High-SchoolBaseball: The Starting Nine

Byron BuxtonMike Janes/Four Seam Images via AP ImagesAppling County (Baxley, Ga.) senior outfielder Byron Buxton showcased all his skills this season en route to being named The Diamond Gem, given to the nation's top player based only on on-field performance.
All season, ESPNHS searched for the nation’s top high school baseball player, regardless of school year and based solely on on-field performance. And every two weeks, we ranked the best nine players in order in The Starting Nine.

Well, The Starting Nine got off to a tough start when the preseason No. 1, Harvard-Westlake (Studio City, Calif.) right-hander Lucas Giolito, went down with a season-ending injury.

After Giolito went down, a number of other top players made compelling cases to grab the top spot. But ultimately, the No. 1 position came down to Appling County (Baxley, Ga.) outfielder/right-handed pitcher Byron Buxton and Jesuit (Tampa, Fla.) right-handed pitcher/shortstop Lance McCullers Jr.

In the end, it was Buxton who edged out McCullers Jr. for The Diamond Gem, our award given to the nation’s most outstanding player, based on his dominating season both at the plate and on the mound.

The Starting Nine — Final Edition

1. Byron Buxton, Appling County (Baxley, Ga.)
OF/RHP, Senior
Preseason spot:
No. 3
What he did: The No. 1 player in the ESPN 100 capped off his high school career by striking out 18 in a decisive third-game victory over Pierce County (Blackshear, Ga.) in the Class AA state championship. Buxton finished the year hitting .513 with a .628 on-base percentage, three homers, 35 RBIs, 17 doubles, 68 runs scored and 38 stolen bases. He was 10-1 on the mound with a 1.90 ERA, five saves and 154 strikeouts in 81 innings.

2. Lance McCullers Jr., Jesuit (Tampa, Fla.)
RHP/SS, Senior
Preseason spot:
No. 4
What he did: The Gatorade National Player of the Year allowed just two earned runs all season while going 13-0 with a 0.18 ERA and 140 strikeouts in 77.1 innings. Opponents hit just .106 off McCullers, who also hit two homers and had 21 RBIs and led Jesuit to the Class 5A state semifinals. The No. 7 player in the ESPN 100 was drafted No. 41 overall by Houston.

3. Kyle Carter, Columbus (Ga.)
OF/LHP, Senior
Preseason spot:
No. 8
What he did: Carter played a huge role in Columbus, No. 2 in the POWERADE FAB 50, earning its third straight state title and 12th overall this season. Rated No. 58 in the ESPN 100, Carter went 12-2 with a 0.98 ERA and 116 strikeouts in 86 innings. He also hit .302 with 14 homers and 31 RBIs.

4. Gavin Cecchini, Barbe (Lake Charles, La.)
SS, Senior
Preseason Spot:
No. 6
What he did: A first-round pick of the New York Mets, Cecchini hit at a .467 clip this year while using a wood bat for the majority of the season. Named Gatorade State Player of the Year for the second straight season, Cecchini also had a .527 OBP, seven homers, 32 RBIs and 31 stolen bases while leading Barbe to the Class 5A state championship.

5. Courtney Hawkins, Carroll (Corpus Christi, Texas)
RHP/OF, Senior
Preseason spot:
No. 9
What he did: Hawkins, who was drafted No. 13 overall by the Chicago White Sox, led Carroll to the Class 5A state semifinals. He hit .421 on the year with a .563 OBP, 11 homers, 39 RBIs and 17 stolen bases. He also went 5-2 on the mound with a 0.95 ERA and 58 strikeouts in 36.2 innings.

6. Kyle Marsh, Spruce Creek (Port Orange, Fla.)
RHP, Sophomore
Preseason spot:
Not ranked
What he did: Marsh was spectacular in leading Spruce Creek to a Class 8A state title. He was particularly impressive in postseason play, throwing a perfect game in the district semifinals, a no-hitter in the regional quarterfinals, a two-hitter against then-FAB 50 No. 1 Olympia (Orlando, Fla.) in the regional finals and another two-hitter in the state semifinals. The Central Florida commit finished 11-0 with a 0.43 ERA and 106 strikeouts in 72.2 innings while pitching in Florida’s highest classification.

7. Ty Hensley, Santa Fe (Edmond, Okla.)
RHP, Senior
Preseason spot:
On Deck
What he did: The first-round pick of the New York Yankees went 10-0 this season in leading Santa Fe to the Class 6A state semifinals. Hensley, who was named Gatorade State Player of the Year, fanned 111 in just 55.1 innings and was also a force at the plate, hitting .447 with 10 homers and 42 RBIs.

8. Joey Gallo, Bishop Gorman (Las Vegas)
3B/RHP, Senior
Preseason spot:
No. 2
What he did: The power-hitting Gallo slugged 21 homers this season while hitting .509 and driving in 80. The No. 11 player in the ESPN 100 had four multi-homer games and led Gorman to its seventh consecutive state title. The Gatorade State Player of the Year was drafted No. 39 overall by the Texas Rangers.

9. Stephen Gonsalves, Cathedral Catholic (San Diego)
LHP, Junior
Preseason spot:
Not ranked
What he did: Rated No. 5 in the ESPN 60, the 6-foot-5 southpaw pitched a three-hitter with 8 K’s to lead the Dons to their second straight CIF San Diego Section Division III title with a 3-1 win over El Capitan (Lakeside, Calif.). Gonsalves finished the year 10-0 and struck out 79 in 66 innings.

