Ask BA

The minor league season started last Thursday, so baseball is finally in full swing. If you’re wondering who’s where, check out J.J. Cooper’s exhaustive list of Opening Day assignments for players in the 2011 Prospect Handbook. Someone missing? J.J. has that covered with a Week One medical report, listing Handbook prospects who opened the season on the disabled list.

    Some high school teams that appear in the BA/NHSBCA national rankings year after year. This is true of my alma mater, Owasso (Okla.) High. How would Baseball America rank the top high school programs of the last decade?

    Allen Buller
    Portland, Ore.

I turned this question over to Nathan Rode, who oversees all of our high school coverage. Here’s his response:

To come up with this list, I looked at the final Top 50 rankings for the 2000-10 seasons and noted teams with multiple Top 50 finishes. I then looked at their state titles and other notable achievements (consecutive state tournament appearances, region championships, etc.).

1. Chatsworth (Calif.) HS
The Chancellors have won six City Section titles (2001, 2003-04, 2007-09) and had seven Top 50 finishes since 2000. They also won their league in 2000-01, 2003-08 and 2010. Most notably, they finished atop the national high school rankings in 2003 and 2004, with the latter club featuring two freshmen now on the verge of the big leagues: Matt Dominguez (Marlins) and Mike Moustakas (Royals).

2. Owasso (Okla.) HS
The Rams have had a chokehold on the Oklahoma 6-A title since the classifications were expanded in the mid-1990s. Since 2000, Owasso has won six state titles (2001, 2003-04, 2007-09) and finished in the Top 50 nine times, the highest a No. 3 ranking in 2009. Owasso stars include 2007 Cardinals first-rounder Pete Kozma and righthander Dylan Bundy, the top high school pitcher in the 2011 draft.

3. The Woodlands (Texas) HS
The Woodlands is a factory for NCAA Division I athletes in all sports, so much so that it has an annual pep rally for all its students who have signed letters of intent. The Highlanders won Texas 5-A state titles in 2000 and 2006 and have finished in the Top 50 five times. Their 2006 title netted a national championship, with Kyle Drabek as their staff ace and star shortstop. Jameson Taillon (Pirates) was the No. 2 pick in the 2010 draft.

4. Bishop Gorman HS, Las Vegas
The Gaels had gone more than 50 years without a state title, but they’ve won the last five 4-A championships. They were national champs in 2009 and ranked No. 2 in 2008 and 2010. They’ve sent several players to college programs, and their most prominent pro is Rays first-base prospect Jeff Malm.

5. Columbus (Ga.) HS
The best program in the talent-rich state of Georgia, the Blue Devils have four state titles (3-A in 2000, 2005, 2010; 4-A in 2004) and five runner-up finishes since 2000, making five Top 50 appearances. Their most prominent alumnus is catcher Chase Weems, a sixth-round pick whom the Yankees traded to the Reds for Jerry Hairston Jr. two years ago.

6. Farragut HS, Knoxville, Tenn.
The Admirals have dominated 3-A competition in Tennessee, winning six state titles, including back-to-back championships in 2003-2004 and three straight from 2008-2010. They currently have three players in pro ball: righthander Kyle Waldrop (Twins), a 2004 first-round choice, and catchers Tony Delmonico (Dodgers) and Michael McKenry (Red Sox). Tony’s younger borther Nicky will be an early-round pick in this year’s draft

7. Flanagan HS, Pembroke Pines, Fla.
National champions in 2010, the Falcons have been perennial contenders in Florida’s largest classification. Flanagan won 6-A state titles in 2005, 2006 and 2010 and also made final-four appearances from 2007-2009. Mike Napoli, a 2000 graduate, was the first Falcon to reach the major leagues, and outfielder J.D. Martinez (Astros) could be the next in line.

8. Parkview HS, Lilburn, Ga.
Atlanta is one of the most fertile areas for baseball talent in the nation, and the Panthers have seen plenty of it. They won 5-A state championships in 2001 and 2002, ranking No. 3 in the nation in the latter year, and also grabbed regional titles from 2003-06 and in 2010. They currently have 11 players in pro ball, including big leaguers Jeff Francoeur, Jeff Keppinger and Clint Sammons.

9. Moody HS, Corpus Christi, Texas
Moody and crosstown Calallen have a great rivalry that often determines who advances to the state 4-A tournament. Their three-game series have drawn in excess of 25,000 fans. Moody has had the upper hand, with two state championships (5-A in 2004 and 4-A in 2007) and seven Top 50 finishes, including No. 2 in 2004. The Trojans best prospect during that time was catcher Luis Flores, who went on to play for Oklahoma State and the Cubs.

10. Horizon HS, Scottsdale, Ariz.
The host of the Big League Dugout National Invitational every year, the Huskies won state 5-A titles in 2005, 2007, 2008 and 2010 and finished in the Top 50 twice, including at No. 3 in 2007. They’ve produced a pair of first-round picks in the last decade, Brandon Wood (Angels, 2003) and Tim Alderson (Giants, 2007).

