It was supposed to be a rotation to remember. Like having Roy Halladay and Cliff Lee pitching for the same high school. It was supposed to be Harvard-Westlake High’s year. After winning its first league title last season, the Studio City, Calif., school had higher expectations for 2012.
It just wasn’t meant to be.
Circumstances put two premium draft prospects, lefthander Max Fried and righthander Lucas Giolito, on the same Harvard-Westlake team. Since the draft began in 1965, high school teammates have been selected in the first round six times, with the latest being Mike Moustakas and Matt Dominguez of Chatsworth (Calif.) High in 2007.
Fried and Giolito certainly expected to join that fraternity—and they still may. But their path to the draft took an unexpected turn when Giolito went out with an elbow strain in March, likely knocking him out of action for the rest of the spring.
The One-Two Punch
The Wolverines had the core of their 2011 team returning, and excitement for the 2012 season grew when they made the high school equivalent of a free-agent signing.
Just a nine-mile drive down the 101 and the 405 freeways from Harvard-Westlake is Van Nuys’ Montclair College Prep, which had Max Fried—a projectable lefty with a commitment to UCLA and first-round aspirations—as its staff ace. News spread during the summer that Montclair Prep was going to cut its entire athletic program to satisfy budget concerns, however, and all athletes would be allowed to transfer to another school with no restrictions. His family began looking for options, and Fried had his sights set on Harvard-Westlake.
“It really came down to Montclair’s field was right next door,” Fried said. “Seeing them play and the program, the academics. I know a lot of the guys from playing and having that sort of relationship, I thought it was a perfect fit.”
Transferring to Harvard-Westlake would mean one of the top lefthanded prospects in the country would join a pitching staff that already had the top righthanded prospect in Lucas Giolito, also a UCLA signee. But it wasn’t that easy.
“First and foremost, Max had to go through the application process like everyone else,” Wolverines head coach Matt LaCour said. “People don’t get that. It’s not, ‘You’re a good athlete.’ You have to fit academically. Max passed that test. He has shown in previous years that he was a good student and maintained high-end grades.”
Fried also went through several interviews, none of which included the athletics director or members of the coaching staff. Once Fried was accepted, LaCour was ecstatic but knew the transition wasn’t complete.
“Obviously, there’s excitement,” he said. “You want to coach great players. But there’s a hesitation. The fabric of a team is very delicate at times. Bringing in someone that isn’t a part of the program can cause conflict.”
But if Fried’s transition were a baseball, it would be too smooth for Fried to spin his trademark curveball.
“It was the most seamless transition I’ve ever made,” Fried said. “My teammates embraced me. The coaches and I really took the time to understand each other and my philosophy on pitching.”
Giolito and Fried were poised to challenge 2002 draftees Clint Everts and Scott Kazmir of Cypress Falls High (Houston) as the highest-drafted duo in draft history, and there is the relation of righty-lefty combination as well. In spite of the excitement, the pitchers were trying to stay grounded.
“It feels really good,” Giolito said in January. “Max is an unbelievable player. Acquiring him through the chance we got, it’s fantastic. We’re really looking forward to it. Max is my best friend so we’re going to have a good time.”
The feeling was mutual.
“It’s great,” Fried said. “Lucas has been a great support for me. He’s helped me transition into the school. This program has become an elite one over the past couple of years and to have the recognition nationwide would be big.”
Pitching would obviously be key to a successful season for the Wolverines, but the team had the goods on offense as well.
“Offensively, with Arden Pabst and Joe Corrigan, who have already committed as juniors to schools at the Division I level, we have some firepower,” LaCour said. “I think people will be surprised with Fried and his potential as a hitter as well. If he goes to college, I think he’s a two-way guy.”
Pabst, a catcher, is committed to Georgia Tech, and Corrigan, a first baseman/outfielder, is committed to Southern California. Pabst played for USA Baseball’s 16-and-under team in 2011, and Fried and Giolito have tested his catching skills.
“It’s great I get to catch a lefty with velo and movement,” he said. “It was fun for me. I get the feel to catch an elite righty and lefty. You have to stay relaxed and just see the ball. You can’t get too jumpy. When you’re anxious, late movement will knock you out of rhythm.”
Harvard-Westlake’s season got off to a solid start, with wins in its first four games. For the No. 4 team in Baseball America’s preseason rankings, excitement was building as the calendar got closer to the USA Baseball National High School Invitational, where Giolito, Fried and several other top draft picks would compete for their schools in front of dozens of scouting directors and crosscheckers.
That’s when the master plan fell apart. In a start against Valencia High (Santa Clarita, Calif.), Fried got tagged for eight runs on 10 hits. It was unexpected, but part of the learning process.
Then a week after touching triple digits and coming within two outs of a no-hitter, Giolito was facing league rival Bishop Alemany High (Mission Hills, Calif.) and struggling with his command. He had given up two runs on five hits, three walks and three hit batters while striking out four in 6 1/3 innings and knew something didn’t feel right.
Giolito felt something grab at his elbow and knew that he should come out of the game. He removed himself and an MRI the next morning revealed a sprained ulnar collateral ligament. Just like that, Giolito’s season and Harvard-Westlake’s one-two punch were gone. While the early outlook has him avoiding surgery, rest and rehab mean he will be unable to throw until May at the earliest. Then he would have to build back up to full pitching strength prior to the draft on June 5.
Giolito took a day off to wrap his head around it all. He was understandably downcast but said he wasn’t dwelling on the injury. He said he was focused on supporting his teammates while getting stronger and better in other areas.
“One of the things I wanted to express to them was even though I’m gone, we’re still really good,” Giolito said. “We still have Max and Jack Flaherty.”
Flaherty was the No. 2 starter behind Giolito last season as a freshman. A good athlete who has seen time on the left side of the infield, in the outfield and on the mound, Flaherty hit .355 with 18 RBIs and 21 runs in 76 at-bats while going 6-2, 2.51 in 47 innings last season. Harvard-Westlake will miss Giolito, but Flaherty’s presence makes for a softer landing.
“Jack Flaherty is ready to be a guy,” LaCour said. “A No. 2 is the least of our worries.”
Pabst echoes the confidence in the youngster. “He’s phenomenal,” Pabst said. “I’m not worried at all. He throws a lot of strikes and has a fantastic changeup. He’s not afraid to pound the zone and get in there.”
It would be crazy to think the outlook for Harvard-Westlake’s season hasn’t changed with Giolito out, but the coaches and players don’t intend to change their focus. The Wolverines expect to perform well in the NHSI and then compete for a sectional title in California.
“We’ve talked a lot about measurable goals,” LaCour said. “We judge our performance on things we can control. We talk about quality at-bats and making the next pitch. We made our focus narrow, which helps our players focus on things they can control.
It’s not the ideal situation. We would rather have Lucas. But he’s been dealt a hand and we’re going to play that hand. We have the resiliency to move forward.”