Every kid who grows up with a bat and a baseball dreams of one day playing in the major leagues. Long Island, by most accounts, has a bunch of players who might just have what it takes to get there.
As we embark on this potential banner year for Island baseball, there may be a handful of players — possibly more — that have their names called in June’s MLB first-year player draft. The senior class is that exceptional.
Newsday now takes a look at a half-dozen of those seniors who bear watching in the months ahead:
Sachem East, OF/RHP, Sr.
The 6-3 righthander’s journey to become one of the elite pitchers on Long Island started behind the plate. He grew up playing catcher and still was a fixture there until after his freshman season. That’s when it became clear he was something special on the mound and that the physical toll of catching might come with a cost.
“But the knowledge and understanding of the game that I got from my years catching? It’s there is every pitch that I throw,” Dorosh said. “I’ve had the experience of watching the way a hitter swings or lines up in the box. I’ve called pitches to work a hitter. So when I see the pitch that’s getting called, I have all that experience to tap when deciding if that’s what I want to throw.
“I would never be as successful a pitcher as I am without that time I spent catching.”
And the Flaming Arrows senior is a pretty successful pitcher. He was 4-1 with 58 strikeouts in 42.2 innings and was picked to Newsday’s 2018 All-Long Island team. Dorosh’s fastball crackles in around 89 mph and tops out at 91 and he combines it with a wipeout ‘slurve’ that he can throw at high speeds for a 2-to-8 break or slower for something that looks more like a curveball. He keeps a nasty changeup in his pocket that he said he imagines “using later on in the postseason against the better teams.”
“What makes him special? He has the ‘it’ factor,” Sachem East coach Kevin Schnupp said. “He is the epitome of a big game pitcher. He’s always competitive and has a way of rising to an occasion when it comes up.”
That makes sense because Dorosh enjoys few things than when he gets to face one of the elite hitters from the summer travel team scene. “Those are the moments you want: Facing someone who has the same hopes and dreams and opportunities you have,” he explained. “Those are the moments that tell you how good you are.”
Dorosh has committed to Jacksonville for college, however the number of MLB scouts that turn out to see him suggests he could be a draft pick with a decision to make.
When he’s not on the mound he mans centerfield where Schnupp said “he gets great jumps on the ball and you can see his competitive personality the way he goes after every ball.”
At the plate last season, he batted .475 with 11 extra-base hits and 17 RBI. One team even used four outfielders to try to combat his hitting.
Center Moriches, RHP/3B, Sr.
It might be as high a compliment as any coach could bestow on a player. David Falco found himself in some hefty situations as the Red Devils streaked to the Class B state championship last season: On the mound and at the plate. And Center Moriches coach Dennis Donovan said, “he never lets the moment seize him, he always seizes the moment.”
Falco is the starting third baseman and a linchpin in the Devils’ potent offense, but has shined brightest coming out of the bullpen to pitch. The 6-5 righthander struck out two in a scoreless inning to seal the Suffolk county title, fired three scoreless innings to lock down the Southeast Region championship and bailed Center Moriches out with four innings of relief in the state final win.
“That’s just me and what I’ve gotten used to,” Falco said. “I come into a big game or when the game is on the line. I like the situations that get your adrenaline pumping. I think that’s when I am at my best.”
“When you have someone like him, you have to use him whenever you can,” Donovan said.
The plan for this season is to convert Falco into a starting pitcher after the Devils graduated Liam Pulsipher and David Franchi. He has a fastball that sits in the low 90s and a sharp, tight slider that he can throw for called strikes. “When you combine them, he’s a handful,” Donovan said. “That’s why when our team needed strikeouts, he was our guy.”
Falco fanned 35 in 27 innings last season.
Falco, who also played a key role in Center Moriches winning the Long Island Class B boys basketball title, has committed to attend Maryland on a baseball scholarship. And judging from the amount of interest he garners from pro scouts, he could have other options as well.
Falco likes hitting and has gotten results. He batted .351 with four homers and 32 RBI last season, including a .476 average in the postseason with a pair of home runs and 11 RBI. Stepping into the batter’s box is going to be something he misses after this season so, he said, “I’m going to savor this last season of hitting and make the most of it.”
Oceanside, SS, Sr.
Asked about the Sailors’ shortstop, Oceanside coach Mike Postilio becomes effusive. As he begins to describe Lazzaro’s qualities, he throws in catchy descriptions. “He’s a natural with a bat in his hands,” he said at one point. In another moment “watch him in the field and you see the real deal.”
Lazzaro’s excellence on a playing field is well-chronicled. He was on Newsday’s All-Long Island football team as a wide receiver after catching 72 passes for 1,037 yards and 11 touchdowns. However, football is the senior’s side gig. Baseball has always been his passion and he is committed to continue playing at St. John’s next season.
With perhaps the sweetest lefthanded swing on Long Island, Lazzaro last season hit .412 with 35 hits, 34 runs scored and 13 RBI out of the Sailors’ leadoff spot. He also stole 22 bases.
“That blazing speed that made him such an effective wide receiver?” Postilio said. “Now imagine that without having to shake off the physical contact of a defensive back. He is next-level on the bases.”
