Upton Finishes On Top
By Alan Matthews
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 years."
Mark your calendar.
AROUND THE NATION
• 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.