Hosmer, Martin Shine In LaGrange

BA's Matt Blood makes his first road trip to see 2008 draft prospects, heading down to LaGrange, Ga., for a high school tournament, with American Heritage High out of Florida as the star attraction.

LAGRANGE, Ga.—Every year at this time, students are celebrating spring break, and high school baseball teams are competing in multi-team tournaments. After a seven-hour drive, I found myself in LaGrange, Ga. for the 2008 LaGrange Invitational hosted by LaGrange High, and while it's my first trip of the spring, I feel as if I just experienced high school baseball at its best.

This particular tournament is perennially one of the more talent-laden events, and this year is no exception. It boasts four teams in the BA Top 50 and eight players in the top 300, headlined by American Heritage Academy and its bundle of prospects. These types of tournaments are great for scouts as they provide a showcase-like talent pool, but the players play and interact with their real teammates. I counted at least a half-dozen major league scouting directors, just as many crosscheckers and even more area scouts.

I sat in on three games: Cartersville (Ga.) High vs. Cullman (Ala.) High, American Heritage (Plantation, Fla.) vs. LaGrange High, American Heritage vs. Stephens County (Ga.) High.

The most exciting part of the game, from a scouting perspective, came at the very start of the nightcap when Stephens County’s Ethan Martin took the mound against American Heritage. Martin has been tabbed as one of the nation’s best positional prospects and hitters, but Friday night he gave scouts another role to consider. He retired the first batter of the game in two pitches, and then up came Eric Hosmer, considered by many the top high school hitter in the nation and a contender for the No. 1 overall spot on the high school charts along with Georgia prep shortstop Tim Beckham.

Perhaps Hosmer's reputation preceded him, because Martin was ready for him. The pitch sequence went: 94 mph fastball strike, 96 strike, 81 slurve ball, 94 ball, 94 foul, 94 foul, 81 backdoor slurve for a backwards K.

It left everyone stunned. “Ethan Martin can pitch?”

Fluke? OK, the next hitter was American Heritage's other Aflac All-American, Adrian Nieto. This sequence was a bit shorter: 94 strike, 92 ball, 82 slurve empty swing, 93 foul, 87 changeup for K.

The scouting refrain already had changed from the question mark to the exclamation, “Ethan Martin can pitch!”

Martin struck out 12 Heritage hitters, including Hosmer once and Nieto three times. His stuff was outstanding, showing two major league plus pitches in his fastball and slurve. His fastball sat in the 90-92 mph range and consistently had late life. He also commanded it well through out the entire game. His slurve stayed 78-80 mph with a sharp two-plane downward break. He delivered Heritage its first loss of the season in his complete-game performance, throwing 130 pitches. His last pitch was 93, getting a swing-and-a-miss for the final out.

Other Notes from the Day:

• The lefthanded-hitting Hosmer had three hits on the night (two games), including two home runs. The second of which was an absolute missile, off of a 91 mph Martin fastball, that just about knocked the scoreboard over in left-center field. He also struck out three times, finishing the day 3-for-9. All three hits were to left-center field.

• Cartersville’s Taylor Hightower was 2-for-3 with two home runs in the first game of the afternoon, pulling both balls deep over the left field fence. Ranked No. 93 on BA's prep Top 100 list, he drove in the games first five runs.

• Nieto had a frustrating day. He struck out four times, walked three times, was hit by a pitch and had a double. Nieto also struggled with the tough task of catching low three-quarters slinger Greg Conver and his darting, dashing and sinking fastball and his sweeping breaking ball. Conver struck out nine Stephens County hitters—almost all of them swinging and missing on his 75-77 mph slider. The pitch was a plus breaker a majority of the time. His fastball was 87-90 and was below average in other regards.