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.)
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.)
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)
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)
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.)
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.)
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.)
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.)
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.)
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.
Ty Hensley, Santa Fe (Edmond, Okla.)
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.
No. 3 Joey Gallo, Bishop Gorman (Las Vegas)
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.)
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)
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.