On Deck

Matt Olson, Parkview (Lilburn, Ga.)
1B/RHP, Senior
Preseason spot:
On Deck
What he did: Olson led the Panthers to their second straight Class AAAAA state title with a two-game sweep of Brookwood (Snellville, Ga.). Olson outdueled first-round pick Lucas Sims on the mound and added a two-run homer in the first game and then hit the game-winning homer in the second. He finished the season with a .407 average, 11 homers and 52 RBIs and went 12-1 with a 1.64 ERA and 85 strikeouts in 85.1 innings. Rated No. 97 in the ESPN 100, Olson was drafted No. 47 overall by the Oakland A’s.

Taylor Hawkins
C, Carl Albert (Midwest City, Okla.)
Preseason spot:
Not ranked
What he did: Hawkins was dominant this season, hitting .391 with 28 homers and 81 RBIs in leading Carl Albert to its third state title in six years. Hawkins was drafted in the 12th round by Tampa Bay.

The Starting Nine: June 7th edition

June, 7, 2012
6/07/12
10:22
AM ET
Stephen GonsalvesBrian Westerholt/Four Seam Images via AP ImagesJunior left-hander Stephen Gonsalves, the No. 5 player in the ESPN 60, went 10-0 this year and helped lead Cathedral Catholic (San Diego) to its second straight section title.
ESPNHS continues its search for the nation’s top high school baseball player, regardless of school year and based solely on on-field performance. Every two weeks, we’ll rank the nine players in order in The Starting Nine. And at the end of the season, whoever is in the top spot will be crowned The Diamond Gem, our award given to the nation’s most outstanding player.

There’s one more week to go in the high school baseball season, which means this year’s campaign for the top spot in The Starting Nine is nearing an end. Courtney Hawkins is still making a push for the top of The Starting Nine and will lead Carroll (Corpus Christi, Texas) into the Class 5A state semifinals on Thursday night.

Meanwhile, pair of talented underclassmen — junior left-hander Stephen Gonsalves of Cathedral Catholic (San Diego) and sophomore right-hander Kyle Marsh — joined The Starting Nine thanks to outstanding seasons.

Check back on June 21 to see how the final Starting Nine plays out.

The Starting Nine — June 7th Edition

Through games of June 4

1. Byron Buxton, Appling County (Baxley, Ga.)
OF/RHP, Senior
Previous spot:
No. 1
What he’s done: The No. 1 player in the ESPN 100 capped off his high school career by striking out 18 in a decisive third-game victory over Pierce County (Blackshear, Ga.) in the Class AA state championship. Buxton finished the year hitting .513 with a .628 on-base percentage, three homers, 35 RBIs, 17 doubles, 68 runs scored and 38 stolen bases. He was 10-1 on the mound with a 1.90 ERA, five saves and 154 strikeouts in 81 innings. Buxton was drafted No. 2 overall by Minnesota. Season complete.

2. Lance McCullers Jr., Jesuit (Tampa, Fla.)
RHP/SS
Previous spot:
No. 2
What he’s done: The Gatorade National Player of the Year allowed just two earned runs all season while going 13-0 with a 0.18 ERA and 140 strikeouts in 77.1 innings. Opponents hit just .106 off McCullers, who also hit two homers and had 21 RBIs and led Jesuit to the Class 5A state semifinals. The No. 7 player in the ESPN 100 was drafted No. 41 overall by Houston. Season complete.

3. Kyle Carter, Columbus (Ga.)
OF/LHP, Senior
Previous spot:
No. 4
What he’s done: Carter played a huge role in Columbus, No. 2 in the POWERADE FAB 50, earning its third straight state title and 12th overall this season. Rated No. 58 in the ESPN 100, Carter went 12-2 with a 0.98 ERA and 116 strikeouts in 86 innings. He also hit .302 with 14 homers and 31 RBIs. Season complete.

4. Gavin Cecchini, Barbe (Lake Charles, La.)
SS, Senior
Previous Spot:
No. 5
What he’s done: A first-round pick of the New York Mets, Cecchini hit at a .467 clip this year while using a wood bat for the majority of the season. Named Gatorade State Player of the Year for the second straight season, Cecchini also had a .527 OBP, seven homers, 32 RBIs and 31 stolen bases while leading Barbe to the Class 5A state championship. Season complete.

5. Courtney Hawkins, Carroll (Corpus Christi, Texas)
RHP/OF
Previous spot:
No. 6
What he’s done: Hawkins and Carroll face A&M Consolidated in the Class 5A state semifinals on Thursday. Rated No. 5 in the ESPN 100, Hawkins carried into the game a .437 average, 11 homers and 39 RBIs. He is 5-2 on the mound with a 0.96 ERA and 57 strikeouts in 36.1 innings. Hawkins, who was named Gatorade State Player of the Year, Hawkins was drafted No. 13 overall by the Chicago White Sox.

6. Kyle Marsh, Spruce Creek (Port Orange, Fla.)
RHP, Sophomore
Previous spot:
Not ranked
What he’s done: Marsh was spectacular in leading Spruce Creek, No. 8 in this week’s FAB 50, to a Class 8A state title. He was particularly impressive in postseason play, throwing a perfect game in the district semifinals, a no-hitter in the regional quarterfinals, a two-hitter against then-FAB 50 No. 1 Olympia (Orlando, Fla.) in the regional finals and another two-hitter in the state semifinals. The Central Florida commit finished 11-0 with a 0.43 ERA and 106 strikeouts in 72.2 innings while pitching in Florida’s highest classification. Season complete.

