High-SchoolBaseball: Rock Rucker

Top prospects shine at H.S. Invitational

April, 1, 2012
4/01/12
1:31
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Baseball NHSIAndrew Craft/ESPNHSMater Dei (Santa Ana, Calif.) junior catcher Jeremy Martinez celebrates the Monarchs' win over Harvard-Westlake in the championship of the inaugural USA Baseball H.S. Invitational.
CARY, N.C. -- From a scouting perspective, the problem with high school baseball is the lack of competition top draft prospects face throughout the season. With prospects spread out across the country, the cream of the crop are rarely matched up against one another, which makes it difficult to accurately assess their skills.

That is why the USA Baseball National High School Invitational is such a welcome addition to the spring schedule. And not only by the major league scouts and front office executives who came out in droves, but also by the players who got a chance to prove themselves in a competitive environment. You’d be hard pressed to see better high school baseball played anywhere in the country. As one scout put it, “It’s the best collection of talent I’ve seen in one complex in my 20 years of doing this.”

Here’s a look at 10 prospects — in no particular order — who stood out over the four days in North Carolina.

Jeremy Martinez
Mater Dei (Santa Ana, Calif.), C, Jr.

Martinez's beautiful line-drive stroke — in addition to his hustle and leadership — was on full display throughout his team's run to the title. The USC commit also shut down the opposition's running game. Overall, the junior backstop showed once again why he’s one of the top prep prospects in the Class of 2013.

Lucas Sims
Brookwood (Snellville, Ga.), RHP, Sr.

Sims was close to unhittable in his start against Highlands Ranch on Wednesday, giving up just one knock over six innings while striking out 11. His fastball sat between 91-93 mph with a devastating curveball and a changeup that has improved since the Prospect Classic. He’s currently committed to Clemson, but there’s a real chance he’ll be taken in the first 20 picks of June's draft.

Ty Moore
Mater Dei (Santa Ana, Calif.), RHP/OF, Sr.

Moore was one of the better two-way prospects on display over the week. He shut out the vaunted Carroll lineup over five innings on Thursday using a fastball with plenty of movement and a breaking-ball that he commanded well all day. He made good reads on the ball in the outfield, and he showed some pop at the plate by hitting one of the longer homers of the event.

Max Fried
Harvard-Westlake (Studio City, Calif.), LHP, Sr.

At No. 4 in the ESPN 100, Fried was one of the most-hyped prospects coming into the event. He didn’t disappoint. The left-handed ace struggled early against Parkview (Lilburn, Ga.), but the UCLA pledge ended up throwing a complete game and striking out eight. He hit 94 on the gun and showed the best breaking-ball of any pitcher in the field.

Arden Pabst
Harvard-Westlake (Studio City, Calif.), C, Jr.

Another impressive SoCal catcher from the Class of 2013, Pabst showed impressive pitch recognition and a swing that should be conducive to power as he gets stronger. Behind the plate, he demonstrated solid catch-throw skills. It shouldn’t surprise anyone if Pabst and Martinez are off the draft board very early in 2013.

Courtney Hawkins
Carroll (Corpus Christi, Texas), OF/RHP, Sr.

When you throw a shutout and hit a home run in a 1-0 victory, you know you've had yourself a pretty good day. Hawkins did that Thursday, and he did it against Florida power Gulliver Prep (Pinecrest, Fla.). Hawkins' fastball sat in the low-90s all game, and he touched 94. His combination of arm strength, speed and raw power makes him one of the top prospects for the 2012 draft.

Brandon Lopez
American Heritage (Plantation, Fla.), SS, Sr.

There was no better defensive shortstop over the week than Lopez. The Miami recruit made dazzling plays going to his left and right, and he showed plenty of arm strength for the position as well. He was no slouch with the stick, either, but it’s his glove that makes Lopez such a valuable commodity.

Ryan Burr
Highlands Ranch (Colo.), RHP, Sr.

Burr battled Sims neck and neck for five innings on Wednesday, but some defensive miscues ultimately led to the lopsided final score of 7-0. The Arizona State signee sat in the low-90s and touched 93. Additionally, he showed good commanded of both his fastball and hard-biting breaking ball.

