Desert Challenge Notebook
December 10, 2018
The annual Desert Challenge took place this past weekend at various fields across the Coachella Valley. The field is usually made up of some of the top programs from Orange and Riverside counties and this year included teas from the Santa Barbara area. The event is the brainchild of Palm Desert HS coach, Darol Salazar, who has been a mainstay in the Coachella Valley baseball community for over two decades.
This years event got off to an ominous start as Thursday's games were wiped out by rain. As one coach put it to me, "it rains five days a year out here and you guys are here for two of them." What are the chances? Nevertheless, a huge kudos to all coaches that worked incredibly hard to get fields ready for games on Friday.
On Friday evening I headed to Palm Desert High School to see Palm Desert take on Walnut in the opening game of the Desert Challenge before heading over to College of the Desert to a couple games the first of which was Servite vs Bishop Gorman before Bishop Amat vs Dana Hills closed out the first day of action.
Let's take a closer look at some of the players that stood out over the weekend.
2021 C Max Shor (Palm Desert HS) continues to impress me with his overall game, but it's his effort, attitude, and hustle that really stand out and are certain to take him far in this game. A USD commit, Shor doesn't have much else to prove but he's the first guy out of the dugout to get to his position and the first guy out to congratulate a teammate. It's an attitude that's contagious in that dugout. Add all that to his obvious talents behind and at the plate and what you have is a player that programs win with.
2020 3B Emiliano Torres (Palm Desert HS) showed off his big arm defensively with a play up the line in which he threw out a runner by a half-step when nobody in the stands gave him a shot. At the plate the left-handed hitter put some good swings on the ball without much to show for it. The power is fairly projectable with Torres, who has a long, lean, wiry strong frame. The USC commit appears primed for a big junior season.
2019 SS Jordan Sprinkle (Palm Desert HS) made some difficult plays look easy and made an easy play look difficult as the ball skirted under his glove. Don't be misled by that play, the UCSB commit is a very good defensive middle infielder with athleticism that is off the charts and the arm to make throws from every angle. And his range is exceptional to both sides. At the plate he appeared dialed in during his at-bats where he fouled off several pitches and made hard contact.
2019 LHP Manny Casillas (Walnut HS) is a New Mexico State commit that appears ready for a big time senior season. His curveball may be one of the best in the area with its sharp, biting action and 1/5 shape. It's a present out pitch as he showed by punching out at least three hitters with it. He throws it with confidence and in any count. His fastball shows some life as it enters the zone at 85-87 mph. It's a very strong two-pitch mix and mix in his developing feel for a changeup and you have what is going to be a very good pitcher for Walnut and New Mexico State in the coming seasons.
2020 C/RHP Garrett Guillemette (Servite HS) has long been considered one of the better catchers in his class and you'll get no argument from me on that. The Oregon commit appears to have worked some things out with his swing as he appears more comfortable at the plate and it showed this weekend. The junior also took to the mound on Sunday for an inning where he worked 86-87 mph (he's been up to 91) as he works himself back into form where he may end up being the closer for the Friars come spring.
2021 OF Tim Davidson (Servite HS) is a name college recruiters are going to want to remember. Davidson impressed in the two Servite games I saw with his ability to not only square the ball up, but his ability to drive it to all fields allowing him to use his speed on the bases to cause havoc. Had what looked like a big lead before taking off on a hit-and-run getting to third base as the outfielder was arriving at the ball. And while he didn't score on that play, he did on the sac fly on the next pitch. That was an impressive thing to see.
2022 MIF Andrew Walters (Corona HS) caught my attention during his first at-bat when he laced a line drive to left field and trotted into second base with a stand up double. Then I watched him closely as he played defense and was hooked. He moves very well to both sides and although he was playing second base you can see the arm strength that will likely slide over to shortstop when there's an opening at the position. Flashes speed and has the frame that will fill out and add power to his present bat speed.
2019 Michael Carpentier Jr. (Yucaipa HS) is a name everyone in baseball circles has know for some time now. However, the Arizona State commit looks like a different player thanks in part to losing close to 15 pounds since the end of summer and adding strength to his frame. The loss of the pounds shows up in his game as he appears quicker and lighter behind the plate where his arm continues to be one of the best at the position. Where his new physique is evident is at the plate where he appears to have a tick more bat speed and a more juice in the bat. He stroked a triple - something I don't think would've happened in the summer - during the game to left-center field showing off some added quickness to his game.
2022 SS Frankie Peralez (Bishop Amat HS) has the tools and makeup that all the best players have. Don't be fooled by his size, this guy is a player. He made a play on a ball hit hard at him that he short hopped with a backhand that left me and others in the crowd with eyes wide open. Batting leadoff for the Lancers he showed he can more than handle that responsibility. He's also a very good, smart, instinctive base runner who isn't afraid to go for it. With Peralez, the game seems to come easy for him and he makes the difficult look easy.
2020 RHP Jacob Vargas (Bishop Amat HS) is a 6-foot-3, 215-pound manchild on the mound that makes for uncomfortable at-bats for hitters. He pounded the zone with a running fastball that touched 88 mph several times and featured a changeup at 76-78 mph (he also has a curveball but Bishop Amat pitchers aren't throwing them yet). There's a some effort in the delivery but the arm is clean with repeatable mechanics. A transfer from Salesian, you can expect Vargas to be at the frontline of Bishop Amat's rotation this coming spring.
2019 OF/RHP Blake Archuleta (Bishop Amat HS) is in, a word, a winner. He led Bishop Amat's football team this season almost single-handedly winning some games for them. He did the same thing for the baseball team last spring as they made an unexpected run to the semifinals of the CIF playoffs. At the plate he puts together quality at-bat after quality at-bat. He spoiled several pitches before ultimately grounding out. It was an 8 pitch at-bat that showed his ability to impact a game.
2021 RHP CJ Zwahlen (Dana Hills HS) is a 6-foot-3, 190-pound right-handed pitcher that has the attention of college recruiters thanks in part to a fastball that flashes armside run at 86-88 mph. He also features a curveball that is at time sharp and biting at 69-71 mph. It's a pitch he threw to hitter when ahead and behind in the count. Clearly one he has a lot of confidence in. Showed feel for a changeup at 80-81 mph as the pitch ran back over the plate to righties. Despite being 190-pounds, his frame is lean, long and looks like it can handle addition of mass/strength.
2020 LHP Michael Flores (Corona HS) threw only one inning on Saturday but it was as good as I've seen the St. Mary's commit. He ran his fastball up to 88 mph twice while living 85-87 mph the rest of the time. He was throwing a two seamer that to go with his four seamer that caused hitters to guess. The struck out two hitters and induced a weak ground out for the other out. His fastball(s) were virtually unhittable then he dropped a 75 mph changeup that absolutely buckled the hitter.
2019 OF Jesse Dickens (Great Oak HS) impressed on several levels with his speed, his barrel control, and his arm on defense. First his speed, clocked at 4.33 home-to-first the uncommitted senior is a smart base runner who will take an extra bag if he sees an opening. His speed plays in the outfield where he shows excellent jumps after reading the ball off the bat very well. And his arm helps control the running game of opponents as it's strong and accurate to all bags. Dickens is the type of player you see on rosters of winning college programs - they guys that do all the little things exceptionally well and are great clubhouse guys.
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