MLB Draft, UCLA can wait as Arizona’s top baseball prospect Roch Cholowsky eyes another state title

Roch Cholowsky hopes to help Hamilton High School win a second straight state championship. The 21-5 Huskies open the 6A baseball playoffs Saturday. (Photo courtesy David Minton/East Valley Tribune)

CHANDLER – Roch Cholowsky, baseball’s top prospect in Arizona’s 2023 class and the No. 12 prospect in the country, has seemingly limitless options when it comes to his future.

For the moment, he has his sights set on helping Hamilton High School win a second straight state championship and nothing else. The 21-5 Huskies, winners of eight Arizona titles, open the 6A baseball playoffs Saturday.

Even though Cholowsky is touted as an early-round selection in the upcoming MLB draft, and even though he has committed to play baseball at UCLA next season, the 18 year-old is focused on “being here now,” something he learned from his football coach.

“I worry about the things that matter to me the most: winning and having fun,” Cholowsky said.

For some, the pressure or attention that comes with a No. 1 ranking in a talent-heavy baseball state could be stressful, but for Cholowsky, it shows his dedication and work on the field. He said he doesn’t worry much about the rankings because they can always move up or down. Instead, he focuses on how he can help his team and continue to win games.

At 6-feet-2 and over 180 pounds, Cholowsky may look better suited to be a third baseman, but he’s a true shortstop through and through. His movement, positioning, range and fielding ability stand out on the diamond. In the spring 2022, he was recognized for his fielding when he was awarded Perfect Game’s defensive player of the year award.

“That was a huge honor,” his mom Tika Cholowsky said. “We had no idea that was happening and it was a shock when it happened.”

Cholowsky prides himself most on his fielding and says it’s his strongest part of his game. He looks up to other elite MLB infielders Nolan Arenado and Brandon Crawford, who are some of the game’s best defenders.

Roch Cholowsky has played baseball since he was 4 of 5 but didn’t fall in love with it until he hit his first home run at 10. Now the Hamilton High School standout is widely considered the top high school prospect in Arizona. (Photo courtesy of Tika Cholowsky)

Roch Cholowsky has played baseball since he was 4 of 5 but didn’t fall in love with it until he hit his first home run at 10. Now the Hamilton High School standout is widely considered the top high school prospect in Arizona. (Photo courtesy of Tika Cholowsky)

“They don’t do too much,” Cholowsky said. “They always get the job done. They’re really fundamentally sound and they’re not really flashy.”

Scouts like Arizona Prep Baseball Report director Shea Sbranti have made similar comments about Cholowsky and have noted that his defense is one of his strongest skills. His accolades, glove and prowess at the six spot has helped separate him from the rest of the 2023 class and reach the top ranking.

“His ability to move side to side and his range, it’s excellent,” Sbranti said. “It’s almost to the point where when you’re watching him play, there’s nothing about him that looks stressed.”

That comfort on the field comes from years of playing the game and being around the sport before he was even born. His father Dan played in the minor leagues for several seasons and now works as a scout for the Cincinnati Reds, while his mom worked in and around the game.

“He’s loved sports from the moment he could pick up the ball,” Tika said. “He’s always been extremely happy as long as he’s doing something related to sports.”

That included basketball, street hockey and football. He was the quarterback for Hamilton’s football team in the fall and led the team to a 3-1 record before a torn meniscus sidelined him for the season.

Baseball has always been the most alluring draw.

Cholowsky said he probably began playing the sport at around 4 or 5, but didn’t fall in love with it until a couple years later, when he hit first home run at 10.

“That was probably the earliest, most memorable moment,” he said. “I was going out there and it didn’t feel like a chore. That’s when I began to love the game a lot more.”

Since then he’s grown in size and skill, but he has traveled a lengthy road to get to where he is today. He joked that in middle school he was often concerned about his size, worrying that he would never be big enough.

“When I was in the seventh grade, I was like 5-foot-2,” he said. “I was like a little bowling bowl.”

