The Starting Nine: June 7th edition

June, 7, 2012
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.)
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)
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.
Kasey Hill and Rajon RondoKelly Kline/Getty Images and Brian Babineau/NBAE via Getty ImagesKasey Hill, the No. 6 player in the ESPN 100, enjoys being compared to Celtics superstar Rajon Rondo.
This summer, ESPNHS will sit down with some of the nation's elite players to break down their game, talk about the inevitable comparisons to college and pro players and get their take on who they pattern their game after.

Player: Kasey Hill
School: Montverde Academy (Montverde, Fla.)
Position: Point guard
Height/weight: 6-0/170
ESPN 100: No. 6

Who is Kasey Hill?

The term "pure point guard" is in vogue right now, and it's a label that describes Hill perfectly. A textbook floor general, Hill is always in complete command on the court. As a junior last season, he posted 15.4 points and 7.2 assists per game while guiding Montverde Academy to the finals of the National High School Invitational and a No. 9 ranking in the POWERADE FAB 50. But more impressive than the numbers is the way Hill controls the game.

"I don't get rattled under pressure," says Hill, a Florida recruit. "No matter what the defense is doing, I don't let them rush me into making decisions. I take my time and put my teammates in position to make plays."

Scouting report:

Sure, Hill can slither to the rim for lay-ups or step back and bury jumpers, but he's not a scorer -- he's a point guard first and foremost. Few high school players see the court the way Hill does, and he has the natural athleticism to make difficult passes, either on the break or in the half-court. According to ESPN Recruiting Nation, Hill can "get to wherever he wants on the court," combining a "tight and fluid" handle with "excellent court vision and feel for the game." His jump shot isn't perfect yet, but he shows good enough form to believe he'll eventually become a productive outside shooter. He should fit in perfectly at Florida, where coach Billy Donovan likes to run a guard-heavy spread offense.

Most frequent comparisons: Rajon Rondo, Kyrie Irving, John Wall

ESPNHS comparison: Rajon Rondo

Hill's coach at Montverde Academy, Kevin Boyle, knows a thing or two about point guards -- he also coached Kyrie Irving in high school. And some scouts see similarities between the two players, pointing to Hill as a mid-tempo point guard who can cruise into the lane at will. But we see Hill as a more natural and creative distributor, someone who can draw defenders and then whip a wraparound pass at an impossible angle and hit an open teammate in stride. Someone like Rajon Rondo, the Boston Celtics' triple-double machine. Hill can push the tempo when the opportunity is there, and his slick dribbling ability allows him to cave in defenses just like Rondo.

Kasey's comparison: Rajon Rondo

Hill says the two comparisons he hears most often are Rajon Rondo and John Wall, and he particularly enjoys the Rondo resemblance.

"People say that the way I pass is kind of like Rajon Rondo, and the way I move my feet is like John Wall," says Hill. "I love Rondo, and to say my passing is like his is like the highest level you can get. I love John Wall, too. I don't think I'm anywhere near their level yet, but I try to take things from them and put it in my game."

Follow Mike Grimala on Twitter (@MGrimalaESPN).
Lance McCullersMike Janes/Four Seam Images via AP ImagesGatorade National Player of the Year Lance McCullers of Jesuit (Tampa, Fla.) slipped to the Astros in the sandwich round likely due to signability concerns.
High school prospects figured heavily into Monday night's MLB draft, with Puerto Rican prep shortstop Carlo Correa going No. 1 overall in a surprise pick by the Houston Astros and Georgia outfielder Byron Buxton going No. 2 to the Minnesota Twins. In all, 35 high schoolers were drafted out of the 60 picks on Day 1.

Correa became the first Puerto Rican player to be picked No. 1 in the MLB draft. The 6-foot-4, 190-pound native of Santa Isabel has a powerful bat and good speed. Given his size and position, some scouts couldn't help but compare him to a young Alex Rodriguez. Buxton also earned some pretty impressive comparisons throughout the draft process, with names like Justin Upton and Andrew McCutchen being thrown around. The 6-1, 175-pound outfielder burst onto the scene with a number of impressive showings last summer and held strong with his performance at Appling County (Baxley, Ga.) this spring.

Correa wasn't the only high schooler from Puerto Rico who heard his name called Monday, as the Twins used the first pick of the sandwich round on lanky right-hander Jose Orlando Berrios and the Los Angeles Dodgers used the 51st pick on Jesmuel Valentin-Diaz, a teammate of Correa's at the Puerto Rico Baseball Academy.

Many had Lance McCullers Jr. from Jesuit (Tampa, Fla.) pegged as a possible top-10 pick, but his slide into the second round was one of the biggest stories of the evening. McCullers, a 6-2, 205-pound right-handed pitcher, ended up being selected 41st overall by the same team that picked Correa -- the Astros. McCullers, the Gatorade National Player of the Year, may have slipped due to high signing bonus demands, and the $1.25 million assigned to the No. 41 pick surely won't be enough to sway him from his commitment to Florida. The Astros, who have $11.2 million to spend total among their first 11 draft picks, will have to do some creative budgeting if they want to sign both Correa and McCullers Jr.

High school teammates factored prominently into Day 1 of the draft. Harvard-Westlake (Studio City, Calif.) pitching aces Max Fried and Lucas Giolito were both selected in the first round. Fried, a 6-3, 170-pound left-hander, heard his name called seventh overall by the San Diego Padres. Fried transferred to Harvard-Westlake for his senior year after his old school cut its athletics department, and after a dominant spring it's no surprise he went in the top 10 picks.

Giolito is a different story. Considered the No. 1 prep prospect entering the spring, the 6-6, 230-pound power righty was sidelined a few weeks into the season with a sprained ulnar-collateral ligament in his right elbow. He only recently began throwing again, and draft experts were split as to whether a team would take the risk and select him in Round 1. The answer to that question turned out to be yes, as the Washington Nationals picked him 16th overall. His pick is slotted at $2.1 million, but it may take more than that to sign him away from his commitment to UCLA, especially considering he was at one time projected to earn a signing bonus of at least twice that much.

Olympia (Orlando, Fla.) teammates Jesse Winker and Walker Weickel were both picked in the sandwich round, with Winker going 49th to the Cincinnati Reds and Weickel going 55th to the Padres. Winker, a sweet-swinging outfielder, had seen his stock surge of late. He hit close to .500 in his senior season with an OBP of .649. There was a time earlier this spring when it looked like Weickel was a sure bet to be picked higher than Winker, possibly even in the first half of the first round. But concerns about diminishing velocity pushed Weickel down draft boards.

