The 2016 National High School Invitational(NHSI) tournament began on Wednesday, giving scouts a chance to see a lot of high school talent in the same place. The first day had a big pitching match-up between Braxton Garrett of Alabama and Zack Hess of Virginia. They are two of the top prep pitching prospects in the 2016 draft, with Garrett looking like a late first round pick at this point, while Hess will probably get second round consideration. Garrett has committed to Vanderbilt, while Hess will be going to LSU if he doesn’t sign. Both pitchers could obviously improve their draft stock before June 9th and this NHSI tournament is a big showcase for them.
I was able to watch the game, so I can give a report based on what I saw from each pitcher. Before I get into that though, here are the scouting reports I had going into the day courtesy of Prep Baseball Report:
Garrett is a 6’3″, 190 pound lefty, who has a projectable frame, with a chance to add velocity. He sits 88-91, and has an easy delivery. His curve is described as a “sharp pitch” with a 1-to-7 break, which sits 76-77 MPH. This report was from late last year, while the next report on Hess is from his outing last week.
Hess is a righty, who has both better size at 6’5″, 200 pounds, and better velocity, with the ability to hit 95 MPH. His fastball hits 89-93 consistently, and his 79-82 slider is described as very good, with a power break.
Hess had a very quick first inning, with three balls put in play on five pitches. The radar gun wasn’t working for the first couple pitches, but he hit 89 mph with his last fastball.
Garrett also had a quick first inning, throwing seven pitches. All seven were strikes and he recorded two strikeouts. He hit 89 mph, and the last strikeout came on a 77 mph curve.
In the second, Hess had some command issues, missing badly outside and low with a few pitches. He got out of the inning on 12 pitches due to a double play after a walk. Hess hit 92-93 this inning and flashed a couple nasty sliders that froze the batter.
Garrett had some command issues in the second inning as well. He allowed the first hit of the game, but that was it in the inning. He was sitting 87-89 and missing outside, though not as bad as Hess. Garrett hung some curves, but also threw a couple nice ones for strikes.
Hess worked quickly through the third inning, throwing a lot of strikes. He hit 91-92, but left a lot of pitches up, which were chased by the hitters. When he was down in the zone, he was 88 MPH with good downhill action. Hess threw three nice sliders in the inning.
Garrett showed a nice change-up the third inning, hitting 83 MPH. It wasn’t a big difference from his fastball, which was sitting 87 MPH this inning, but he had nice arm action and placed it well on the outside corner.
In the fourth, Hess walked the first batter, then the next hitter sacrificed the runner over. After picking off the runner, Hess hit the next batter, which was Garrett(a lefty pitcher batting righty, which you don’t see often). He settled down and struck out the final batter on two consecutive sliders. Hess was 87-88 this inning, but he was working down in the zone and getting good results from his slider.
In the bottom of the inning, Garrett had a real nice inning with his off-speed pitches, throwing his curve and change for strikes. The fastball wasn’t impressive, sitting 86-87 this inning, but he has good control. He was at 52 pitches though four innings.
In the fifth, Hess looked real good, keeping his fastball down and throwing the slider for strikes. He also had some nice movement on a couple running 89 MPH fastballs. One runner reached via error, but was thrown out stealing. The other two batters struck out. I wasn’t able to get the bottom of the fifth for Garrett(he threw 12 pitches and allowed a triple), but the top of the sixth was more of the same for Hess, keeping the game scoreless at that point.
The bottom of the sixth was another scoreless inning. Garrett put two runners on base, one was erased on a pick-off. His velocity was down a tick, but he still got by with nice off-speed pitches. Hess continued to dominate through seven no-hit frames, ending the inning with his 84th pitch, which was an 87 MPH fastball for a strikeout. He did hit 92 once this inning, which is strong late game velocity for this early in the season.
Garrett came out for the seventh and picked up two strikeouts, giving him 11 for the game. The pitchers have a limit of 105 pitches in this tournament and he finished with 92 pitches this inning. Garrett also hit 88 a couple times this inning, which was above his top speed the previous few frames.