However, back then even coach Mike Woods, who’s at the helm for Hamilton’s baseball team, noticed the skill and determination Cholowsky possessed.

“That’s why he was with us as a freshman,” Woods said.

Cholowsky entered the esteemed Hamilton program his freshman year, where he was able to compete for a spot on the varsity roster. He batted ninth and played first base, but was still able to contribute to a team that went 8-0 during a season shortened by COVID..

“His progress from being the nine hitter to this year, it’s just one of the joys of coaching, seeing a kid grow that way,” Woods said.

Cholowsky says his growth is a direct result of buying into the program and believing what Woods has taught him. Woods knows what it takes to develop top baseball players as he’s seen the likes of Cody Bellinger and a couple of others go from Hamilton to the show.

Along the way, Cholowsky has also grown into one of the team’s leaders, which helps to separate him on the field. On the diamond, he can be seen talking to his teammates and pushing them to be better.

“When I’m watching him play, he’s always talking to his teammates,” Sbranti said. “He’s telling them what to do and he controls the game very well. He has a ton of poise on the field.”

Cholowsky credits his leadership skills to his teammates, who have allowed him to step into that role over the last season. Many of them are guys he grew up playing with and are friends with whom he has built unbreakable bonds. Cholowsky said they like to bounce ideas off each other, hang out off the field and have really formed a brotherhood. However, when asked who is his greatest influence, he quickly pointed to Woods and his family.

“He’s the best coach I could have ever asked for,” Cholowsky said. “He’s been there for the lows and high and through it all. I’m super grateful for everything he’s done.”

He felt very similarly about his dad, calling him his “baseball guy.”

“I come home every day and we talk baseball,” Cholowsky said. “I love that guy more than anything.”

His sister, Shyla, and his mom have also been a big influence on his career, with each helping develop his personality. The siblings are only 16 months apart, so his older sister showed him the high school’s ropes and how to mature.

Related story

His mom taught him the importance of staying humble and has been known to bring Cholowsky items or gear on the occasion that he forgets it.

The state’s No. 1 ranking means it’s inevitable that he’s going to garner more attention, but Cholowsky said he ignores it and focuses on the present and his goal of winning a state championship. He does enjoy when kids ask for autographs or pictures because he likes having an impact, but otherwise he just tries to push it off.

After signing with UCLA this spring, after being committed for the last couple of years, the attention grew a little bit. However, Cholowsky has intended to join the Bruins since he was very young. He was born in the Los Angeles area, visited it a lot as a kid and has plenty of family there. He also spoke highly of UCLA baseball coach John Savage and the program.

“The coaches were always super upfront and honest with me,” Cholowsky said. “I felt like I owed them some loyalty and they saw me when I was super young and they jumped the gun on me.”

Savage said in a press release that he is excited to have Cholowsky joining the Bruins and called him a tremendous athlete.

“Roch is one of the most elite players in the entire country coming out of this class,” Savage said.

Cholowsky does have the chance to opt for July’s MLB draft instead, where he is projected to go early by CBS, Prospects Live and the Athletic, but he said he will not make that decision until after business is done at Hamilton.

“He’s so focused right now on the state championship and so everything else that’s going on is secondary,” Tika said. “He’s not worried about the draft. Right now, he’s worried about his boys and winning for Hamilton and coach Woods.”

Though his sights are very set for the next couple months, Cholowsky did say in the next few years he’d love to win a national championship with UCLA and be ready for the MLB draft.

He also mentioned that he’d love to continue to have an impact wherever he is off the diamond and knows that no matter what baseball will be in the picture.

“I can’t really picture myself doing anything else,” he said. “The motivation of not having to work a nine to five (job) in my life, is kind of what keeps me going.”

Haley Smilow HAIL-ee SMI-low (she/her/hers)
Sports Broadcast Reporter, Phoenix

Haley Smilow expects to graduate in May 2023 with a bachelor’s degree in sports journalism. Smilow, who is currently covering sports in Phoenix, is also interning with the Diamondbacks and has previously interned at the Phoenix Magazine, AZTV and Phoenix Rising.