Matt Olson
Parkview (Lilburn, Ga.), RHP/1B, Sr.

Georgia's Gatorade State Player of the Year in 2011, Olson was a dominant force on the mound and at the plate during the tournament. He shut down a strong George Washington (New York) lineup on Wednesday and then crushed a Fried fastball for a homer on Thursday.

Rock Rucker
Russell County (Seale, Ala.), OF, Sr.

In addition to having one of the best names out there, Rucker is an impressive athlete who turned a lot of heads at the event. The left-handed hitting OF has plenty of arm strength — his fastball has been clocked in the 90s — and there’s raw power and plenty of bat-speed in his stroke as well.

Honorable Mentions
Joey Gallo, Bishop Gormon (Las Vegas), 3B/RHP, Sr.
Jack Flaherty, Harvard-Westlake (Studio City, Calif.), RHP, Soph.
Adrian Marin, Gulliver Prep (Pinecrest, Fla.), SS, Sr.
Ryan McMahon, Mater Dei (Santa Ana, Calif.), 3B, Jr.
Ivan Pelaez, Gulliver Prep (Pinecrest, Fla.), LHP, Sr.

Christopher Crawford is the founder and executive editor of MLB Draft Insider and a contributor to Prospect Insider. Follow him on Twitter @CrawfordChrisV.

What's in a superstition?

October, 19, 2011
10/19/11
12:32
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Mitchell Aker, Area Code Baseball, Washington NationalsScott Kurtz/ESPNHSMitchell Aker has a special ritual he does before he takes to the mound.
Superstitions and pre-game routines have always been a part of baseball. Whether it is Normar Garciaparra and his pre-bat routine of what seems to consist of two thousand batting glove touches and fifteen hundred toe taps to the everyday Joe who jumps the chalk on his way on the field, baseball players will always have some quirk when they play the game everyday.

We asked some ball players about what they have for a superstition or do as a pre-game routine and below is the best of the best responses we received.

“I always eat a large order of hot wings before a big game. The hotter the sauce the better I hit. Proven Fact! I always hit better with a belly full of hot wings!”
-Cullen O’Dwyer, Eldorado (Albuquerque, N.M.)

“I don’t wash my uniform unless my team loses.”
-Jake Schroeder, Ferndale (Ferndale, Wash.)

“My superstition before pitching is to draw a 5 with a circle around it. The reason why I do this is I found a nickel wit my friend one day, and I gave it to him before he had pitched that day. Turned out he threw a one-hitter. So I decided that I would put the lucky nickel in my pocket and throw the next game with it. I threw a no-hitter. Now the reason why I draw the circle is because I lost it (the nickel) one day. And for the remainder of the season we wrote a 5 on the back of the mound. So I guess it just stuck to me.”
-Trevor MeGill, Marina (Huntington Beach, Calif.)

“No superstitions or rituals, those get to your head too much. Just a routine to always go by keeps me going and on top of my game!”
-Matt Tulley, Lowell (Lowell, Mass.)

“I always put whatever change like coins in my back right pocket or when staying at a hotel I put my hotel room key in my back right pocket.”
-Mitchell Kranson, De La Salle (Concord, Calif.)

“I don't have a ritual before the game, but I do have one right before I go up to hit. I step in left leg then right leg, touch the far corner of the plate with my bat, pull up my left pant leg then my right pant leg, adjust my right sleeve, adjust my helmet then squat in my stance. Then of course I have the big twirl and leg kick in my swing.”
-Ty Moore, Mater Dei (Santa Ana, Calif.)

“My ritual is saying an "Our Father" and then write my grandpa's initials in the mound because he played baseball and he passed away before I met him.”
-Mitchell Aker, Paul VI Catholic (Fairfax, Va.)

“Before every game and before I pitch I write my grandmother's initials on the field so she can see me from heaven. I even bring dirt from where she is buried to put on the mound.”
-Rock Rucker, Redan (Stone Mountain, Ga.)

“My pre-game superstition is I always save the wrapper of the last thing I ate and put it in my back pocket.”
-Sam Brown, Jackson (Mill Creek, Wash.)

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