High School | General | 2/21/2020

Bulger all-in for senior season

Jeff Dahn        
Photo: Jack Bulger (Perfect Game)

Mid-Atlantic Region Preview | High School Preview Index

There has been change at the top of the baseball program at DeMatha Catholic High School in the form of a new coaching staff, a turn of events that can often produce both excitement and anxiety in equal measures.

In DeMatha’s case, however, it seems to be a lot more of the former than the latter, and there’s a simple reason for that. While there has been a changing of the guard at the top, the players – especially one in particular – are going to be very recognizable to the DeMatha faithful when the Stags get out on the field for the first time early next month.

First year head coach Steve Miller, a 1981 DeMatha Catholic grad, and his top assistant Mike Toomey, are in the early stages of constructing a 2020 roster that could feature more than a dozen seniors who saw playing time as juniors last season.

And none will be as important to the team’s success than 2019 Perfect Game All-American catcher Jack Bulger, a dynamic 18½ -year-old prospect who is heading into his final season of high school baseball.

“We have a new coaching staff this year … and it’s a really cool, new culture,” Bulger said when speaking with PG over the phone earlier this week. “I also feel like we have a lot of really solid players with a lot of depth … and I think everybody’s just itchin’ to get outside and get the season started; we’re just really excited.”

While the Stags may or may not get outside at home in the very near future they have a very reliable back-up plan. The team will be leaving for Vero Beach, Fla., on March 4 where they’ll play as many as four scrimmage games during what Bulger described as a spring training trip. They’re scheduled to open the regular season against Archbishop Spalding in Severn, Md., on March 10.

DeMatha wasn’t included in the Perfect High School Preseason Top 50 National Rankings but it is on the cusp. The Stags are the No. 2-ranked team in the PG HS Mid-Atlantic Region behind only national No. 43-ranked Chapin (S.C.).

This is a deep and talented team that can proudly proclaim the ultra-talented Bulger as the face of the program. The 6-foot, 205-pound Vanderbilt signee is the No. 28-ranked overall prospect in the national high school class of 2020 (No. 1 Maryland) who last summer became only the fifth Maryland prep to earn an invitation to the PG All-American Classic; he is the second from DeMatha Catholic, joining Anthony Russell (2004).

What bodes well for the Stags is that Bulger won’t be the only highly regarded senior taking the field for DeMatha this season. He’ll be joined by outfielder/middle-infielder/right-hander Alex Greene, a Virginia signee ranked Nos. 97/3 and catcher/right-hander Blake Badman, another Virginia recruit ranked Nos. top-500/4.

Outfielders Jake Maske (Mount St. Mary’s, t-1000) and Donovan Teel (South Carolina-Aiken, t-1000), infielder Brendan Munnelly and catcher/third baseman James Holladay all played in at least 21 of the Stags’ 31 games last season as juniors.

“At the top with a lot of these kids, we’re close friends and we’ve been playing together for eight years, probably,” Bulger said. “We’re all just really close and we’ve been playing together for so long … we all get along with each other really well. I’m just excited to get out there and compete with them.”

Bulger and Greene – named members of the 14-player PG HS Mid-Atlantic Region Dream Team by PG VP of Player Personnel David Rawnsley – are especially close; both played on the varsity as freshman. They also attended the same elementary and middle schools before landing at DeMatha and there were occasions when they played on the same summer travel ball teams.

“I’ve been around him for as long as I can remember; it’s just kind of cool,” Bulger said of Greene. “We train together too … and obviously we hit together at DeMatha. I’m always around the kid; it’s awesome.”

Badman is a prospect who Bulger described as “kind of a late bloomer” who put together a strong junior season that carried over to a very productive summer on the PG circuit while playing with the WWBA World Championship runner-up Dirtbags.

“He’s just a really good player,” Bulger said when asked about Greene. “He ended up (signing with) Virginia, which caught us all by surprise, even Alex because he’s going to UVA, too. We were all just really happy for him and I’m excited to see what he has in store for his senior season.”

A varsity starter since he was a freshman in 2017, Bulger was never able to keep his considerable talents from plain view (why would he want to?). According to statistics published on MaxPreps, he hit .340 with team-highs of five home runs and 22 RBI as a ninth-grader and .298-4-38 as a sophomore, playing in 33 games both seasons.

