High School : : Rankings
Monday, February 18, 2013

In Houston, no problems at all

Jeff Dahn        
Photo: Perfect Game

2013 Perfect Game High School Baseball Preview Index

From where Tomball (Texas) High School baseball coach Doug Rush stands in the third base coach’s box at the Cougars’ home field, he can gaze out over a vast urban complex officially identified as the Houston-Sugar Land-Baytown Metropolitan Area.

It’s the fifth largest metropolitan area in the country by population (6.1 million) and the largest metro area in Texas. The 10-county region also boasts the state’s largest concentration of top-level high school baseball prospects and is home to seven of the top-45 teams in the 2013 Perfect Game National High School Preseason Team Rankings.

“I think the talent around here is as good as anywhere in the country,” Rush said in a telephone interview with PG late last week. “Houston-area baseball is just as good as it can be and that just helps the kids get better. First of all, we have good weather down here so they can play all the time, and with the competitive atmosphere it makes the kids work even harder in the offseason.

“With the competition around the Houston-area … just getting out of (here) and making it to the state tournament is just as tough as it can be.”

Despite a strong presence in the PG National High School Rankings, none of the Houston-area schools are ranked higher than No. 13 Dulles High School, located in Sugar Land. The Woodlands (Texas) High School comes in at No. 15; Rush’s Tomball team is No. 21; Pearland (Texas) High School comes in at No. 37; Cypress Ranch High School (Houston) is No. 39; Cypress Woods High School (Cypress, Texas) is No. 41; and Seven Lakes High School (Katy, Texas) is No. 45.

In PG’s state of Texas prospect rankings, nine of the top 15 2013s (11 of the top 20) and eight of the top 15 2014s (10 of the top 20) come from Houston-area schools.

One thought on why it might be difficult for a Houston-area school to break into the top-10 is that even though there is a decided proliferation of talent in the region, very few of the elite guys attend the same high school. Ten of the 11 highest ranked 2013 Houston-area prospects attend different high schools, as do all 10 of the highest-ranked 2014 Houston-area prospects.

Metropolitan Houston high schools produced four 2012 Perfect Game All-Americans, and all four attend different high schools: national No. 6-ranked RHP Kohl Stewart lives in Tomball and attends St. Pius X in Houston; No. 18 third baseman Cavan Biggio lives in Houston and attends hometown St. Thomas; right-hander Kacy Clemens is a senior at his hometown Houston Memorial; and outfielder Nicholas Banks lives in Tomball and plays for Rush at Tomball High.

Stewart’s St. Pius X team beat Biggio’s St. Thomas team, 4-0, in the Texas Association of Private and Parochial Schools Class 5A state championship in 2012.

Those players and other highly ranked prospects give the Houston metropolitan high schools the highest concentration of talent in the entire Perfect Game Texahoma Region which, as the name suggests, includes all the high schools in Texas and Oklahoma.

These prospects do get to play alongside each other during the summer for powerhouse travel ball organizations like the Houston Banditos and the Houston Heat, and Marucci Elite recently relocated to the Houston-area from its former base in Baton Rouge, La.

Banditos founder and head coach Ray DeLeon has watched his teams at every age level enjoy phenomenal success at PG tournaments over the past several years by bringing players together from dozens of high schools in the metro area.

“There is so much talent and it’s just spread all over the place,” DeLeon told PG last week. “Every year you get different classes that are top-heavy and some that are not so good, but anybody from around here could actually win (a Texas state championship). … There’s just so much talent out here with the baseball in Houston, that’s why a lot of (travel ball) organizations are moving down here.

“I don’t have to go out and shop from far away,” he added. “Right here within 30 miles I can pick from the best and I don’t have to recruit; it’s all in my backyard.”

Six of Rush’s Tomball High School players were on the Houston Banditos team that won the PG WWBA 2013 Grads or 17u National Championship in Marietta, Ga., last summer, including Banks (a Texas A&M signee), 2013 No. 373-ranked outfielder Ishmael Edwards and 2014 No. 349 right-hander Braden Holub. Tomball 2013 right-hander Bryce Welborn, a Texas Tech signee ranked 231st nationally, also plays with the Banditos.