Lazzaro is precisely what a baseball coach would want in a shortstop. He has the great instincts to make the right play. He has a great first step and reads the ball off the bat exceptionally. And he has the leadership qualities to run an infield with aplomb.
Lazzaro eschewed varsity basketball this year to invest in being the best baseball player he can be right now. “There is so much potential and he is fixated on tapping into it,” Postilio said. “You can see that scouts are taking an interest in him. He’s that good and only getting better.”
Commack, OF, Sr.
There is plenty to marvel at when it comes to the Cougars’ centerfielder, but as Commack coach Bryan Bonin explained, “what makes him special are the things that no one can teach.”
First among them is the stature. McHugh stands 6-4 and could be chiseled out of granite, yet the defined physique has not robbed him of his speed or the flexibility in his throwing arm. The other item on that list is his unquenchable thirst to get better. “I will call a practice for 7:30 in the morning and when I see him, he already went running at 5 or 5:30 and then went to the gym,” Bonin said. “That comes from inside.”
McHugh simply stands out when he’s on a baseball field. Perhaps it’s his baseball IQ, which seems to put him in the right place at the right time. Or maybe it’s the quickness that allows him to catch up with balls in the air, even if he takes the wrong first step. And then there’s his arm, which can turn any Commack foe into a station-to-station team.
“Outfielders are taught to throw balls right through the cutoff,” Bonin said. “His arm is as strong as I’ve seen. He throws balls on a line. He will hit our catcher in the chest if the ball isn’t cut off.”
McHugh, who has committed to TCU, has a balanced and powerful swing. Last season he hit .490 with 16 extra base hits and 27 RBI. He also stole 12 bases on 12 tries.
Ward Melville, LHP, Sr.
The 6-1 lefthander is gunning for the school mark of 20 career victories set in 2013 by Anthony Kay, who went on to the University of Connecticut and became the Mets’ 2016 first-round pick. He needs six more this season to set a new standard and gets advice on how to accomplish it from Kay himself.
It turns out that the Ward Melville baseball community is a tight with past players often imparting wisdom on current ones. Kay — also a lefthanded pitcher — communicates quite a bit with Nielsen.
“We’ve talked about all kinds of things related to baseball, including pitching mechanics and grips for certain pitches,” Nielsen said. “One thing he taught me is not to give up on a grip I was trying for my changeup. He said sometimes it takes time and that’s what I’ve done with it. The two-seam changeup grip is now something comfortable for me.”
There’s also been advice from another Patriots great: Mets southpaw Steven Matz. Through coach Lou Petrucci, Matz gave suggestions for Nielsen on a preseason throwing program to get his arm ready for this coming season. “Max has every chance to be good because of his talent and the communication of good players that influences him,” Petrucci said. “I believe that Kay is a great example and is showing him how to be a better pitcher.”
Nielsen could be the first Patriot to earn five varsity baseball letters; his competitive nature and talent impressed in eighth grade and still intoxicates today. “There’s something contagious about his fire when he pitches,” Petrucci said. “ It spreads to everyone on the team.”
Nielsen may be the next Kay in more ways than one. He has committed to accept a scholarship from UConn. “It’s one of the best teams in the Northeast, influenced Anthony and helped him get to where he is,” Nielsen said. “In the end I was asking myself ‘why wouldn’t I go there?’ So I will.”
Connetquot, RHP, Sr.
Asked about his pitching mindset, the 6-4 righthander sums it up succinctly: “That plate is mine.”
Connetquot enters play this season with a half dozen players committed to Division I colleges and high expectations. No one is expecting more of himself than the Elon-commit Savino. He explained “I can’t wait to be on that mound again — I love the edge it takes and I am going to bring it. We have a team that could do a lot of damage.”
“We know that we have the mark on our backs this season, but having someone like Joe to rely on really helps,” first-year Connetquot coach Rob Burger said. “He is a pitcher’s pitcher, everything you’d want. He’s talking to our other pitchers about grips and approaches. He discusses building routines with them. He really gets it and he wants his teammates to get it, too.”
Savino is the rare high school talent that does more than just rely on his physical gifts. His approach to hitters is sophisticated and cerebral. He can overpower with a fastball that sits in the 89-92 mph range. However, he often chooses to deploy one of the best sliders on Long Island to dispatch hitters.
“The pitch is devastating and it is his favorite, much more than just a pitch to him,” Burger said. “He sees the slider as an art form.”
“I can use the pitch whenever I want to and I will use it in almost any situation, from 0-and-0 to 3-and-0 to a two-strike count,” Savino said. “It has a tight, late break and I have all kinds of confidence in it.”
There also is completeness to Savino. Burger said that when he pitches, he divines things from a hitter’s previous at-bat and uses each pitch to set up the next.
Given the attention scouts have lavished on him, Savino seems a likely draft pick in June. Burger cites the approach, his attention to diet and conditioning and his steadiness as attractive qualities. “He’s completely grounded, even with the world laying out in front of him,” Burger said. “If it happens that he’s going to play professionally after this year, he’s ready.”