Scorching hot Velazquez out to prove himself at NHSI

Arizona State commit goes 6-for-8 with five RBIs, showcases wheels

March 31st, 2023

CARY, N.C. -- Ralphy Velazquez has played for Team USA in the past, but it’s been a while, and it didn’t happen when it mattered most to him.

The Huntington Beach HS (Calif.) catcher was on the 12U team that won a gold medal in the WBSC U-12 Baseball World Cup in 2017. Since then, he’s participated in some events, but he hasn’t been invited to play for USA Baseball since. The biggest snub might have been last summer, when he wasn’t invited to the National Training Complex in Cary to compete in the PDP League as part of the process to make the 18U National Team.

Did it bother the Arizona State recruit? He made no mistake about how he felt after Huntington Beach’s 8-3 victory at the National High School Invitational on Thursday.

“Yes, sir, 100 percent,” Velazquez said, staring right into the camera, about whether he wanted to make a statement here this week. “My life goal has been to play for that team. Not getting invited to anything this year, it lit a fire under me. I just took that as motivation and proving people wrong. I think I’ve been doing that. It got under my skin, but people didn’t see what I could do. Now they are and I hope they’re regretting it.”

His NHSI opponents have borne the brunt of Velazquez’s mission. On Thursday, he went 3-for-4 with a triple and an RBI. He drove in a run with a groundout in the first against Calvary Christian HS (Clearwater, Fla.) and had a single in the third inning that was 107 mph off the bat.

Both of those at-bats came against Calvary right-hander Liam Peterson (No. 36 Draft prospect), who came into the spring as a highly regarded prep arm but has struggled at times this spring. That was the case Thursday as he was up to 95 mph at times and did strike out five, but he also allowed five earned runs on five hits and five walks.

A pitching change didn’t upset Velazquez any as he scorched a 103 mph triple to right-center before finishing his day up with another single. Known as a big backstop, Velazquez got to show off some serious wheels on the three-bagger.

“I’ve always told my coach, 'I run fast,'” Velazquez said with a smile. “I ran a 60 [yard dash] this summer, it was [clocked at] 6.89 [seconds], so I can run.”

The left-handed hitter has gone 6-for-8 with five RBIs over the first two NHSI games, as he’s helped Huntington Beach reach the semifinals for the second year in a row. He feels he’s brought a hot bat with him from California.

“I’ve been feeling that from the beginning of the season,” Velazquez said. “I’ve been feeling locked in the whole season. I’ve had a couple of up-and-down games -- it happens, it’s baseball -- but I’ve been feeling really good in the box.”

This is the sixth NHSI appearance for the Oilers and they’ve now reached the semis four times. The California school won the title in 2016 and lost semifinal games in 2015 and 2022. Velazquez wants to make sure he keeps the good times rolling.

“I love playing with my guys,” Velazquez said. “It’s been crazy. Competing with them and winning games, it’s the best feeling ever. We’d like to keep that going.”

He’ll be doing that as his team’s leader and backstop. Whether he plays that position at the next level remains to be seen. One national scout in attendance felt he at least has the chance to start his pro career as a catcher, reminding him of Yasmani Grandal as a high schooler. Another evaluator suggested moving him to an infield corner, especially after seeing his surprising athleticism with that triple. Velazquez clearly loves to prove people wrong, but also is a consummate teammate.

“I love being behind the plate,” he said. "But my thing is whatever a team needs, I can be there.”

Velazquez knows everyone is watching his every move on both sides of the ball, with his strong performance here only adding to his Draft stock. As someone intent on proving people he’s better than perhaps some thought, he welcomes the challenge, but when he’s between the lines, he tunes that out.

“I don’t try to think about that,” he said. “It’s a children’s game. We’re just playing a child’s game, having fun. It’s a game of failure, so I just try to go out there and do my best whenever I can.”

Other NHSI action
Bishop Gorman (Las Vegas) scored five times in the first inning and Kaden Soder tossed a four-hit shutout as the Gaels beat Bishop Verot (Fort Myers, Fla.), 5-0, to advance to the semifinals, where they will meet Huntington Beach. … Santa Margarita Catholic (Rancho Santa Margarita, Calif.) edged St. Xavier (Louisville, Ky.), 2-1, to advance. Sammy Cova pitched a complete game, allowing a run on seven hits and a walk, striking out seven. … Santa Margarita will meet JSerra Catholic (San Juan Capistrano, Calif.) in the other semi after JSerra beat Brother Rice (Chicago), 8-0. Ryusei Fujiwara went 3-for-3 with a pair of RBIs and starter Ben Reimers gave up just three hits and a walk over six innings.