High School : : General
Wednesday, March 06, 2013

Wow! Washington top-6 in draft

Jeff Dahn        
Photo: Perfect Game
2013 Perfect Game High School Baseball Preview Index

For a moment, and it was fleeting to be sure, Mike Brooks became a man able to speak only a single syllable. Brooks had just been told of a chart published by Baseball America that showed the state of Washington ranked sixth among all 50 states, Washington D.C., Puerto Rico, British Columbia and Ontario for having the most high school prospects selected in the first three rounds of the MLB First-Year Player Draft since 2003.

The usual suspects were at the top of the list. California led the way with 103, followed by Florida (83), Texas (56), Georgia (45) and Puerto Rico (14). And then, right behind the Puerto Ricans and just ahead of baseball “hotbeds” Arizona and Oklahoma (11 each) was Washington with 13. Oregon and Wyoming, with one selection each, were the only other states from the PG High School Northwest Region on the list.

“Wow,” was the only word Brooks uttered when he was told the numbers early this week. And he uttered that “Wow” word three times.

“It’s funny because years ago Washington was kind of considered back-country,” Brooks said after collecting his thoughts. “That’s primarily because the weather here is really difficult … but in the last 10 or 15 years there’s been a lot of these indoor training facilities that have opened up, and most of them are opened by the select baseball programs that have multiple teams and kids will start as young as 12 or even younger. These indoor facilities are pretty high-tech – they’ve got fancy pitching machines and a lot other things.”

Brooks, who calls Puyallup, Wash., home, was drafted by the Minnesota Twins out of West Covina (Calif.) High School in 1968. He went on to an eight-year professional career in the Twins and Cleveland Indians organizations, and earned a spot on the Twins’ big-league roster in both 1970 and 1972.

He has been coaching elite Northwest-area teams since 2000 and owns and operates the Diamond Players Baseball Training and Development Academy in Puyallup. His specialties are hitting and infield instruction.

“I do baseball the year around,” he said. “It’s my identity; it’s what I do.”

Brooks coached Team Northwest squads at all four Perfect Game World Series events (17u, 16u, 15u, 14u) last summer and has been a keen observer of the high school talent the state of Washington has produced.

In the 10-year time frame Baseball America used for its study, Washington’s first experience with high school prospects taken in the first three rounds of the draft came in 2004. Outfielder K.C. Herren from Auburn (Wash.) High School was taken in the second round with the 51
st overall pick by the Texas Rangers. Using the 93rd pick in the third round, the Seattle Mariners chose Woodinville (Wash.) HS outfielder Matt Tuiasosopo.

Two years later, outfielder Travis Snider from Jackson HS in Everett was a first round selection with the 14
th pick by the Toronto Blue Jays, and outfielder Stephen Englund from Bellevue (Wash.) HS went in the second round (70th) to the Washington Nationals. Interestingly, Renton, Wash., native Tim Lincecum was taken with the 10th pick in the first round by the San Francisco Giants in 2006, but because Lincecum was drafted out of the University of Washington, his name wasn’t included in BA’s total.

The state’s preps really hit the big time in 2010, thanks to some fine work by the Tampa Bay Devil Rays' scouting department. The Rays took outfielder Josh Sale from Bishop Blanchet HS in Seattle with the 17
th overall pick of the first round and then plucked outfielder Drew Vettleson from Central Kitsap HS in Silverdale as a first round supplemental pick (42nd overall). They then made Ryan Brett (Highline HS, Burien) a third round pick with the 98th overall selection.

One year later, in 2011, the Rays struck again when they used another supplemental first round pick to snag left-hander Blake Snell from Shorewood HS in Shoreline.

“That was a strong group of kids,” Brooks said of the 2010 and 2011 classes. “They’re buddies, they know each other, they work out together. I don’t why they all ended up with Rays; their scout just did a better job. The other scouts all saw those kids … but, I don’t know, the Rays guy did a great job. Everybody else had a chance for those kids, too.”

Washington produced high school first round and supplemental first round picks in 2012: catcher Clint Coulter from Union HS in Camas was selected by the Milwaukee Brewers with the 27
th pick and right-hander Mitch Gueller from West HS in Chehalis was taken by the Philadelphia Phillies with the 54th pick.