7. Ty Hensley, Santa Fe (Edmond, Okla.)
RHP, Senior

Previous spot: No. 7
What he’s done: The first-round pick of the New York Yankees went 10-0 this season in leading Santa Fe to the Class 6A state semifinals. Hensley, who was named Gatorade State Player of the Year, fanned 111 in just 55.1 innings and was also a force at the plate, hitting .447 with 10 homers and 42 RBIs. Season complete.

8. Joey Gallo, Bishop Gorman (Las Vegas)
3B/RHP, Senior
Previous spot:
No. 8
What he’s done: The power-hitting Gallo slugged 21 homers this season while hitting .509 and driving in 80. The No. 11 player in the ESPN 100 had four multi-homer games and led Gorman to its seventh consecutive state title. The Gatorade State Player of the Year was drafted No. 39 overall by the Texas Rangers. Season complete.

9. Stephen Gonsalves, Cathedral Catholic (San Diego)
LHP, Junior
Previous spot:
Not ranked
What he’s done: Rated No. 5 in the ESPN 60, the 6-foot-5 southpaw pitched a three-hitter with 8 K’s to lead the Dons to their second straight CIF San Diego Section Division III title with a 3-1 win over El Capitan (Lakeside, Calif.). Gonsalves finished the year 10-0 and struck out 79 in 66 innings. Season complete.

Dropped Out

No. 3 Wyatt Mathisen, Calallen (Corpus Christi, Texas)
C/SS/RHP, Senior

Mathisen had a tremendous year, hitting .433 with three homers and 40 RBIs while going 11-1 on the mound with seven saves and 98 strikeouts in 79 innings. But he struggled in a season-ending loss to Boerne-Champion (Boerne, Texas) in the Class 4A regional semifinals. Mathisen allowed two earned runs (four total) and six hits over seven innings and went 0-for-3 at the dish. Season complete.

No. 9 Ty Moore, Mater Dei (Santa Ana, Calif.)
RHP, Senior

Hard to knock the Gatorade State Player of the Year for what he did the entire season — hitting .406 with three homers and 23 RBIs and going 12-1 with a 0.83 ERA. But like Mathisen, he struggled in his last game, going 1-for-4 in an upset loss to Newbury Park (Calif.) in the CIF Southern Section Division I semifinals. Season complete.

On Deck

Matt Olson, Parkview (Lilburn, Ga.)
1B/RHP, Senior

What he’s done: Olson led the Panthers to their second straight Class AAAAA state title with a two-game sweep of Brookwood (Snellville, Ga.). Olson outdueled first-round pick Lucas Sims on the mound and added a two-run homer in the first game and then hit the game-winning homer in the second. He finished the season with a .407 averaged, 11 homers and 52 RBIs and went 12-1 with a 1.64 ERA and 85 strikeouts in 85.1 innings. Rated No. 97 in the ESPN 100, Olson was drafted No. 47 overall by the Oakland A’s. Season complete.

Taylor Hawkins
C, Carl Albert (Midwest City, Okla.)
What he's done:
Hawkins was dominant this season, hitting .391 with 28 homers and 81 RBIs in leading Carl Albert to its third state title in six years. Hawkins was drafted in the 12th round by Tampa Bay. Season complete.

The Starting Nine: April 26th Edition

April, 26, 2012
4/26/12
10:09
AM ET
Gavin CecchiniMike Janes/Four Seam Images via AP ImagesBarbe (Lake Charles, La.) senior shortstop Gavin Cecchini is rated the No. 8 prosect in the ESPN 100.
ESPNHS continues its search for the nation’s top high school baseball player, regardless of school year and based solely on on-field performance. Every two weeks, we’ll rank the nine players in order in The Starting Nine. And at the end of the season, whoever is in the top spot will be crowned The Diamond Gem, our award given to the nation’s most outstanding player.

The top three remain intact in this edition of The Starting Nine, but Kyle Carter of Columbus (Ga.) made the move to the No. 4 spot thanks to his continued two-way dominance. With double digits in home runs and an ERA under 1.00 for the No. 6 team in the POWERADE FAB 50, Carter is closing in on the top of the list.

Three Florida players reached impressive milestones by the end of their regular seasons. Lance McCullers Jr. of Jesuit (Tampa, Fla.) finished the regular season without allowing an earned run in 52.1 innings of work. Walker Weickel of Olympia (Orlando, Fla.) finished the regular season 10-0 on the mound (as did his teammate Michael Hennessey). Albert Almora of Mater Academy (Hialeah Gardens, Fla.) finished the regular season with a batting average over .600 at an impressive .603.

The Starting Nine — April 26th Edition

Through games of April 22

1. Byron Buxton, Appling County (Baxley, Ga.)
OF/RHP, Senior
Previous spot: 1
What he’s done: Buxton is hitting .566 and getting on base at a .663 clip for the 23-1 Pirates. He has added 14 doubles, 46 runs scored and 18 RBIs from the leadoff spot while also stealing 28 bags. On the mound, Buxton is 6-0 with a 1.97 ERA and 78 punchouts in 39 innings.

2. Lance McCullers Jr., Jesuit (Tampa, Fla.)
RHP/SS
Previous spot: 2
What he’s done: McCullers finished the regular season without giving up an earned run, allowing just 14 hits in 52.1 innings while striking out 97. At the dish, he's hitting .273 with 18 RBIs for the No. 2 team in the POWERADE FAB 50.

