See also: Big Ro Memorial 17u Player Notes
At the 16u age division of the 2021 Big Ro Memorial, which was played at Nash Park in Kenosha, Wis., July 1-3, there were two teams that stood out for their overall talent level, the Pro Player Canes Green squad and STiKS Academy. It was Pro Player Canes Green that ultimately claimed the championship, although few teams could match the STiKS depth in both their starting lineup and the number of high quality arms they sent to the mound.
Luke Agnew, RHP
Agnew was the first of three promising righthanders that I got a look at for STiKS, listed at 6-foot-3, 205-pounds with athletic proportions and room to add strength. The arm action is live and loose with enough reason to believe he hasn’t hit his velocity peak, currently throwing consistently in the 80-84 mph range and he has peaked higher at other events. He mixed in a sweeping 72-73 mph breaking ball that had slurvy two-plane bite to it and what looks like a changeup he kept down and away from opposing hitters.
Jonah Conradt, RHP
This is an exciting arm, and was that was previously committed to recent College World Series participant Arizona. With Jay Johnson heading to LSU it’s possible Conradt heads there as well, but that’s TBD. And we have some time before we get to that point but the current ingredients are plenty intriguing. He’s lean and lanky with a super loose arm. Broad shoulders means there’s going to be some weight gains coming which will vault his current 86-89 mph fastball into the low-90s and possibly further. His fastball pretty much sat at 87 and even more impressive was how well he spotted the pitch, getting a low of weak swings off of it. His 77 mph curveball is already a really sharp and developed pitch that falls off the table. Wherever he ends up, either as a pro or college (or both) this is a potentially special righthanded pitcher to keep an eye on.
Dylan Questad, RHP
Questad has been long identified as a top arm in the class of 2023, and not just in the Midwest, but nation-wide. You start with his athletic 6-foot, 190-pound frame and it’s easy to see why and how he’s able to consistently produce 91-92 mph heat. He sustained low-90s velocity into his start, and touched as high as 94 recently at an event down south. He threw both an 81-82 mph changeup and an 80-81 mph slider, sometimes hard to differentiate the two given how well he tunneled both pitches as compared to his fastball, but the slider did have sharp two-plane action, down and away from righthanded hitters, while the changeup faded down and away from lefthanders. A Notre Dame recruit, Questad has a high ceiling and it will be fun to track his career here in the state of Wisconsin for two more springs/summers.
Tyler Butina, 1B
The STiKS lineup was loaded, and hitting in the three-hole was Butina, fresh off an appearance at the Wisconsin state championship where he also made an impact for Jefferson High School. Despite his hulking 6-foot-2, near 220-pound frame, Butina employs a line drive, up-the-middle approach that allows him to make a lot of consistent, hard contact to all fields. He’s not selling out for power, and when I saw him last summer he did a good job to lace base hits to the opposite field. I’ve yet to see him truly get into one, but it’s clear it’s there, and more of that will come with his maturity as a hitter.
Ethan Hindle, SS
Hindle is a base hit machine, although with a dead red pull approach looking to yank balls hard to left field as a righthanded hitter. The bat speed and the strength in his hands and wrists are evident, and there’s plenty of looseness to his 6-foot-1, 180-pound build to add strength without losing the bounce in his step. On one double pulled to the corner in left field he showed off his speed, really getting out of the box quickly and cruising into second base. He handles himself well at shortstop with soft hands while making strong, accurate throws across.
Thomas Curry, C
Curry is all about strength, and his reputation clearly proceeds him as I didn’t see any baserunners even attempt to steal off of him. It almost didn’t matter, as he made numerous back-pick attempt, including at least one successful throw to second base to nail a runner that didn’t even stray too far from the bag on the pitch, that’s just how good of an arm that he has. He also got into a ball (see the video) as a righthanded hitter, muscling a pitch over the fence in left field for a home run. He looks every part of his 6-foot-1, 210-pound build and is the type of player you definitely want on your side.
Ryan Drumm is a good overall athlete with intriguing versatility. He has some room to grow into his frame with obvious athleticism, although his game isn’t quite as polished as some of his teammates. He’s definitely an eye to keep an eye on moving forward. Ethan Brown took several competitive at-bats and made some hard contact, including a sharp RBI single drilled through the left side of the infield. EJ Kuster belted a two-run double over the head of the right fielder, giving STiKS yet another player in their lineup that could impact the baseball. A player I really enjoyed watching last summer that I’m glad I got another look at in Kenosha was Adam Schilz. Schilz is built tall and lanky and clearly has a plan, both in the righthanded batter’s box and on the mound. He’s a very projectable athlete at 6-foot-2, 175-pounds and could be just starting to scratch the surface of what he’s capable of. His fastball worked right around 80 mph with his breaking ball sitting around 70.
