Prep Baseball Report

Field Set For 2018 NHSI

Nathan Rode and PBR Staff

The seventh annual National High School Invitational will be played March 28-31 in Cary, NC, and the 16-team field was announced by USA Baseball Tuesday. Six of the teams have previously attended the event, including two-time champion Mater Dei HS, CA. The Monarchs are making their fourth trip to Cary after winning the first two editions in 2012-2013 and going 2-2 in 2016. It is also the fourth appearance for Orange Lutheran HS, CA. This will be the third appearance for American Heritage HS, FL, while Florence HS, AL, Trinity Prep, FL, and Walton HS, GA, are making their second. Rounding out the field are Calvary Christian Academy, FL, George Jenkins HS, FL, Hanover HS, VA, Hattiesburg HS, MS, John Curtis Christian HS, LA, Green Hope HS, NC, Mount Carmel HS, IL, Mountain Ridge HS, AZ, Sandra Day O’Connor HS, AZ and Santiago HS, CA. There will be 10 states represented, including the first from Louisiana.

As always, the NHSI will be heavily scouted and this year’s event has 15 players currently in the PBR Draft 100, including four in the top 10, plus several others that could easily find their way into the ranking throughout the spring. The prospects currently ranked are LHP Matthew Liberatore (No. 1; Mountain Ridge HS, AZ), SS Brice Turang (No. 2; Santiago HS, CA), RHP Slade Cecconi (No. 6; Trinity Prep, FL), OF Alek Thomas (No. 8; Mount Carmel HS, IL), 3B Nolan Gorman (No. 12; Sandra Day O’Connor HS, AZ), 1B Triston Casas (No. 13; American Heritage HS, FL), RHP Cole Winn (No. 17; Orange Lutheran HS, CA), LHP Luke Bartnicki (No. 22; Walton HS, GA), 3B Brandon Howlett (No. 30; George Jenkins HS, FL), OF Joe Gray (No. 32; Hattiesburg HS, MS), OF Jordyn Adams (No. 40; Green Hope HS, NC), RHP Cole Henry (No. 65; Florence HS, AL), SS Emilio Rosas (No. 71; Mater Dei HS, CA), 3B/RHP Roberto Pena (No. 72; Calvary Christian Academy, FL) and SS Raynel Delgado (No. 73; Calvary Christian Academy, FL).

Read up on the teams and more prospects in the capsules below.

American Heritage HS, FL
The Patriots were a part of the inaugural NHSI in 2012 and returned last year with a loaded lineup and pitching staff. They graduated SS Mark Vientos (Second round, New York Mets), but have eight starters returning for 2018. Leading the offense will be Casas and 3B Cory Acton (Florida), two left-handed hitters that can do some damage at the plate. Casas is one of the top bats in the country and was MVP of the 18U World Cup for Team USA last summer. American Heritage also has the benefit of two transfers in 2019 LHP Ryan Cabarcas (Florida) and 2020 SS Jordan Carrion (Florida). Heading up the rotation will be LHP Bailey Mantilla (Miami). The Patriots also have a couple of 2020 Vanderbilt recruits to follow in OF Enrique Bradfield and 1B Gavin Casas, the younger brother of Triston Casas.

Calvary Christian HS, FL
Calvary Christian has a deep and talented roster with eight players currently committed to Division I programs. They’re led by a trio of seniors, including two transfers, in RHP Christian Scott (Florida), Pena (Florida) and Delgado (Florida International). Scott will lead the rotation and Pena provides a legitimate two-way threat. 2019 RHP Skylar Gonzalez (West Virginia) makes for a strong third starter with his command and three-pitch mix. Behind Pena and Delgado, the offense has a strong group of 2019s in C Ben Rozenblum (Florida International), IF Mykanthony Valdes (Miami), OF Ryan Keenan (Vanderbilt) and OF Tyler Knierim (Duke).

Florence HS, AL
The Falcons reached the semifinals of the 2016 NHSI, getting an epic outing from LHP Braxton Garrett, who was the seventh overall pick that June. Their quarterfinal starter that year was Henry (Louisiana State), who was a sophomore. He is back to lead a strong pitching staff that includes two other D-I recruits in Taylor brothers LHP Evan (Arkansas) and RHP Grant (Louisiana State). The eldest is southpaw with a live arm and can run his fastball into the low 90s. Grant was a member of the 15U National Team and can also touch the low 90s, but from the right side. Offensively, the Falcons will turn to C Landon Langston (North Alabama), C/1B Joseph Kiel (Lawson State CC) and SS Braxton Knight. Overall, the Falcons return five starters from 2017.

George Jenkins HS, FL
George Jenkins reached the 8A region final in 2017 and is poised for another run with eight starters returning. Anchoring the offense are Howlett (Florida State), OF/LHP Brady Allen (South Carolina) and 2019 C Jake Herbert (Florida). They combined for 17 home runs and 67 RBIs last season. On the mound, the Eagles have LHP Brandt Sundean (Florida Gulf Coast) and 2019 LHP Daniel Batcher (West Virginia) to lead the staff.