3. Wyatt Mathisen, Calallen (Corpus Christi, Texas)
C/SS/RHP, Senior
Previous Spot: 3
What he’s done: Mathisen is hitting a cool .449 with 32 RBIs for the No. 7 team in the FAB 50. He's also 8-0 as a pitcher with a 0.81 ERA and 80 strikeouts in 52 innings.

4. Kyle Carter, Columbus (Ga.)
OF/LHP, Senior
Previous spot: 6
What he’s done: The top player on the No. 6 team in the FAB 50, Carter has launched 11 long balls and totaled 26 RBIs. On the bump, the southpaw is 7-1 with a 0.89 ERA and 54 strikeouts in 45 innings.

5. Gavin Cecchini, Barbe (Lake Charles, La.)
SS, Senior
Previous Spot: 5
What he’s done: Cecchini is hitting .395 with a .514 OBP. He's also cracked six home runs and driven in 27 runs, all while using a wooden bat. On the basepaths, he's 25-for-25 in stolen base attempts.

6. Walker Weickel, Olympia (Orlando, Fla.)
RHP, Senior
Previous spot: 7
What he’s done: Weickel is 10-0 for the No. 1 team in the land, posting a 1.47 ERA and 72 K's in 55 innings. He's also chipping in at the dish with a .322 average, six bombs and 23 RBIs.

7. Courtney Hawkins, Carroll (Corpus Christi, Texas)
RHP/OF
Previous spot: 4
What he’s done: Hawkins and the Tigers lost a 7-1 decision to Mathisen's Wildcats last week. Hawkins pitched 4.1 innings with 3 strikeouts and two earned runs allowed in that contest. For the season he's 3-1 on the mound with a 0.83 ERA and 44 K's in 25.1 innings. He's also hitting .461 with eight homers and 33 RBIs.

8. Max Fried, Harvard-Westlake (Studio City, Calif.)
LHP/OF, Senior
Previous spot: 8
What he’s done: Fried keeps getting stronger on the mound, with a 6-1 record and 83 strikeouts in 50.1 innings. Opposing batters are hitting just .162 against him. On offense he's hitting .446 with five doubles, 18 RBIs and 12 steals.

9. Albert Almora, Mater Academy (Hialeah Gardens, Fla.)
OF, Senior
Previous spot: 9
What he’s done: Almora finished the regular season with a .603 batting average, six home runs, 34 RBIs and 42 runs scored. He also added 27 stolen bases.

On Deck

Ty Hensley, Santa Fe (Edmond, Okla.)
RHP, Senior
What he’s done: Hensley is firing on all cylinders at the plate and on the mound, but with no one dropping out in this edition he remains in the On Deck spot. Hensley is 7-0 with a 1.40 ERA and 79 K's in 40 innings and he's also hitting .408 with eight homers.

The Starting Nine: April 12th Edition

April, 12, 2012
4/12/12
11:34
AM ET
Max Fried NHSIAndrew Craft/ESPNHSHarvard-Westlake (Studio City, Calif.) left-hander Max Fried has helped the Wolverines keep pace among the nation's top teams despite the loss of star right-hander Lucas Giolito.
ESPNHS continues its search for the nation’s top high school baseball player, regardless of school year and based solely on on-field performance. Every two weeks, we’ll rank the nine players in order in The Starting Nine. And at the end of the season, whoever is in the top spot will be crowned The Diamond Gem, our award given to the nation’s most outstanding player.

It’s shaping up to be a two-horse race in The Starting Nine with Byron Buxton and Lance McCullers Jr. separating themselves from the rest of the pack as the regular season comes down to the wire. Buxton, who remained No. 1 in Keith Law’s updated Future 50 this week, holds a slight lead over McCullers thanks to his all-around play.

While Buxton and McCullers have held strong in the top two spots, the rest of The Starting Nine has been anything but stable. Three new players have joined the bunch, led by Calallen senior catcher/right-handed pitcher Wyatt Mathisen, who jumps all the way up to the No. 3 spot thanks to his play for the Wildcats, who are 22-0 and No. 2 in the POWERADE FAB 50.

The Starting Nine — April 12th Edition

Through games of April 8

1. Byron Buxton, Appling County (Baxley, Ga.)
OF/RHP, Senior
Previous spot:
No. 1
What he’s done: The sign of an elite player is adjusting to what’s thrown to him. In Buxton’s case, he still hasn’t seen a pitch he could go yard with. The No. 2 player in the ESPN 100 is still batting .519 with 10 doubles and three triples. He’s also walked 16 times, striking out only once, and is a perfect 18-for-18 on stolen-base attempts. On the mound, he’s been exceptional, going 6-0 with a 1.65 ERA and 67 strikeouts with just nine walks in 34 innings. His play has helped Appling County to an 18-0 mark.

2. Lance McCullers Jr., Jesuit (Tampa, Fla.)
RHP/SS
Previous spot:
No. 2
What he’s done: McCullers has been downright filthy on the mound this season, so much so that he nearly bumped Buxton out of the top spot. He’s still hasn’t given up a run, a span that’s now reached 42.1 innings. He’s 8-0, holding opponents to a ridiculously low .069 batting average and has struck out 79. Jesuit is also No. 3 in this week’s FAB 50. The only thing keeping McCullers from overtaking Buxton at this point is that Buxton has been the better all-around player — McCullers is hitting .279 with two homers and 13 RBIs.