In addition to Fried and Weickel, the Padres also grabbed prep right-hander Zach Eflin of Hagerty (Oviedo, Fla.) at No. 33. At 6-5 and 205 pounds, Eflin has a frame scouts love to go with a fastball that has been clocked in the mid-90s. A battle with triceps tendinitis earlier this spring may have hurt Eflin's stock slightly, but he could prove to be one of the steals of the draft. It may be a tough task for San Diego to sign all three of these high-upside selections, but inking even two of them would have to be considered a success.

A few other teams also went high school heavy Monday night. The Toronto Blue Jays used four of their five picks on preps, including first-rounder D.J. Davis from Stone County (Wiggins, Miss.) at No. 17. The Rangers grabbed a trio of prep prospects, with Lewis Brinson of Coral Springs (Fla.) leading the way at No. 29. The Chicago White Sox were doing flips over their draft, as they snagged Carroll (Corpus Christi, Texas) outfielder/pitcher Courtney Hawkins 13th overall (he celebrated by doing a back flip live on TV). With their only other pick of the evening, they grabbed Keon Barnum of King (Tampa, Fla.) -- arguably the high schooler with the best raw power in the draft.

Stray observations

--Solon (Ohio) lefty Matt Smoral had injury issues his senior year — he missed most of the season with a stress fracture in his foot. When healthy, he was considered a potential top 10 talent. Toronto selected him with the No. 50 pick.

--Joey Gallo seems like a perfect fit for the Texas Rangers at No. 39 with his power. Gallo hit .509 with 21 homers and 80 RBIs in his final season at Bishop Gorman (Las Vegas).

--Parkview (Lilburn, Ga.) star Matt Olson played his best ball toward the end of the season in leading the Panthers to their second straight state title. Perhaps that played a role in him landing with Oakland at No. 47.

--Hamilton (Chandler, Ariz.) third baseman Mitch Nay saw his numbers drop this season as he saw fewer good pitches to hit. But there’s no doubt the Blue Jays got a tremendous talent at No. 58 — Nay still impressed enough to earn Gatorade State Player of the Year honors this season.

McCullers Jr. has converted many skeptics

May, 25, 2012

Until recently, the experts who project where baseball prospects will be drafted and how they’ll be used saw Jesuit (Tampa, Fla.) senior right-hander Lance McCullers Jr. as a future relief pitcher.

The idea made his father and his coach incredulous.

“I don’t understand how you classify someone as a reliever” before they get to the majors, said his dad, Lance Sr., himself a former MLB relief pitcher.

“I always thought he had starter potential,” added Jesuit coach Richie Warren, “and this year he’s proven he’s a starter and should be drafted as a starter.”

For his part, McCullers didn’t worry about the skeptics. He knew what people said or predicted was largely out of his control.

“I can look up all these mock drafts, but nothing I do is going to change what’s going to happen,” McCullers said.

Although, that’s not entirely true. What McCullers could control — what he did on the mound this spring — might very well change what happens during the first day of the MLB draft. McCullers went 13-0 with a 0.18 ERA, striking out 140 batters in 77.1 innings. He didn’t allow a single earned run during the regular season and led Jesuit (28-2) to the state semifinals.

In his last high school game, McCullers blanked eventual 6A champs American Heritage (Plantation, Fla.) over six innings in the semis before being pulled — and watching his team fall, 3-0, in extra innings. Jesuit, which was ranked No. 1 in the country prior to the loss, will still likely finish in the top 10 nationally in the POWERADE FAB 50.

Dominant as it was, his performance this season didn’t come as a huge surprise. He is rated the No. 15 prospect in the ESPN 100 and was an All-American last summer. He also earned the prestigious Jackie Robinson Award, which is presented to the nation’s top rising senior prospect.

That being the case, how was it possible he was deemed a future short-innings guy? His dad has a theory: “Because I was a reliever, they didn’t give him any chance to be a starter,” said McCullers Sr.

But perhaps there’s another explanation: The scouts and talent evaluators — at ESPN and elsewhere — had every reason to project McCullers as a reliever, because until this year that’s what he was.

Prior to this spring, McCullers had never been a full-time starter for the Tigers. In his first two years on varsity, he worked mostly as a closer, posting a 0.39 ERA and helping Jesuit advance to the state title game as a sophomore. He did a little bit of everything last year but started just nine of the team’s 34 games, fanning 79 in 52 innings of work.

That he had never pitched long innings was by design. Jesuit has had strong pitching since McCullers made the team as a freshman (one of just two players to do so in the past 15 years, according to Warren), including Daniel Gibson, Jesuit’s ace in 2009 and 2010 and now a sophomore at the University of Florida. McCullers was also one of the team’s top position players — he hit .422 with seven home runs as a junior — and the thought was that he might be drafted as such.

It was evident early on that he had a first-round arm, however, and the scouts didn’t bring their radar guns to test his bat speed. McCullers was throwing in the 90s as a sophomore and was frequently in the upper-90s as a junior. The question became whether he could sustain that velocity over the course of a game or a season.

Some scouts decided the answer was no, that his mechanics lent themselves more to the bullpen. So heading into this season, it was up to McCullers to change their minds.

To prepare for his first season as a full-time starter, McCullers worked out six times a week during the offseason. Monday, Wednesday and Friday were pitching-related: mechanics and building arm strength. There was a lot of medicine ball work. Tuesday and Thursday were dedicated to the gym, in particular focusing on adding muscle to his legs.

With his long-time trainer, Orlando Chinea, and friend Jose Fernandez, the former Alonso (Tampa, Fla.) ace and a first-round pick by the Marlins last June, McCullers would also march into the woods and chop down trees, utilizing muscles unlikely to be touched in normal workout. He didn’t touch a baseball the entire offseason, though he did use a softball to strengthen his shoulder.

Warren never doubted McCullers would be effective. But with the added workload, there were questions of “how he was going to deal with in-game adversity and how he was going to be able to get through innings if he had guys on base,” the coach said.

And while flirting with 100 mph on the gun is great, McCullers needed to show he could maintain both speed and command in the later innings. A knock on McCullers was that he relied too much on his fastball — which as a closer may have been true — so his other pitches would be more important that ever.

McCullers left no doubts. He pitched well with men on base. He walked fewer batters than last year despite pitching 25 more innings. He threw six complete games. In one game, Warren said, McCullers was clocked throwing 98 in the first inning and 97 in the seventh. Because of that heat, his changeup and curve were devastating.

The kicker is that what may have hurt McCullers among prognosticators before the season began — his lack of starting experience — could now be viewed by prospective MLB teams as a plus: He simply doesn’t have a ton of wear and tear on that right arm.

“I know he’s a lot fresher than probably any kid in the country,” said McCullers Sr.

