Houston, TX – On a warm, sticky night in the middle of August, I’m regretting my decision to walk to the local ballpark from my hotel. It’s only about a mile, so hardly a difficult walk, but by the time I can see the ballpark, my shirt is soaked. As I get closer to the field, I hear the unmistakable “swoosh” followed by an instant “crack” as the kid taking batting practice unleashes a powerful yet smooth looking swing, launching the baseball into the stratosphere.
The ball would eventually come down, about 40 feet beyond the center field fence. The big, lanky right hander with such a picture perfect swing is why I’m here. Dominick Sackett is likely to be a top pick in a few years, but for now he’ll have to settle for dominating high school competition.
“He’s the best high school baseball player I’ve ever seen,” Rockford varsity coach Jim Gellar tells me. “He’s going to hit third for me all season. I’m not sure if he’ll be able to reclassify in time for the draft next year, but to have him for even one season would be great. If we get him for two years, I’d be ecstatic.”
“Look, there’s no doubt in my mind he [Sackett] can play in the minors right now. But he’ll be an even better prospect in a few years when he’s draft eligible. I’d be shocked if he’s not the top pick in 2 years.”
Gellar’s opinion is important, as he’s seen major leaguers Michael Bourn and Carl Crawford.
“He doesn’t have those guys speed, but he’s a better player. He’s a stud.”
Sackett is currently playing for one of Houston’s legion teams, with most kids on his team also expected to play for Gellar next season. Coach Gellar allows them to use the varsity field and batting cages whenever they please, and the players know to be sure to clean up and rake when they’re finished.
“Sackett’s been up here every day. He comes in at 9 AM, hits, does some sprints, plays a little long toss and then goes to the weight room. He’s going to fill out without issue over the next few years,” school trainer Beth Anderson informs me. “He’s a great kid. We all hope he does what he wants to do.”
The round of batting practice finishes, and four players are coming in from beyond the left field wall, each with 3 balls filling their gloves.
“We’re not a pro team. We can’t afford to buy new balls every day,” assistant varsity and legion coach Tony Austin says with a laugh. “With Dom around, we’d run out of balls in the first week anyway.”
Sackett runs his sprints, plays a little long toss, and is in the weight room by 10:15. While some people close to Sackett insist he’s only working hard because he sees a golden payday at the end of the road, most CBL GM’s couldn’t care less about that.
“If he’s greedy, sure, it can be a problem. But it can also be a blessing,” An anonymous scout from a team picking near the bottom half of the round tells me. “He’s going to continue to get better because he’s never going to be satisfied. He’ll always want more. I like that in a player.”
Sackett will almost certainly hear his name called very early on draft night, just not this year. The youngest players in the draft this year are 17. As a 6’5, 200 pound 16-year-old with a swing Ken Griffey Jr would be jealous of, it’s easy to see why teams wish they could take him this year. He’ll be a player to watch for years to come.