Last March, months of planning culminated with the first-ever USA Baseball National High School Invitational, presented by Baseball America and hosted by the Town of Cary, N.C. With 16 of the country's best high school teams and several high-profile prospects, the inaugural event didn't disappoint.
The idea of the NHSI is to bring together some of the best teams in the country to compete on a national stage. The event immediately became the premier attraction at the high school level because it brought lots of high-end talent to one location early in the spring. And the incentive for players to claim a trophy while representing their schools and communities created an atmosphere that simply can't be duplicated at a showcase.
More than 100 scouts were in attendance to focus on the seniors participating, and they saw plenty of professional talent. Four players from NHSI teams went on to be first-round picks, and 18 players were drafted overall (see chart). The event also served as a springboard to greater attention for a number of little-known underclassmen. Among the players who boosted their 2012 draft stock last year was Courtney Hawkins, an outfielder/righthander for Carroll High out of Corpus Christi, Texas, who beat Miami's Gulliver Prep almost singlehandedly by pitching a shutout and homering in the 1-0 win. He went on to be picked 13th overall by the White Sox (as an outfielder).
|These players were on teams in last year's National High School Invitational in March, then were drafted in June.|
|Round||Team||Player, Pos., School||Result|
|1||Padres||Max Fried, lhp, Harvard-Westlake HS, Studio City, Calif.||Signed|
|1||White Sox||Courtney Hawkins, of, Carroll HS, Corpus Christi, Texas||Signed|
|1||Nationals||*Lucas Giolito, rhp, Harvard-Westlake HS, Studio City, Calif.||Signed|
|1||Braves||Lucas Sims, rhp, Brookwood HS, Snellville, Ga.||Signed|
|1S||Rangers||Joey Gallo, 3b, Bishop Gorman HS, Las Vegas||Signed|
|1S||Athletics||Matt Olson, 1b, Parkview HS, Lilburn, Ga.||Signed|
|3||Orioles||Adrian Marin, ss, Gulliver Prep, Miami||Signed|
|6||Royals||Zach Lovvorn, rhp, Oxford (Ala.) HS||Signed|
|15||Indians||Nelson Rodriguez, 1b, Washington HS, New York||Signed|
|16||Braves||*Fernelys Sanchez, of, Washington HS, New York||Signed|
|18||Reds||Jackson Stephens, rhp, Oxford (Ala.) HS||Signed|
|25||Yankees||Ty Moore, of, Mater Dei HS, Santa Ana, Calif.||Attending UCLA|
|27||Indians||Ray Castillo, rhp, Russell County HS, Seale, Ala.||Attending Alabama|
|30||Indians||Josh Lester, ss, Columbus (Ga.) HS||Attending Missouri|
|33||Rangers||Ryan Burr, rhp, Highlands Ranch (Colo.) HS||Attending Arizona State|
|34||Orioles||John Sewald, of, Bishop Gorman HS, Las Vegas||Attending Arizona State|
|34||Blue Jays||Brandon Lopez, ss, American Heritage HS, Plantation, Fla.||Attending Miami|
|38||Phillies||Geordy Smith, 1b, Highlands Ranch (Colo.) HS||Attending Hillsdale (Mich.)|
|*Injured/did not play in NHSI|
The event was successful from a team perspective as well, with Parkview High of Lilburn, Ga., emerging from the field to win the national championship in the final Baseball America/National High School Baseball Coaches Association poll of the season. Overall, nine participating teams finished in the final Top 50, including the top four: Parkview, Columbus (Ga.) High, American Heritage High (Plantation, Fla.) and Bishop Gorman High of Las Vegas. All four schools also won their respective state titles, as did one other team that finished in the Top 50: No. 29 Oxford (Ala.) HS, which won the Alabama 6-A title.
Interestingly, Parkview did not win the NHSI, losing in the second round to Harvard-Westlake High (Studio City, Calif.). But the Panthers built on their tournament experience to finish the season 31-6 and win their second straight Georgia 5-A championship. The first NHSI title went to Mater Dei High (Santa Ana, Calif.), which blitzed through the tournament and had a national title in its sights with a No. 1 ranking late in the season. But the Monarchs fell in California's Southern Section semifinal, finishing the season 24-6 and at No. 17.
Mater Dei matched up against Harvard-Westlake in the first NHSI championship game, making it an all-California final. Mater Dei trailed 2-1 going into the seventh inning, but a home run by first baseman Davis Tominaga tied the game. With the bases loaded in the eighth, left fielder Ryan Barr ripped a single through the hole on the left side that plated Ty Moore for a walkoff victory.
To get to the finals, Mater Dei broke out the bats in a big way, taking down No. 2 Bishop Gorman and No. 1 Carroll by a combined score of 22-3 before meeting Sarasota (Fla.) High in the semifinals. The Sailors had come into the tournament as underdogs after losing their top pitchers to injury and transfers, but they battled their way to a semifinal berth. They gave Mater Dei a challenge, but the Monarchs pulled out a 5-1 win.
Both semifinals were matchups of California and Florida teams, with Harvard-Westlake playing American Heritage High in the other semifinal game. The Wolverines and Patriots traded zeroes for eight innings before Harvard-Westlake scratched out a run in the ninth on a single by Fried. Once again, pitching was the story, as righthander Hans Hansen stifled American Heritage in a complete game effort.
To put together such an event, it took hours of work from the staffs of USA Baseball, Baseball America and the Town of Cary. USA Baseball and Baseball America used their collective resources to gather information in an effort to find the top teams in the country—a daunting task when the process begins more than a year in advance of the tournament.
When you get collaboration from groups with a passion for the game of baseball, an event like the NHSI is born and set up for continued success. Being able to witness the drama the games bring is icing on the cake.