McCullers wouldn’t label the season a total success, since the Tigers came up short of their goal of winning a state championship. The face of the program and a three-year captain, McCullers wanted that title to cement his legacy. Falling short is going to sting for awhile.

But individually, McCullers was nothing short of phenomenal, and he likely put to rest the notion that he’s destined for the bullpen. Keith Law has McCullers going No. 11 overall in his latest mock draft.

He could go higher or drop some. He might wind up eschewing the pro route at this stage, instead heading to Gainesville to play for the Gators. The road to the majors is a long and uncertain one, but McCullers knows the direction he wants to be headed.

“I just want to be the best,” he said. “I want to be the best player to ever play this game. Is that reachable? Who knows. But as long as I’m able to go out there and strap on my cleats … that’s what keeps me motivated that’s what keeps me going.”

The Starting Nine: May 24th Edition

May, 24, 2012
Baseball NHSIAndrew Craft/ESPNHSMater Dei (Santa Ana, Calif.) senior right-hander Ty Moore has worked himself into The Starting Nine discussion.
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.

We’re coming down to the wire in The Starting Nine and several players are making their case for the top of the order. Byron Buxton continues to shine on both the mound and at the plate, while Lance McCullers Jr. completed one of the more dominant pitching campaigns in recent memory.

Meanwhile, Wyatt Mathisen has powered Calallen (Corpus Christi, Texas) to the No. 1 ranking in the POWERADE FAB 50.

Making the case to join the fray is Mater Dei (Santa Ana, Calif.) senior right-hander Ty Moore, who earlier this year helped lead the Monarchs to the USA Baseball H.S. Invitational crown.

The Starting Nine — May 24th Edition

Through games of May 21

1. Byron Buxton, Appling County (Baxley, Ga.)
OF/RHP, Senior
Previous spot:
No. 1
What he’s done: Buxton has strengthened his hold on the top spot and has led Appling County to the Class AA state finals in the process. He’s hitting .523 with a .639 on-base percentage, three homers and 31 RBIs and is 9-0 on the mound with a 1.78 ERA and 125 strikeouts in 67 innings. Appling County begins its state finals series against Pierce County (Blackshear, Ga.) on Saturday.

2. Lance McCullers Jr., Jesuit (Tampa, Fla.)
Previous spot:
No. 2
What he’s done: McCullers’ squad fell to American Heritage (Plantation, Fla.), in the Class 5A state semifinals. However, McCullers pitched strong in defeat, striking out nine in six innings without allowing a run. Overall, the potential first-round pick delivered a monster campaign, going 13-0 with a 0.18 ERA and 140 strikeouts in 77.1 innings. He allowed two earned runs on the year and opponents managed just a .106 average against him. McCullers also contributed two homers and 21 RBIs at the dish.

3. Wyatt Mathisen, Calallen (Corpus Christi, Texas)
C/SS/RHP, Senior
Previous Spot:
No. 3
What he’s done: Calallen sits at No. 1 in this week’s POWERADE FAB 50 thanks in large part to the work of Mathisen on the mound and at the plate. In a sweep of Ray (Corpus Christi, Texas) in the Class 4A regional quarterfinals, Mathisen went 2-for-3 with an RBI in the first game and then pitched a shutout with eight strikeouts to clinch the series. Overall, he’s hitting .447 with 16 doubles, three homers and 40 RBIs and is 11-0 on the bump with a 1.08 ERA, seven saves and 86 strikeouts in 65 innings.

4. Kyle Carter, Columbus (Ga.)
OF/LHP, Senior
Previous spot:
No. 4
What he’s done: Carter and his Columbus teammates will go for another state crown starting on Saturday against Ringgold (Ga.) in the Class AAA state finals series. Carter is hitting .326 with 14 homers and 31 RBIs and has been walked 25 times. He’s 11-2 on the mound with a 0.80 ERA and 110 strikeouts in 79 innings.

5. Gavin Cecchini, Barbe (Lake Charles, La.)
SS, Senior
Previous Spot:
No. 5
What he’s done: Cecchini sparked Barbe to its sixth state title with a 3-2 win over Archbishop Rummel (Metairie, La.) in the Class 5A state championship. Cecchini batted with .467 with a .566 on-base percentage during the postseason and finished the season hitting .413 with a .527 OBP, seven homers, 32 RBIs and 31 stolen bases. Those numbers are even more impressive when you consider Cecchini used a wood bat for most of the year.

6. Courtney Hawkins, Carroll (Corpus Christi, Texas)
Previous spot: No. 7

What he’s done: Hawkins is hitting .424 with a .569 on-base percentage, 10 homers, 37 RBIs and 17 stolen bases. He’s 3-2 on the mound with a 0.99 ERA and 46 strikeouts in 28.1 innings. Hawkins and FAB 50 No. 13 Carroll will take on FAB 50 No. 15 Sharyland (Mission, Texas) in the Class 5A regional semifinals on Saturday.

7. Ty Hensley, Santa Fe (Edmond, Okla.)
RHP, Senior
Previous spot: No. 9
What he’s done: Hensley tossed a one-hitter and struck out 13 as Santa Fe defeated Stillwater (Okla.) 4-1 in the Class 6A state quarterfinals. Santa Fe fell to Broken Arrow (Okla.) in the state semis the next day. Hensley finished the year undefeated on the mound at 10-0 and struck out a school-record 111 batters in only 55.1 innings to go with a 1.51 ERA. He also hit .447 with 10 homers and 42 RBIs

8. Joey Gallo, Bishop Gorman (Las Vegas)
3B/RHP, Senior
Previous spot:
On Deck
What he’s done: Gallo led Gorman to its seven consecutive state title while putting up astounding power numbers along the way. In 40 games, the potential first-round pick hit .509 with 21 homers and 80 RBIs. Gallo had four multi-homer outings, including a four-homer game against Clark (Las Vegas).

9. Ty Moore, Mater Dei (Santa Ana, Calif.)
RHP, Senior
Previous Spot:
Not ranked
What he’s done: Moore has been outstanding for the FAB 50 No. 7 Monarchs. He’s 11-1 on the mound with a 0.81 ERA ad 65 strikeouts in 60.1 innings, fanning 14 in a 3-1 win over Rio Mesa (Oxnard, Calif.) in the first round of the CIF Southern Section Division I playoffs. He’s also hitting .415 with three homers and 23 RBIs.

Dropped Out

No. 6 Walker Weickel, Olympia (Orlando, Fla.)
RHP, Senior

Weickel had a strong year, going 12-1. But that one loss came in the Class 8A regional finals when then-FAB 50 No. 1 Olympia was upset by Spruce Creek (Port Orange, Fla.) 8-1.

