by Alan Matthews
Knoxville’s Farragut High has been a mainstay in the national polls the last two years. The Admirals ripped off back-to-back Tennessee 3-A titles in 2003 and 2004 with a combined record of 94-3 and enter this season with another top-20 preseason ranking.
Kyle Waldrop, who signed with the Twins as a first-round pick in 2004, received the lion's share of attention during Farragut's recent run, earning All-America honors in 2004 for going 14-0, 0.15 as a righthanded pitcher while hitting .493-16-67 as the team’s first baseman. But Farragut's talented young shortstop with a recognizable last name also played a significant role, while quietly emerging as one of the nation's top middle infield prospects.
Since his freshman season, Tony Delmonico has been a key cog in the Farragut lineup but major league teams may have to wait a couple of extra years to get their hands on him. Though just a junior, Delmonico has indicated this will be his final season in high school. The son of Tennessee head baseball coach Rod Delmonico, Tony plans to get his GED diploma and enroll at Tennessee in the fall, skipping his senior year at Farragut.
"We have a leadoff banquet that we introduce the team by class, and I joked, 'should we introduce you with the juniors or with the seniors?'" said Farragut coach Tommy Pharr, who lists Delmonico as a 12th grader on the team's roster. "He said he wanted to be introduced with the seniors so I guess it's official.
"I hate for him to go but he is definitely ready. He could probably start at most colleges this year. From a baseball perspective he's very mature."
Delmonico, a lean, athletic, switch-hitter, batted .382 as a freshman and .369 last season but it wasn't until he performed with similar success last summer on the showcase circuit that he and his father began to consider pushing up his timetable for graduation.
Delmonico was ranked the No. 10 prospect--the lone underclassman ranked--at the 2004 East Coast Professional Showcase in Wilmington, N.C. Despite playing alongside rising seniors such as Justin Upton (Great Bridge HS, Chesapeake, Va.), Justin Bristow (Mills Godwin HS, Richmond, Va.) and Josh Bell (Santaluces HS, Lantana, Fla.) one American League scout in attendance said Delmonico was the best defensive player at the event. He was also 6-for-14 with a pair of doubles against some of the country's best high school pitchers.
"When I went to East Coast, I saw a lot of pitchers who were (throwing) 88-89 (mph). That is what (a Southeastern Conference) type of pitcher throws, if not better, and I handled it very well," Tony said. "That paid a big contribution to the decision."
Provided Delmonico fulfills the necessary requirements of the GED and passes the final two of 14 necessary core high school courses, he would qualify for admission to Tennessee. He's already fulfilled the minimum SAT score. And, assuming he is accepted, he would enroll this fall and join the baseball team.
Delmonico’s father points out that his son repeated "fifth or sixth" grade and turns 18 in April, making him an older junior. Furthermore, Rod sees the head start in college as putting his son in an advantageous position, academically.
"It comes down to he'll be someone going into the draft when he is 21 (as a draft-eligible sophomore if he were to finish high school in 2006 before enrolling at Tennessee)," Rod said. "Because of that, he would only have two years of college. Doing it this way, he'll have three years of college behind him and academically it's the best thing."
The decision carries other ramifications. While skipping his senior year of high school isn't a concern for Tony, who appears ready for the challenge of a higher level of baseball, it would mean he would pass up the chance to be drafted out of high school. He projects as an early-round pick in 2006. He also would not have the leverage of being a draft-eligible sophomore in 2008 in college.
While Rod Delmonico says he isn't sure his son is ready for the rigors of pro ball the scouting community believes Tony has the tools to be a premium pick.
"He would be a 19-year-old senior, which isn't that big of a deal,” said Padres area scout Hank King, who estimates he's watched Tony play 20 times. "Right now, he's one of the premier high school hitters in the country. It's not a stretch to say he would be a top-100 (draft) pick this year."
Only twice before have high school juniors petitioned for and been eligible for the draft. The first such occurrence was in 2000 when North Carolina high school catcher Landon Powell went undrafted. It happened again a year later when Washington high school righthander Jeremy Bonderman was drafted in the first round by the Athletics. Both players were 18 at the time, a prerequisite to obtaining a GED.
Powell went undrafted because no team was aware he was eligible. Agent Scott Boras slipped Powell under the radar, prompting Major League Baseball to change the interpretation of its rules regarding high school juniors. Delmonico turns 18 in April and while he could take the GED test prior to the 2005 draft, he will not be eligible for selection.
MLB’s amended rules required Delmonico to drop out of high school 365 days prior to the draft (June 6, 2004) and pass the GED following his 18th birthday in order to be draft eligible this year. He wouldn’t be eligible again until 2008.
The point is academic anyway as Delmonico's motivation for leaving school a year early begins and ends with his father and the University of Tennessee, who chose not to extend his contract following last season, his 15th as the Volunteers head coach.
"I'm set on playing college ball," Tony said. "God forbid if I get hurt, I'll have to come back and play (one) more year of college. But it will be easy for me to get my degree."
Stillwater Runs Deep
The Cowboy connection has worked out awfully nicely for Stillwater (Okla.) High. A string of coaches at Oklahoma State have sent their talented sons to Stillwater, which reached the state Class 6A semifinals in 2004. This year, junior lefthander Brett Anderson, son of current Oklahoma State head coach Frank Anderson, anchors the Pioneers pitching staff, while senior first baseman Cory Wine, son of former Cowboys assistant and current Penn State head coach Robbie Wine, is one of Stillwater's top power hitters.
