Heritage Shines In Comparison To Mid-Atlantic’s Best

TOWSON, Md.—Thursday featured a game between the top two high schools in the Metro DC-Baltimore area. St. John’s College High had traveled from Washington to face Calvert Hall College High, located just north of Baltimore. Both teams have been ranked within Baseball America’s top 10 high school teams at one point this season. Calvert Hall was actually our No.1 at one point while St. John’s was the feature story in our high school preview issue back in February.

If you’ve never been to the area, it’s a place dominated by the color red and the Under Armour insignia. When arriving to the stadium (a brand new $1 million Astroturf facility), both teams were warming up indistinguishably on the field decked out in red hats, cleats and warm up pullovers–all Under Armour apparel. (The owner of Under Armour himself, Kevin Plank was on the field, going back and forth between dugouts, conversing with the coaches, as he graduated from St. John’s in 1990).

The schools similarities don’t stop there. Both are private, all boys, schools in the Christian Brothers school conference. Both would compare more to a semi-pro baseball club than a high school in terms of talent and both play fundamentally sound baseball.

Calvert Hall’s pregame warmups may have been the most impressive thing I saw all evening. With three coaches hitting balls in three different directions, almost every player was engaged on every fungo swing. While balls were being hit to the outfield and returned to the infield, first basemen fielded grounders. All at the same time catchers were fielding fake bunts, practicing pickoffs and chasing mock passed balls to the backstop.

It was clear both of these teams were well oiled machines and are the class of the region. However, as I watched the game unfold, I couldn’t help but notice the talent level of the prospects on the field and compare them with the players from American Heritage High School – another private school who has been ranked No. 1 overall by BA this season and whom I saw play in Georgia at the LaGrange Invitational.

While all three schools are well coached and play the game of baseball very well, the difference in the caliber of the prospects on American Heritage vs. Calvert Hall and St. John’s is night and day. While Calvert Hall and St. John’s get the best out of the players they have, their players are closer to true high school players – some of which will play Division I baseball at mid-major universities and a few in the ACC.

Especially now that  Silverstein won’t pitch again this high school season due to a bio-mechanical issue of tightness in the back of his shoulder, the only potential draft and sign player on the field was St. John’s center fielder L.J. Hoes. Even then, he’s currently projected as a fourth outfielder with no true positional profile in the pros, he will most likely not be drafted high enough to induce him out of his commitment to play at North Carolina in the fall.

American Heritage, on the other hand, plays to a different tune. Boasting a sure fire first-rounder in first baseman Eric Hosmer and the nation’s second-ranked prep catcher Adrian Nieto, the Patriots will have at least two guys sign professional contracts this year.

It’s obvious that Heritage is the better of the three teams, and Heritage is currently ranked as BA’s No. 2 team in the country, but I would be interested to see a matchup between the Patriots and a combined squad of St. John’s and Calvert Hall. It’s uncanny to think one team from Florida could be better than a combination of two of the best teams from the Metro area – both of which have been nationally ranked this year – but I honestly think Heritage would win a five-game series in that scenario.

It’s not an issue of coaching, dedication or preparation—the Patriots’ talent is plainly on a tier above Cavlert and St. John’s talent at virtually every position (especially with Silverstein on the shelf).

For example, the best three players on the field Thursday were Hoes, Silverstein as a DH and Calvert Hall’s junior shortstop Patrick Blair. However, Hertiage answers with its own trio of Joey Belviso, Hosmer and Deven Merrero.

While Hoes might have a slight pro prospect edge on Belviso, his knock is that he doesn’t run well enough to play center field and doesn’t hit for enough power to play a corner position in the pros. In return, Belviso has hit 13 home runs this season—the same number as the entire Calvert Hall team.

Blair is a flashy shortstop being recruited by LSU and Virginia Tech but is not quite elite and most likely not a high draft next year. Marrero, the cousin of top Nationals prospect Chris Marrero, is one of the nation’s top junior shortstops and a potential Top 100 player in next year’s draft.

And finally, the debate between Hosmer and Silverstein: A true high school power threat and the only legitimate power threat on the field Thursday (Silverstein hit a towering shot, just foul, down the right-field line last night that landed on the roof of a car parked on the street), Silverstein is a pitching prospect when it comes to the pros. While it would be a lot of fun to watch the two square off in a home run derby, Hosmer is a true hitting prospect.

Talking about home run derbies, American Heritage has hit 58 home runs this season through 23 games.

What I saw in Maryland  was a display of two very good high school baseball teams, cross-town rivals that typically dominate their region, fighting it out for bragging rights. What I saw in Georgia watching American Heritage, was a team that is gifted beyond the norm—a once in a lifetime type team for any high school.

Oh and by the way, Calvert Hall won 3-2 with a walk-off RBI double down the left-field line in the bottom of the seventh inning. It was a great high school baseball game. But the perspective gained in seeing good high school teams compared to a truly unique roster meant more.