the hitter to the right but charged in to make a diving catch in shallow left-center field. At his size, there's a chance Jenkins could outgrow center field and become a plus defender in right field, but for now he looked good in center.
Dylan Cupp, SS, Georgia (BA rank: No. 4)
Cupp showed why he's the top shortstop in the 2023 class, standing out both at the plate and in the field. Cupp has spent much of his summer dominating at the plate while mostly playing up a level against 2022 competition, and he kept it up here by going 5-for-8 with a double to lead the event in hits. A Mississippi State commit, Cupp starts his swing by dropping his hands in a more pronounced way than what he showed a couple months ago before bringing them back up. It seems to work for the rhythm and tempo of his swing, as he's consistently on time with a knack for barreling the ball in games, showing mature feel for the strike zone, the ability to hit to all fields and good hand-eye coordination that leads to frequent contact.
Against lefthander Wes Mendes, who has one of the better fastballs in the class for missing bats when he elevates, Cupp drilled a ground-rule double off a 90 mph fastball up in the zone. He took a 92 mph fastball up the middle for a single, then hit well with two strikes by throwing his hands at an 89 mph fastball on the outside corner for a line-drive single the opposite way, then did it again against 91 mph further away off the plate for a two-strike single to center field. At 6-foot-2, 180 pounds, Cupp is also one of the best defensive shortstops in the class. While playing third base, he made a nice diving backhanded play up the line and got up quickly to make the throw, though there wasn't enough time to get the batter out at first. He's a fluid, fundamentally sound defender with quick reactions off the bat, good footwork, soft hands and a good internal clock.
Walter Ford, RHP/3B, Alabama (BA rank: No. 5)
The last time I saw Ford in person was two months ago at the Perfect Game Junior National showcase, where he struck out two batters in a perfect inning with a 95-97 mph fastball and went 2-for-5 with a home run. With the USA NTDP, Ford didn't get as many opportunities at the plate since he was pitching one of the days, but he again dominated on the mound. He pitched three scoreless innings on Aug. 9 with four strikeouts, no walks and the lone hit he allowed didn't leave the infield. An Alabama commit, Ford pitched at 93-95 mph, with the arm speed and strength projection left in his 6-foot-3, 195-pound frame to where he probably has more velocity coming. He paired his fastball from a high three-quarters slot with a low-80s slider that had hard bite and good tilt to it, with the potential to develop into a plus pitch.
Aidan Miller, 3B, Florida (BA rank: No. 6)
Miller has USA Baseball experience with a gold medal for the 15U national team in 2019, and he has been one of the most productive offensive performers in the 2023 class, a trend that continued this summer. At the NTDP, Miller went 3-for-7 with a walk, two strikeouts and a triple on a fastball down in the zone that he smoked to left field. He was the only batter with a hit against righthander Walter Ford, and while that was an infield single, he was able to turn a 95 mph fastball back up the middle for the hit. At 6-foot-2, 220 pounds, Miller is strong for his age, with good bat speed and has the potential for above-average power to go along with his hitting ability. He's a third baseman whose high overall baseball aptitude is evident in the field too. He's a comfortable bet to stick at third base, where he has good footwork, moves well to both sides and comes in on the ball with a strong arm to finish plays. Miller is an Arkansas commit.
Travis Sykora, RHP/3B, Texas (BA rank: 24)
Sykora is a two-way player who played third base here in a limited look, but his talent on the mound makes him one of the top righthanders in the country. His stuff jumped out at the NTDP, as Sykora struck out three of the seven batters he faced with no walks and one hit allowed in two scoreless innings. A Baylor commit, Sykora is 6-foot-4, 211 pounds with a power fastball (92-95 mph in Cary) that stacks up near Ford's among the best in the 2023 class. Sykora's best pitch is his fastball, though he mixed in a lot of low-to-mid-80s sliders that missed bats against AIdan Miller and Steven Milam, two of the better hitters in the class. Sykora also mixed in a hard splitter in the mid 80s.
