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Monday, August 12, 2013

Back home in So Cal

Jeff Dahn        
Photo: Perfect Game

SAN DIEGO -- Highly regarded 2015 catching prospect Lucas Herbert has spent roughly 13 of his 16 years coming of age in Southern California, with the other two or three spent in Georgia. He's been exposed to some excellent age-group baseball at both stops, but the warm So Cal sunshine seems to be especially agreeable to him.

"California is a real good fit for me," Herbert said Monday morning while sitting in the third base dugout at Fowler Park on the University of San Diego campus. The early morning marine layer of clouds was just starting to burn off, making way for the typical San Diego blue skies which makes the area a "real good fit" for just about anyone.

Herbert is among the more than 90 top prospects from the class of 2015 -- with a sprinkling of 2016s -- gathered here for the Perfect Game Underclass All-American Games. The Underclass AA Games follow right on the heels the Perfect Game All-American Classic presented by Rawlings, which was played Sunday night at Petco Park in downtown San Diego.

Seventeen players among the top-86 in PG's class of 2015 national prospect rankings are in attendance for the Games' two-day run, and Herbert fits right in. He is ranked 22nd nationally (No. 3 at the catching position) and Nos. 5 and 2 in California.

Herbert, a junior at San Clemente (Calif.) High School, was raised in Pasadena not far from the Rose Bowl, but he and his family lived in Georgia when he was in grades 7 through 9. Lucas played with the East Cobb Astros and East Cobb Tigers in 2011 and 2012 but then the family returned to California -- San Clemente, specifically -- in July, 2012.

"Georgia and California both have a lot of (baseball) talent but the advantage here is the year-round thing," Lucas' father, Mike Herbert, said Monday from Fowler Park. "(Lucas) can play through the fall and into even Christmastime ... and even at the high school level, in January we'll be out on the field. The weather gives you the opportunity to do more the year-round."

A UCLA commit, Herbert is a member of the West (Green) team at the PG Underclass All-American Games, and surprisingly is the only member of the West squad that has committed to a college. Twenty-four prospects on the other four teams -- California (Gold), East (Columbia Blue), National (Navy) and USA (Red) have already committed to NCAA Division I schools; those commits when grouped together with the highly ranked prospects, make this a powerhouse event.

"All the good talent and with the scouts being here, the whole environment is pretty cool," Herbert said. "It's always fun to play with guys that play the game at a high level. I just want to go out and play hard and give it my best and see what happens."

Mike Herbert felt it was important his son be in attendance at the event, which is the first Perfect Game showcase Lucas has attended.

"Since we've moved back to California, this is (a showcase) that is local and really only about an hour drive away for us," Mike said. "It gives him a chance to play with some of the better players and come out and compete with some of the best guys. His (summer) season is over now ... so we scheduled this as kind of his last event for the summer, to come down here and play."

Herbert was a primary shortstop in his early years of playing ball but moved behind the plate when around 12 years old. He enjoys being back there because it keeps him involved in every pitch and he anticipates staying there as he progresses to each higher level.

His desire to continue catching played a role in his decision to commit to head coach John Savage and the NCAA Division I College World Series national champion UCLA Bruins.

"It's a great program and Coach Savage is a good pitching coach, so I'm going get to catch a lot of real good pitchers and work with them," Herbert said. "With Coach Savage I'll be able to learn a lot about catching, as well, because pitching and catching go together."

Since moving back to  Southern California, Herbert has been playing with the Southern California (So Cal) Renegades organization, and he just returned from a successful trip to Farmington, N.M., where the Renegades finished as runner-up at the Connie Mack World Series (So Cal won the CMWS championship in 2012).

"It's been great playing with So Cal," Herbert said. "It's a lot of guys going into college and other guys that are going to be seniors (in high school), so it's lots of good players and lots of good pitchers that I get the privilege to catch."

Last September, Mike Herbert and some other players' dads assembled a powerhouse team called Angels Baseball -- the group consists of avid Los Angeles Angels fans -- and entered it in the  Perfect Game-EvoShield National Championship (Underclass) that was played in Peoria, Ariz.

The Angels roster included pitchers Brady Aiken from Cardiff by the Sea, Calif., and Keaton McKinney from Ankeny, Iowa, both of whom pitched in Sunday night's Perfect Game All-American Classic presented by Rawlings. The Angels lost in the first round of the playoffs but it was still an enjoyable experience for Lucas Herbert, one of just three 2015s on the roster.

"I got to play with a lot of my friends and a lot of other good players, too," he said. Another one of Herbert's friends, pitcher Dylan Cease from Milton, Ga., also pitched in Sunday's Classic. The Herberts had just returned from New Mexico and were unable to make it down to Petco to watch the game in person.

"I watched it on TV and got see a lot of my friends pitch," Lucas said. "I know a lot of those guys so it was pretty cool."

Mike Herbert won't be putting another Angels Baseball all-star team for next month's PG-EvoShield National Championship (Underclass) tournament because Lucas will be playing for another all-star team based in Florida. As Lucas continues to expand his horizons, Mike marvels at the places he's already been.

"It's been a great experience," Mike said. "I haven't totaled it up, but he's probably played in 15 different states ... and what's fun is he probably knows three or four guys on the (East) team. They're all guys he played with at East Cobb, so as we travel across the country -- even in New Mexico -- he runs into a lot of guys he knows. It's been fun watching him progress and get better and in a couple of years he will be up at UCLA."

There is still a need for progression, however.

"I need to keep working harder," Herbert said, while acknowledging that he has been pleased with the progression of game to date. "I need to keep getting better; you can't stop working at that."

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