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O'Sullivan Stays Busy
by Alan Matthews
Like most of the top prep baseball players in the country, Sean OíSullivan stays pretty busy.
He hasnít had much time to relish the final months of high school. Instead heís been concentrating on preparing for the most important season of his young career.
But when he does find spare time, OíSullivan doesnít share the typical tastes of many of his peers. Instead of escaping to the realm of PlayStation 2 ó he doesnít play video games ó OíSullivan prefers to perfect his other favorite pastime: dancing.
"I love to dance," he said as he hustled to practice after school. "Whatever (the music) . . . wherever. I just love to dance."
You see, versatility is OíSullivanís thing. In a draft class heavily weighted with two-way standouts, the senior righthander from Valhalla High in suburban San Diego has the moves to play professionally on the mound or at the plate. OíSullivanís package of legitimate pitching and hitting tools is among the most intriguing in the class, and he enters the season ranked as the nationís No. 3 prep prospect.
Scouts are not certain about his best future position, but they do agree that heíll likely be drafted in the early rounds in June. As an everyday player, OíSullivan profiles as a third baseman or right fielder, positions that call for a bat capable of fitting in the heart of a batting order. He has good raw power with a swing that creates natural loft. He generated a California-best 16 homers as a junior in 2004, when he was one of two underclassmen selected to Baseball Americaís second-team All-America squad.
While the 6-foot-2, 200-pounder might tell you his most attractive attribute is his footwork, OíSullivanís best tool is his arm. He was touching 90 mph from the mound by the time he was a sophomore and routinely spots his fastball between 92-93 these days. He features a traditional, 12-to-6 overhand curveball that changes planes and has potential to be an out pitch.
"OíSullivan is nice as a hitter, but I feel certain about his ability as a pitcher," an American League scouting director said.
"I value him more as a pitcher," a National League scouting director added. "I want to take a good arm like that and take full advantage of it. He has the makings of a good breaking ball and is competitive on the mound. He (goes) right after hitters."
OíSullivanís determined, if not brassbound, demeanor is a characteristic found in every big league pitcher and he says the ability to dictate the outcome of games on his own is one of the most appealing aspects of baseball.
"I love playing everyday, I like hitting and being in the lineup," he says. "But thereís nothing like being on the mound. Iím in control of the game."
OíSullivanís career numbersó.472-22-104 in 271 at-bats, 25-6, 1.87 with 219 strikeouts and 27 walks in three seasonsóin one of the countryís most competitive high school regions are illustrative of his advanced ability at a young age.
Heís been gaining notice for quite a while. In 2000, as a member of the powerful San Diego Stars youth program, he was named the nationís top 12-year-old in BAís annual Baseball for the Ages rankings, and he has been a top candidate in his age group every year since. As a 14-year-old high school freshman, OíSullivan quickly became Valhallaís No.1 pitcher, and he led the team to the California Interscholastic Federation playoffs for the first time in 12 years.
Alternating between the mound, third base and right field as a sophomore and junior, OíSullivan helped his high school capture its first two conference titles ever. He was named the countyís player of the year in 2004, beating out the No. 1 overall draft pick, Mission Bay High shortstop Matt Bush, for the award.
Though the meringue isnít OíSullivanís dance of choiceómid-1980s Michael Jackson tunes really get him going, "Billie Jean, that kind of stuff," he says - his baseball resume includes impressive performances on international stages. Heís spent his past two summers shining for USA Baseball in amateur international tournaments. In 2003, OíSullivan was the winning pitcher in the youth national teamís gold-medal win against Taiwan in front of 14,000 fans in the International Baseball Federation World Youth Championship.
He quickly recalls that outing as the most intense setting of his career. "Pitching in their country against the home team with (thousands) of people going crazy, that was (pressure)," he said.
"But if you canít handle the pressure, you arenít going to go anywhere."
Last summer he was plagued by tendinitis in his knee but showed resolve with a solid outing against Korea in the bronze-medal game.
"He wanted the ball, wanted to be a bulldog, wanted to compete on the mound," said Team USAís Ray Darwin, general manager for both national teams OíSullivan played for.
"I think he had positive effects from pitching in front of that crowd. Itís clear that itís something that he wants to do. On the mound, he wants to meet those challenges."
Prior to departing for Asia last summer, OíSullivan made a stop in Aberdeen, Md., where he was one of 40 high school juniors to participate in the AFLAC All-America Classic.
National showcases and all-star events often offer scouts insight about which position a two-way player such as OíSullivan best fits. He didnít make the decision any easier for scouts, however. Just a couple of hours after sending a handful of towering blasts over the wallóinto a stiff breezeóat Ripken Stadium in the home run derby, OíSullivan spun one of the most dominant innings of the game, which his West team won. He struck out the side in the eighth inning on 12 pitches, including an impressive three-pitch punchout of Miamiís Gulliver Prep corner infielder Chris Dominguez.
While the verdict isnít sealed on how OíSullivan will make his living in pro ball, his long amateur career, combined with his mature body and polished toolset remove some of the guesswork when evaluating his potential.
"Heís mature physically and mentally; his present stuff is more ready than most (2005 draft-eligible high school) pitchers," an AL scouting director said. "Heís more ready. Thereís not as much projecting to do with him."
"In scouting we call it track record," an NL scouting director said. "You always feel a lot more comfortable with your selections if you have a history and track record on a player. And in this case, when youíve seen a player compete at high levels it makes you feel a lot better about rolling in and (scouting) a high school kid and pulling the trigger."
OíSullivan signed with San Diego State to play for the baseball player he most admires, Tony Gwynn, but he makes it clear he doesnít plan to carry any ambiguous song and dance routines into negotiations with major league teams.
"Itís been my dream to play professional baseball since I was five years old," he says. "If coming out this year is the best option, then thatís my best option."