No. 8 Max Fried, Harvard-Westlake (Studio City, Calif.)
LHP, Senior

The nation’s top left-hander was 8-3 with a 2.41 ERA and 111 strikeouts in 69.2 innings, but he struggled in his last regular-season start, allowing six runs in 3.2 innings in a loss to Loyola (Los Angeles).

On Deck

Taylor Hawkins
C, Carl Albert (Midwest City, Okla.)
What he's done: Hawkins helped Carl Albert win its third state title in six years by hitting a solo shot in a 6-2 win over Claremore (Okla.) in the Class 5A state final. It was Hawkins' 28th homer of the season and 74th of his career. The Oklahoma recruit also hit .391 this season with 81 RBIs. Carl Albert is No. 19 in this week's FAB 50.

Florida Weekly Baseball Rankings: Jesuit falls

May, 22, 2012
Another week, another Florida team dropped from the No. 1 spot in the national POWERADE FAB 50. Last week it was Olympia that fell, suffering its first loss of the season to eventual Class 8A state champ Spruce Creek. Jesuit assumed pole position in the state and national rankings, but the Tigers fell to Plantation American Heritage, the eventual state champ in 6A, in the state semis last week.

Florida's new No. 1, Bishop Verot, will take on Monsignor Pace in the Class 4A semifinals on Wednesday. If the Vikings can prevail in that game and again on Thursday in the final, they'll finish tops in the state and top 3 in the nation, with an outside chance at a national championship. Plantation American Heritage, Pensacola Catholic and Jesuit could all conceivably finish in the top 10.

Here's how this week's top five shakes out (last week's ranking in parentheses):

1 (2) Bishop Verot, 28-2
Bishop Verot was off last week and will take on Monsignor Pace (Miami) in the Class 4A state semifinals on Wednesday.

2 (3) Plantation American Heritage, 27-4
After their 3-0 win in eight innings over previous FAB 50 No. 1 Jesuit (Tampa) in the Class 5A state semifinals, the Patriots blanked Ponte Vedra 9-0 in the Class 5A state final. Zach Collins' grand slam sparked the offense, while Alex Seibold allowed only one hit in a six-inning stint.

3 (1) Jesuit, 28-2
The Tigers fell to No. 2 American Heritage 3-0 in eight innings in the Class 5A state semifinals. Jesuit managed just one hit off American Heritage pitcher Shaun Anderson, while its own ace, Lance McCullers Jr., didn't allow a run in six innings of work.

4 (4) Pensacola Catholic, 25-3
The Crusaders were idle last week and will play Bishop Moore (Orlando) in the Class 4A state semifinals on Wednesday.

5 (7) Spruce Creek, 28-4
The Hawks won their first state title with a 7-1 Class 8A finals' win over Miami Columbus and ended season on an 11-game win streak. Griffin Fuller (9-1) got the win with six strong innings on the mound. This is the team that earlier won regional title with upset of national FAB 50 No. 1 Olympia.

Click here for the full POWERADE Florida Weekly Baseball Rankings, including capsules on the state's top 20 teams.

Baseball has been a lifeline for Zach Eflin

May, 11, 2012
Zach EflinCliff Welch/Icon SMIAfter taking up baseball as a kid to escape a difficult home life, Hagerty (Oviedo, Fla.) senior pitcher Zach Eflin is now a top MLB draft prospect.

As Hagerty (Oviedo, Fla.) coach Jered Goodwin scanned his bench for relief pitching options in the middle innings of the district title game two years ago, he kept coming back to Zach Eflin.

With the game on the verge of being put out of reach by a powerful Oviedo (Fla.) team, asking a sophomore to stop the bleeding was daunting. Asking a sophomore who had only recently been called up to varsity and who had quit the team a few months earlier was downright crazy. But with future MLB draft pick A.J. Cole on the hill for Oviedo, Goodwin knew he needed more than just strong relief pitching -- he needed a miracle.

He signaled for Eflin to warm up.

"I was a little nervous in the bullpen," Eflin recalls. "I mean, knowing A.J. Cole would be a high draft pick, I'm looking at going up against a full-grown man."

Thing is, Eflin had done plenty of growing up himself -- mostly against his own will. That’s why he looked unfazed on the mound that night, retiring nine of the 10 batters he faced to open the door for his team’s triumphant comeback win. It also explains why two years later, the right-handed pitcher is the No. 14 senior prospect in the ESPN 100 and a likely early-round pick in the June MLB draft.

It was the type of growing up that no kid should be forced to endure. But the resilient Eflin has managed to turn the burden into a blessing.

Like most baseball players, Eflin's love for the sport stemmed from a game of catch with his dad. But the pastime that evolved into his passion was as much an opportunity for bonding as it was a distraction.

"My mother was an alcoholic, so my dad thought baseball was a good way to do some father-son bonding and give me a break from that environment," Eflin says.

Some days it worked. When he had a little league game, Eflin could take refuge on the field, forgetting about his problems at home. But on other days, when he came home to see his mom passed out on the floor, Eflin was reminded of his nightmarish circumstances.

"As a kid, it put me in a bad mood to see her like that," says Eflin, who currently has little contact with his mother. "My dad was working two jobs to support us. But when he was gone, it was just me and my two sisters living off each other. I would look forward to baseball so much because it was the only thing that got my mind off it all."

At home, Eflin learned what he never wanted to be. On the baseball field, he began to positively channel his anger and discovered what he could be instead.

"On the positive side, it helped push him to want to go to the next level," says his father, Larry. "It taught him that when you work hard for something, make it mean something so you don't sit back and let it go to waste. That's why his original goal going into high school was to be good enough to go to any school of any size on a baseball scholarship."

In his coach’s eyes, it didn't take long for Eflin to reach that level of talent. After sizing him up as an eighth- and ninth-grader, Goodwin knew he had a star on his hands. A star batter, that is.

"We actually thought he was going to be a hitter," says Goodwin, who also coached Eflin on the FTB Mizuno travel squad. "He had soft hands in the field and while he had a good arm and could throw a ton of strikes, he would short-arm his throws a little bit. So the impression was he was going to swing the stick for us.

“But then he hit this growth spurt and started improving his velocity and mechanics as a pitcher. He made some strides where his pitching surpassed his hitting."

Eflin's evolution, however, came to screeching halt in the fall of his sophomore year, when he suddenly got fed up. Fed up with the conditioning and seemingly endless training. Baseball was his safe place, where he could escape the pain at home. But with fall workouts taking place four days a week and little actual baseball in between, Eflin began to resent the sport he loved.

"It was like two months of hell and I didn't want to be out there," Eflin says. "I didn't have a passion, so I left for a week. But then I started to miss the game so much."