All 13 of the Washington high school prospects chosen in the first three rounds between 2003 and 2012 participated in Perfect Game events while preps. Outfielder Kyrell Hudson, a graduate of Evergreen HS in Vancouver, Wash., who the Phillies selected in the third round of the 2009 draft, played in the 2008 Perfect Game All-American Classic and at the 2008 Perfect Game National Showcase.

Sale was at the 2009 PG All-American Classic and the’ 09 PG National; Vettleson joined him at the ’09 PG National. Herren, the 2004 second-rounder, participated at the 2003 PG National. The product keeps getting better and better.

“Right now the high schools are starting up and it’s really difficult, and not many of the fields have FieldTurf, so it’s really difficult for the kids to be outside,” Brooks said. “But the kids are getting tons of swings – I think our hitters are as advanced as hitters anywhere in the country just because they get so many indoor swings in the winter and they can hit live or off the machines.”

There is a flip-side to that, in Brooks’ view.

“The one area where we’ve fallen behind a little bit is in our pitching,” he said. “There haven’t been a lot of pitchers drafted high … and I don’t know what to attribute that to other than the fact that we’re not outside throwing often. We don’t have a lot of kids that are in the 90s where you’ll see some states that have a lot of high school kids throwing in the 90s where we might have two or three in the whole Northwest.”

The current group of high school seniors, juniors and sophomores (classes of 2013, ’14, ’15) that will populate the playing fields in Washington should continue the flow of talent into the first three rounds of the draft. There is no better place to start the conversation then with a couple of 2012 PG All-Americans: catcher Reese McGuire from Kentwood HS in Kent and right-hander Dustin Driver from Wenatchee (Wash.) HS.

McGuire is ranked the No. 10 overall prospect in the 2013 high school class and the No. 13 overall prospect in the 2013 draft class. The University of San Diego signee starred at the 2012 PG National Showcase in addition to performing at the PG All-American Classic, and is projected as a can’t-miss first-rounder.

Driver is ranked the No. 17 overall 2013 prep prospect and the No. 36 overall prospect in the 2013 draft class who also did the double at the PG National and the PG All-American Classic. He is viewed as a first-round or first-round supplemental type of guy.

“Looking at it over the years, I think it’s probably about par for the course,” Brooks said of the 2013 class. “McGuire is getting a lot of attention and I think he’ll go really high. Driver, I think the same.”

The top three Washington prospects in the class of 2014 – and five of the top six – are all pitchers, disputing Brooks’ contention of a lack of quality arms. The top gun is Lake Stevens (Wash.) HS right-hander Branden Kelliher, a San Diego commit ranked 52
nd nationally. East Valley HS right-hander Gage Burland is a Gonzaga commit who is ranked 147th nationally.

The most prominent 2015 prospect in the state is catcher/right-hander Brendan Illies from Puyallup HS, who played for Brooks and Team Northwest at both the 17u and 15u Perfect Game World Series’ last summer. Both of those teams advanced to the semifinals rounds of the prestigious tournaments and raised some eyebrows in the process.

"It's something new every time going to those events and playing against the best of the best," Illies said while playing at the 15u PGWS. "It's really all I want to do – I want to go far and I want to play hard against the best. Getting that experience as much as possible and having the chance of playing against those guys is just amazing."

Brooks always expects his Team Northwest squads to be competitive on the national stage.

“I’m extremely impressed with the talent that we have up here,” he said. “When I see us play against some of those other national powerhouses and we do well, it just shows that our kids can compete. It’s really just been the last 10 or 15 years that that’s really developed; I don’t know if it’s the water or what, but the kids can play. I think it’s just going to get stronger.

“Perfect Game has a lot to do with this, to tell you the truth,” he continued. “For awhile there … the kids up here just didn’t seem as aware of Perfect Game and lately because we’ve tried to promote Perfect Game and the benefits our kids have gotten by participating, and more and more the kids are getting motivated by that.

“It’s part of the trend at these national events where they know all the scouts are going to see them, all the college coaches are going to see them, and the value of the scholarships and some of the pro contracts has motivated the parents to get going.”
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