3. Wyatt Mathisen, Calallen (Corpus Christi, Texas)
C/SS/RHP, Senior
Previous Spot:
On Deck
What he’s done: Mathisen makes the big jump from On Deck to the three-hole in The Starting Nine based on his play at the plate and on the mound for Calallen (22-0), which is No. 2 in the FAB 50. Mathisen is hitting .460 with a .584 OBP and 26 RBIs and is 6-0 on the mound with a 1.00 ERA, 64 strikeouts and only nine walks in 42 innings.

4. Courtney Hawkins, Carroll (Corpus Christi, Texas)
RHP/OF
Previous spot:
No. 4
What he’s done: Hawkins has been doing it all for Carroll, which is No. 13 in the FAB 50. He’s hitting .441 with a .582 OBP, seven homers and 26 RBIs. He’s 2-0 on the mound with a 0.44 ERA and 30 strikeouts in 16 innings.

5. Gavin Cecchini, Barbe (Lake Charles, La.)
SS, Senior
Previous Spot:
No. 6
What he’s done: Cecchini has improved at the plate the past two weeks, raising his average from .378 to .409. He boasts a .541 OBP, 28 runs scored, four homers and 19 RBIs and is 22-for-22 in stolen base attempts. He has also only committed one error for Barbe, which is 22-6.

6. Kyle Carter, Columbus (Ga.)
OF/LHP, Senior
Previous spot:
No. 7
What he’s done: Carter continues to produce on both the mound and at the plate for Columbus, which is No. 8 in the FAB 50. He’s hitting .354 with eight homers and 17 RBIs and is 5-1 with a 0.95 ERA, two saves and 46 strikeouts in 37 innings.

7. Walker Weickel, Olympia (Orlando, Fla.)
RHP, Senior
Previous spot:
NR
What he’s done: The No. 3 player in the ESPN 100, Weickel has powered Olympia’s surprising run to the No. 1 spot in the FAB 50. He’s 8-0 with a 1.24 ERA and 58 strikeouts in 45 innings. He’s also shown some pop at the plate by clubbing six homers.

8. Max Fried, Harvard-Westlake (Studio City, Calif.)
LHP, Senior
Previous spot:
No. 9
What he’s done: Harvard-Westlake has surprised many by staying among the top teams in the nation despite the loss of ESPN 100 No. 1 prospect Lucas Giolito. The Wolverines are No. 7 in the FAB 50 and were the runner-up at the USA Baseball National High School Invitational thanks in large part to Fried, who’s No. 4 in the ESPN 100. He’s 3-1 with a 2.65 ERA and has fanned 54 in 31.2 innings. He’s also been solid at the dish, hitting .434 with a homer and 15 RBIs.

9. Albert Almora, Mater Academy (Hialeah Gardens, Fla.)
OF, Senior
Previous spot:
NR
What he’s done:Almora recently moved up to the No. 3 high school prospect in Keith Law's Future 50, and he makes his debut in The Starting Nine as well. He's raking at the dish to the tune of a .603 average, a .671 OBP, five home runs and 28 RBI. He's also added 14 steals.

On Deck

Ty Hensley, Santa Fe (Edmond, Okla.)
RHP, Senior
What he’s done:
The No. 35 player in the ESPN 100 is 5-0 on the mound with a 1.87 ERA and 53 strikeouts in 30 innings. He’s also hitting .439 with eight homers and 26 RBIs.

Dropped Out

No. 3 Joey Gallo, Bishop Gorman (Las Vegas)
1B/3B/RHP, Senior
What’s he’s done:
This isn’t a knock on Gallo’s talent — he’s clearly one of the top hitters in the nation. But he’s struggled in the past couple of weeks and is hitting .382 with two homers and 19 RBIs. Bishop Gorman also dropped two games at the USA Baseball National High School Invitational, though the Gaels are still No. 12 in the FAB 50.

No. 5 David Dahl, Oak Mountain (Birmingham, Ala.)
OF, Senior
What he’s done:
Dahl is hitting .392 with a .529 OBP, two homers, 12 RBIs and 16 stolen bases. But his team is hovering around the .500 mark with a 15-14 record.

No. 8 Kayden Porter, Spanish Fork (Utah)
RHP/OF, Senior
What he’s done:
Porter has blasted four homers, hit seven doubles and is 2-0 on the mound for FAB 50 No. 25 Spanish Fork. But the Dons have since fallen to No. 2 in Utah behind FAB No. 22 Bingham (South Jordan, Utah) and Porter has been matched both at the plate and on the mound by senior teammate Hayden Nielsen.

The Starting Nine: March 29th Edition

March, 29, 2012
3/29/12
9:45
AM ET
David DahlCal Sport Media via AP ImagesOak Mountain (Birmingham, Ala.) center fielder David Dahl, who hit .449 as a junior, is a potential first-round pick in June's MLB draft.
ESPNHS has begun its search for the nation’s top high school baseball player, regardless of school year and based solely on on-field performance. Every two weeks, we’ll rank the nine players in order in The Starting Nine. And at the end of the season, whoever is in the top spot will be crowned The Diamond Gem, our award given to the nation’s most outstanding player.