In years past, ex-Oklahoma State coach Tom Holliday's two sons, Matt and Josh, starred for Stillwater before playing professionally. Holliday's predecessor, Gary Ward, also had two sons excel for the Pioneers, Rocky and Roger.
"It's something that a lot of high schools don't have, that luxury of being in a college town," Stillwater coach Gary Gardner said. "Sometimes it can backfire on you if their dads take another job and they leave, but here at Stillwater, we've really been fortunate."
The fortune is reciprocal. Robbie Wine, who played in the major leagues along with his father Bobby, landed both his son Cory and Stillwater High center fielder Garrett Field in his 2005 recruiting class at Penn State. Cory is a powerful 6-foot-5, 210-pound lefthanded hitter. Field, who batted .440 last year, runs a legitimate 6.5-second 60-yard dash.
Those two help lead an offense that also boasts senior catcher Ryan Pittman, a cleanup hitter with blossoming power who played middle linebacker for the Pioneers football team. Then there's Anderson, the best prospect on the team and one of the nation’s premier junior lefthanders, and 6-foot-9 lefthander Garrett Johnson, a solid No. 2 starter. Anderson was 9-1, 1.48 with 103 strikeouts and 11 walks as a sophomore last year, before starring for USA Baseball’s youth national team.
"Anderson is as good a lefty as I've seen in high school, to be honest," Gardner said. "His velocity is 90-92 (mph), he throws a great lefthanded slider, and he has been around one of the best pitching coaches in the country his whole life in his dad. So he knows how to pitch and is very mechanically sound."
AROUND THE NATION
• La Cueva High in Albuquerque might have lost Jordan Pacheco and James Parr to graduation, but don't expect the two-time defending state 5-A champions to relinquish their crown easily. The Bears, ranked No. 38 in the Baseball America/National High School Baseball Coaches Association preseason poll, enter the season riding a 58-game winning streak and back-to-back final top 10 rankings. They are just 10 wins shy of tying the national prep record for consecutive wins, set by New York's Archbishop Molloy High from 1963-66.
La Cueva coach Stan McKeever believes his Bears can keep the streak going--but it won't be easy.
"Four of our first 10 games are against some of the top-ranked teams in the state, so if we do it, it's going to be a tough task," McKeever said. "We have seven kids coming back, but we did lose two of our top three pitchers (Parr and Pacheco). The pitching depth is kind of a question mark for us this year."
La Cueva's ace, however, is no question mark. Junior lefty Nathan Solow, who posted a 1.58 ERA in 2004, throws three pitches for strikes in any count and has a lot of movement on his 85-88 mph fastball. He gives the Bears a very good chance every time he's on the mound, and slugging catcher Zach Arnett and speedy center fielder Seth Johnson lead a La Cueva offense that will once again score its share of runs.
• Brewers prospect Mark Rogers might have gotten the national hype, but Deering High did the celebrating when it beat the celebrated 2004 first-round draft pick for the Maine Division I state title for the second season in a row last year. In the process, Deering completed a perfect 24-0 season, becoming one of only three teams in the final BA/NHSBCA poll to go undefeated on the year.
A team composed of players exclusively from Deering High then became the first New England team to win the American Legion World Series in 67 years during the summer. The team won, even though all-state catcher Andrew Giobbi opted to participate in showcase events. Deering has lost just two players from its 2004 squad, and two of its returning players--Giobbi and shortstop Ryan Flaherty--have committed to play for Vanderbilt next year.
"In the state of Maine, we're definitely the favorites, and I don't think anybody can dispute that," Deering coach Mike D'Andrea said. "It's one thing to be experienced, it's another to be experienced winning. I would hope that experience helps them not get up-tight or tense in a close game."
Deering has won five out of the last six Maine Division I titles, and D’Andrea believes this year’s team has the potential to be the best Rams team yet. Flaherty, a 6-foot-3 lefthanded hitter, did not strike out once last year on his way to winning the state batting title with a .500 average to go with a .591 on-base percentage. Giobbi, a four-year starter behind the plate, slugged .895 as a junior and provides power from the No. 3 hole.
Junior righthander Michael Powers anchors a deep and talented pitching staff. "We're head and shoulders above every team in the state, to be honest with you," D'Andrea said. "I don't mean to sound conceited, but I've coached for seven years, and this is the best team I've seen."
• Of course, the program that enters the season with the most celebrated winning streak is Chatsworth (Calif.) High. The Chancellors became the first California school in 2003 to finish atop the BA/NHSBCA high school poll in the 11-year history of the rankings, then ran the table last season, going 35-0 and repeating as the nation's No. 1 ranked team.
Chatsworth, which opens the season ranked 11th, has won 50 consecutive games, a state record. The team’s last setback dates back to April 2003 against Tucson's Sabino High.
Chatsworth may be hard pressed to keep the streak intact as ace righthander Jason Dominguez departed for Pepperdine and leading hitter Willie Cabrera took his sweet line-drive swing to Los Angeles Pierce JC. Chatsworth's top two players are sophomores Matt Dominguez and Mike Moustakas.
"What we did last year, to duplicate that is just not going to happen, that's unheard of," coach Tom Meusborn said. "We're not putting that pressure on our guys."