Upton Finishes On Top

This year’s team and player of the year have an unlikely connection.

Tony Rasmus, the head coach of the No. 1 team in the final Baseball
America/National High School Baseball Coaches Association poll, Russell
County High of Seale, Ala., was an extra infielder for three minor
league seasons in the Angels system. In 1987 he spelled Wiley Lee at
second base for Salem in the Class A Carolina League.

This year, while Rasmus was leading his team to the top spot in the
poll, Lee, the head coach at Great Bridge High in Chesapeake, Va., was
filling out a lineup card that included Justin Upton, who, after being
drafted first overall by the Diamondbacks and fortifying his status as
baseball’s best amateur player, is BA’s High School Player of the Year.

“It has been indeed a rollercoaster ride of thrills,” Lee said. “To
have 20, 30 guys at practice the first day waiting round the cages just
to see one kid hit is just unbelievable.

“This year we’ve kept (Upton) focused on his senior year and his
legacy as a high school player. (Now) he can concentrate on his legacy
as a professional.”

Upton’s legacy as an amateur stands alone. He was recognized as BA’s
best 14-year-old in 2002 and repeatedly reinforced that reputation with
memorable performances at showcase events, international tournaments
and finally this spring when he batted .519-11-32 in 54 at-bats,
homering every 4.9 at-bats.

Upton features a rare blend of speed, savvy and power. In an era in
which more teams tend to favor players with less risk and a history of
performance that is more easily quantified, Upton remained the top
player on draft boards, not only because of those tools but also his
ability to use them.

“I saw him about 12 times this spring and he rang the bell pretty
much every time out,” said Greg Lonigro, the Diamondbacks area scout
who, along with Howard McCullough, spent extensive time scouting Upton
before Arizona chose him first. “We talk about his bat and his power
and you forget the fact that he’s a plus-plus runner, then there’s the
body and his size and the boy is not even done growing . . . You watch
him play and it’s evident you’re watching a special player.”

Upton entered his senior year on the heels of an up-and-down summer.
In his first wide-scale workout at Tropicana Field in St. Petersburg,
Fla., last June, he turned in a 6.23-second 60-yard dash, setting a
record for Perfect Game events. A month later he hit well but struggled
defensively at the East Coast Professional Showcase and AFLAC
All-American game. Then in September, when Upton traveled to Taiwan
with USA Baseball’s junior national team, he relaxed and put together
an impressive all-around performance.

“My fondest memory would be Taiwan when I went there with USA
Baseball,” he said. “You have nobody there but your teammates. And we
bonded, and I have a lot of memories with those guys on that team.”

Although each time Upton took the field as an amateur he had no
equals, he’s considered a good teammate. In addition to being the best
player, he also possesses exceptional makeup, and scouts rave about his
work ethic and character.

The combination makes Upton one of the most complete amateur
prospects in recent history, a perfect recipe for the High School
Player of the Year.

“(The Diamondbacks) picked me at number one, I think I’m going to
have to make an immediate impact,” Upton said the day he was drafted.
“I’m going to have to play to the potential that they expect me to, and
hopefully I’m there helping their big league squad in a couple of

Mark your calendar.


• Virginia’s Class 3-A championship tilt in Williamsburg lasted 12
innings, with Princess Anne High of Virginia Beach outlasting Osbourn
High of Manassas 11-10. Princess Anne trailed 8-0 after three innings,
9-8 in the 11th and 10-9 in the 12th. Jake McAloose singled home two runs in the bottom of the 12th to cap the final comeback. Princess Anne senior righthander Dan Hudson
pitched the first ten innings, allowing only one hit from the fourth
inning on. He also tied the game with a three-run double in the
seventh. The championship was the first for Princess Anne in its
50-year history.

• Chattahoochee High of Alpharetta, Ga., climbed to No. 23 in the
Baseball America/National High School Baseball Coaches poll, wrapping
up its season by winning a best-of-three series against Marietta’s
Lassiter High to claim the Georgia Class 5-A title. In the second game
of the championship series, senior Clayton Shunick spun a two-hit shutout in a 5-0 win. Georgia signee Justin Holloway had a two-run double and added a solo home run. Georgia Tech signee Jay Dantzler went 3-for-3 with four stolen bases in the decisive third game. Chattahoochee junior center fielder Matt Cerione finished the year batting .414-17-51.

• For the second time in three years, Tottenville High took home the
New York City Public School Athletic League Class-A championship. The
perennial power from Staten Island defeated Walton High of the Bronx
5-1 in the championship game at Yankee Stadium. Tottenville senior
righthander Andrew Costello took a no-hitter into the fifth inning and pitched a complete game. Tottenville got all the offense it needed in the first, as Kenneth Cedel and Joseph Masseria hit back-to-back RBI singles with two outs.

• Kingwood (Texas) High scored seven times in the first two innings
on its way to the Texas Class 5-A championship. The Mustangs, which
opened the season ranked No. 25 and finished ranked No. 12, defeated
Rockwall High 10-5 for the school’s first state championship. Johnny Whittleman, who was drafted in the second round by the Rangers, and Josh Fountain sparked Kingwood’s offense, while Kenneth Negron collected championship game MVP honors thanks to a three-run triple in the first inning.

Contributing: Matt Meyers.