When Eflin returned to practice, he immediately focused on regaining the trust of his teammates and coaches, all while taking his passion for training to another level. He embraced the team's weightlifting program, worked on his arm trajectory and subsequently settled into his imposing frame, which now measures 6-foot-5 and 200 pounds.

With Eflin's renewed commitment came a gradual rise in his velocity. As a sophomore, his pitches only peaked in the mid-80s, but he got by thanks to his pinpoint control. After a couple intense offseason workout programs, which included early-morning sessions of long toss and mechanical work, Eflin now has scouts drooling over his 96 mph fastballs and nasty changeups.

"He's made consistent strides throughout his whole career," Goodwin says. "One of the things that separates him from other players is he's still got so much projection. He dominates the strike zone, can put on a show in batting practice and still has so much potential."

His senior campaign only added to this belief, as Eflin went 5-2 with a 0.55 ERA and 57 strikeouts in 38 innings. This all while having 50, sometimes 60, big league scouts evaluating his every throw and movement.

In a few weeks, one major league team will draft Eflin and offer him hundreds of thousands (if not millions) of dollars to pass on his commitment to Central Florida. And though Eflin’s dream has always been to one day reach the majors, he admits that going to UCF is just as enticing.

"Family is the biggest thing," Eflin says. "I can go to UCF for a lot of reasons, like both of my grandparents live within five minutes and it's close to my dad. I've never known what it's like to have a real mother, so I'm a big family man. And I thank God every day for blessing me with these opportunities."

Eflin has plenty of reasons to forget his difficult past, what with his future gleaming so bright. But oftentimes, just as he did on that fateful night two years ago when his number was surprisingly called, Eflin draws back on this pain for perspective. For every strike he throws, he knows life can throw something greater.

"Zach does a great job of winning the next pitch," Goodwin says. "If something bad happens, he could always still go compete, even as a 15-year-old. So when I put him in that game, I knew he could go make it happen.

"Zach knows baseball isn't the hardest thing he'll have to do.”

Brandon Parker covers high school sports for ESPNHS. Follow him on Twitter @brandoncparker or email him at

The Starting Nine: May 10th Edition

May, 10, 2012
Ty HensleyScott Kurtz/ESPNHSSanta Fe (Edmond, Okla.) senior standout Ty Hensley has dominated on both the mound and at the plate to move into The Starting Nine.
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.

Another installment of The Starting Nine means more of Byron Buxton and Lance McCullers Jr. leading the way. But with postseason play underway in most states, it’s a chance for some of the other players to make their move up in the group.

One player has already done that. Stuck in the On Deck spot in recent weeks, Santa Fe (Okla.) star Ty Hensley makes the jump into The Starting Nine after starring on the mound and at the plate. Taking his spot in the On Deck circle is a familiar face — Bishop Gorman (Las Vegas) third baseman Joey Gallo, who started the year No. 2 in The Starting Nine before falling out after struggling early in the season.

The Starting Nine — May 10th Edition

Through games of May 6

1. Byron Buxton, Appling County (Baxley, Ga.)
OF/RHP, Senior

Previous spot: No. 1
What he’s done: Buxton, No. 2 in the ESPN 100 and is No. 1 in Keith Law's Top 100 for the 2012 draft, continues to rake at the dish, hitting .545 with a .649 on-base percentage, 51 runs scored, 15 doubles, three triples, two homers and 22 RBIs. He’s fanned only three times in 88 at-bats and is 31-of-32 in stolen base attempts (he was thrown out trying to steal third. His pitching has been just as vital to the success of Appling County (27-1). Buxton is 6-0 with a 1.66 ERA and 93 strikeouts in 46.1 innings.

2. Lance McCullers Jr., Jesuit (Tampa, Fla.)
Previous spot:
No. 2
What he’s done: McCullers gave up his first earned run of the season in POWERADE FAB 50 No. 2 Jesuit’s 9-2 win over Robinson (Tampa, Fla.) in the Class 5A, District 11 championship. He followed by fanning 13 in a win over Bayshore (Bradenton, Fla.) in the regional quarterfinals. McCullers is 12-0 with a 0.11 ERA and 120 strikeouts in 65.1 innings. He’s hitting .277 with two homers and 20 RBIs.

3. Wyatt Mathisen, Calallen (Corpus Christi, Texas)
C/SS/RHP, Senior
Previous Spot:
No. 3
What he’s done: Mathisen continues to be a star at both the plate and on the mound for the FAB 50 No. 4 Wildcats. He’s hitting .453 with three homers and 38 RBIs and is 10-0 on the bump with 85 strikeouts in 65 innings. In a 5-0 win over Hidalgo (Texas) in the Class 4A bi-district round of the state playoffs, Mathisen went the distance and was 2-for-3 with a homer and two RBIs.

4. Kyle Carter, Columbus (Ga.)
OF/LHP, Senior
Previous spot:
No. 4
What he’s done: Carter has been equally strong at the plate and on the mound for the Blue Devils (25-3), who are No. 18 in the FAB 50. He’s hitting .370 with 14 homers and 28 RBIs and is 8-2 with a 0.72 ERA on the hill.

5. Gavin Cecchini, Barbe (Lake Charles, La.)
SS, Senior
Previous Spot:
No. 5
What he’s done: Cecchini is playing his best ball with Barbe now in the state tournament, hitting .406 with a .521 on-base percentage, seven homers, five doubles and 32 RBIs. He’s also been a terror on the basepaths — he’s a perfect 29-for-29.

6. Walker Weickel, Olympia (Orlando, Fla.)
RHP, Senior
Previous spot:
No. 6
What he’s done: Weickel was dominant in helping FAB 50 No. 1 win Olympia to a 10-0 win over Boone (Orlando, Fla.) in the Class 8A regional quarterfinals. The Miami recruit allowed only two hits and fanned six in six innings, while teammate Jesse Winker, who could find himself in The Starting Nine soon, went 2-for-3 with a homer and four RBIs. Weickel is 12-0 with a 1.06 ERA and 87 strikeouts and has also hit six homers.

7. Courtney Hawkins, Carroll (Corpus Christi, Texas)
Previous spot: No. 7
What he’s done:
Hawkins has helped Carroll get back into the top 10 of the FAB 50. He’s hitting .457 with 10 home runs and 36 RBIs and 16 stolen bases and is 3-1 on the mound with a 0.83 ERA and 44 strikeouts in 25.1 innings.

8. Max Fried, Harvard-Westlake (Studio City, Calif.)
LHP, Senior
Previous spot:
No. 8
What he’s done: Fried, No. 5 on Law's Top 100, ran his record to 7-2 with a 2.25 ERA and 95 strikeouts in 59 innings. Opponents are hitting just .186 off the lefty, who's also excelled at the plate, batting .438 with a .510 on-base percentage.