“I like it. I don’t have a problem with it at all,” Rush said of his players putting on travel ball uniforms during the summer and fall. “Most of my kids play for the Banditos, and they know all the other kids around and they’re friends with them. It’s a competitive atmosphere but it’s a friendly atmosphere down here, too.”

PG All-Americans Stewart (Texas A&M for football) and Clemens (Texas), the son of Roger Clemens, played with the Banditos 17u squad in 2012. Top 2014 prospects like outfielder Stone Garrett (George Ranch HS), shortstop Justin Twine (Hemphill HS), right-hander Jake Jarvis (Klein Collins HS) and catcher Cole Bedford (Deer Park HS) played for the Banditos’ 16u team last summer.

PG All-American Biggio, the son of Craig Biggio, was the marquee name playing for the Houston Heat’s 17u team in 2012.

DeLeon said he has little problem getting the players from so many high schools to play together with cohesion during the summer. As huge as the Houston metropolitan area is, the high school baseball community is relatively tight-knit.

“With social media being so big these days, a lot of these kids already know each other anyway, especially here in the Houston area,” he said. “They love to play together, and whenever you can find three, four, five, six elite players and get them together, everybody else wants to play with them. You put them all on the same team and it all works itself it out.”

All of these top prospects have been the recipients of outstanding coaching throughout their developmental years, including in high school. DeLeon credits the efforts of head coach John Pope in leading Cypress Ranch to the Texas Class 5A state championship in 2012, and all the efforts of all the other coaches from across the Metro.

“To me, it’s all in the coaching down here,” he said. “Cy-Ranch was one of the biggest sleepers (in the 5A tournament field), but after looking at it, you know why they won? Their coach teaches the game of baseball and he knows what he’s doing. When you’ve got (coaches) that know what they’re doing it doesn’t matter if you have a stacked team or not, you’re going to find a way to win.”

Speaking with direct knowledge of each school’s personnel, DeLeon likes Cy-Ranch’s chances at repeating as Texas 5A champion; he also likes Cy-Wood with 2013 right-hander Casey Meisner (Texas Tech) and 2014 righty Mark Hammel leading the way.

Dulles returns standout 2013 outfielder Darryn Sheppard (Baylor); The Woodlands is buoyed by the return of 2013s third baseman Carter Hope (Oklahoma State) and left-hander Ryan Burnett (Texas Christian); and Seven Lakes welcomes back 2013 shortstop Ryne Birk (Texas A&M).

Tomball plays in Texas Class 4A, and with the return of Banks, Welborn, Edwards and Holub, will be among the favorites in that class.

“We’re really excited about this group; they can do anything they want to do as long as they perform,” Rush said. “It’s a special group; we’ve got 17 seniors on (the roster) and most of them could play for just about anybody and we’ve got a few very talented underclassmen.”

Rush was particularly generous in his praise of Banks, who PG ranks as the No. 162 overall prospect in June’s MLB amateur draft.

“He’s an awesome ballplayer,” Rush said. “He’s one of those kids that work hard at the game and he’s a good kid; when the lights are turned on, he turns on everything. He’s real competitive and he’s one of those guys I call a ‘gamer.’ He really performs under pressure well.”

If DeLeon’s enthusiasm for his younger age-group teams is any indication, the Houston-Sugar Land-Baytown Metropolitan Area will continue to crank-out elite talent along the lines of Stewart, Biggio, Clemens and Banks well into the foreseeable future. Four of the top-five ranked Texas prospects in the Class of 2015 – including national No. 5-ranked catcher Michael Hickman from Seven Lakes – attend Houston-area high schools.

High school coaches like Rush and Pope, and travel ball guys like DeLeon can only sit back and smile.

“The pipeline is unbelievable,” DeLeon said. “The players down here are developed at a very early age.”

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