CARTERSVILLE, Ga. – Few programs have produced as much talent over the years as Marucci Elite. This year, they look to take that talent and turn it into successful team baseball, as their 17u ballplayers will take the field this weekend in Nashville, Tennessee and play in the Super25 Deep South Regional.
Just looking at the history of the Marucci Elite program, it’s easy to see why they would be favorites for the Super25 National Championship. In the MLB amateur draft earlier this month, 35 current or former Marucci players were selected, including numerous high picks such as Aaron Nola, Chase Vallot, Monte Harrison, Jakson Reetz and Marcus Wilson.
While Marucci Elite has always attracted and helped develop some of the best talent in the nation, they have still emphasized building a balanced team rather than an All Star squad.
Chad Raley used to coach Marucci Elite teams but now works in an administrative capacity, and is a big fan of the Super25 tournament format. “Every game is meaningful,” Raley said. “The WWBA is a great tournament, but it becomes a grind, and it’s not always the best team that wins. I like the fact that the Super25 continues to give kids something to play for. We’ve preached to them all year that our goal is to make it to Phoenix and win the inaugural Super25 crown. We like the fact that it gives teams something to play for at the end of the summer, something to achieve. It’s not like we can just enter a tournament, we have to qualify and advance.”
Raley believes that this particular Marucci Elite team is built especially well for a team-oriented tournament like the Super25. While previous teams have been loaded with high-ceiling talent, Raley believes, “this team is more fun to watch than last years group, they play the game the right way. Their head coach, Shane Trosclair, he demands a lot of those guys, he demands they play hard and play every out like it’s your last one. He’s a hard-nosed guy and they’ve taken on his personality.”
The Marucci Elite’s hard-nosed style of play begins with their middle infield of Lenni Kunert and Dylon Poncho, who are the No. 13 and No. 7 ranked prospects in Louisiana, respectively. For Raley, “Lenni and Poncho are two sparkplugs for us, undersized guys who play really hard. They really symbolize what this club is about this year.”
Kunert and Poncho are two of five Marucci Elite players already committed to LSU, and also help the team on the mound. Poncho is especially valuable as a two-way player, as he’ll run it up to 91-92 as a pitcher. According to Raley, “Poncho is a guy people haven’t seen enough of. He has arm strength and power for a smaller guy, he can really play defense, and he’s a guy who can make a lot of noise on the offensive side of the ball.”
The middle infielders are helped on offense by fellow LSU commits O’Neal Lochridge (No. 2 in LA, No. 119 nationally) and Chris Reid (No. 9 in LA). Lochridge is a big power bat who currently can play shortstop, but because of his size will likely move to third base. Either way, he is a plus defender with pop, causing Raley to refer to him as “a Scott Rolen-type of player.”
Drew Tyler (No. 7 player in AR, Arkansas Commit) and Bryant Bowen (No. 5 player in LA, uncommitted) both are two of the bigger hitters on the team along with Lochridge and Reid, and will supply the power the Marucci Elite need in the middle of their order. However, even with impact hitters in their lineup, Raley believes, “this team will rely on their speed. One through nine in the lineup, they can run, and they don’t have any basecloggers. They’re really athletic and they’re going to put pressure on you defensively; they’re going to get after it.”
Marucci Elite also has great pitching to go along with their run-producing offense. Poncho is a key member of their staff, and Andy Pagnozzi, Al Pesto, and Brennan Breaux also have great stuff. Pagnozzi is currently committed to play at the University of Mississippi, and is the No. 61 ranked player in the country (No. 2 in AR). “Pagnozzi is as polished a pitcher you’ll find,” said Raley. “His dad played 12 years in the major leagues, you can tell he’s been around baseball a lot.”
Breaux is the No. 4 player in Louisiana and is going to LSU, while Pesto is the No. 22 player in Georgia (No. 172 nationally) and headed to Duke. Breaux is a lefty sitting around 88-89 who “can really spin the ball” according to Raley, while also playing well in the outfield. Pesto was up to 94 at PG National with a really quick arm. He could shoot up the rankings this season, as Raley believes Pesto is “just starting to scratch the surface of what he’s going to be on the mound.”
While these pitchers are supremely talented, Marucci Elite has two other pitchers who are just as good but have yet to get the same amount of attention: Ross Massey and Hogan Harris. Massey may never get the same amount of national attention as the other pitchers because he doesn’t bring elite velocity to the table, but he is considered just as much of an ace as the other pitchers by the Marucci Elite coaching staff. “Massey is a guy we can give the ball to at any juncture of the season and we have confidence he’s going to win,” said Raley. “He’s not a hard thrower, but he comes in and goes right at hitters. He pitches fearlessly.”
Harris, committed to Louisiana-Lafayette, is currently rated as the No. 19 player in Louisiana and outside of the top 500 players nationally. When Perfect Game comes out with its next set of rankings, that will change. Harris burst onto the scene last week at the PG National Showcase in Fort Myers, Florida, touching 94 with his fastball while sitting between 91-93. As a left-hander who has a projectable body that could potentially allow him to sit in the mid-90s in the future, Harris will likely garner interest from teams heading into the 2015 MLB Draft.
While this current Marucci Elite 17u team doesn’t have the same elite-pro prospects as prior years, guys like Harris, Lochridge, Pesto, and more definitely have the ability to make an impact at the college and potentially professional level. The combination of their hard-nosed style of play and elite talent make Marrucci Elite the big favorites in the 17u Deep South Regional, and among the teams most likely to take the Super25 National Championship.
Marucci Elite will have two teams playing in the Deep South Regional, Marucci – Trosclair and Marucci – Martin, with the more talented players on the Marucci – Trosclair roster. Still, Raley firmly believes that the “teams will play each other in the finals if they are on opposite sides of the bracket,” as the Marucci – Martin roster is composed of pitchers that can match up with almost anyone.