Prep Baseball Report

Palm Desert Challenge: Position Players

Les Lukach
State Scouting Director

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PALM DESERT, CALIF. - The 2021 Palm Desert Challenge returned after a COVID-19 cancellation last year and this edition did nothing but cement this as a must stop for MLB Scouts, DII, DIII, and JUCO coaches alike. With many of them in attendance at every game, the focus and intensity of the games was more like a mid-league game than a late fall game. 

Earlier I put out some thoughts on the teams that I saw plenty of during the tournament. In this edition we’ll take a look at eight position players that stood out with the bat and the glove last weekend. 

With that, there were some notable players that while they didn’t get multiple viewings, definitely did something noteworthy either defensively or with the bat. 

So, let’s dive in. 


Seniors Aiden Avichouser and Agustin Gutierrez provide Servite with the type of solid senior play that all successful teams have. Avichouser is a wall behind the plate and the catch-and-throw is on par with many at the top of his class. Blocked a ball in the dirt and threw a 2.03 dart to get a runner. Impressive footwork and arm strength. Gutierrez is a very sound defensive player that is seemingly always in position to make a play. He also takes very good at-bats working the count and spoiling pitches…Senior Aiden Taurek of Foothill is arguably the best player nobody talks about. Recently committed to St. Marys, Taurek can play outfield and hit at a high level while also being one of the arms the Knights will rely on next spring. Remember the name Mason Souter of Foothill. The 2024 catcher has a chance to be a highly desired prospect in the next 6-12 months…Another 2024 catcher to remember is Jose Perez at Gahr. The physical, athletic receiver packs a punch at the plate and is just scratching the surface. Junior shortstop Kyle Panganiban continues the tradition of above average defenders that can hit for the Gladiators. Panganiban is silky smooth defensively with plenty of physical projection remaining…Shortstop Abbrie Covarrubias of Cypress is rounding into the form at a perfect time for the Centurions. His above average defense was on display the entire weekend making all plays and throws that came his way. His bat is coming into form as well with some added strength and more consistent barrels.  Junior 1B/OF Matthew Thomas of Cypress passes the eye test at first sight. At 6-foot-2, 185-pounds he’s a physical, athletic player that shows flashes at the plate. The obvious power in the bat and when he’s on time it’s pretty, consistency will be the key for Thomas in the spring…A final thought, barring major injuries, Santa Margarita is going to be very good offensively in the 2022 season. This isn’t a surprise when they have Division I commits hitting 1-5 for them. When I saw them they had DI hitters in the 8 and 10 holes! Add to that their high level/ability of their uncommitted players, along with this being a junior heavy roster,  and it’s easy to be bullish on the Eagles headed into the 2022 season.


Nick Montgomery C / OF / Cypress, CA / 2024

Only a sophomore, the Arizona St. has the look of a physical Division I catcher already. At 6-foot-2, 175-pounds Montgomery plays light on his feet while in his crouch moving well laterally and getting big when needed. Pops in the 2.01-2.14 range in a couple different viewings this last week or so. Also played first base where his footwork is above average and he provides a large target. His hand speed at the plate is noticeable when on-deck, in the box it shines through on pitches inside as he’s able to get the knob to the ball before whipping the barrel onto plane before contact. He’s strong enough that non-barrel contact usually gets dumped into the outfield. He has the type of potential with the bat that gets your attention as an observer.


Benjamin Reiland OF / SS / Orange Lutheran, CA / 2024

Every time I’ve seen Reiland over the course of more than one game all he has done is hit. Not only hit, but even when he makes an out, it’s usually a loud out like the one he squared up to deep center field for against Basic (NV) on Friday night. There’s strength in the frame that belies his size, but it’s the ability to manipulate the barrel through the zone that impresses most. He barreled up a fastball in and pulled into right field for a base hit. He is poised, composed, and sticks to his plan at the plate. More than handles his own in center field and we got a glimpse of him on the dirt later in the weekend where his athleticism plays way up.