There aren’t any major changes in our second update of The Starting Nine. But there is one player who’s threatening to move his way up to No. 1 if he continues his torrid start on the mound. That player is Jesuit (Tampa, Fla.) senior right-hander Lance McCullers Jr., who tossed a no-hitter with 12 strikeouts in his last start. He hasn’t allowed a run through six starts and opponents are hitting just .075 off him.

McCullers jumps up one spot to No. 2 in this week’s rankings, but he couldn’t unseat Appling County (Baxley, Ga.) senior outfielder/right-handed pitcher Byron Buxton. Though he’s not seeing much to hit and has no homers as a result, Buxton is still batting .500 and has also dominated on the bump.

The Starting Nine — March 29th Edition

Through games of March 25

1. Byron Buxton, Appling County (Baxley, Ga.)
OF/RHP, Senior
Previous spot: No. 1
What he’s done: Buxton doesn’t have a homer yet, but he still hasn’t seen anything to hit, either. Hitting from the leadoff spot, Buxton is batting .500 with seven doubles, three triples and eight RBIs and is a perfect 15-for-15 on stolen bases. He’s also got a 1.96 ERA on the bump with 47 strikeouts and only four walks in 25 innings.

2. Lance McCullers Jr., Jesuit (Tampa, Fla.)
RHP/Senior
Previous spot: No. 3
What he’s done: We’re now almost into April and McCullers still hasn’t given up a run this season, running his scoreless streak to 30.1 innings. He’s 6-0 and fanned 57 and walked only nine during that span, and he’s also brought his averaged up to .310.

3. Joey Gallo, Bishop Gorman (Las Vegas)
1B/3B/RHP, Senior
Previous spot: No. 2
What’s he’s done: The nation’s No. 1 team in the POWERADE FAB 50 has started out 8-0 thanks in large part to Gallo, who’s batting .588 with a .667 on-base percentage and 14 RBIs.

4. Courtney Hawkins, Carroll (Corpus Christi, Texas)
RHP/OF
Previous spot: No. 4
What he’s done: Hawkins and Carroll, which is 16-0, continue to roll. Hawkins is hitting .469 with six homers and 23 RBIs and is 1-0 on the mound with a 0.66 ERA and 21 strikeouts in 10.2 innings.

5. David Dahl, Oak Mountain (Birmingham, Ala.)
OF, Senior
Previous spot: No. 5
What he’s done: Dahl's numbers continue to be solid across the board. He's hitting .386 with a .533 OBP, one homer, 27 runs scored nine RBIs, 11 doubles, two triples and 15 stolen bases.

6. Gavin Cecchini, Barbe (Lake Charles, La.)
SS, Senior
Previous Spot: No. 6
What he’s done: Cecchini has propelled Barbe to an 18-4 start with both his hitting and his defense. He’s batting .378 with two homers and 15 RBIs and 15 stolen bases in 15 attempts. And he still hasn’t committed an error in the field.

7. Kyle Carter, Columbus (Ga.)
OF/LHP, Senior
Previous spot: No. 7
What he’s done: Carter has played a huge role in Columbus’ 10-0 start. He’s hitting .387 with six homers and 13 RBIs and is 4-0 on the mound with a 1.17 ERA, two saves and 34 strikeouts in 24 innings.

8. Kayden Porter, Spanish Fork (Utah)
RHP/OF, Senior
Previous Spot: No. 8
What he’s done: Porter is starting to pick it up on both the mound and at the plate and has helped Spanish Fork begin the year at 8-0. He’s hitting .500 with a .581 OBP with two homers and nine RBIs. He’s 1-0 on the hill with a 1.87 ERA and 26 strikeouts in 15 innings. We’re also keeping an eye on his teammate Hayden Nielsen, who’s got a 0.47 ERA.

9. Max Fried, Harvard-Westlake (Studio City, Calif.)
LHP, Senior
Previous spot: No. 9
What he’s done: Fried has been rock solid ever since his teammate Lucas Giolito — the nation’s No. 1 recruit — went down with an injury. In two starts over the past two weeks, he struck out 24 batters in 12 innings, including a 14 K performance in five innings against Lancaster (Calif.) on March 23. At the dish, Fried is hitting .459 with 17 RBIs.

Dropped Out

None

On Deck

Wyatt Mathisen, Calallen (Corpus Christi, Texas)
C/SS/RHP, Senior
What he’s done: With Mathisen playing like this, it’s no surprise Calallen is 20-0. He is hitting .426 with 23 RBIs at the dish, and he’s been even more impressive on the hill. He has thrown consecutive complete game victories in his last two starts, including an eight-inning outing in which he pitched into extra innings and fanned 15.

The Starting Nine: March 15th Edition

March, 15, 2012
3/15/12
9:31
AM ET
Lance McCullers Jr.Courtesy of Nate CastroJesuit (Tampa, Fla.) senior right-hander Lance McCullers Jr. is 4-0 with a 0.00 ERA and has helped the Tigers to the No. 2 spot in the POWERADE FAB 50.
ESPNHS has begun its search for the nation’s top high school baseball player, regardless of school year and based solely on on-field performance. Every two weeks, we’ll rank the nine players in order in The Starting Nine. And at the end of the season, whoever is in the top spot will be crowned The Diamond Gem, our award given to the nation’s most outstanding player.

Only one player dropped out of The Starting Nine in our first update of the season, but it was a big one. Our preseason No. 1, Lucas Giolito of Harvard-Westlake (Studio City, Calif.), was taken out of the running after spraining the ulnar collateral ligament in his right elbow in last week. Taking his place at No. 1 is Peach State prodigy Byron Buxton of Appling County (Baxley, Ga.), who opened the season on a tear at the plate and on the mound.