Green Hope HS, NC
As the North Carolina participant, Green Hope is the host of the NHSI and will travel just three miles to get to the National Training Complex. The Falcons return six starters from a team that lost in the first round of the state tournament in 2017. That includes four Division I recruits. Their top player is Adams (North Carolina), who is also a high-level prospect in football. His father is the defensive line coach for the Tar Heels. Green Hope’s defense will be strong up the middle with Adams patrolling center field and 2019 Kohl Abrams (UNC Wilmington) captaining the infield. He’s a slick fielder with range and arm strength. On the mound, 2020 LHP Liam Norris (North Carolina) is one of the top sophomores in the country and heads up a pitching staff that will be looking to prove itself in 2018.

Hanover HS, VA
Hanover finished as the 4A runner-up in 2017 and has three state titles in the last five years. The Hawks have six returning Division I recruits from last season, including three Division I arms on the pitching staff. Leading the way is SS/RHP Jack Dragum (Virginia), who has a chance to remain a two-way player at the next level. 3B/RHP Cam Grimes (Virginia Tech) is a toolsy athlete and hits atop the order with his speed. He was also used as the closer last year. The No. 2 starter is SS/RHP Nick Zona (James Madison), who runs a 6.72 60-yard dash and is up to 90 mph on the mound. LHP Will Lopez (Virginia Military Institute) will serve as the No. 3, but also provides strong defense in center field.

Hattiesburg HS, MS
District champs and the South State runner-up in 2017, Hattiesburg has a loaded senior class looking to make a run at a state title in 2018. The Tigers’ lineup hit .320 last year with 272 runs scored. Leading that offense will be Gray (Mississippi), who accounted for more than half the team’s home runs last season. Other key returners include 2018 UT Dexter Jordan (Louisiana-Lafayette), 2018 RHP/2B A.J. Stinson (Alabama State) and 2018 OF Kameron Wells (Miami-Dade JC). The Tigers also have a pair of underclassmen to follow in 2019 RHP/2B Landon Rascoe and 2020 SS Caleb Tart. Rascoe has shown quality arm strength, pitching in the high 80s while spinning a tight slider.

John Curtis Christian HS, LA
The 2017 Louisiana Division-I state champs, the Patriots are loaded with high-level college talent heading into the 2018 season. They return seven of nine starters from a potent and deep lineup that posted a team .456 on-base percentage, .498 slugging, 78 doubles, 19 home runs and 215 runs. 1B Cade Beloso (Louisiana State) is the force in the middle of the order, as the 2017 New Orleans Metro Area player of the year and first-team PBR All-State selection, stuffed the stat sheet with eye-popping numbers, including an OPS of 1.519, 18 doubles, seven home runs and 34 RBIs, while only striking out six times in 114 plate appearances. Other returners from the lineup include 2018 C Jay Curtis, 2018 OF Logan Stevens (Tulane), 2019 OF/LHP Dax Ford (Louisiana-Lafayette), 2018 IF Jordin LaBruzza, and 2018 IF Brandon Davis. 2018 RHP/IF Will Ripoll (Louisiana State) had to sit out the 2017 season after transferring in from Texas. Ripoll runs his fastball up to 90 and showcases a sharp slider, which should significantly bolster a Patriots’ pitching staff that is already returning Ford and 2018 RHP Ian Landreneau (Mississippi Gulf Coast CC).

Mater Dei HS, CA
Making their fourth trip to the NHSI, the Monarchs boast experience on top of an always loaded roster. There are 10 Division I recruits on this year’s squad and five returning starters from a team that went 21-12, finishing as semifinalists in the CIF Southern Section. Leading the charge are Rosas (Southern California), a strong defender, and OF Vinny Tosti (Oregon), who transfers in under a hardship waiver after Cardinal Newman HS, CA, was damaged in the Santa Rosa Fire. Tosti provides a power-speed combination that only adds to the danger of Mater Dei’s lineup. One the mound, a group of juniors lead the pitching staff in RHPs Hunter Cranton (Arizona), Hunter Cope (San Diego) and Cameron Wheeler (UC Irvine). It will also be worth keeping an eye on 2021 RHP Alonzo Treadwell (UCLA). The staff is talented, but lacks experience.

Mount Carmel HS, IL
Last year, Brother Rice HS, IL, was the first Illinois team to participate in the NHSI. Mount Carmel, another member of the strong Chicago Catholic League-Blue Division, makes it two years in a row. Returning eight Division I recruits, led by Thomas (Texas Christian), the Caravan lineup is loaded and particularly strong on the infield. 1B Anthony Herron (Missouri State), IF/RHP Christian Lucio (Eastern Kentucky), IF/RHP Diego Munoz (Western Illinois) and OF Malik Peters (Northern Illinois) give Thomas plenty of support. There are also four sophomore infielders looking to gain experience and be the future of Mount Carmel—SS Ed Howard (Oklahoma), IF/RHP Alec Gonzalez, MIF Anthony Livermore and 3B Joshua Houston. Howard is a high-level defender, who saw time as a freshman, and Gonzalez has legitimate two-way potential as one of the top sophomores in the state. 2018 C Jake Kapers (Valparaiso) and 2019 OF Kevin Dowling (Murray State) are two more D-I recruits at head coach Brian Hurry’s disposal. 2018 RHP Anthony Scanlon will likely shoulder much of the innings while Munoz and Lucio are reliable strike-throwers. The x-factor on the mound could be Gonzalez, who ran his fastball up to 87 in the fall and shows feel for a sharp breaking ball.

