The seventh annual USA Baseball National High School Invitational featured its second repeat champion, as Orange Lutheran (Orange, Calif.) defeated local Green Hope (Cary, N.C.) to claim their second straight NHSI title.
:: 2018 USA Baseball National High School Invitational ::
Sixteen of the top high school programs from around the country comprised a particularly deep NHSI field this year -- one that saw 11 different teams finish the four-game tournament with at least two wins. Yet, it was the event's crop of highly touted Draft prospects that garnered the most attention, as some of the top players in this year's class and beyond opened eyes in front of countless scouts and club officials.
Here is a list of the top overall prospects from this year's event, with a focus on prospect status as well as performance at the tournament:
1. Matthew Liberatore, LHP, Mountain Ridge HS (Glendale, Ariz.)
Liberatore, MLB Pipeline's No. 3 Draft prospect, struggled with his release point and timing during the first two innings, but the University of Arizona commit subsequently settled in and allowed just one baserunner over the next five frames while striking out 10 of the final 17 batters. The 6-foot-5 left-hander's heater topped out at 93 mph while averaging 90 mph over seven innings and 101 pitches (63 strikes). His plus curveball had its usual nastiness, registering in the mid-70s with sharp downer action and a max spin rate of 3,096 rpm that ranked second at the event, and he also showed feel for a changeup that flashed above average.
2. Cole Winn, RHP, Orange Lutheran HS (Orange, Calif.)
Winn, MLB Pipeline's No. 42 Draft prospect, played a major role in Orange Lutheran's second straight NHSI title as he dominated on the mound in the Lancers' opening contest, when he allowed one hit and struck out nine over six scoreless innings, before pacing them with his bat in semifinal and championship games.
The 6-foot-2 right-hander and Mississippi State commit produced the event's top fastball (94.3 mph) and held that velocity -- his 91.3 mph average velocity was also tops -- for the duration of his outing. Winn's 12-to-6 curveball in the mid-70s was as good as ever, as he showed that he could throw it for strikes and also take it out of the zone when vying for whiffs. What's more, Winn threw 73.7 percent of his pitches for strikes, the event's best mark for a starting pitcher, while his 18.4 percent whiff rate trailed only Liberatore.
:: 2018 Draft coverage ::
3. Jordyn Adams, OF, Green Hope HS (Cary, N.C.)
No player improved his stock more at the NHSI than Adams, an ultra athletic, tooled-up center fielder who had scouts, crosscheckers and even some scouting directors checking in on his every move as Green Hope progressed through the tournament. A four-star wide receiver ticketed to play both football and baseball for North Carolina, Adams showed five legitimate tools, but none more dynamic than his speed.
Hitting a triple down the left-field line as part of a three-hit, three-steal performance in the Falcons' quarterfinal win, the 6-foot-3, 195-pounder went home to third in a stopwatch-timed 10.59 seconds, an elite, 80-grade time by all standards. To add further context, Billy Hamilton's 10.42-second triple in 2016 is the fastest every recorded by Statcast™. That speed gives Adams range for days in center field, and he impressed evaluators with his reads and jumps throughout the tournament.
At the plate, meanwhile, Adams demonstrated good feel for the barrel as well as some pop from the right side, as he produced the event's third-best exit velocity (106.1 mph) and finished fifth in average exit velo (93.4). Last but not least, Adams gave scouts a look at his arm strength as he bumped 88 mph with his fastball during an unexpected pitching appearance, his first of the year, in the title game.
4. Brice Turang, SS, Santiago HS (Corona, Calif.)
After a slow start to the event, Turang, No. 7 on the Draft Top 50, broke out with a triple, a double and two walks in a 3-for-3 performance in Santiago's third game. The Louisiana State commit followed with his second straight multi-hit game to finish the NHSI with a .545 average (6-for-11) and a 1.461 OPS that ranked second among all hitters with at least 10 plate appearances. Turang's plus speed was on display several times throughout the event, and defensively he showed the athleticism, actions and arm strength teams covet in a potential long-term shortstop and first-round pick.
5. Joe Gray Jr., OF, Hattiesburg HS (Hattiesburg, Miss.)
The progress that Gray, the No. 40 Draft prospect, made offensively last fall has carried over into the Ole Miss commit's senior campaign. A shorter, cleaner bat path has led to more consistently hard contact for the 6-foot-2, 205-pound outfielder, and with that he's been able to employ a more patient approach at the plate. Gray's athleticism and raw tools make him worthy of a first-round pick in June, potentially a high one if the baseball skills keep improving.
