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2003 Youth Player of the Year
Talent beyond his years: Adenhart’s shrewd pitching approach makes him Youth Player of Year
By Alan Matthews
When the Maryland Orioles found themselves facing elimination in the 21-and-under All-American Amateur Baseball Association World Series in Johnstown, Pa., they did what any other team would do: They turned to their best pitcher.
It’s just that not many such teams’ best pitcher is a 16-year-old.
After the Orioles lost the first game of the double-elimination event, coach Dean Albany knew only one of his players could take the mound in the high-pressure situation and deliver. Nick Adenhart didn’t disappoint.
“I hadn’t planned on pitching Nick in the second game but we needed a lift,” Albany said. “I knew we’d be in the ballgame if we had him on the mound.”
Adenhart, a rising senior at Williamsport (Md.) High, shut out Philadelphia through four innings as the Orioles took a 5-0 lead. He allowed two runs and had 11 strikeouts in six innings, and the Orioles went on a six-game winning streak to take the AAABA title.
Adenhart, who turned 17 in late August, stood out in a league consisting almost entirely of college-age players. His standout summer featured stellar performances on the biggest stages following a dominant high school season, making him Baseball America’s 2003 Youth Player of the Year.
A quiet, reserved teenager, Adenhart’s personality serves as the underpinning for his unflappable demeanor on the mound. His character—not to mention a mid-90s fastball with movement and a filthy, two-plane curveball—make him one of the top prospects in the class of 2004 and a probable first-round pick in June.
As a junior at Williamsport High, Adenhart was 7-1, 1.00, and was the state’s Gatorade player of the year. At 6-foot-3, 185 pounds, he has a projectable body and an effortless delivery with sound mechanics, part of the reason he was ranked as the top prospect at the East Coast Professional Showcase this summer in Wilmington, N.C.
“He just throws so effortlessly,” said Jason Maxey, a junior catcher at the University of Maryland who played with Adenhart for the Orioles. “It just comes right out of his hand. I’d rather catch him than some other guys because he’s always right around the plate. I put the glove somewhere and it’s always right in the area.”
Adenhart proved he was more than a high school kid looking to gain experience against older competition in the 21-and-under circuit. He went 8-1, 1.65 with 75 strikeouts and 16 walks, surrendering just 38 hits in 52 innings for the Orioles and providing a potent one-two pitching combo along with University of Maryland sophomore righthander Kevin Hart.
“He has tremendous mound presence out there,” said Albany, who is also a scout with the Baltimore Orioles. “He’s the youngest player on the team but he handled himself very well. He looks like a guy who is always in control when he’s on the mound.”
Though Adenhart was well-known around Maryland before this summer, many of his teammates were impressed with his maturity and his advanced feel for pitching.
“The first time I caught him it was hard to believe this kid is just going into his senior year in high school,” said Brian Valichka, a sophomore at Delaware and another Orioles catcher. “He has a lot of life on his fastball and I was impressed mainly with the ease that he throws.”
Many of those who have seen Adenhart pitch compare him to another high-profile righthander from Maryland. Scouting reports on Phillies prospect Gavin Floyd as a senior in high school are almost identical to those on Adenhart.
Floyd was the fourth overall pick in 2001 as a 6-foot-5, 200-pounder from Mount St. Joseph High in suburban Baltimore. Floyd was lauded for a plus breaking ball and outstanding makeup, as is Adenhart.
“It’s not hard to figure out that they both have great arms and their curveballs are comparable and they played on the same summer and fall league teams,” said Albany, who also coached and scouted Floyd.
Albany says it’s unfair to compare Adenhart and Floyd, who has proved himself in two levels of professional baseball, but the likeness is undeniable and unavoidable.
“I’ve caught (Floyd) a few times and he’s the real deal,” Maxey said. “(Floyd’s) curveball is just a bit faster but they’re both similar because they’re well behaved and they’re not stuck up. If you just met Nick or Gavin you’d never know they were first-rounders.”
“(Adenhart’s curveball) is a hard, late-breaking, really good 12-to-6 breaking ball,” Valichka said. “I remember catching Gavin Floyd and Gavin had a really hard breaking ball just like that. (Adenhart’s) broke a lot of guys’ knees during the summer.”
Adenhart, ever understated, politely acknowledges the comparisons without investing too much stock in them.
“My sophomore year I guess is when they started making the comparisons,” he said. “It’s been good to have someone like Dean to point out some things I do differently and how Gavin might (pitch) a little different but I don’t think about it too much. I don’t think it’s a bad person to model yourself after.”
As Floyd did in high school, Adenhart gained wider acclaim by performing well in high-profile events. In addition to his showings in the AAABA World Series and East Coast Showcase, he was the starting pitcher for the East in the inaugural AFLAC All-American Baseball Classic in Fort Myers, Fla., in August.
Adenhart tossed three brilliant innings, touched 92 mph and struck out three of the first four hitters he faced. He allowed one hit—a solo homer by second-team All-American Matt Bush—against the stiffest competition in his class. He wore a poker face throughout the outing, showing no sign of tension despite the fanfare.
“That had to be (the highlight of year),” Adenhart said. “That’s something incomparable to a lot of things–just the TV, the atmosphere and going up against the best players in the nation.”
His composure and stuff make Adenhart the best player in his age group and a source of frustration to older players.
“During one game when he’s just mowing kids down, I overheard one of the guys in their dugout saying, ‘This guy’s (ticking) me off. He’s only 16 and we can’t hit him,’ ” Maxey said.
Adenhart might be leaving hitters of all ages befuddled for years to come.
Youth top 10
Nick Adenhart has been selected Baseball America’s Youth Player of the Year, succeeding Delmon Young, our 2002 winner and the first pick in this year’s draft. Only players with high school eligibility remaining are eligible. Here’s the other top contenders for the award, which will be presented at baseball’s annual Winter Meetings in December (ages as of Aug. 1 in parentheses):
1. Nick Adenhart, rhp, Hagerstown, Md. (16)
2. Chris Nelson, ss-rhp, Decatur, Ga. (17)
3. Matt Bush, ss-rhp, San Diego (17)
4. Justin Upton, ss, Chesapeake, Va. (15)
5. Ryan Klem, rhp-of, Chandler, Ariz. (12)
6. Erik Davis, rhp, Mountain View, Calif. (16)
7. Justin Bristow, ss-rhp, Richmond, Va. (16)
8. Jeremy Hellickson, rhp, Des Moines, Iowa (16)
9. Brandon May, ss, Marietta, Ga. (15)
10. John Tolisano, 3b, Sanibel, Fla. (14)