The best Michigan high school baseball player in a long time is on every MLB team’s radar

Detroit Free Press

Jeff Seidel
 
| Detroit Free Press

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Alex Mooney was bored out of his mind last spring when the coronavirus crisis shut down everything.

The Michigan high school baseball season was canceled, and at the worst possible time he couldn’t go anywhere to train. Mooney was a junior at Orchard Lake St. Mary’s, a few months before the most important summer of his life. It was his best chance to impress Major League Baseball scouts.

“We have weight room downstairs,” Mooney said. “So for the first few weeks, I just worked out every day trying to get a little stronger, a little bigger.”

When it started to warm up, his father, Joe, bought a batting cage, which they put up in their backyard in Oakland Township.

“It was probably the best investment I ever made,” Joe said. “We got a pretty cheap cage but it caught the ball. That’s all we cared about, right? The ball didn’t hit any neighbor’s house and he was in there every day.”

Alex trained with his brother Ryan, an outfielder who has committed to Notre Dame.

“I was just so bored and I had nothing to do,” Alex said. “So I was like, you know what, why not try to get better a little bit here?”

Joe Mooney, who played at Michigan baseball on a team coached by former Detroit Tigers great Bill Freehan, was working from home. A health care executive, Joe would get off a Zoom call, take a break and throw batting practice to his sons.

“My dad’s BP was so bad,” Alex said, laughing.

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So Joe bought a pitching machine that could mix in curves and sliders with 100-mph fastballs.

Alex wanted to be ready for the summer baseball circuit. If there was one. 

“I got used to the velo on the machine, so I didn’t come out of quarantine with a slow bat,” Alex said. “I didn’t want to get gassed up at the first tournament. I wanted to kind of come out quarantine firing.”

And that’s what he did.

Alex had an amazing summer that turned into a fantastic fall. He has emerged as a potential first-round pick in the 2021 MLB draft in July. Perfect Game lists Mooney as the No. 13-ranked player in the class, the fifth-ranked high school shortstop and projects him to be drafted No. 24 overall.

“I’m not writing checks for big league teams, but I would take him in the first round,” said Jeff Petty, who coached Alex for Canes Baseball, one of the most respected travel baseball organizations in the country.

Petty’s voice carries weight and credibility, considering he has coached more than 20 first-round players.

“It was great for me as a coach to be able to go to the ballpark and know I’m getting this ultra-competitive guy who plays super hard and has lots of confidence,” Petty said. “But he’s also a really good teammate, and he’s funny. It’s the kind of guy that you want to be around.”

Confident, not cocky

After training in his backyard all spring, Mooney spent the summer playing for Canes National, a travel team loaded with pro prospects. Of the 30 players on the roster, Petty expects 20 of them to be drafted in 2021.

Petty has been around countless prospects over the past 13 years. He has seen great athletes with all kinds of skills — amazing arms and bats. But Mooney has a trait he has never seen before.

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“He has the most confidence of any player I’ve had,” Petty said. “He could be 0-for-4 with three strikeouts, which never happens, but I’m saying he could have a bad game and he’s walking out of the ballpark and he thinks he’s the baddest son of a (gun) there.”

That kind of confidence is Mooney’s super power. He doesn’t get rattled if he struggles.

The Canes traveled around the south on a team bus, staying in hotels and playing in tournaments and living the life of minor leaguers. Actually, maybe better than minor leaguers. The players were given new cleats, bats and gloves and used more than a dozen uniforms because the organization has so many sponsors.

And there was so much talent on the team that pro scouts flocked to every game.

“Once you shine in front of them,” Mooney said, “then you’re set.”

And he shined all summer.

The star of stars

In early September, Alex played in the Perfect Game All-American Classic in Oklahoma City. The game featured 54 of the top high school prospects in the country including:

• Jordan Lawlar, a shortstop/outfielder from Irving, Texas, ranked as the top prospect by Perfect Game.

• Brady House, a third baseman/right-handed pitcher from Georgia, who is ranked No.1 by Baseball America.

• Eight of Alex’s teams from the Canes.

But Mooney was the star of stars. He had three hits, including a triple, scored three runs, and he was named the MVP.

Jonathan Mayo, from Baseball America, wrote that Mooney’s “approach and all-around tools stand out to go along with excellent instincts.”

In the last 18 years, 199 of the 824 players who have participated in the Perfect Game event have made it to the Major Leagues. “They said at the game that statistically a quarter of the guys at the game will go to the MLB, so it’s pretty cool,” Mooney said. “It’s pretty sick.”

After the event, Ian Smith, the MLB draft lead analyst at Prospects 365, wrote: “Alex Mooney (MVP) looks more like a clear cut first rounder every day.”

Mooney was named an All-American by Perfect Game and Under Amour.

