By: Austin Alexander – January 28, 2024
-Homerun Derby breaks out; Talent galore present-
Sunday was another banner day for high school baseball, prep players, pro scouts and Diamond Prospects! River Bluff High again played host to our most enjoyable event of the year, the 18th Annual Lon Joyce Pro Day! Inclement weather in the days leading up to this event forced a move to Sunday afternoon as all 30 Major League clubs were represented, a top-tier facility and talent on the roster commanded attention too…A very wet field greeted us upon arrival but sunny skies and extreme wind were the perfect drying ingredients, eventually allowing us to hit and throw bullpens between the lines!
DP’s Pro Day has a very decorated list of players over its nearly two decades of history, 207 performers from this event have been drafted, many of which are still presently playing professional baseball, 27 Big Leaguer’s once wore this same jersey, likely with all of the same nerves and anticipation as this year’s crop. There is a good chance that 2024’s field will add to the growing total of success stories.
With scouts huddled around the finish line, we fired off the 60’s promptly at noon and 17 players shot through under 7.0 seconds; Spartanburg 2024 Elijah Grant (6.51), left, took top honors in this category edging out Peter Mershon (Eastside, 2025), right, who posted a 6.64 and Derrick Layton (Charlotte Christian, 2024) at 6.68, respectively.
Another aspect we began a few years back is putting the radar gun on defensive player’s throws. The top outfield bolt came from Ethan Wagner (P27 Academy, 2024) at 94 MPH. The top velocity during the infield portion was turned in by Dannyel Almanzar (P2 Academy, 2026), he registered 90 MPH across the turf.
The catchers were also a group that did not disappoint as ten of them unloaded a pop time under 2.00 seconds. Sophomore Banks Wickersham’s (Ft. Dorchester), left, 1.87 narrowly beat out the 1.88 posted by Cade Norton (Blue Ridge, 2024) and 1.93 by James Perriello (August Christian, 2024). Norton, right, also had the best arm strength chiming in at 83 MPH.
Then the part we enjoy the most! High school hitters wielding wood in is not always the most endearing of acts to witness, but each year at Pro Day it’s a blast!
Fortunately, this year’s weather permitted us to ‘bang away’ on the field as hitters took aim at the scoreboard, batter’s eye and the huge press box wall in right field and/or the 50-yard line on the other side with the assistance of 20+ MPH winds howling directly out. In his fourth and final Pro Day, PJ Morlando (Summerville, 2024), conquered the brick monster again with several balls clearing the deck, others clanging off the structure. Senior Beau Hollins (River Bluff) showed off from each side of the plate while Elijah Grant, Peter Mershon and Brendan Lawson (P27 Academy, 2024) were not to be outdone in their round, losing a few baseballs of their own! Three players clocked in an exit velo north of 100 MPH: Morlando led the way at 105, Treion McFarland (P27 Academy, 2024) had 104 MPH and Cameron Turner (P27 Academy, 2024) at 101 MPH. Kudos: To the BP machine Thane Maness for pumping ‘cookies’ as always. DP Disclaimer: The names in this category could be far longer. Please see video when available.
DP Note I: It was surprising that we left the facility with any baseballs in our buckets due to the power display, but well-worth the laser show; the above named were just a handful of many that continually found the barrel.
DP Note II: Thanks to the handful of parents that helped retrieve some of the longer pokes during the day, but anyone looking to beef up their collection of baseballs can go beat the bushes at River Bluff today!
The bullpens are what normally pull in quite a few cross-checkers, and even scouting directors this year too. With a minimal list of invited arms each year, we went one at a time on the live mound and a steady stream of 90+ fastballs blew in, actually more than usual. Our Trackman rang out pleasing numbers on our iPad (unfortunately the wind kept our TV display on the shelf); all data will be published this week on the website. Lenoir Rhyne-bound Andrew McLaughlin (2024, Ashley Ridge), pictured at top, sat at 93 with a best bolt of 95 MPH, followed closely by JL Mann senior Hunter Howard’s 93! Three other arms punched 92 MPH.
But it did not end there as we paraded one premium arm after another to the bump. In all, on Sunday 28 different guys eclipsed the 88 MPH barrier. Sixteen total moundsmen touched 90 MPH or better. Please digest what you just read…quite impressive for a January day on the eve of prep practice in cold weather!
The usual prospects showed up and served as the cornerstone to another successful event, but the new names to pro scouts pushed Pro Day into what we’d consider as another very productive day for high school baseball in South Carolina, again. Based on what the decision-makers saw on this day, they will have to spend more time in the Palmetto State this spring – which is always the goal!
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DP Fist Bump: A special thanks is in order to River Bluff skipper Mark Bonnette, his staff and the High School he represents for once again being wonderful hosts and providing us with their beautiful facility. Every request of ours and more was met by these folks, they even left us the keys to their doors for our DP staff on Saturday morning as we rounded out our player/team rankings. Often times it’s difficult to find quality venues to play baseball, we are eternally grateful for the opportunity to return to our familiar digs!