Luke Lavin C / OF / Santa Margarita Catholic, CA / 2023

Left-handed power hitting catchers are at a premium at any level, especially at the professional level. Lavin, a Stanford commit, may be positioning himself as that guy in the 2023 class in SoCal. The L/R catcher had a hot weekend at the plate that included a no-doubt home run on a cold, dense Friday night at Palm Desert. The ball cleared the RCF fence by a good 30-40 feet. On Saturday against Gahr he once again hit the ball hard for an RBI base hit before showing an in-swing adjustment to get the barrel on the ball and poke it through the infield for another hit. Lavin has always had a nice left-handed swing, but it’s his growth in the area of pitch recognition and overall plate discipline that could elevate him further.

Mikey Romero SS / Orange Lutheran, CA / 2022

The last seven or eight months have been a whirlwind for Romero and his family. In the midst of it all, Romero has managed to do something some top prospects are unable to do, and that is to live up to the hype. The LSU signee has cemented himself as one of the top MLB Draft prospects in the region thanks not only to his bat but his lockdown defense at shortstop. He makes difficult plays look routine providing further evidence of his ability to stay at shortstop in pro ball. As mentioned, the bat has developed into one of the best in SoCal. There’s sneaky power in it, but the ability to change planes through the zone to get the barrel to the ball is a difference maker.

Roman Martin SS / RHP / Servite, CA / 2023

Like Romero in this draft class, perhaps no player in SoCal has a clearer opportunity to position himself for a bump in the 2023 draft talk next summer, than shortstop Roman Martin of Servite. The UCLA commit has long been a defensive standout now he’s added power to the hit tool and the ability to locate low 90’s on the mound. There’s a ton of value when paired with at 6’2” frame. He made every play defensively with a few tough ones that he made look easy. There’s improved strength, and accuracy, to the arm with throws flashing carry when needed. The footwork is smooth and the instincts are plus. All indications are that he’ll stay at shortstop, and if that doesn’t work, he can move to the mound where he works in the low 90’s with the fastball.

Matthew Morrell RHP / OF / Cypress , CA / 2023

After watching Morrell hit the last couple of weeks, it’s hard to imagine that his future is very likely on the mound where he’s low-to-mid 90’s with the fastball, because what he showed on Friday alone was noteworthy. Coming off the football season, Morrell is just beginning to get into baseball shape but strength and athleticism always play. Crushed a fastball into CF for a bases clearing triple then backed it up with a pull side double and single both on pitches in. I didn’t get to see the Oregon St. commit on the mound this weekend, but all indications are that while he may be a pitcher only in the future, he’s a middle of the order bat presently.

Ryland Duson SS / VISTA MURRIETA, CA / 2025

When a coach raves about a freshman I pay attention, when he says some of the things Duson’s coach says I remember that. A hyper-athletic middle infielder, Duson played second base last weekend though it’s easy to envision him moving to shortstop when the position becomes available. A very instinctive fielder, Duson moves around the field with ease and above average footwork/body positioning. Speed is a part of his game on the bases as he showed off on his triple to deep RCF on Friday night. I had him 4.84 around the bag at first. He backed that up with a couple of good at-bats on Saturday where he adjusted to an elevated fastball that he drove over the left fielder’s head for a standup double. Duson, if he waits past the spring to commit to a school, will no doubt be a national recruit.

Vaughn Neckar 3B / RHP / Vista Murrieta, CA / 2025

Only a freshman, but already an LSU commit, Nekar has the presence of a player much older than him when in the box. At 6-foot-3 the frame stands out immediately, and he uses all of it in his swing. There’s obvious quickness and strength in the barrel (see below) where he’s able to get the barrel to the ball more times than not. From a somewhat upright stance he starts with a leg lift trigger getting him on time through the zone. It’s easy to see his bat being a carrying tool in a few years, but his future may be on the mound where he works into the lower 90’s with his fastball.


Central Valley Preseason ID CA 01/08 Fresno Pacific University
SoCal Preseason All-State Underclass CA 01/08 JSerra High School
SoCal Preseason All-State Upperclass CA 01/09 JSerra High School
East Bay Preseason ID CA 01/16 Ohlone College
Central Coast Preseason ID CA 01/22 Hartnell College
Sacramento/Delta Preseason ID CA 01/23 McBean Stadium
Peninsula/South Bay Preseason ID CA 01/30 Canada College
Super 60 Pro Showcase NATIONAL 02/06 The MAX - McCook, Ill.