David Dahl of Oak Mountain (Birmingham, Ala.) is the one new face on the list, entering The Starting Nine at the No. 5 position. Courtney Hawkins of Carroll (Corpus Christi, Texas) made the biggest jump of the week, catapulting to No. 4 from No. 9 thanks in large part to blasting five home runs in the first 10 games of the season. Hawkins' cross-town rival, Wyatt Mathisen of Calallen (Corpus Christi, Texas), is also off to a fast start and takes the On Deck position as the next player set to enter the rankings should one of the top nine stumble.

Through games of March 12

1. Byron Buxton, Appling County (Baxley, Ga.)
OF/RHP, Senior
Previous spot:
No. 3
What he’s done: Buxton hasn’t seen much to hit (hence his zero homers), but he’s still batting .593 with a .718 on-base percentage, six doubles, three triples and eight RBIs. On the mound, he’s 4-0 with a 1.67 ERA and 41 strikeouts in 21 innings.

2. Joey Gallo, Bishop Gorman (Las Vegas)
1B/3B/RHP, Senior
Previous spot:
No. 2
What’s he’s done: Gallo, who hit .471 with 25 homers and 78 RBIs as a junior, opens his senior season this week.

3. Lance McCullers Jr., Jesuit (Tampa, Fla.)
RHP/SS, Senior
Previous spot:
No. 4
What he’s done: McCullers has been a force on the mound for the POWERADE FAB 50 No. 2 Tigers, going 4-0 with a 0.00 ERA and 32 strikeouts in 19.1 innings. He’s struggled some at the dish, hitting .278, but he does have two homers and eight RBIs.

4. Courtney Hawkins, Carroll (Corpus Christi, Texas)
RHP/OF
Previous spot:
No. 9
What he’s done: Hawkins has been big time for FAB 50 No. 3 Carroll, hitting .514 with five homers and 17 RBIs. He’s also scored 21 times and recorded a .585 OBP. On the mound, he’s 1-0 with 15 strikeouts in only seven innings.

5. David Dahl, Oak Mountain (Birmingham, Ala.)
OF, Senior
Previous spot:
NR
What he’s done: One of the top all-around mashers in the country, Dahl jumps into The Starting Nine after starting the year hitting .447 with a .596 OBP, 19 runs scored, seven doubles, two triples, a homer, four RBIs and nine steals.

6. Gavin Cecchini, Barbe (Lake Charles, La.)
SS, Senior
Previous Spot:
No. 6
What he’s done: Barbe got off to a slow start after Cecchini missed the first six games of the season recovering from an offseason injury. Since his return, Cecchini and the Buccaneers are on a tear. The Bucs have won 10 straight and Cecchini is hitting .381 with a .552 OBP, a homer, nine RBIs and seven stolen bases in seven attempts while playing flawlessly in the field.

7. Kyle Carter, Columbus (Ga.)
OF/LHP, Senior
Previous spot:
No. 8
What he’s done: Carter is a big reason why Columbus currently sits at No. 4 in the FAB 50. He’s hitting .350 with three homers and five RBIs and is 3-0 on the mound with one save, a 1.65 ERA and 21 strikeouts in 17 innings.

8. Kayden Porter, Spanish Fork (Utah)
RHP/OF, Senior
Previous Spot:
No. 5
What he’s done: Spanish Fork has just started its season, and Porter has seen limited action on the hill. But in the four innings he’s worked, he’s fanned 10 and hasn’t allowed an earned run. He’s also got a pair of doubles and driven in two.

9. Max Fried, Harvard-Westlake (Studio City, Calif.)
LHP/OF, Senior

Previous spot: No. 7
What he’s done: Fried had one hiccup on the mound (allowing eight earned runs in 3.1 innings in his second start of the year), but other than that he’s been a beast. Fried has fanned 22 in 14.1 innings, while also contributing a .439 average, 10 RBIs and six stolen bases.

On Deck

Wyatt Mathisen, Calallen (Corpus Christi, Texas)
C/SS/RHP, Senior
What he’s done: What hasn’t he done? As the top player on the No. 6 team in the FAB 50, Mathisen is leading the way at the dish and on the bump. He’s hitting .465 with five doubles, 19 RBIs and six steals, and he’s 3-0 as a pitcher with a 1.83 ERA and 34 K’s in 23 innings of work.

Dropped Out

1. Lucas Giolito, Harvard-Westlake (Studio City, Calif.)
RHP, Senior
Previous Spot: No. 1
What happened: Giolito looked like the front-runner for The Diamond Gem in the early going, but last week came the tough news that he will likely miss the rest of the season with a sprained ulnar collateral ligament in his right elbow.

The Starting Nine: Preseason look

February, 29, 2012
2/29/12
9:51
AM ET
The Starting NineMike Janes/Four Seam Images via AP Images, Scott Kurtz/ESPNHS(From left to right) Byron Buxton, Lucas Giolito and Joey Gallo are the three top preseason candidates for The Diamond Gem, the title bestowed upon the nation's most outstanding baseball player based on on-field performance.

With spring right around the corner, ESPNHS has begun its search for the nation’s top high school baseball player, regardless of school year and based solely on on-field performance.

Every two weeks, we’ll rank the nine players in order in The Starting Nine. And at the end of the season, whoever is in the top spot will be crowned The Diamond Gem, our award given to the nation’s most outstanding player.

