Evan Blanco dealt with nerves while pitching as a freshman, often not feeling confident in his stuff when facing hitters 3 to 4 years older than him.
Two years later, the Austin Prep ace is relaxed and poised on the eve of his junior season.
“I was really nervous a lot of the time to go pitch in those big games,” said Blanco. “Now I feel like I’m more confident and I want the ball every single day. I’m not only confident in my ability on the mound, but that my team will always have my back in the field.”
Blanco, the top-rated lefthander pitcher in New England for the Class of 2022, made six starts as a freshman and pitched well enough off raw ability to earn Catholic Central All-Star recognition.
However, the Woburn resident said he has transformed as a pitcher since he last took the mound for the Cougars in June of 2019. Blanco gained valuable insight training with the country’s top high school prospects at the Team USA Development program and pitched well during prestigious AAU tournaments in Alabama and Georgia this past summer.
Those experiences helped with confidence and the pure stuff also has developed as a result of maturation. Blanco has increased his velocity 6 miles per hour, now up to 91 m.p.h, and honed his knuckle curveball and circle changeup to become a more complete pitcher.
“He comes as advertised,” said first-year Austin Prep coach JP Pollard. “Straightforward, high velocity, good off-speed stuff, loves to compete. There’s really nothing you can change about a guy like Evan. He’s absolutely an MLB Draft-worthy guy. I’ve been fortunate to coach at USA Baseball and when he got in that program he fit right in. He’s a special talent.”
The University of Virginia-bound Blanco headlines a star-studded junior class at Austin Prep, which is vying for a second Division 3 state title in three years. Last spring was supposed to be the coming-out party for the class before the pandemic halted those plans.
“We’ve been working very hard as a group since September and I believe we have what it takes to get to the next level,” said Blanco. “Everyone on the team is definitely hungry.”
Bridgewater-Raynham shortstop Austin Hartsell is another future Division 1 player who enters his junior season riding a wave of momentum after a two-year layoff. The Boston College commit started as a freshman, but he was a scrawny 14-year old with slick fielding skills and an undeveloped bat.
Hartsell is now 4 inches taller, added 15 pounds of muscle, and is hitting the ball harder and farther.
“My physical game has gone to the next level and I’ve gotten stronger and faster,” said Hartsell. “My club program, the GBG Hawks, really did a great job getting as much practices and games in over the summer. My trainer Joe Colton is one of the best strength and conditioning coaches around and it’s really helped me.”
Hartsell will continue his family’s legacy at BC, where father Mark played quarterback under Tom Coughlin after a standout career at Brockton High and mother Jen played basketball. With a future baseball career in the ACC, Hartsell is looking to establish more power and productivity at the high school level first.
“I want to prove that I have next level talent,” said Hartsell. “I’ve already proven I’m a great fielder but I feel like I have a lot to prove this year with my bat. I’m excited to compete and win some games.”
Medfield is also relishing a pair of breakout juniors who are joining a strong senior core.
Shortstop Jack Goodman, a Pepperdine commit, played just five games as a freshman because of a back injury. Now fully filled into his 5-foot-11 frame, Goodman is turning heads in preseason scrimmages with added power to all fields.
“Jack put on a great deal of muscle while regaining his speed and range,” said Medfield coach Dave Worthley. “He’s a great glove guy and now he hits the ball with tremendous power as well. He’s going to be a really serious baseball player. Pepperdine isn’t looking for any run of the mill shortstop from Massachusetts. There’s something special about Jack.”
University of Pennsylvania commit Thomas Shurtleff pitched just five innings as a freshman while dealing with injuries. The 6-2 righthander had a breakout summer playing for New England Baseball, increasing his fastball velocity to 86 mph while also developing a curveball with a high spin rate.
Goodman brings a new element to an already loaded lineup, while Shurtleff adds valuable pitching depth for a potential Division 2 state tournament run.
“It’s by far the strongest lineup I’ve ever had,” said Worthley. “We’re really deep at every position and we have some really good arms. It’s going to come down to pitching at the end of the day and we’re pretty deep there too. Our goals are to win each game, then the week, the month, the league, and then see what we can do in the state tournament.”