Hess pitched into the eighth and got two outs, but gave up two runs(one earned). It wasn’t that bad, as he allowed a single, then both runs scored despite the ball never leaving the infield. He was taken out with two outs, and the reliever kept the score 2-0. That brought out Garrett with 13 pitches left to his limit, trying to close out the game. He walked a hitter, but quickly got a double play to end the inning and bring home the win.
These pitchers couldn’t be any more different. Garrett impressed with secondary stuff and command, but his fastball was 86-89 during the game, sitting around 87 most of the game, and even going in the 84-85 range for a handful of pitches. His curve has a big break, while his change-up got strong results in the 80-83 range. It’s a little less velocity than advertised, but he already has an advanced feel for pitching, looking like a veteran finesse lefty. The good thing about looking like a finesse lefty already is that he has room/time to add velocity.
Hess is a power righty, blowing hitters away with a fastball that was 88-93 all game. His slider also has a sharp, late break and looked great at times, giving him two plus pitches. He throws a change-up infrequently and I don’t think he used it more than a couple times this game. With his size, and the ability to hold his velocity late already, he looks like he could easily move up the draft charts. Hess needs a third pitch in the pros, but he has plenty of time to work on that if he signs out of high school. Both pitchers are very athletic and fielded their position well, plus they looked good at the plate.
Not Just Pitchers at the NHSI
I also got a chance to see shortstop Daniel Bakst, who has been ranked as a second round pick early on. He is a gifted defender, with quick feet and hands, plus a strong arm. He’s an athletic player with a nice line drive stroke and quick hands at the plate, so that’s the type of player the Pirates could be interested in if you go by their recent high draft picks. Bakst has a commitment to Stanford, so he likely won’t sign cheap, which means he needs to be a high draft pick under the new rules.
This started out disappointing, with Bakst playing third base, though his arm obviously plays well there. He was facing Hagen Danner, who is a top high school pitcher in the 2017 class, with a commit to UCLA. Danner’s best pitch is a big curve and Bakst had trouble with it in his first at-bat, striking out swinging. His second at-bat was basically the same as the first, as he went down swinging against Danner, who was having trouble with his command in this game. Bakst grounded out weakly to shortstop in his third at-bat, but it was good enough to bring home the first run of the game for his team. Against a reliever, he walked in the seventh inning.
Bakst comes with a big reputation, but he looked lost at the plate against a good pitcher, albeit a high school junior with command issues in the game. There were a lot of swing-and-misses. In the field he had two easy plays, so not much to comment on other than his arm looked good on a throw across the diamond, and he took control on a pop up near the mound.
Tommy John Setback For Top Lefty Arm
One prep note from outside the NHSI. We mentioned earlier in our draft coverage that Jesus Luzardo, a top prep lefty, was shutdown and would likely need Tommy John surgery. He had that surgery this Tuesday and it was successful. Hudson Belinsky from Baseball America said there is still significant interest from teams in Luzardo, who looked like a top ten pick before the injury. He will likely need to be drafted high to consider signing. The Pirates know all too well about rehabbing pitchers from Tommy John lately, so it will be interesting to see if they take Luzardo if he gets to them.
John started working at Pirates Prospects in 2009, but his connection to the Pittsburgh Pirates started exactly 100 years earlier when Dots Miller debuted for the 1909 World Series champions. John was born in Kearny, NJ, two blocks from the house where Dots Miller grew up. From that hometown hero connection came a love of Pirates history, as well as the sport of baseball.
When he didn't make it as a lefty pitcher with an 80+ MPH fastball and a slider that needed work, John turned to covering the game, eventually focusing in on the prospects side, where his interest was pushed by the big league team being below .500 for so long. John has covered the minors in some form since the 2002 season, and leads the draft and international coverage on Pirates Prospects. He writes daily on Pittsburgh Baseball History, when he's not covering the entire system daily throughout the entire year on Pirates Prospects.