If there is one knock, it is that Mooney is a five-tool player who doesn’t have an elite, jaw-dropping tool. He can hit home runs but he’s not considered a power hitter. He is an above average runner but he’s not blazing fast.

Baseball America’s scouting report says that Mooney is “a heady, aggressive player who does a lot of things well on the diamond but might not have a true plus tool.”

Mr. President, too

Mooney continued to play this fall thanks to a smart, new MHSAA rule that allowed spring sports teams to hold 16 voluntary practices in the fall.

St. Mary’s hosted intrasquad scrimmages, which gave Mooney another chance to shine in front of scouts. But calling it an intrasquad scrimmage doesn’t do it justice, considering the talent on the field. St. Mary’s has a roster that includes 13 Division I commits.

“There was significant interest from all 30 MLB teams,” St. Mary’s coach Matt Petry said. “And these weren’t just your local area scouts. These were scouting directors and front office type people that were coming in to watch Alex practice.”

Petry set up the teams so that the best pitchers faced the best hitters, giving the scouts a chance to see Mooney face Brock Porter, a junior, who can touch 95 mph. A Clemson commit, Porter is ranked No. 30 in the country in the 2022 class by Baseball America.

“It’s kind of fun to face guys you know,” Mooney said. “Those scrimmages were high energy, I mean, everyone wants to win, everyone wants to do well, so no one’s slacking off.”

The scouts were able to get a good look at Nolan Schubart, ranked No. 6 in the country in the 2021 class by Baseball America. Schubart, a 6-foot-5 and 210-pound infielder, has committed to Michigan.

“For them to get the exposure to these big-time front office people and scouting directors and things like that are extremely valuable for them,” Petry said.

After the scrimmages, Mooney got a chance to talk with the scouts, while maintaining social distancing, of course.

“Yes, it’s pretty cool,” Mooney said. “After the game, you get to talk to them and they get to see who you are as a person and vice versa.”

Petry calls Mooney “probably the smartest player I’ve ever coached.”

“He’s excellent in the classroom,” Petry said. “He’s been our class president, for I think, three of his four years of high school. He just kind of checks all those boxes. When it comes to what Major League Baseball teams are looking for, as far as character and work ethic and things like that, he is special and that’s what these pro organizations are looking for.”

Big decision coming

In October, Mooney played in the 2020 WWBA World Championship in Fort Myers, Florida, which is billed as a showcase that attracts 700 scouts.

A report written on Mooney by Perfect Game said that “it would be hard to think of anything else he could have done throughout the circuit to further raise his draft stock, which is now comfortably in the first round.”

On Nov. 11, Mooney signed a national letter of intent to play college baseball at Duke. 

“Alex Mooney is one of the most talented student-athletes I have ever recruited,” Duke coach Chris Pollard said in a story posted on the school’s website. “He has been one of the premier players in the country since the summer before his freshman year of high school.”

But it is not clear whether Mooney will ever go to Duke.

“He’s a potential first rounder — he should have a really difficult decision to make this coming summer about what his future is going to hold in the short term,” Perfect Game national director Brian Sakowski said.

Sakowski has an interesting view of Mooney because he is also an assistant coach at St. Mary’s.

“I think he’s going to be a big leaguer,” Sakowski said. “I told him that last spring, two springs ago, when he walked us off at Comerica Park in the Catholic League championship game against Catholic Central. Afterwards, I took him aside and said, ‘Man, I cannot wait to watch you play in the big leagues.’

“And I’ve never said that to a 16-year-old kid before and I don’t know if I will again.”

Sakowski said that Mooney has all the tools to be a major leaguer. 

“It’s a combo platter, man,” he said. “He’s got them all. But it’s so much more than that. It’s the super high-end natural intellect and baseball IQ combined with an unbelievable work ethic and leadership skills and overall makeup. Combined with him just being an awesome kid, too.”

Birmingham Brother Rice’s Nick Plummer was the last Michigan high school player to attract this much attention from scouts, according to Sakowski. “And this is bigger than that,” Sakowski said.

Plummer was taken 23rd overall by the St. Louis Cardinals in the first round in 2015.

No matter where Mooney is ranked, or where he is drafted, or what the scouts are saying, his father is proud of him not for what he’s accomplished but for how he’s doing it.

“I love the work behind it,” Joe Mooney said. “I love the grind. I love that he loves the grind. And I respect that more. People don’t want to talk about that. That’s hard. That’s the hard work. And I think that’s something I respect.”

And that brings us back to the beginning.

How this amazing journey started in a simple batting cage.

Contact Jeff Seidel: jseidel@freepress.com. Follow him on Twitter @seideljeff. To read his recent columns, go to freep.com/sports/jeff-seidel/.

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