High-SchoolBaseball: Jack Flaherty

Top prospects shine at H.S. Invitational

April, 1, 2012
4/01/12
1:31
AM ET
Baseball NHSIAndrew Craft/ESPNHSMater Dei (Santa Ana, Calif.) junior catcher Jeremy Martinez celebrates the Monarchs' win over Harvard-Westlake in the championship of the inaugural USA Baseball H.S. Invitational.
CARY, N.C. -- From a scouting perspective, the problem with high school baseball is the lack of competition top draft prospects face throughout the season. With prospects spread out across the country, the cream of the crop are rarely matched up against one another, which makes it difficult to accurately assess their skills.

That is why the USA Baseball National High School Invitational is such a welcome addition to the spring schedule. And not only by the major league scouts and front office executives who came out in droves, but also by the players who got a chance to prove themselves in a competitive environment. You’d be hard pressed to see better high school baseball played anywhere in the country. As one scout put it, “It’s the best collection of talent I’ve seen in one complex in my 20 years of doing this.”

Here’s a look at 10 prospects — in no particular order — who stood out over the four days in North Carolina.

Jeremy Martinez
Mater Dei (Santa Ana, Calif.), C, Jr.

Martinez's beautiful line-drive stroke — in addition to his hustle and leadership — was on full display throughout his team's run to the title. The USC commit also shut down the opposition's running game. Overall, the junior backstop showed once again why he’s one of the top prep prospects in the Class of 2013.

Lucas Sims
Brookwood (Snellville, Ga.), RHP, Sr.

Sims was close to unhittable in his start against Highlands Ranch on Wednesday, giving up just one knock over six innings while striking out 11. His fastball sat between 91-93 mph with a devastating curveball and a changeup that has improved since the Prospect Classic. He’s currently committed to Clemson, but there’s a real chance he’ll be taken in the first 20 picks of June's draft.

Ty Moore
Mater Dei (Santa Ana, Calif.), RHP/OF, Sr.

Moore was one of the better two-way prospects on display over the week. He shut out the vaunted Carroll lineup over five innings on Thursday using a fastball with plenty of movement and a breaking-ball that he commanded well all day. He made good reads on the ball in the outfield, and he showed some pop at the plate by hitting one of the longer homers of the event.

Max Fried
Harvard-Westlake (Studio City, Calif.), LHP, Sr.

At No. 4 in the ESPN 100, Fried was one of the most-hyped prospects coming into the event. He didn’t disappoint. The left-handed ace struggled early against Parkview (Lilburn, Ga.), but the UCLA pledge ended up throwing a complete game and striking out eight. He hit 94 on the gun and showed the best breaking-ball of any pitcher in the field.

Arden Pabst
Harvard-Westlake (Studio City, Calif.), C, Jr.

Another impressive SoCal catcher from the Class of 2013, Pabst showed impressive pitch recognition and a swing that should be conducive to power as he gets stronger. Behind the plate, he demonstrated solid catch-throw skills. It shouldn’t surprise anyone if Pabst and Martinez are off the draft board very early in 2013.

Courtney Hawkins
Carroll (Corpus Christi, Texas), OF/RHP, Sr.

When you throw a shutout and hit a home run in a 1-0 victory, you know you've had yourself a pretty good day. Hawkins did that Thursday, and he did it against Florida power Gulliver Prep (Pinecrest, Fla.). Hawkins' fastball sat in the low-90s all game, and he touched 94. His combination of arm strength, speed and raw power makes him one of the top prospects for the 2012 draft.

Brandon Lopez
American Heritage (Plantation, Fla.), SS, Sr.

There was no better defensive shortstop over the week than Lopez. The Miami recruit made dazzling plays going to his left and right, and he showed plenty of arm strength for the position as well. He was no slouch with the stick, either, but it’s his glove that makes Lopez such a valuable commodity.

Ryan Burr
Highlands Ranch (Colo.), RHP, Sr.

Burr battled Sims neck and neck for five innings on Wednesday, but some defensive miscues ultimately led to the lopsided final score of 7-0. The Arizona State signee sat in the low-90s and touched 93. Additionally, he showed good commanded of both his fastball and hard-biting breaking ball.

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

Georgia's Gatorade State Player of the Year in 2011, Olson was a dominant force on the mound and at the plate during the tournament. He shut down a strong George Washington (New York) lineup on Wednesday and then crushed a Fried fastball for a homer on Thursday.

Rock Rucker
Russell County (Seale, Ala.), OF, Sr.

In addition to having one of the best names out there, Rucker is an impressive athlete who turned a lot of heads at the event. The left-handed hitting OF has plenty of arm strength — his fastball has been clocked in the 90s — and there’s raw power and plenty of bat-speed in his stroke as well.

Honorable Mentions
Joey Gallo, Bishop Gormon (Las Vegas), 3B/RHP, Sr.
Jack Flaherty, Harvard-Westlake (Studio City, Calif.), RHP, Soph.
Adrian Marin, Gulliver Prep (Pinecrest, Fla.), SS, Sr.
Ryan McMahon, Mater Dei (Santa Ana, Calif.), 3B, Jr.
Ivan Pelaez, Gulliver Prep (Pinecrest, Fla.), LHP, Sr.

