Few baseball players are drafted from cold weather states. Mason Ronan lives in the coldest place of a cold weather state. But Mason Ronan will be drafted in the first few rounds of the MLB draft in June and is a symbol of the new world of youth baseball that leads to the Majors. Ronan also is an example of the renaissance that is happening at the University of Pittsburgh’s baseball program and how that helps the western PA baseball landscape.
Draft prospects don’t come from cold weather states
Ronan, a senior from Penn Cambria high school in Cresson, PA, has been named one of the top 50 high school prospects by Baseball America and is projected to go between the 2nd and 5th round of the upcoming MLB draft. This was in February, months before baseball is even a thought in west-central PA.
The January morning I visited Ronan, Cresson was 9 degrees (feels like -12) and the school didn ?t even delay. Cresson is the summit between Pittsburgh and State College and its elevation ranges between 2100-2400 ft. above sea level. It ?s weather is noticeably different than nearby Altoona (1500 ft) and much different than Pittsburgh (1000 ft) and the PA baseball ?hotbed” of Philadelphia (300 ft). The baseball season ?up on the mountain ? is so terrible its almost humorous. It snows well into March and rains April through June.
Not surprisingly there haven’t been many MLB draft prospects from Cambria County. Bill Tremel was a relief pitcher with the Cubs in the 1950’s, Joe Vitko had a flash in the pan with the Mets in the early 90’s and Mike Holtz who had 350 appearancess as a LOOGY from 1996-2006 are ALL of the Major Leaguers from this area since World War II.
Due to the weather Ronan hasn’t officially been a baseball player for his team since the spring. Ronan is a pretty good point guard for the Penn Cambria basketball team and his Italian looks and athleticism would remind some of Pittsburgh legend Dante Calabria. Ironically, a AL Central team sent their scout to one of Ronan’s basketball games. This multi-sport scouting is another part of the new landscape of baseball recruiting.
A Pitt commit is now legit
When you say sports in western Pennsylvania you probably think of football. It could be any flavor of football: the Steelers, Penn State or Pitt, one the the dozen or so college teams and the hundreds of high school football programs.
When you think of baseball in western Pennsylvania you mostly think of the Pirates, maybe the Altoona Curve if you ?re lucky enough to get to their games or possibly Little League. You ?d probably not think of college baseball (nor high school baseball). Pitt baseball is trying to change that fact.
Ronan currently has a commit to the University of Pittsburgh and considers it as a very viable option. One forgets that Pitt is now an ACC baseball program and annually play the best competition in the nation. Last year they played 5 of the top 22 players drafted in the 2017 draft (#4 Brendan McKay, #7 Pavin Smith, #8 Adam Haseley, #16 J.B. Bukauskas, #22 Logan Warmouth) as well as 10 of the top 51.
It’s obviously not just the players that the Panthers are playing against, but also the players donning the blue and gold that hves been drawing the recruits. In head coach Joe Jordano’s 22 years at Pitt he’s had over 50 players drafted but it hasn’t had quite the inertia as he had the last few years and it might have something to do with pitching coach Jerry Oakes. Oakes came to the Panthers in 2012 after a wildly successful run at Coastal Carolina. Since Oakes arrived at Pitt he has had 12 pitchers drafted and he seems to be just getting started.
The gem of the Pitt program of the last decade was pitcher TJ Zeuch, who was drafted in the first round in 2016 and signed for over $2M dollars. Zeuch, was a cold weather high school pitcher as well, grew up in rural Ohio but wanted a city college experience and fell in love with Pittsburgh. Zeuch’s successful career at Pitt combined with a very strong showing in the Cape Cod league cemented his first round status.
New Draft Scouting
2017 MLB Draft Pick
Spin Rate FB/BB
2470 / 2316
2810 / 2719
While a player like Zeuch, who stands 6’7″ and touches high 90’s is an obvious draftable talent, even if he grew up in a cold weather state, what can make the less obvious candidates standout? The answer is the showcase circuit.
If you read or listen to Kiley McDaniel or Eric Longenhagen of Fangraphs or Jonathan Mayo or MLB.com, you’ll hear them mention “Perfect Game” or “East Coast Pro” or “Under Armour” or other showcase events that they’ll be attending. The events are often over a long weekend in which players, scouts and media gather for a tournament similar to a Little League all-star tournament. These are great events for scouts to see a lot of draftable players in a short amount of time, kind of like the Cape Cod League for high schoolers, but only over a weekend versus several weeks.
The tournaments have been very helpful to Mason Ronan as teams got to see what a cold weather player can do against top competition. In particular to Ronan, the tournaments now are at facilities that have the Trackman systems. Trackman is the doppler radar system that provides all of the new Statcast data that MLB has been using. Most notable for pitchers is not just velocity, but spin rate. The best part about the Trackman data is that it’s not subject to grades by scouts or media member, it just is raw unarguable data. This type of data is priceless to an under the radar prospect.
Ronan has been told he has very high spin rate on both his low 90’s fastball and his breaking ball. The high spin rate, coupled with being left-handed and extremely athletic, makes him extremely draftable. I think having Steven Brault of the Pirates so fresh in our mind makes this profile more obvious than it would have been a couple years ago.
With the case of Mason Ronan and many of the draft prospects it is a matter of draft position as to whether or not they’ll honor their college commitment. Over the past several years the Pirates have talked many of their high school draftees into signing a contact, with the notable exception of 2nd round pick Nick Lodolo from 2016, who went on to TCU.
Ronan thinks it’s a win-win situation, with either a draft pick high enough to command a large signing bonus or a chance to become Jerry Oakes’s next prize arm. We the western PA baseball fans also have a win-win situation in that in addition to the Pirates we have more flavors of baseball to pay attention to as we finishing up shoveling snow.