Huntington Beach (Calif.) slugger Nick Pratto looked at the umpire in disbelief. Incredulous, he shared a few words highlighting his disdain for the inning-ending called third strike on a low and outside pitch.
Pratto turned and walked back to the dugout, grabbed his glove and jogged out to the mound. While he waited for catcher Hagen Danner to gear up, Pratto repeatedly swiped his foot over the rubber while glaring at the umpire with a minor fury in his eyes.
The 6-foot-2, 195-pound left-hander is one of the country’s top hitters with a swing normally as pure as a Stephen Curry free throw, but on Tuesday, Pratto ran into the mythical Boras Classic curse where some of the top baseball bashers have succumbed to rough outings at the plate on the opening day of the tournament that annually assembles teams in California loaded with future pros.
Pratto struck out three times against Michigan right-handed signee Isaiah Paige, including the aforementioned punchout looking, but after staring at the umpire while waiting on Danner, Pratto got back on the mound and went back to work. He compartmentalized what was happening when he was batting and went back to dominating on the mound.
“I mean it's baseball,” Pratto said. “You've just got to deal with it sometimes. It's my job to go out there and get a win for my team to go and pitch. Whatever happens at the plate happens.”
Pratto pitched a complete game, striking out 12 while allowing five hits and a run to help lead Huntington Beach to a 4-1 win over Damien. He spotted up his 87-89 mph fastball that touched 90 and featured arm-side run. He showed good feel for his changeup and when he threw his curveball for strikes in the second half of the game, Damien struggled to mount a threat.
“I was spotting my fastball well and my two-seam was running and my changeup felt good today. My curveball came in the second half of the game.”
Danner and Pratto are both two-way players that fill the heart of the lineup batting back-to-back and anchor the pitching staff as two of the top pitchers in Southern California. When Danner isn’t on the mound, he’s behind the plate catching Pratto. It’s a combination that dates back years and has seen the two win a Little League World Series for Huntington Beach together as well as gold medals with Team USA.
Pratto describes the connection between the two as a “brotherhood kind of thing.” The Oilers coaching staff has no intentions of getting between the two, allowing Danner to call the game behind the plate rather than having the coaches signal in pitch selections.
“I kind of know what he wants to throw,” Danner said. “He shakes me every now and then, but when he shakes, he's confident with that pitch every time, so I know he's going to throw it for a strike.”
“We're on the same page every time we go out there,” Pratto said. “Whether it's on the field, off the field, we're always together and hanging out.”
“I'm sure there would be smiles all around. I mean it would be a cool thing to happen,” said Danner while Pratto added, “It would be interesting.”
“I’ve played against him before, but it would also be pretty fun to be a part of and Hagen and I would have fun with it. That's just how competitive we are.”
Pratto grew up a USC fan after going to football games with his uncle as a birthday treat. He committed to the Trojans in August 2013 before ever playing as a freshman while at Santa Ana (Calif.) Mater Dei before transferring to Huntington Beach last year. He was one of Dan Hubbs’ first commits in a stacked 2017 recruiting class.
“I love the campus, love the facilities and I thought it was a great opportunity to get better and develop there,” Pratto said. “I loved how Coach Hubbs was competitive. He wanted to get after it and I loved what he was going to start doing there and everything.”
With tools that have drawn comparisons to Louisville All-American two-way stud Brendan McKay, getting Pratto on campus would be a serious boon for the Trojans. He is likely to be a hot commodity leading up to the MLB Draft this summer. Sometimes a two-way player that is good but not great on both sides slides in the draft as teams have varying opinions of where he could be best utilized. Pratto has pro potential at both. Some scouts like Pratto on the mound where he excelled on Tuesday, but most think his bat has more potential.
Before an organization will decide where to use his talents, it must pry him away from his college commitment.
“I mean I'd love the opportunity to play baseball [for a living] and it's also a good opportunity to play college baseball, so I don't know,” Pratto said when asked what it would take. “It really just depends on where I fall, what happens. I can't really think about that right now.”
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