Pro Player Canes Green
Ryan Bakes, C
I was aware of Ryan Bakes status as a prospect and a South Carolina commit and walked away extremely impressed with the young man’s talents. Built compact and strong, Bakes is a good overall athlete, and not just with the usual “for a catcher” designation. In the first at-bat I saw from him he belted a pitch over the fence in left-center field for a home run, and added an opposite field triple to right during the event’s second day of action. He is really quick to the ball with obvious strength and hits the ball where it’s pitched. His best single tool is his arm strength, a weapon from behind the plate that neutralizes the opposing running game and really helps his pitching staff.
Ryan’s twin brother Brayden Bakes played center field for the Canes, showing off the Bakes’ family athleticism, and followed Ryan’s home run on the first day with a double to the gap in right-center as a lefthanded hitter. Brayden also threw an absolute strike from center field to third base to gun down a runner trying to advance, again proving that both Bakes’ brothers are blessed with big-time arm strength. Brayden is currently uncommitted.
Uncommitted righthander Andrew Ressler showed one of the better arms on the Pro Player staff, a 6-foot-1, 185-pounder with good command of an 80-84 mph fastball that can peak higher. He moved the pitch around well and mixed in a 72-73 mph frisbee breaking ball that he showed advanced feel for. Mechanically he has a simple, shorter stride and uses a low-slot slinging delivery that can create some natural deception.
It’s always fun to watch the next wave of future Hitters given the success the program has developing next-level talent. Austin Kutz was one of the pitchers that stood out, as much for his 6-foot-4, 195-pound frame as a soon-to-be high school junior, as his 78-82 mph fastball velocity. He showed really good feel for a sharp 68-74 mph curveball as well and it’s easy envisioning both pitches taking a big step forward in the velo department over the next calendar year.
Although it wasn’t an extended look, TJ Schuyler in one swing showed what he’s capable of. He drilled a hanging breaking ball on the outer half to the opposite field gap in right-center, using his strength to reach out and make hard contact to impact the ball where it was pitched instead of trying to do too much with it. He’s listed at 6-foot-2, 200-pounds and has already committed to play for Indiana.
I didn’t capture it on video, but from another field I saw JT Kelenic drill a double of his own to the opposite field gap, another big-bodied athlete who can really impact the ball when he stays within himself and lets his swing and natural strength do the rest. Kelenic is the younger brother of Seattle Mariners outfielder Jarred Kelenic and has a big and strong, still-developing 6-foot-4, 200-pound frame.
Rhino Baseball 2023
Rangy infielder Tony Konopiots is definitely a player to monitor for the Rhino 2023 squad, a rangy 6-foot-1, 185-pound well-proportioned athlete who took consistent, competitive at-bats and showed fluid actions on the dirt. As shown in the tweet, in one at-bat he hit a sharp RBI single to the opposite field gap.
Puma Baseball Academy
Puma Baseball Academy enjoyed a strong come-from-behind victory against Rhino on the event’s first day, benefiting from a double off the bat of Vincent Sacchetti to tie things up. Sacchetti did a nice job to drop the bat head to get the big part of the barrel on the ball, hitting the ball just past the out-stretched glove of the center fielder to the gap in left-center for a double. Sacchetti has a projectable, still-growing 6-foot, 145-pound frame that looks like he’s a far ways away from reaching his physical peak.
Puma Baseball’s Nathan Williams hit the first home run at the event, at least that I saw, ripping a pitch over the fence in left field. He took the mound the next day and offers intriguing physical projection at 6-foot-1, 175-pounds. I was told that Williams is a hockey player that hasn’t had many looks on the travel circuit, but it’s obvious his hand strength – usually something attributed to successful hockey players – serves him well on the diamond.