9. Ty Hensley, Santa Fe (Edmond, Okla.)
RHP, Senior
Previous spot:
On Deck
What he’s done: Hensley has powered Santa Fe to the Class 6A state tournament and the squad is set to take on Stillwater (Okla.) in the quarterfinals on Thursday. Rated No. 35 in the ESPN 100, Hensley is 9-0 on the mound with a 1.59 ERA and 98 strikeouts in 48.1 innings. He’s also hitting .461 with 10 doubles, 10 home runs 42 RBIs.

Dropped Out

No. 9 Albert Almora, Mater Academy (Hialeah Gardens, Fla.)
OF, Senior

Almora had a phenomenal regular season, hitting .603 with six homers, 34 RBIs, 42 runs scored and 27 stolen bases. But a shocking loss to Hialeah-Miami Lakes (Hialeah, Fla.) in the Class 8A district playoffs ended the season of Mater Academy, which failed to qualify for the regional tournament. Meanwhile, the rest of The Starting Nine was still in postseason play through Sunday.

On Deck

Joey Gallo, Bishop Gorman (Las Vegas)
3B/RHP, Senior
What he’s done:
Gallo was hitting .382 with two homers and 19 RBIs following the National High School Invitational in March and fell out of the rankings. He’s been on a tear since and is now hitting .561 with a .660 on-base percentage, 14 homers and 62 RBIs. In a game against Clark (Las Vegas), Gallo went 5-for-5 with four homers and eight RBIs. He also tossed a no-hitter with nine strikeouts in a win over No. 50 Gloucester Catholic (Gloucester, N.J.) in the championship game of the Easter Classic.

ESPNHS Baseball Players of the Week

May, 3, 2012
(After games of Tuesday, May 1)

One player is chosen from each region of the country. The only other criteria is that no player will be chosen more than once during a season.


Clark Siebels, York (Yorktown, Va.)
The senior right-handed pitcher helped the Falcons improve to 13-1 for the season in a 6-1 win over rival Poquoson (Va.). Siebels ran his record to 7-0 this season by allowing only two hits, after yielding no hits the first five innings, and struck out 11 in 6.2 innings. Siebels also went 3-for-4 at the plate. He had only pitched one game before this season, but it was a no-hitter last spring against Churchland (Portsmouth, Va.)


Kyle Miller, Estero (Fla.)
The 6-foot-3 senior pitcher/shortstop has been a main reason why the Wildcats have risen to No. 35 in this week’s POWERADE FAB 50. In a 12-0 win last week over Lely (Naples, Fla.) that gave Estero a Class 5A district title, Miller went 2-for-3 with a homer and also pitched a one-hitter with seven strikeouts. The shutout lowered his ERA to 0.27 for the season. He also enters this week’s regional quarterfinals against Cape Coral (Fla.) with 91 strikeouts and just six walks allowed. Miller has signed with Florida Atlantic University.


Jake Flemmer, Orono (Long Lake, Minn.)
The sophomore catcher became only the third reported state player to record a six-hit game in a 14-8, eight-inning victory over Dassel-Cokato (Cokato, Minn.). The left-handed hitter also had finished his previous game with a single to give him seven straight hits -- all singles. Flemmer's record-tying effort boosted his season average to .639.


Eric Gutierrez, Sharyland (Mission, Texas)
As a junior, Gutierrez was Sharyland’s MVP as he hit .566 with 58 RBIs and had a 0.98 ERA for a 28-1 team. It’s hard to imagine a higher batting average, but after he stayed hot by going 2-for-2 with a run scored in last week’s Class 5A playoff win over McAllen (Texas) his batting average stood at .632. In his previous game, Gutierrez went 2-for-3 with four RBIs and another recent game saw him go 3-for-3 with six RBIs. As a pitcher, Gutierrez entered this week’s playoff matchup against Winn (Eagle Pass, Texas) with a 6-1 record and 1.42 ERA. With Gutierrez leading the way, Sharyland also has piled up a 25-3 record and was No. 15 in this week’s Midlands Region Top 20.


Joey Gallo, Bishop Gorman (Las Vegas)
Rated the nation’s No. 1 third baseman in the ESPN 100, Gallo has been rounding the corners frequently on home runs in recent weeks. Gallo capped last week by homering in a 13-1 win over Sierra Vista (Las Vegas). He also hit one homer with four RBIs in a 10-0 triumph against Western (Las Vegas) and started the week with two homers and five RBIs when the Gaels beat Spring Valley (Las Vegas) 9-5. Over a six-game stretch entering this week, Gallo had hit nine home runs, which includes his epic total of four in one game on April 18 against Clark (Las Vegas).

Fla. region final marred by sucker punch

May, 2, 2012
PM ET in Florida has a story complete with video on an incident between the St. Thomas Aquinas (Ft. Lauderdale, Fla.) and St. Andrew's (Boca Raton, Fla.) lacrosse teams on Tuesday.

Read More »

Mercado tops Class of 2013 middle infielders

April, 27, 2012
Oscar MercadoMike Janes/Four Seam Images via AP ImagesGaither (Tampa, Fla.) junior shortstop Oscar Mercado is the nation's top middle infielder in the Class of 2013.
For the past six weeks we’ve taken a look at the elite Class of 2013 baseball prospects by ranking the Top 5 players at each position. Our final installment this week focuses on the Top 5 middle infielders led by Gaither (Tampa, Fla.) shortstop Oscar Mercado, whose fielding alone could make him an early-round pick next year.

1. Oscar Mercado, SS, Gaither High School (Tampa, Fla.)
Mercado, a 6-foot-1, 175-pound Florida State commit, has outstanding tools that already show up defensively, including good hands and an above-average arm. He projects to hit for some power, but his swing is a bit lengthy at present. He is consistent, however, and times pitches well, suggesting an understanding of sequences and advanced pitch recognition.

2. Tim Richards, SS, Wilson High School (Long Beach, Calif.)
One scout called Richards "a flat-out baller," which is never a bad thing in the game of baseball. He's taller, at about 6 feet, but reminds some of Boston Red Sox second baseman Dustin Pedroia for his high-energy approach to the game. Richards uses a wide setup with his feet but throws his hands at the ball with above-average bat speed, producing more power than expected. He's committed to Cal State Fullerton.

3. Sheldon Neuse, SS, Keller Fossil Ridge High School (Fort Worth, Texas)
Neuse is also a prospect on the mound and could ultimately move to third base or the outfield, but he has the hands, present lateral range and arm strength to stock at shortstop. He does throw off a stiff left leg and hasn't polished off his work around the bag at second. At the plate, Neuse has power from gap to gap and has quiet hands and a limited load, though I don't know how much clubs will like how he uses his front foot as a timing mechanism.

