Column: Huntington Beach’s Ralphy Velazquez could be Aaron Judge of prep baseball
Ralphy Velazquez loves his mom. When she tells him to do something, he tries not to disappoint. So when Nicole Velazquez spoke to him as he was in the on-deck circle in the eighth inning of a scoreless game in last year’s Southern California Regional baseball final at San Juan Capistrano JSerra High, she wanted a little favor.
“She was like, ‘You got to end this game,’” he said.
Velazquez likes pressure, but his mom requested a home run. What’s a teenager supposed to do?
He delivered a two-run home run to give Huntington Beach a 2-0 victory. His mom was so happy Velazquez probably didn’t have to take out the trash for a week.
“I live for those big moments,” he said.
When the baseball season begins Saturday, Velazquez could be the high school version of Aaron Judge. Entering his senior year, the 6-foot-3, 215-pound catcher/first baseman has hit 17 career home runs without really trying to hit home runs. He hit a ball over the center-field fence at Dodger Stadium on Sunday during a showcase.
“He can definitely hit a home run any time,” Huntington Beach coach Benji Medure said of Velazquez’s power. “He can mishit a ball and it would go out. It’s definitely fun to watch.”
Committed to Arizona State, Velazquez has been preparing for this season since his youth, training with his father, Armando.
“I’ve been working my whole life for this senior year,” he said.
Medure can’t wait to see how Velazquez’s strength and focus pay off.
“He swings hard but it’s not like he’s trying to lift the ball,” Medure said. “He just tries to hit the ball as hard as he can but doesn’t strike out very often.”
The home run against JSerra was a line drive that just kept going over the fence. It was one of the best baseball moments for Velazquez.
“I hit it and everyone thought it was a pop up, but I knew I got a good piece it,” he said. “Right when it cleared the fence, I didn’t know what to do, so I turned around and looked at my guys in the dugout freaking out. That’s probably the best hit in my life.”
Shortstop is the position of strength for the 2023 season in Southern California with a number of professional prospects poised to show off their skills, led by Villa Park’s Gavin Grahovac, The Times’ reigning player of the year. There are also UCLA commit Cameron Kim of Norco, UC Santa Barbara commit Jonathan Mendez of JSerra, UCLA commit Roman Martin of Anaheim Servite and Oregon commit Eric Bitonti of San Bernardino Aquinas.
Among teams to watch, defending Southern Section Division 1 champion JSerra has 19 players in its program committed to colleges. The Lions start out ranked No. 1 in Southern California, but there are nearly a dozen teams capable of beating the Lions in a one-game situation because of standout pitchers, which helps explain why winning a Division 1 baseball title is so tough.
One highlight will be the return of Bryce Rainer of Studio City Harvard-Westlake to the pitching mound. After going 9-0 as a freshman, he didn’t pitch last season as a sophomore. He’s considered one of the best pro prospects from the class of 2024.
Yet hitting home runs is what energizes fans, so keeping track of what Velazquez can accomplish each time he comes to the plate should be fun.
“I’ve been getting stronger every day,” he warned.
Opposing teams just need to make sure Velazquez’s mom is happy and not requesting special favors.
Players to watch
Tommy Bridges, Harvard-Westlake, Jr.: TCU commit throws strikes, gets outs.
JJ Hollis, JSerra, Sr.: UC Santa Barbara commit went 6-0 with two saves as a junior.
Cole Miller, Newbury Park, Sr.: UCLA commit has grown to 6 feet 6.
Matthew Morrell, Cypress, Sr.: Oregon State commit is going for breakthrough season.
Bryce Rainer, Harvard-Westlake, Jr.: After a year off from pitching, he’s back with a vengeance.
Blake Balsz, Santa Margarita, Sr.: UCLA commit is defensive standout.
Cole Hansen, Norco, Jr.: Oklahoma commit hits home runs.
Kehden Hettiger, Sierra Canyon, Sr.: Oregon commit with big arm.
Nick Montgomery, Cypress, Jr.: Arizona State commit hit .305 as a sophomore.
Josh Springer, Corona, Jr.: Oregon commit has been two-year standout.
Eric Bitonti, Aquinas, Sr.: Oregon commit is 6-4 and hits with the best.
Will Burns, Trabuco Hills, Sr.: Texas Tech commit is top athlete.
Abbrie Covarrubias, Cypress, Sr.: USC commit hits .400 in his sleep.
Gavin Grahovac, Villa Park, Sr.: Texas A&M commit is top pro prospect.
Cameron Kim, Norco, Sr.: UCLA commit is a hitting machine.
Luke Lavin, Santa Margarita, Sr.: Stanford commit is elite hitter with power.
Roman Martin, Servite, Sr.: UCLA commit does everything well.
Jonathan Mendez, JSerra, Sr.: UC Santa Barbara commit had one error at shortstop
Dominic Smaldino, JSerra, Sr.: Cal commit is power-hitting first baseman
Ralphy Velazquez, Huntington Beach, Sr.: Arizona State commit has 17 career home runs.
Phoenix Call, Calabasas, Sr.: UCLA commit is defensive whiz.
Derek Curiel, Orange Lutheran, Jr.: LSU commit can be hitting phenom.
Will Gasparino, Harvard-Westlake, Sr.: 6-foot-7 Texas commit keeps growing and improving
Grant Gray, Norco, Sr.: UCLA commit has speed and power.
Andrew Lamb, JSerra, Sr.: USC commit delivers clutch hits
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