Top Tier Americans 2023
Similar to their 17u squad at the event, the Top Tier Americans had several physical hitters that clearly knew what they were doing in the batter’s box. A couple of batters after middle infielder Jaden Correa hit an opposite field double to lead off the bottom of the first of one game, AJ Malzone, a lefthanded hitter, belted a two-run home run that seemingly kept carrying over the fence in right field. Malzone is a sturdily built 5-foot-11, 175-pound catcher that also showed good arm strength behind the plate. I didn’t see Zach Kwasny do much as a hitter, but he really stood out on the field given his 6-foot-5, 210-pound frame. He’s listed as a RHP/3B and apparently touches the upper-80s on the mound but I did not see him pitch at this event.
I did see Charlie Wolf take the mound for Top Tier and walked away impressed. Although not overly physical at 6-foot-1, 165-pounds, Wolf has plenty of room (and time) to fill out. The velocity was good, pitching consistently at 80-83 mph with plenty of reports of him throwing harder (peaking at 87) at other events. He showed good command with an easy, repeatable delivery and good feel for a sharp 69-70 mph curveball.
Chicago White Sox Ace 2023
The Chicago White Sox Ace 2023 squad had two players in their lineup really stand out. The first was their leadoff hitter, outfielder Dillon Head, a 5-foot-11, 175-pound outfielder that ran a 3.95-second home-to-first time to record an infield base hit. He clearly knew how to use his speed well with good bat-to-ball skills and the ability to hit the ball into the ground to let his wheels do the rest. Amir Gray is a much more physical lefthanded hitter, listed at 6-foot-1, 210-pound with an obvious, chiseled build. Gray hit a screaming line drive to the opposite field right after one of the umps called time on a foul ball hit onto the field from one of the other diamonds. What was most impressive was how short he was to the point of contact, and the obvious strength of course. Both are committed to play for Big Ten schools, Head at Michigan and Gray at Purdue.
Cangelosi Sparks 16u Black
Although I didn’t bear down too much on this Sparks team, I had watched this squad perform at a high level late last summer at the Woodside Sports Complex outside of the Wisconsin Dells. Catcher Colin Barczi is a player who really caught my eye then and continues to do so. It’s clear he is starting to fill out with a more obviously chiseled frame. He ripped a double down the left field line early in the event and added a hard single back up the middle later on. One of his most impressive attributes is his arm strength behind the plate, with a really quick really and obvious natural strength. He’s listed at 6-foot-2, 200-pounds now and it nationally ranked which means it’s only a matter of time before he commits. Ryan Jefferson has already committed to play in state at Illinois and has a quick-twitch, athletic build with room to grow. A lefthanded hitter, he took several competitive at-bats with the ability to square up the baseball and enough speed to make an impact. Trey Swiderski, a Louisville commit, offers yet another physical presence in the Sparks’ lineup given his 6-foot-2, 195-pound build. A righthanded hitter, Swiderski has the potential to impact the baseball hard and is a clear play to watch for the next level moving forward. All three players help make the Illinois class of 2023 a pretty special one.
On the mound, lefthander Luke Brown stood out for his ability to throw consistently in the low- to mid-80s (80-84). He used his 6-foot-3 stature well to throw on a downhill plane while mixing in a slurvy 70-74 mph breaking ball. Sammy Zagorac is a righthander to monitor moving forward, as he didn’t throw especially hard but commanded a three-pitch mix well. That mix included a 79-82 mph fastball, a 62-64 mph curveball and a mid-70s changeup.
Rake City 2023
Jack Watson deserves mention from the Rake City squad for his lean and athletic 6-foot, 180-pound frame and easy 81 mph fastball. It wasn’t necessarily a “wow” moment but certainly the kind of looks you want to remember for the future when he packs some pounds on his body and starts to throw harder. Watson has a fast arm and also threw a sharp 68 mph curveball that again gave a taste for what’s to come down the road.
GRB Rays 16u
The always-talented GRB Rays had several players worth making note of. Logan Frank is a big-bodied (6-2/225) righthander with a strong and sturdy build that threw easy 79-82 mph fastball with a good breaker. Fellow righthander Evan Gustafson threw a touch harder at 83-85 mph also showing good size (6-2/185) and easy arm strength. Catcher Mason Armstrong continued to show well behind the plate, gunning down a runner at second base by a mile with a quick release and a strong, on-the-money throw. Infielder Jack Shepski drilled a ball oppo to the right field corner and turned on the jets for a standup double, showing both his bat speed and his foot speed on the same play. Shepski isn’t overly physical at 5-foot-9, 160-pounds, but has room to grow and is the younger brother of Jake Shepski, who enjoyed a solid career at Notre Dame and in the Northwoods League as both a hitter and a pitcher.