CARY, N.C. -- Travis Sykora looks every bit like a potential front-of-the-rotation starter. But he didn’t get the chance to show what he could do on the mound until his Light Blue team’s third PDP League game. Patience might be a virtue, but it was tough for the big right-hander to wait his turn.
“It definitely was,” said Sykora, who attends Round Rock High School in Texas. “You see all these guys out here pitching and I'm like, ‘Oh, I want to be out there.’ But PDP is awesome -- [I'm] throwing my bullpens with coaches and getting my work done, so it's fun. But I definitely was ready to pitch.”
It showed. The 6-foot-5 right-hander, who has a chance to be one of the top high school arms in the 2023 Draft class, was absolutely electric in his three innings of work. He retired the first six batters he faced and allowed just one hit while striking out five without issuing a walk.
The velocity surprised no one, as Sykora has flirted with triple digits in the past. He was sitting at 94-98 mph throughout his outing and recorded two strikeouts with his heater -- 97 mph to get Colt Emerson (Cambridge, Ohio) swinging to end the first and 96 mph on his final pitch to get Tai Peete (Tyrone, Ga.) to finish off the third.
Just as impressive was Sykora’s use of his secondary stuff, mixing in his upper-80s slider and even folding in some splitters to keep hitters off balance and miss bats, recording his other three K’s with his softer stuff.
“I know a lot of guys are going to sit fastball on me,” said Sykora, a University of Texas recruit. “So today I really wanted to get ahead with the slider. Then, I mixed in a few splitters to really pitch backwards to them. And I know they weren't really expecting sliders first pitch, so I think that's kind of what was working today.”
Sykora’s slider isn’t one of those huge breaking balls that has incredible vertical break to it. But between the deception on his very repeatable delivery -- which makes it even tougher to pick him up -- and the fact that he tunnels his secondary stuff off his fastball well, hitters were extremely uncomfortable in the box.
“My slider, it's not like a big sweeping slider,” Sykora said. “It's more like a short, small break. But I try to throw it hard so it kind of replicates my fastball and then, in the last second, it has that break and fools hitters.”
One of the biggest benefits for the high schoolers participating in the PDP League getting the opportunity to work with coaches who have enjoyed long playing and coaching careers. The Light Blue team’s pitching coach is LaTroy Hawkins, who has two decades of big league experience at his fingertips. Sykora has soaked in all of it.
“Coach Hawkins has taught me a lot,” Sykora said. “Today, in the middle of my outing, we started working really in on the hitters and I got a broken-bat double play, so I’m definitely going to add that to my pitching, because it’s definitely something that works.”
Bats come alive
While pitching has largely ruled the day, as is often common at showcase events, there were some offensive signs of life on Saturday, particularly from the Light Blue team.
Outfielder Walker Jenkins, the Oak Island, N.C., native considered to be one of the top talents here, had gone just 1-for-7 over the first two games. He crushed a double on a 1-0 pitch to bring home Kevin McGonigle (Alden, Pa.), who had led off the game with a double. That registered an exit velocity of 101 mph. And while he flew out in his only other plate appearance, he barreled up the ball and hit it 95 mph off the bat. After the game, Jenkins said he was “getting there” in terms of feeling comfortable at the plate.
He was just one of several Light Blue hitters who hit the ball hard. Brandon Winokur (Huntington Beach, Calif.) went 2-for-3 with an RBI, including a 96 mph double as the team banged out 10 hits. The top exit velos from the early game, however, came from the Navy team. Dylan Cuvet (Fort Lauderdale, Fla.) is the only one who squared up Sykora, turning a 94 mph fastball into a 107 mph single. Peete ripped a double 102 mph off his bat in the fifth. And Navy leadoff hitter Kendall George (Houston) continued to do what he does best, going 2-for-4 and stealing two bases. He’s now 6-for-9 with six steals in PDP League play.
The second game of the day was more of a pitching-heavy contest, but Gavin Grahovac (Orange, Calif.) did show why he’s also considered one of the better hitters in the class. He picked up a pair of base hits, both of which registered exit velos over 100 mph.