So to kick it off, we give you our preseason Starting Nine. Leading the way is Harvard-Westlake (Studio City, Calif.) senior Lucas Giolito, the nation’s top right-handed pitcher who dominated opposing hitters last season and has looked very much like an early first-round pick in the early going this year.

The Starting Nine: Preseason

1. Lucas Giolito, Harvard-Westlake (Studio City, Calif.)
RHP, Senior
Why he’s here: The nation’s top right-hander, Giolito went 9-0 last year with a 1.00 ERA with 78 strikeouts in 70.1 innings. He also pitched four complete games, three of which were shutouts.

2. Joey Gallo, Bishop Gorman (Las Vegas)
1B/3B/RHP, Senior
Why he’s here: The top player on the top team in the POWERADE FAB 50, Gallo hit .471 last year with 25 homers and 78 RBIs while leading Gorman to its sixth straight state title. He also was 3-1 on the bump with a 1.12 ERA and 29 strikeouts in 18.2 innings.

3. Byron Buxton, Appling County (Baxley, Ga.)
OF, Senior
Why he’s here: The nation’s top outfielder and potential top 10 pick in June’s MLB draft flirted with the .600 mark last season (he finished hitting .594) and clubbed 10 homers while driving in 48 runs.

4. Lance McCullers Jr., Jesuit (Tampa, Fla.)
RHP/SS, Senior
Why he’s here: The hard-throwing right-hander (he’s hit 100 mph on the radar gun) went 5-2 with a 1.71 ERA and 70 strikeouts in 45 innings last season for the Class 4A state runner-up. He also hit .422 with seven homers and 24 RBIs.

5. Kayden Porter, Spanish Fork (Utah)
RHP/OF, Senior
Why he’s here: Porter picked up ESPNHS National Junior of the Year honors last year after leading Spanish Fork to its third straight state title. He went 9-1 with 85 strikeouts in 59 innings and hit .570 with 14 homers and 50 RBIs.

6. Gavin Cecchini, Barbe (Lake Charles, La.)
SS, Senior
Why he’s here: Leader of Louisiana powerhouse picked up Gatorade State Player of the Year honors last season after hitting .548 with 10 homers, 41 RBIs and 32 stolen bases.

7. Max Fried, Harvard-Westlake (Studio City, Calif.)
LHP, Senior
Why he’s here: The nation’s top lefty, Fried went 7-3 with a 1.31 ERA and 100 strikeouts in 69.2 innings at Montclair Prep (Van Nuys, Calif.). He transferred to Harvard-Westlake after Montclair Prep cut its athletics program.

8. Kyle Carter, Columbus (Ga.)
OF/LHP, Senior
Why he’s here: Carter, who starred on the Columbus team that won the 2006 Little League World Series, set a single-season school record with 22 homers last season to help Columbus earn its second straight state title and 11th overall. He also hit .467 with 47 RBIs and went 9-4 on the mound with a 2.33 ERA.

9. Courtney Hawkins, Carroll (Corpus Christi, Texas)
RHP/OF, Senior
Why he’s here: The leader of the No. 4 team in the POWERADE FAB 50, Hawkins led Carroll to a state title as a sophomore and the state semifinals last season. As a junior, he hit .410 with 15 homers, 49 RBIs and 22 stolen bases and was 10-2 with a 2.35 ERA and 81 strikeouts.

ON DECK
Another 25 players we’re tracking to begin the 2012 season

OF Albert Almora, Mater Academy (Hialeah Gardens, Fla.), Sr.
RHP Freddy Avis, Menlo School (Atherton, Calif.), Sr.
1B Keon Barnum, King (Tampa, Fla.), Sr.
RHP Ryan Burr, Highlands Ranch (Colo.), Sr.
C Zach Collins, American Heritage (Plantation, Fla.), Jr.
C Clint Coulter, Union (Camas, Wash.), Sr.
OF David Dahl, Oak Mountain (Birmingham, Ala.), Sr.
RHP Ty Hensley, Santa Fe (Edmond, Okla.), Sr.
3B/RHP Carson Kelly, Westview (Portland, Ore.), Sr.
LHP Nathan Kirby, James River (Midlothian, Va.), Sr.
C Jeremy Martinez, Mater Dei (Santa Ana, Calif.), Jr.
C/SS/RHP Wyatt Mathisen, Calallen (Corpus Christi, Texas), Sr.
OF/RHP Ty Moore, Mater Dei (Santa Ana, Calif.), Sr.
3B/OF Mitch Nay, Hamilton (Chandler, Ariz.), Sr.
1B/RHP Matt Olson, Parkview (Lilburn, Ga.), Sr.
3B Rio Ruiz, Bishop Amat (La Puente, Calif.), Sr.
SS Addison Russell, Pace (Fla.), Sr.
RHP Lucas Sims, Brookwood (Snellville, Ga.), Sr.
LHP Matt Smoral, Solon (Ohio), Sr.
1B/RHP Jake Thompson, Rockwall-Heath (Heath, Texas), Sr.
RHP/OF Keegan Thompson, Cullman (Ala.), Jr.
C Stryker Trahan, Acadiana (Lafayette, La.), Sr.
LHP Hunter Virant, Camarillo (Calif.), Sr.
RHP Walker Weickel, Olympia (Orlando, Fla.), Sr.
OF/LHP Jesse Winker, Olympia (Orlando, Fla.), Sr.

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