Mountain Ridge HS, AZ
After a deep run into the 6A State playoffs last season as the No. 3 seed, Mountain Ridge graduated a good portion of their lineup, but returns PBR’s top overall prospect in the country in Liberatore (Arizona). Liberatore pitched Team USA to a gold medal in the World Cup, without yielding a run and is a candidate to be taken first overall next June. Mountain Ridge will be tough to beat anytime he takes the mound and eyes another deep run in the playoffs in 2018. Senior SS Jason Harayda (Seattle) and C Jake Robson return to anchor a lineup that could feature plenty of youth. 2020 1B/LHP Brock Arnold and 2019 OF Tate Childers stood out in the fall and should have a chance to be varsity contributors.

Orange Lutheran HS, CA
Like Mater Dei, Orange Lutheran returns to the NHSI with experience and a reloaded roster. Six starters, 12 players total, return from an NHSI championship in 2017 and a disappointing loss in the first round of the CIF Southern Section playoffs, but the biggest piece is Winn (Mississippi State), who transferred from Colorado. Winn has the upside of a first-round pick with his low-90s fastball and wipeout slider. The Lancers have depth on the mound behind Winn with 2018 LHP Lonnie Morris (UC San Diego) and talented young arms like 2020 Christian Rodriguez (Miami) and Max Rajcic (UCLA). Offensively, the team isn’t as fleet footed as last year, but still has athleticism and strength up the middle in seniors C Caleb Ricketts (San Diego) and SS Zach Lew (Cal State Fullerton), as well as 2019 OF Jasiah Dixon (Southern California).

Sandra Day O'Connor HS, AZ
The Eagles missed out on making the final eight in Arizona’s 6A state tournament, but have five starters returning, led by Gorman (Arizona), the No. 2 prospect in the state. The potential first-round pick hit 11 home runs each of the last two seasons and was a member of Team USA last summer. SS Jayce Easley (Oregon State), is also a standout prospect as a switch-hitter with high-end athleticism and a projectable frame. 2018 C Jake Vesecky (Evansville) and 2019 SS Noah Burgarello (Utah) also figre to be key contributors in the lineup. 2019 LHP Cal Lambert has been up to 87 mph recently and will be a key on the mound along with 2018 RHP Mitchell DeCovich (Central Arizona JC). O’Connor also has a stable of young prospects that could find some playing time in 2020 OF Noah Nitham, 2021 SS Chase Valentine and 2021 SS Barrett Skaugrud, who is the state’s No. 3 freshman prospect.

Santiago HS, CA
The Sharks are making their NHSI debut and do so with five returning position players and four pitchers. Leading the offense is Turang (Louisiana State), who is a dynamic defender and polished hitter. The offense is down from last year’s team, which won a second straight conference title, but C Jacob Shanks (UC Riverside) is a four-year starter and 2019 1B/C Daryl Ruiz is a three-year starter, so some experience remains. The Sharks’ strength will be on the mound with senior RHP Tyler Frazier (Oregon) serving as the ace. An all-conference selection in RHP Cruz Barrios returns, as does 2019 RHP McKay Knoll, who went 4-1 as a sophomore.

Trinity Prep, FL
Trinity Prep returns to the NHSI after a 2015 appearance and boasts one of the top pitchers in the country in Cecconi (Miami). His mid-90s fastball give the Saints a big-time ace and 2019 RHP/3B Andrew Roberts (Florida) is a strong two-way threat with a high-80s fastball and legitimate bat. Supporting Roberts on offense will be SS Ethan Groff (Tulane), who can provide power. 2020 MIF Jacob Starling is a dynamic, fast-twitch player to keep an eye on and 2019 OF Philip Clarke is a strong defender.

Walton HS, GA
The Raiders were one out away from the 2016 NHSI semifinals before falling on a walk-off home run. They went on to win the state championship that year and return to Cary with another strong group that includes six Division I recruits. This squad will lean on pitching, as three starters and a key reliever return. Leading the staff is Bartnicki (Georgia Tech), who went 10-1 last season and can pitch in the low 90s with a sharp breaking ball. Behind him is senior RHP/3B Cam Bloodworth (Wofford) and his mid-80s fastball, as well as 2019 LHP Jacob Baldino (Virginia). RHP Henry Litman (Washington & Jefferson College, PA) is the top relief arm. 2019 SS Pierce Gallo (Clemson), 2019 1B Luke Boynton (Nebraska), 2018 C Jack Schad (Tennessee Tech) and Bloodworth make up the threat on offense.

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