Christopher Crawford is the founder and executive editor of MLB Draft Insider and a contributor to Prospect Insider. Follow him on Twitter @CrawfordChrisV.
Max FriedCourtesy of Matt LaCour/Harvard-WestlakeSenior lefty Max Fried will lead Harvard-Westlake (Studio City, Calif.) into this week's USA Baseball National High School Invitational
Four days, 16 teams, 32 games -- however you slice it there is going to be a lot of baseball played between Wednesday and Saturday during the USA Baseball National High School Invitational.

But the event isn’t just about quantity. There’s plenty of quality on hand. Six teams in the POWERADE FAB 50 made the trip to Cary, N.C., along with 10 players in the ESPN 100. The tournament kicks off with American Heritage (Plantation, Fla.) facing Oxford (Ala.) Wednesday at 11 a.m. ET, and it culminates with the championship on Saturday at noon ET in a game that will be streamed live on MLB.com.

Here’s a look at the top storylines to follow as the event unfolds.

Life without No. 1

Harvard-Westlake (Studio City, Calif.) had a dream rotation lined up for the spring with top right-hander (and No. 1 overall prospect) Lucas Giolito and top southpaw Max Fried both on the roster. But in his third start of the season on March 6, Giolito left the game with what was later diagnosed as a sprained ulnar collateral ligament in his right elbow. UCL injuries lead to Tommy John surgery, so Giolito did the wise thing and shut it down. He remains extremely unlikely to pitch again this season.

Fortunately for the Wolverines, fate dealt them a second ace for the 2012 season. Fried transferred to Harvard-Westlake after his old school, Montclair Prep (Van Nuys, Calif.), announced it was cutting all extracurricular activities just a couple months before the school year began. Rated the nation’s No. 4 overall prospect, Fried struggled a bit early in the season but has been nails since Giolito went down. In his most recent start last Friday, Fried fanned 14 over five innings in a 9-3 win against Lancaster (Calif.).

Stepping into the No. 2 spot in the rotation is sophomore RHP Jack Flaherty. In the second game of the doubleheader against Lancaster last Friday, Flaherty earned the win on the mound and also smacked a home run. So yeah, don’t count Harvard-Westlake out quite yet.

Titletown

The players on this year’s Columbus (Ga.) baseball team know a little something about winning. In addition to claiming the past two Class AAA state crowns, the Blue Devils boast four players who were on Columbus’ Little League World Series championship team in 2006. Kyle Carter, J.T. Phillips, Josh Lester and Ryan Lang keyed the Little League run, and they haven’t slowed down since.

Carter and Phillips have both pledged to Georgia, but they’d undoubtedly love to add a new piece of hardware to their already loaded trophy cases before they take the next step in their careers. It’s no long shot, either, as Columbus currently sits at No. 3 in the POWERADE FAB 50.

Thawing Out

Of the 16 teams in the tournament, 14 hail from traditional baseball hotbeds. Florida, California and Georgia are each represented by three squads, Alabama will send two, and Texas, Nevada and North Carolina send a team apiece. The remaining two teams don’t quite fit the warm-weather bill, however.

George Washington hails from a few blocks north of Yankee Stadium in New York City, while Highlands Ranch is located in the Denver suburbs. But just because the players on these two teams are handy with a snow shovel doesn’t mean they aren’t adept with a bat and glove as well.

George Washington features a pair of elite talents in outfielder Fernelys Sanchez and catcher Nelson Rodriguez. Sanchez fractured his fibula in a game Saturday and will miss the event, but the power bat of Rodriguez and a deep pitching staff should allow the Trojans to contend for the tournament title.

Highlands Ranch is led by right-hander Ryan Burr. The No. 72 recruit in the ESPN 100, Burr fanned a staggering 95 batters in 53 innings last spring. The Arizona State pledge will get plenty of help in North Carolina from returning All-State picks RHP/SS Tony Audino and C Adam Gauthier.

Young Money

With elite senior prospects on display like No. 4 Fried, No. 5 Joey Gallo of Bishop Gorman (Las Vegas), No. 12 Lucas Sims of Brookwood (Snellville, Ga.) and No. 26 Courtney Hawkins of Carroll (Corpus Christi, Texas), the Class of 2012 is very well represented. But don’t sleep on the talent from the Class of 2013.

Leading the way for the juniors is a pair of catchers: Zach Collins from American Heritage (Plantation, Fla.) and Jeremy Martinez from Mater Dei (Santa Ana, Calif.). Collins is hitting a team-best .500 so far this season through 16 games, while Martinez is coming off a sophomore campaign in which he batted .388 and drove in 32 runs.

Parkview (Lilburn, Ga.) outfielder Josh Hart and Columbus (Ga.) righty Hunter Swilling are another couple juniors to watch. Meanwhile, Sarasota (Fla.) junior outfielder Jason Sierra has already pledged to Vanderbilt.

Sleeper?

Not a single player from Oxford (Ala.) has been mentioned thus far, but the Yellow Jackets have the kind of pitching depth needed to make some noise at an event like this in which teams have to play four games in four days.

A pair of SEC-bound senior right-handers lead the staff in Tucker Simpson (Florida) and Jackson Stephens (Alabama). Each is also dangerous at the plate, but it’s senior outfielder Matthew Goodson who’s the most lethal with the lumber. The Alabama pledge blasted 22 long balls last spring.

Senior hurlers Zach Lovvorn and Frazier Taylor each won seven games last season and provide serious depth at the back end of the rotation. And then there’s Trent Simpson, a budding superstar for Oxford in the junior class.

Add it up, and that just might be the winning formula.

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