Shawnee Mission East (Prairie Village, Kan.) Joey Wentz wears No. 17, but so far this season, he’s been a zero, as in zero hits and zero runs allowed through a 4-0 start and 23 innings. He’s also hitting .378.
“It’s unheard of,” East coach Jerrod Ryherd said. “It’s not like we’re playing lower-tier teams. It’s probably the toughest schedule in the state. Three of those four starts were against guys who have D-1 hitters.”
Wentz, a Virginia signee, finished third in the High School Select Home Run Derby at Cincinnati’s Great America Ballpark in July and second at the Under Armour Baseball Factory Home Run Derby at Chicago’s Wrigley Field in August, so he was already on the radar for scouts, but as much for his hitting as his pitching.
In Wentz’s first start this season for East, who’s ranked 14th in the latest Super 25 baseball rankings, the 6-5, 210-pound left-hander threw four no-hit innings with six strikeouts against Blue Valley (Stilwell) before teammate Zeb Vermillion finished the no-hitter. In his next start, Wentz had a 13-strikeout perfect game going against Olathe North (Olathe) when he was pulled after the sixth because his pitch count got high. Against Blue Valley Northwest (Overland Park), he went the full seven innings, throwing a 16-strikeout no-hitter.
“I’ve only seen him play once,” Blue Valley Northwest coach Corby Lange said. “The day we saw him, I would dare you to see a better high school pitcher than him. He’s a 6-5 left-hander with good control. You don’t see that every day.”
Last Tuesday against Shawnee Mission Northwest (Shawnee Mission), Wentz and Vermillion again combined on a no-hitter.
“I’ve had quite a few scouts come out, but I try not to focus on that,” Wentz said. “I think the most enjoyable thing is we’re winning as a team (the team is 10-1). Every single guy on our roster has done something to help us do that.”
Wentz was the state 6A player of the year last season even though he didn’t pitch after April because of a dead arm. He finished the season with a 4-1 record and a 1.01 ERA and hit .414 with a .521 on-base percentage.
Instead of playing varsity basketball this past winter, Wentz hit and threw three to four days a week at Premier Baseball of Kansas City, an indoor facility in nearby Lenexa.
“I had a really productive off-season,” Wentz said. “I just worked hard and was able to have a good start. The biggest difference this year is probably my velocity. Last year, I threw as hard as 91. This year, I’m up to 95. That and a better command of my pitches has made the difference.”
On Tuesday, weather permitting, Wentz will start against defending state champion Free State (Lawrence).
He played well last summer in the Tournament of Stars in Chapel Hill, N.C., but didn’t make the 40-man cut for USA Baseball’s U18 team. He benefited from the experience and has continued to improve.
“He has really blown up because of all the work he has put in,” Ryherd said. “I saw him throw in tryouts earlier this spring and he was a lot sharper and crisper. Before, he was getting looked at going in the Major League baseball draft between the second and fifth round, as a hitter. Now, because of his pitching, I’ve heard he could go as high as a top-10 pick.”
Wentz isn’t the best-known prospect in the Kansas City area. St. Thomas Aquinas (Overland Park, Kan.) right-hander Riley Pint throws 102 mph and is considered a likely top-three pick in the draft.
“I’m good friends with Riley, so it’s fun to see how he’s doing,” Wentz said. “Maybe we’ll have a draft party together, but that’s a few months away.”
Follow Jim Halley on Twitter at @jimhalley