Those numbers took a quantum leap last season during his junior campaign when he slashed .545/.660/.896 (1.556 OPS). He was 42-for-77 at the plate with five home runs, three triples, six doubles, 28 RBI and 28 runs scored, while also stealing 25 bases, all in 30 games. It ranks as an absolutely monster season by any measure or metric.

DeMatha Catholic, which is located in Hyattsville, Md., just minutes northeast of Washington D.C., is a member of the nationally prominent Washington Catholic Athletic Conference  (WCAC) and winning a WCAC championship is the Stags’ number-one goal every year.

They have reached the WCAC finals each of the last three seasons, only to come up short in best-of-3 series against D.C.’s St. John’s College HS all three years. DeMatha finished 23-10 in 2017, 19-14 in 2018 and 18-13 last season; St. John’s was 30-3 in 2019.

“The top of the league is always really, really strong and St. John’s has kind of been the top dog the last few years,” Bulger said. “I feel like we’ve had the same if not better talent than them all three years, but they’re just really, really consistent. They’re a very well-coached ballclub and really hard to beat if you don’t play your ‘A’ game.”

Bulger’s PG career was an extensive one, as he was able to parlay the success he enjoyed playing on the high school fields in and around the D.C. area into even more success playing on MLB-quality fields in Florida, Georgia and Arizona.

He attended 22 PG events and was an all-tournament selection in 11 of 19 tournaments. The last five selections came while he was playing with Georgia-based Team Elite in 2017-18, and two of those were at the PG WWBA World Championship in Jupiter, Fla. Bulger was also named the MV Player at the 2017 PG BCS 15u National Championship and was part of three PG tournament championship teams with Team Elite.

The summer of 2019 was an especially memorable one. He got it started at the PG National Showcase held at Chase Field in downtown Phoenix in mid-June and was able to turn an outstanding performance out there in the desert into an invitation to the PG All-American Classic, played at Petco Park in downtown San Diego in mid-August.

“Going out in the summer and competing against the best high school baseball has to offer, it’s just a great experience,” Bulger said. “When you come home, nothing can really get past you because you’ve faced all these great arms and you’ve competed against the best.”

Bulger has signed to play his college ball at defending national champion Vanderbilt which he said became his “dream school” after watching the Commodores win the College World Series championship in 2014. He became a big fan of the way Vandy head coach Tim Corbin manages the ballclub and the staff he has assembled around him, and once he made his official visit, he was sold.

But as much as Bulger loves Vanderbilt and as much as he might be looking forward to the college baseball experience, he may never step foot on campus again. He is considered a top prospect in the upcoming MLB June Amateur Draft , so it’s possible pro ball may be his next stop after DeMatha.

“I’m definitely keeping both doors open,” he said. “It’s going to take a lot to get me away from my Vanderbilt commitment … but I’ve gone through the whole process of learning about both sides of the argument this offseason after the summer I had.

“Honestly, once the (high school) season starts I just kind of want to forget about all of that stuff and just go out and enjoy my senior year.”

The entire DeMatha Catholic experience – both on the school’s baseball field and inside its classrooms – has been “incredible” Bulger told PG, and he feels like he owes a debt of gratitude to every one of the coaches, teachers, teammates and classmates he interacted with during his four years there.

He is also sincere when he speaks about the excitement he feels as his final high school season approaches. He doesn’t have one negative word to say in regard to DeMatha’s previous coaching staff but it’s obvious he is looking forward to playing for Miller and Toomey, both of whom have been around the game for decades at both the professional and amateur levels. And, his expectations for 2020 couldn’t be any higher.

“I think we’re going to get a good sense of who this team is once a few games happen and once our pitching staff gets worked out,” Bulger said. “All of our new coaching staff are baseball lifers; our head coach and our assistant coaches have been around the game forever, and it’s just a really good group and really good mix. It should be really fun, and hopefully we can come out of the season with a  WCAC championship and as few losses as possible.”

Change can be a good thing but sometimes, it’s been said, the more things change the more they stay the same.

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