While pursuing his goal of reaching the big leagues, Miguel Hugas has seen his life change considerably these past two years since he made the big leap of leaving his native Venezuela for the United States.

“It’s a lot different,” Hugas said. “My English got better. I got more friends.”

Oh, and he got even better at baseball, so good that this senior outfielder-pitcher at Shaler High School has Major League scouts and executives flocking to WPIAL baseball fields this spring to take a closer look at one of the most prized prospects in the state.

“We’ve had a bunch here already,” Shaler coach Brian Junker said one day last week. “One of the higher-up Yankees guys was here today. We had the Tigers and the Pirates and the Blue Jays here the other day.”

Take a look at Hugas and watch him play, and it’s easy to see why this University of Alabama recruit is so distinctly on the radar of professional teams. Hugas, 18, is a 6-foot-3, 210-pound switch-hitting outfielder who doubles as a dominating pitcher. He can hit for power and average, runs the bases and the outfield like a deer, and has a cannon of an arm. Hugas boasts a fastball that has touched 93 mph and last summer set a Perfect Game National Showcase record by unleashing an outfield throw of 102 mph at Tropicana Field, home of the Tampa Bay Rays.

“There’s not a player in the country that I would rather have,” Junker said. “I’m not in the spot to say he’s the best in the country, but show me one and I can make an argument.”

There’s no arguing that Hugas has come a long way since leaving South America for Western Pennsylvania in January 2021, a year after his cousin and best friend, Bryan Rincon, did the same. The two had lived about 10 minutes apart in Caracas, Venezuela’s capital, before bolting for the United States to seek more opportunity. Hugas lives with an uncle in Etna, which is where Rincon also resided before hearing his name called in last year’s MLB Draft. Rincon, a shortstop, was selected in the 14th round by the Philadelphia Phillies and is expected to start this season with the organization’s Single-A affiliate in Clearwater, Fla.

Hugas said he and Rincon still talk just about every day.

“I’m happy for him. He’s living his dream,” said Hugas, who has the same nickname — “Miggy” — as his favorite MLB player, fellow Venezuela native and future Hall of Famer Miguel Cabrera.

It might not be long before Hugas is living a similar dream. After announcing his arrival on the local scene in 2021, Hugas produced an exceptional junior season in which he batted .526 with 14 doubles, 5 home runs and 26 RBIs. In 63 innings on the mound, Hugas was 5-2 with 2 saves to go along with 70 strikeouts, just 6 walks and a sparkling 1.62 ERA.

A year later, Hugas is ripping the cover off the ball and baffling hitters yet again. He was 3 for 4 with a double, home run and 4 RBIs in Tuesday’s 23-6 win at Moon, and is hitting just under .500 for the season. He’s also 2-0 with an 0.53 ERA on the bump. In 13 innings, he notched 12 strikeouts and issued only one walk. Shaler is 6-1 overall and 2-0 in Class 5A Section 3.

Hugas has stated that he wants “to be like Shohei Ohtani,” and at the high school level, he most certainty is. But, like just about every player, Hugas will most likely have to begin specializing in either being a pitcher or position player when he begins his college or professional career. 

Said Junker, “A lot of teams like him for pitching. A lot of them like him for center field. I’m not going to tell you where I like him, but I do know this: He can throw four pitches for strikes and he’s a switch-hitting center fielder who has had it up to about 102 from the outfield. So the ceiling is crazy high. And what makes it the best feeling is he’s just a great kid just like Bryan was. He’s very grateful. And he’s got his head on his shoulders. He doesn’t go out at all or anything like that. It’s baseball, baseball, baseball. So, yeah, he has it all.”

Unlike Rincon, Hugas will have the opportunity to play college baseball. That wasn’t in the cards for Rincon due to him not having enough core credits after attending high school in Venezuela for two years. Hugas had quite a few college suitors, among them Oklahoma and Duke.

“Miggy knows the language a little bit more, and it was easier for him to pile up the credits and be ready to go,” Junker said. “We learned a lot from Bryan. We were just trying to, ‘How do we get this kid to school and then to practice?’ So Bryan was a very good role model for Miggy. Miggy always had Bryan there for him. Bryan didn’t really have anyone.”

Bryan Rincon, though, could have a cousin playing professional baseball just like himself, and it could come as early as this summer. The MLB Draft will take place in Seattle in July, and it certainly appears there’s a good chance Hugas will hear his name called at some point, potentially in the first 5-10 rounds.

For Hugas, the big league dream is real and something he said is always on his mind.

“Every day. Almost every second,” he said. “That’s my goal, so I’m trying to get there, and I’m working on it.”

Brad is a sports writer at the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, but he's currently on strike. Email him at beverett@unionprogress.com.

Brad Everett

Brad is a sports writer at the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, but he's currently on strike. Email him at beverett@unionprogress.com.