4. Elliott Barzilli, SS/2B, Palisades Charter (Calif.)
Barzilli has terrific hands and a quick release to go with enough range to play shortstop, though his arm may not be ideal for the position. His swing is short and produces line drives and he's an above-average runner, if not plus. The 6-foot-, 165-pound Barzill is committed to Georgia Tech, but if he has a big senior year, he could be a Day 1 consideration.

5. Kramer Robertson, 2B/SS, Midway High School (Waco, Texas)
What Robertson lacks in ideal size -- he's 5-foot-11 and 170 pounds -- he makes up for in actual tools. The LSU commit has a plus arm -- he's hit the 88-90 mph range from the mound -- and is an above-average runner. He's also full of good instincts and plus makeup and projects to hit for enough power -- mostly doubles -- to play regularly. He handles all balls he gets to, but profiles better at second base, at least as a pro.

Others to Watch
Brock Hartley, SS, Pinnacle (Phoenix)
Wesley Jones, SS, Redan (Stone Mountain, Ga.)
Andrew Rosa, SS, Owasso (Okla.)
Jamie Westbrook, 2B, Basha (Chandler, Ariz.)
Brandon Whiteford, 2B, Chapel Hill (Douglasville, Ga.)

Jason A. Churchill covers scouting, player development and the MLB draft for ESPN Insider, as well as Prospect Insider, where he's the founder and executive editor. You can follow him on Twitter @ProspectInsider and email him at

The Starting Nine: April 26th Edition

April, 26, 2012
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.)
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)
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.

FAB 50 Offseason Primer: Armwood

April, 25, 2012
Alvin BaileyKynon Codrington/ESPNHSArmwood (Seffner, Fla.) junior Alvin Bailey accounted for three touchdowns in the Class 6A state final against Miami Central (Miami) to help lead the Hawks to their third state title.
During the offseason, we’ll check out one team per week that looks like a sure bet to be among the best in the nation this fall.

FAB 50 Offseason Primer Archive

This week’s team: Armwood (Seffner, Fla.)

2011 Season: 15-0, Class 6A state champion, No. 2 in final POWERADE FAB 50.

Projected 2012 Preseason Ranking: Top 25. This team’s positioning could be negatively impacted if harsh sanctions are handed down by the Florida High School Athletic Association at the conclusion of an ongoing investigation about the residency of players on last year’s team. On the field, the Hawks are loaded with returning players at the skill positions, but they will need to replace numerous top linemen. Armwood doesn’t have as much back overall as other Florida teams like Manatee (Bradenton, Fla.) or Miami Central (Miami), which is the team Armwood beat to win its state title. But coach Sean Callahan is a proven winner and those skill players are special.

Team Strengths: There aren’t many teams in the nation that will have a dynamic duo like Leon McQuay III and Alvin Bailey. McQuay, who’s No. 34 in the ESPN 150, is a ball-hawking safety. He also could see more time on offense next season. Meanwhile, Bailey is No. 49 in the ESPN 150. He caught six passes for 112 yards and one score when Armwood beat FAB 50 No. 8 Bishop Gorman (Las Vegas) 20-17 last year, handing the Gaels their only loss. He later switched to quarterback due to injuries and is expected to be back at wideout as a senior. Quarterback Darryl Richardson could be another strength while upcoming sophomore Keylaun Edwards could be another game-breaker. Edwards, who is the younger brother of graduating starter Wade Edwards, joined his brother as well as McQuay and Bailey as part of Armwood’s school-record-breaking 4x100 relay team. On defense, two leading tacklers who should return will be linebacker Warren Williams and defensive back Antonio McCullough.

Another Florida team to watch: We’ve already written up Manatee in this series and don’t want to do just a few sentences about another potential powerhouse like Miami Central or Plant (Tampa, Fla.), Armwood’s big local rival. So we’ll focus on a Tampa that could surprise in Wharton. The Wildcats were 6-6 last year, appeared in the Class 8A playoffs and will be led by receiver-cornerback Vernon Hargreaves III, the No. 4 recruit in the ESPN 150. In addition to Hargreaves, Wharton will return most of its roster, including 6-foot-6 sophomore quarterback Chase Litton (2,056 yards, 10 touchdowns) and leading tackler Rocky Enos.

A sojourn is traditionally understood to mean a temporary stay or short visit. But in the case of Sojourn Shelton, a star cornerback for Plantation (Fla.), he’s planning on a long football journey that transitions from Friday nights to Saturday afternoons, with a hopeful eye on playing on Sundays in the future.

The 5-foot-9, 152-pound dynamo played big at the Miami Nike Football Training Camp on April 15, earning some serious accolades. Not only did Shelton take home the positional MVP in a deep and talented group of defensive backs, he also earned top billing on the All-Camp team and a coveted invite to The Opening.

With a busy offseason ahead of him and his senior season just months away, it’s time to Get Familiar with one of the Sunshine State’s rising stars.

ESPNHS: What are your goals in this final offseason of your high school career?
Shelton: My motivation this offseason is to improve everyday and become the best player that I can be. You can never rest on what you have accomplished. I’m so excited to have been invited to The Opening and know from my friends Tracy Howard and Duke Johnson and others on my 7-on-7 team that went to it last summer that it’s a special event and a special honor to go there. But at the same time I can’t be satisfied. Motivation comes to me in so many ways; with the ESPN 150 coming out and me not being on it, I feel as though I should be on there and I’m determined to get there.

ESPNHS: What are the goals for Plantation in 2012?
Shelton: Man, making the playoffs for one. Our team goal as seniors is definitely to make the playoffs, especially since we haven’t made them since I’ve been in high school. Just talking to my friends on other teams who have been in the playoffs, and in Florida down here high school ball is so important, it is the type of pressure I want to be a part of and experience that win-or-go home feeling of the playoffs.

TBD Editor
Tom Hauck/ESPNHSPlantation (Fla.) cornerback Sojourn Shelton committed to Florida State this past June but is keeping his options open as he heads into his senior season.
ESPNHS: Is there a unique mentality to playing corner?
Shelton: The island mentality is to never let anyone beat you. On every single play when you are out there one-on-one as a corner the risk is six points on every play. There is nothing between me and the end zone, and getting beat can lead to six really quick. You have to have that confidence level knowing you are there to stop the guy you line up against. What I really like is that it’s a position that demands not just ability but confidence. The idea is that I have to protect my island.

ESPNHS: Florida has been known to produce talented players that bring a distinct swagger and confidence to the field. What is it about the football culture there that contributes to this?
Shelton: Everybody down here is competitive and the culture of football down here demands the best of you. The most simple way to put it is that in Florida football everyone wants to be the best and with so much talent you are always being challenged. It’s not that you face a team and they have one guy that is really good, it’s all over the field and everywhere you look you see that. We have that swagger and mentality that down here in the Sunshine State we are the best in the U.S. and when we get around players from all over the country it’s show time and we are always ready to compete.