6. Triston Casas, 3B/1B, American Heritage HS (Plantation, Fla.)
The MVP of the World Baseball Softball Confederation U-18 Baseball World Cup, Casas received his award during the NHSI opening ceremonies and then stood out as one of the event's top hitters, finishing second both in max (106.6 mph) and average (100.3) exit velocities. MLB Pipeline's No. 39 Draft prospect looked more agile and athletic at third base, too, and he showcased plenty of arm strength during a relief appearance in which he recorded four of his six outs via the strikeout behind a fastball that reached 93.2 mph, the event's fifth-best mark.
7. Max Rajcic, RHP/INF, Orange Lutheran HS (Orange, Calif.)
Rajcic, a sophomore UCLA commit, went the distance for the Lancers on Day 3, with the 6-foot right-hander allowing one run on four hits with five strikeouts. Rajcic's fastball topped out at 93.1 mph in the outing, giving him a share of the event's sixth-best mark, and he was still sitting in the low 90s as late as the sixth inning. Equally impressive was Rajcic's curveball, a hammer with a 2,847 rpm average spin rate that paced all NHSI pitchers.
8. Nolan Gorman, 3B, Sandra Day O'Connor HS (Phoenix)
Gorman was largely pitched around by every team at the NHSI, and it in turn caused him to be overaggressive and expand his zone at times. When he did get something to hit, however, the left-handed slugger hit it with authority, as he led the event with an average exit velocity of 102.1 mph, albeit based on a very small sample size. Gorman also looked good defensively at third base, showing better first-step quickness and lateral agility to go along with above-average arm strength.
9. Alek Thomas, OF, Mount Carmel HS (Chicago)
With the Caravan having played just five games prior to the NHSI, it was understandable that Thomas, a Texas Christian commit, took a few games to find his stride. When he finally did, the athletic center fielder showed solid hitting ability from the left side of the plate -- his triple on Day 2 had a 98.9 mph exit velocity -- while posting plus run times on the basepaths through the event.
10. Liam Norris, LHP, Green Hope HS (Cary, N.C.)
Starting the Falcons' first game at the NHSI, Norris, a sophomore who is committed to North Carolina, allowed one run on two hits with nine strikeouts in six innings after opening his outing with 3 1/3 hitless frames. The 6-foot-4, 205-pound lefty showed improved control by throwing 65 of his 103 pitches for strikes, and he did so while sitting in the upper 80s and reaching 92 mph with his fastball, while also showing feel for a mid-70s breaking ball. Norris also swung the bat well, going 3-for-3 with two RBIs in the game he started and then delivering the walk-off hit in the 11th inning that propelled Green Hope into the finals.
Other NHSI standouts by class (in alphabetical order)
Cory Acton, INF, American Heritage HS (Plantation, Fla.)
Raynel Delgado, SS, Calvary Christian Academy (Fort Lauderdale, Fla.)
Pierce Gallo, SS, Walton HS (Marietta, Ga.)
Cole Henry, RHP, John Curtis Christian School (River Ridge, La.)
Roberto Pena, 3B/RHP, Calvary Christian Academy (Fort Lauderdale, Fla.)
Christian Scott, RHP, Calvary Christian Academy (Fort Lauderdale, Fla.)
Ryan Cabarcas, LHP, American Heritage HS (Plantation, Fla.)
Hunter Cope, RHP, Mater Dei HS (Santa Ana, Calif.)
Jayce Easley, SS, Sandra Day O'Connor (Phoenix)
Chad Born, OF, Orange Lutheran HS (Orange, Calif.)
Christian Rodriguez, RHP, Orange Lutheran HS (Orange, Calif.)
A.J. Stinson, OF/RHP, Hattiesburg HS (Hattiesburg, Miss.)
David Futrell, LHP, American Heritage HS (Plantation, Fla.)
Andrew Pointer, RHP, Calvary Christian Academy (Fort Lauderdale, Fla.)
Grant Taylor, RHP, Florence HS (Florence, Ala.)
Mike Rosenbaum is a reporter for MLB Pipeline. Follow him on Twitter at @GoldenSombrero.