11. Barbe HS, Lake Charles, La.
The Buccaneers have four state 5-A championships (2000-01, 2006, 2008), five Top 50 finishes (including two in the Top 10) and nine league titles since 2000. Barbe’s pro alumni include Wade LeBlanc and Red Sox third-base prospect Garin Cecchini—whose father Glenn coaches the baseball team.

12. Mater Dei HS, Santa Ana, Calif.
Consistency can be hard to come by in talent-rich southern California, but the Monarchs have won Southern Section titles in 2005 and 2010 and finished in the Top 50 three times. They also won their league in 2001-05 and again in 2007. Mater Dei big leaguers include Danny Espinosa, Sergio Santos and Anthony Slama.

13. Bishop Amat HS, La Puente, Calif.
The Lancers won Southern Section titles (in a lower division than Mater Dei) in 2001, 2002 and 2007 and have three Top 50 finishes to their credit. The alma mater of Mike Lamb and Mike Young hasn’t had a player drafted since 1999, but that will change with righthander/shortstop Rio Ruiz, a top prospect for 2012.

14. La Cueva HS, Albuquerque
The Bears don’t have any big-name alumni besides cup-of-coffee big leaguer James Parr, but they won four straight 5-A state championships from 2003-06 and two more titles in 2008 and 2010. They’ve also finished in the Top 50 on five occasions and held the national record for consecutive victories (70) for a short time in 2005 before being surpassed by Homer (Mich.) that June.

15. Florida Christian School, Miami
The Patriots appeared in six straight state 2-A final fours from 2001-06, winning championships in 2004 and 2005, and finished in the Top 50 twice. Their pro alumni include outfielder Denny Almonte (Mariners), shortstop Ryan Jackson (Cardinals) and lefthander Bryan Morgado (Phillies).

Several of these programs are national contenders again in 2011. In our latest Top 25 rankings, Owasso checked in at No. 4, with Bishop Gorman at No. 5, Farragut at No. 10 and The Woodlands at No. 18.

    Cliff Lee seemingly came out of nowhere to be a dominant pitcher. Did he show this kind of talent as a prospect, or did he reinvent himself as he got older?

    Marc Downie

Lee was a fourth-round pick in 2000 out of Arkansas, where he pitched one season after spending his first two college years at Meridian (Miss.) CC. In our Draft Preview, we noted that his raw stuff ranked in the top three among college lefthanders that year, but also that he pitched erratically for much of the season and was suspended for disciplinary reasons. He also showed a habit of having his stuff drop off after a couple of innings, and pitched best when used out of the bullpen.

In our first two Prospect Handbooks, Lee ranked 21st (in 2001) and 11th (in 2002) on our Expos Top 30 Prospects lists. He flashed four plus pitches with his fastball, curveball, slider and changeup, but his control remained inconsistent. Montreal projected him as a possible mid-rotation starter.

After going to the Indians in the Bartolo Colon heist, Lee ranked third on our Cleveland Top 30 list entering 2003. He still lacked reliable command, but his 91-93 mph fastball and late-breaking slider developed into true weapons. Our Handbook report projected him as the Indians’ future No. 2 starter behind C.C. Sabathia, and Lee ascended to that role, going 46-24 from 2004-06.

While Lee exhibited plenty of talent, he didn’t look someone who would go 22-3 and win a Cy Young Award in 2008, or someone who would win his first seven postseason decisions in 2009-10. He didn’t become that guy until he reinvented himself out of necessity in 2007.

Lee was awful that season, when he battled an abdominal injury and eventually got exiled to the minors and was left off the Indians’ postseason roster. But when he returned to the majors, his control and command had improved from average to extraordinary.

In the minors, Lee averaged 4.2 walks per nine innings. In his first seven seasons in the majors, he gave up 3.1 free passes per nine. Since 2008, he has permitted just 1.3 walks per nine innings and has gone 49-26, 3.05 in 95 starts. He has been even more dominant in the playoffs, going 7-2, 2.13 with eight walks in 76 innings over 10 starts.

    Mark Prior's performance in big league camp with the Yankees exceeded expectations: 11 strikeouts in eight innings, 1.17 ERA. However, I haven't found a good scouting report to go along with his spring stats. Do you have one, and what are his prospects for the future?

    Eric Rothfeld
    Livingston, N.J.

The scouting reports on the righthander whom many scouts considered the best pitching prospect in draft history (until Stephen Strasburg came along) weren’t as encouraging as his stats. Prior’s fastball usually ran from 87-91 mph, his breaking ball and changeup were nothing special, and neither was his control (five walks).

The Yankees decided to take things slow with Prior, who hasn’t pitched in the majors since 2006, assigning him to high Class A Tampa to start the season. He made back-to-back appearances on Saturday and Sunday, totaling two hitless innings, showing stuff similar to what he displayed in spring training.

Prior will need more fastball and a quality second pitch if he’s going to help New York in a relief role later in the year. I’m rooting for him, but I’ll believe it when I see it.

" April 4 Ask BA