Mater Dei Wins Classic Title

LOS ANGELES—For the second straight evening, a traditional high school football powerhouse snatched a championship in a major baseball tournament.

Mater Dei High (Santa Ana, Calif.) captured the 2009 Anderson Bat National Classic title Thursday by defeating El Toro (Calif.) High, 2-1, in the final tourney game at Cal State Fullerton’s Goodwin Field. The Monarchs’ victory came on the heels of Mission Viejo (Calif.) High’s surprise win in the Anaheim Lions tournament on Wednesday night.

Sticking with their football tradition, Mater Dei’s baseball team engages in a noisy huddle prior to the start of each game. No word if a run play or a pass play is called.

Senior lefthander Ruben Orosco threw a masterpiece, allowing the power laden El Toro lineup only three hits in six innings. Hard throwing Mater Dei closer Matt Blanchard (right), a junior, closed out the win with a scoreless seventh.

Offense for the Monarchs was provided by Brian Fratalli, the Classic’s Most Outstanding Player. The 6-foot-2, 210 pound righthanded hitting first baseman hammered a home run into the netting above the left field fence in the first, accounting for Mater Dei’s 2 runs.

El Toro, which had blasted numerous home runs out of the tiny high school yards utilized in the Classic, found Goodwin Field to be an airport. Several drives hit by El Toro hitters that would have flown out of El Dorado High (Placentia, Calif.), for instance, were nabbed near the walls by Mater Dei’s fleet outfielders.

Mater Dei is a legendary Southern California high school football factory, and has produced Heisman Trophy winners John Huarte (Notre Dame, 1964) and Matt Leinart (USC, 2004). The latest phenom from the Santa Ana school is quarterback Matt Barkley, a freshman competing for the starting job at Southern California this year.

The Monarchs have recently excelled in baseball, and count Sergio Santos (2002 first round, Diamondbacks) and Danny Espinosa (2008 third round, Nationals) as alumni.

Aaron Northcraft is Mater Dei’s top 2009 draft prospect, and the 6-foot-4, 215 pound righthander was named Most Outstanding Pitcher of the tournament. Next season figures to be a banner year as well, for Mater Dei will return current stars Derek Campbell, Cory Hahn and Matt Blanchard in 2010.

Nolan Arenado (right) of El Toro was named Most Outstanding Hitter. Of all the players present, Arenado probably enjoyed the biggest boost in his draft stock. A 6-foot-1, 210 pound shortstop, Arenado does not have the speed or quickness to stay at that spot at advanced levels, so third base or catcher figure to be his future home.

Arenado’s hands are acceptable at either position, and his throwing arm grades out comfortably above average. His bat, however, will always be his meal ticket. The quickest way to generate an argument among local scouts is to analyze Arenado’s swing.

Arenado’s supporters see a strong right handed hitter who possesses quick and powerful hands that enable him to drive the ball to all fields. Arenado’s detractors are bothered by signs of stiffness in his cut, and by his tendency to drag his bat and hands behind his body, exhibiting a near arm bar that can lead to getting locked or blocked out front.

Wherever they stand, all scouts laud Arenado for his work ethic.  He has worked hard to improve his fitness and reshape his build, transforming himself from a soft college recruit to a sculpted top five round draft candidate.

Out of town teams got the “Welcome to Southern California, Now Go Home” treatment in the Classic. So Cal clubs took the top four spots in the tournament, and virtually all of the premier draft prospects present hail from local schools.

In their defense, it should be noted that several of the participating clubs—particularly those from the East Coast—came west having played only a handful of games so far this season. That put Eastern teams at a palpable disadvantage against the locals, who have not only 15 or so games under their belt, but the advantage of year round showcase and travel ball play.