ESPNHS: Even though you verbally committed to Florida State back in June, you seem to be keeping your options open as you head into your senior campaign. What are your priorities in the recruiting process?
Shelton: My main priority with the recruiting process is to keep an open mind and not close any doors. This is a huge decision and there’s no turning back once it’s clear where I’ll be spending the next four years of my life. I also have to consider how fast can I get on the field and feel really comfortable with the coaching. I also look to the college atmosphere and academics and want to become a stronger and better person all around during the process. There are a lot of things that go into the process, but with my ultimate goal being to play in the NFL one day, that takes the experience of college and playing time is the key to gaining that experience.

Sojourn Shelton
School: Plantation (Fla.)
Class: 2013
Position: Cornerback
HT: 5-9
WT: 152

TV Show: Whatever is on ESPN or NFL Network
Movie: “The Dark Knight” & "He Got Game"
Athlete: Darrelle Revis
Song: “All Of The Lights” by Kanye West
Food: A great steak that doesn't need any A1

Rich Hofman’s road to 1,000 wins

April, 20, 2012

Coach Rich Hofman had just led Westminster Christian (Palmetto Bay, Fla.) to the 1996 national championship when he got invited to throw out the first pitch at a Seattle Mariners game.

It was July 27, the 21st birthday of his former star player, Alex Rodriguez, who was the toast of Seattle at the time.

“I spent a week out there with Alex,” Hofman said. “On game night, there were 44,000 people in the stands, and I was pumped. I hummed it (the ceremonial first pitch) pretty good to Alex. I was thrilled.”

That was just one of a lifetime of thrills for Hofman, who on Tuesday earned career win No. 1,000 as a high school coach.

Now the coach at University School (Fort Lauderdale, Fla.), Hofman is the first person in Florida prep history to win 1,000 games and the 13th to reach the milestone nationally.

With a 3-0 win over Pope John Paul II (Boca Raton, Fla.), Hofman now has a career record of 1,000-258 with 16 ties in his 42nd year of coaching. After Tuesday’s victory, he was presented with a plaque of a jersey that read “Hofman 1K”.

“Getting to 1,000 means a lot to me,” said Hofman, 67. “It says a lot about having a long and fairly consistent career at four different places. The idea that you’ve done something well for (parts of) six decades is gratifying.”

In addition to 1996, Hofman won a national title in 1992, when Westminster Christian had Rodriguez and three other future major-leaguers - Doug Mientkiewicz, Dan Perkins and Mickey Lopez - in its lineup.

Mientkiewicz, who hit third in that lineup – A-Rod was the leadoff guy – said Hofman had a way of instilling confidence in his players.

“That was a special group,” said Mientkiewicz, who is in his first year as a hitting coach for the Los Angeles Dodgers’ minor-league system. “I remember games where we would get 13 runs before we made our first out.

“But Coach Hofman worked us hard to make sure we didn’t get complacent. He knew how to get the most out of each player.”

Hofman has won 10 state titles, including a Florida-record five in a row from 1996 to 2000. The last two of his championships —1999 and 2000 — came after he left Westminster Christian for Westminster Academy (Fort Lauderdale, Fla.).

After Westminster Academy, Hofman coached Piper (Sunrise, Fla.) and then retired after the 2008 season.

He spent two years without coaching high school — he instead organized baseball tournaments, bringing travel teams from all over the country to Florida — before agreeing to come back for the 2011 season with University School.

The main reason he returned was so that he could coach again with his son David, who is University’s pitching coach and has helped lead the Suns to a 17-6 record (through Tuesday’s game).

David, 38, who played football at Westminster Christian with Rodriguez and Mientkiewicz, said growing up a Hofman was “pretty good” because he and his father had a similar approach.

“He’s a tough, hard-nosed coach, and I was a tough, hard-nosed player,” David said. “He didn’t take it easy on me.”

His father doesn’t yell at his players like he once did, but he is just as intense and passionate about baseball as he was during the 1950s, when he was growing up a White Sox fan in Racine, Wis.

Hofman was 10 years old when he began organizing neighborhood baseball games on a spare field that was part of his grandfather’s farm. Hofman set up a fence and dugouts and rode his bike for several miles to gather up kids.

“I lived out in the country, and the only kids around were younger than me,” said Hofman, whose only sibling was an older sister. “I was tough on those kids. I guess that was the start of my coaching career.”

Hofman, who said he was “an average player who loved the game and took it seriously”, was good enough to play shortstop, second base and center field for Division III Calvin College in Grand Rapids, Mich.

During Hofman’s sophomore year, his college coach arranged for the team to travel to Miami. The team left Grand Rapids, where it was 32 degrees and snowing, and Hofman thought he had arrived in heaven with Miami’s palm trees and warm breezes.

Three years later, he landed a teaching job at Westminster Christian, also serving as the school’s only coach. He coached flag football, basketball and softball, earning a $200 stipend for each sport.

In 1969, he started the baseball program, posting a 2-13 record.

“I thought all high school games were five innings because we got beat by the mercy rule so often,” Hofman joked. “We had one extra-base hit all year — and the kid got thrown out at third trying for a triple.”

It’s almost impossible to comprehend, but from those humble beginnings, Hofman built one of the nation’s best baseball programs. In one stretch — from 1988 to 2000 — Hofman won nine state titles in 13 years.

J.D. Arteaga, who played for Hofman during Westminster Christian’s glory days, is now the University of Miami’s pitching coach and gives Hofman a lot of credit for his career.

“Fundamentally, we were way ahead of others,” Arteaga said. “We were very talented, but we also knew what we were doing. [Hofman] instilled a work ethic in all of us and taught us to do things the right way.”

Arteaga added that Hofman served as a father figure.

“I lost my dad during my sophomore year at Westminster,” Arteaga said, “and [Hofman] was there for me.”

Ultimately, Hofman said the impact he has made on the lives of his players is every bit as meaningful as any win. He’s sent 177 players to college baseball and 40 to the pro draft. And Baseball America named him its “Coach of the Decade” for the 1990s, while the Florida High School Activities Association inducted him into its Hall of Fame in 2008.

And now that Hofman has reached the magical milestone of 1,000, the question is simple: How much longer will he coach?

“I’m enjoying myself, especially being able to coach with David,” Hofman said of his son. “I guess I’ll coach as long as I have decent talent.

“Coaching baseball is all I’ve ever wanted to do. It’s been a dream, and I’ve been blessed with a lot of success.”