Daniel Cuvet, 3B, Florida (BA rank: 26)
Cuvet has a case for the best raw power in the 2023 class. He's on the younger end of the class, but he's a physical 6-foot-4, 220 pounds with plus raw power from the right side. That power has shown up regularly in games this summer and that continued at the NTDP. After chasing a fastball above the zone in the second game that carried to the left field warning track, Cuvet the next day crushed a fastball over the Blue Monster in left field at Durham Bulls Athletic Park. Cuvet's power does come with swing and miss, so he will need to improve his pitch recognition and tighten his strike-zone discipline, but there's potential for 70 raw power in the future. Cuvet also has a strong arm at third base, though there's a chance he could end up in an outfield corner or at first base. There are some similarities to an infield version of Phillies outfielder Jhailyn Ortiz when he signed at 16 for $4.01 million out of the Dominican Republic, though Cuvet is in better shape than Ortiz was at that age.
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Eric Bitonti, SS/1B, California (BA rank: 44)
Bitonti figures to move up significantly in our next 2023 rankings update. He's one of the youngest players in the class—he doesn't turn 16 until November—but he's also one of the most physical players on the field at 6-foot-4, 205 pounds. Bitonti showed big raw power during batting practice with a lefthanded swing path geared to lift the ball. Bitonti did have some swing and miss during the games against fastballs either up or away, but he didn't have any issues handling velocity, as he doubled on a 93 mph fastball and roped a 90 mph fastball for a hard line drive single to center field in a left-on-left matchup. He went 3-for-8 with two walks and two strikeouts. Even two of his outs were solid contact, including off a breaking ball that he drove to right field that Dean Curley caught on a sliding grab.
Bitonti took infield at shortstop one day and moved around remarkably well for his size with good hands and body control. Given his size, Bitonti might outgrow shortstop and go to third base, but he looked comfortable on the left side of the infield with his actions. During games he played first base, where he made a nice diving backhand play on a sharp ground ball to his right, spinning around quickly to flip the ball to the pitcher at first for the out.
Braden Holcomb, SS/3B, Florida: The No. 9 player in the 2023 class, Holcomb is 6-foot-4, 215 pounds with some of the best power and arm strength in the class, he's a good athlete for someone his size and he has performed at a high level in games consistently. He went 0-for-3 at the NTDP, but he also drew three walks and consistently worked quality at-bats, with a deep fly out to the left field warning track that TayShaun Walton chased down for a nice running catch. Holcomb is a Vanderbilt commit.
Blake Mitchell, C/3B/RHP, Texas: Mitchell made two one-inning scoreless appearances on the mound and struck out three of the seven batters he faced. His first outing was particularly electric, as he threw strikes with both a 91-95 mph fastball and a low-70s curveball that he showed feel to spin. He's an LSU commit.
Derek Curiel, OF, California: Curiel was one of a handful of 2024 players here and stood out for his smooth, compact swing with quiet hands from the left side. Curiel has performed at a high level in games and hung in well against older competition here, staying back on a changeup that he lined for a single to right field and moving around well in the outfield.
Zach Anderson, C, California: Anderson has a strong arm and liked to show it off by trying to back pick runners, including a successful one to second base on a throw from his knees. He blocked and moved well behind the plate and had success in the batter's box too, going 2-for-3 with a walk and a double off the left field wall in Durham. Anderson is a Southern California commit.
Austen Roellig, SS, California: It was fun to watch Roellig (No. 19 in the 2023 class) and New Mexico shortstop Steven Milam (No. 11) take infield together, with Roellig at shortstop and Milam at second base. The two LSU commits are quick, fundamentally sound defenders with high baseball IQs and easy actions. Roellig in particular stood out defensively, with a quick first step, good footwork, body control and soft hands.
Adam Hachman, LHP, Missouri: Hachman struck out two in two scoreless innings, standing out for his velocity from the left side up to 94 mph with arm speed and physical projection in his 6-foot-4, 190-pound frame to throw harder in the future.
Christian Rodriguez, RHP, Florida: Rodriguez (No. 35 in the 2023 class) pitched two scoreless innings from the third base side of the rubber with a crossfire delivery, dialing his fastball up to 93 mph and freezing hitters with a lively changeup.
Kade Anderson, LHP, Louisiana: Anderson's pitchability stacks up among the best in the 2023 class. The 6-foot-1, 170-pound lefty showed feel for throwing strikes, with a fastball that sat in the upper 80s and touched 90 mph, mixing in his breaking stuff and changeup effectively to keep hitters off balance with three strikeouts and no walks in three scoreless innings. Anderson is the No. 32 player in the class and an LSU commit.