FORT MYERS, Fla. – In a 16u tournament made up of some of the best 16-year-old players in the country scattered amongst the rosters of sixteen of the best travel baseball teams at that age level, it was right-handed pitcher Jonathan Heasley who managed to steal some of the attention for at least a few hours Sunday afternoon at Terry Park for the 16u Perfect Game World Series.
The 6-foot-3, 195-pound righty from Dallas, Texas traveled a long way to show off his stuff on the East Coast against top tier competition and he didn’t disappoint. He threw a complete seven-inning ballgame, giving up just a lone unearned run and surrendering one base hit and three walks while collecting nine strikeouts in the Dallas Patriots Stout’s 5-1 over the Indiana Prospects.
Heasley was electric from the start, getting six of his first seven outs of the game via the strikeout. He struck out the side in order in the top of the second inning and didn’t give up his lone hit until the fourth inning.
“I felt like I got off to a really good start,” said Heasley. “It’s a little hot out here, so I started getting worn out, but my teammates are always pushing me to fight through it and finish it. The main thing was just to stay focused, pound the zone, and let them hit and put it in play. I know I’ve got a good defense behind me that’s gonna make a play pretty much anywhere it’s hit, so that’s always comforting as a pitcher to know that.”
Heasley worked an efficient ballgame from the mound, accounting for four 1-2-3 innings and retiring the leadoff hitter in four of the seven innings, holding the Prospects to a .048 batting average. What may have been most impressive was Heasley’s advanced command of the strike zone. He collected seven of his nine strikeouts by catching batters with the bat on their shoulder.
“You come out with Heasley and you’re expecting a perfect game,” said Michael Neustifter, Heasley’s battery mate. “He threw an amazing outing. He had a little trouble in the beginning finding his breaking ball, but he stuck with his fastball and I think it was an outstanding game.”
Heasley had a lot of help from his reliable backstop, who is ranked No. 59 nationally in the 2016 high school class. Neustifter started his team in the runs column with an RBI groundout in the first inning and collected a leadoff single in the fifth, which eventually resulted in a run.
Teammate and first baseman Hunter Seay, ranked No. 64 nationally in the 2016 high school class, provided a big late game double for the Dallas Patriots when he sent an 0-2 pitch opposite field and advanced Neustifter’s courtesy runner to third with no outs.
“I thought we played pretty well overall,” Heasley said. “We had a few timely hits that gave us a good lead and that’s pretty much all you can ask for as a pitcher is a good cushion and a great defense to back you up on the mound.”
Seay, solid very good first baseman not just with the bat, but defensively as well, feels the same way about getting to play behind the arm of Heasley.
“It’s a lot of fun playing for the number one team in the nation,” Seay said about his Patriots team. “Playing first base behind Jonathan is really fun. You don’t get much action, but when you do it’s fun.”
Heasley, whose fastball has climbed to 90 mph at multiple Perfect Game events this summer, depended largely on the effectiveness of his fastball in his 112-pitch outing, throwing it 86 times while only throwing his off-speed 26 times.
“My fastball is kind of my go-to,” said Heasley. “I get it up to 90 mph, so I throw that as much as I can and then I found my curveball later in the game and both kind of became my go-to. I like throwing my curveball with two strikes, especially if I’m way ahead, and try to get them chasing on the outside corner.”
The trio was clicking in Sunday afternoon’s game, which drew a plethora of college recruiting coordinators and scouts, who may recognize the three from June’s Perfect Game Jr. National showcase, which took place at jetBlue Park in Fort Myers. The three attended the invite-only event, which recognizes the very best talent in the 2016 high school class.
“It was really cool to get put on a team with a bunch of random guys and we became pretty close over the two days and it was definitely a cool experience,” Heasley said about the event. “Even though I only threw two innings, there were a bunch of scouts there and that’s kind of where I first started getting looked at. I had a lot of fun there.”
In Heasley’s two innings of work on the grand stage he struck out four and recorded the fifth highest spin rate on his 74 mph breaking ball, which TrackMan recorded having 2,403 revolutions per minute. His fastball also touched 90 mph in his two innings on the bump. Heasley is currently ranked No. 61 nationally in the 2016 high school class.
Battery mate Neustifter put up incredible numbers at the event as well, posting a 1.92-second catcher POP time, a 79 mph throw from behind the plate, and 88 mph from the outfield. He also impressed in batting practice, according to Perfect Game scout Jheremy Brown, who wrote in his scout notes:
“Michael Neustifter is a well-built and strong 6-foot-3 and used that strength in his swing, with the ball jumping off the barrel to his pull side. He gets the bat quickly through the zone with lift in his swing.”
“It was great playing in jetBlue with the top 150 kids in the class,” said Neustifter. “It’s just great exposure in front of all the college coaches. It was just an absolutely amazing experience playing at the high level of competition. Dallas is a pretty small area, so when you get to where the whole nation comes together you really get to see the amazing talent that’s out there.”
Seay showed off an excellent bat as well at the showcase and put of stellar numbers with his arm, throwing 89 mph from the outfield and 84 mph from first base, which was tied for second best velocity amongst the first basemen.
“It was fun playing at jetBlue, the nicest place I’ve ever played at, and it was a lot of good exposure from college and Major League scouts,” Seay said. “I was lucky enough to be chosen to go there. It’s helped me realize that I’m one of the top prospects in the nation. It makes me try harder and push harder every day.”
Heasley, who committed to Oklahoma State not long ago, said it was at the Jr. National where Oklahoma State first saw him perform. Not long after the event, the school asked Heasley to come up for a visit.
“I went up with Michael [Neustifter] and Ryan Cash and it’s always been a place I’ve wanted to go. The coaches were just unbelievable,” said Heasley. “The coaching staff was one of he biggest things that stuck out to me and that was what had me leaning towards them the most. I think it’ll be a good fit.”
His current catcher will also be attending Oklahoma State. Neustifter and Cash have both made their verbal commitments to the Stillwater, Okla. university.
“This is my first year on this Dallas Patriots team, but we [Neustifter and Heasley] went to high school together, so we’ve known each other for a while, and I’ve known Ryan Cash since I was in first grade,” Heasley said. “It’s gonna be awesome to stick with them and see if we can take our chemistry and spread it throughout the rest of the teams.”
Heasley is also very glad to have his catcher coming with him to Stillwater in just over a year.
“I know he’s gonna help me out a bit with a couple frames here and there and he doesn’t let too much get past him and Ryan [Cash] will be at shortstop, so I know he’s gonna be making plays,” said Heasley.
Neustifter is just as excited to be catching his current teammate at the next level.
“Catching the best pitchers makes you a better catcher,” Neustifter said. “He always hits his spots, he doesn’t throw many dirt balls, sometimes when a curveball is called you’re expecting a dirt ball and he always hits his location very well. I just love catching him and I can’t wait to continue to catch him through college.”
For now, though, the group of standout ballplayers will compete to win the 2014 16u Perfect Game World Series and have a good chance in doing so.
This same team finished the 2013 campaign ranked the top 15u travel ball team according to Perfect Game and are coached by Dallas Patriots organization founder Logan Stout.
After bringing their tournament record to 1-1, the Patriots have three more games to try and finish in the top two in their pool to advance to bracket play.