SAN DIEGO -- Sam Blalock's teams have won league titles and a few San Diego County championships over the years, and that's just fine with him. But that's not really the goal. Blalock says the mission of the Rancho Bernardo High School baseball program reaches higher than winning trophies at the prep level. It's about taking the next step.
"We want to win, but it isn't geared toward championships but to playing good, solid baseball," Blalock says. "We try to gear our teaching to be more in line with the pro game and the college game. We try to accentuate the skills players bring and develop those skills to help them succeed at that next level." The results have earned Rancho Bernardo a reputation as one of the top producers of baseball talent in the country. Rancho Bernardo has generated more than two dozen selections in the First-Year Player draft since the school opened in 1990, including 11 picks in the top 10 rounds since 1995. That includes five first-round selections, from Jaime Jones (Marlins) in 1995 to Cole Hamels (Phillies) in 2002. Fifth-rounder Hank Blalock, who happens to be Sam's nephew, developed into an All-Star third baseman with the Texas Rangers. Others have gone on to major college programs and then been drafted, such as Stanford product Danny Putnam, now in the A's system after being taken as a compensation pick last year. This year, center fielder John Drennen is projected as a possible low first-round pick, and the Broncos feature a few others who might get drafted in first baseman Allan Dykstra, left-hander John Dutton and right-hander T.J. Peabody. After hitting his 47th career home run in a county playoff victory last week, Drennen said he knows he has learned at Rancho Bernardo everything he needs to take it to the next level. "I'm ready to go," said Drennen, who has a commitment to UCLA but says he fully intends to go pro. "I know I'm ready. I can't wait for graduation so I can get out there on the field and learn more about baseball." And the beat goes on at Rancho Bernardo. It's a program that for years now has been feeding upon its own success at getting players drafted or into the college ranks. "I think there is a motivation for kids when they're younger in the area because it's such a powerhouse," says Hank Blalock, who graduated from Rancho Bernardo in 1999 before beginning his rapid rise through the Rangers' farm system. "We've been ranked in the top five or 10 in the country ever since I was a sophomore, so that was like '97. "The kids when they're playing Little League and Pony League around there, they know what is expected so they really want to develop and get as good as they can so they can play for Rancho Bernardo." The concept is simple, really. Sam Blalock, like any teacher, wants his students to take what they've learned and succeed beyond high school. And make no mistake: Blalock's baseball course sets a high standard. "We're an AP class," Blalock says. "We're like AP chemistry. These aren't the basics. If you are struggling at this pace, if you can't keep up, you have to step aside. I don't know if that's anything new, but that's how we do it. "If you're not doing it right or you can't do it right, we're not going to slow down for you. We're not going to give you the extra cuts in practice so that you can get it right. We're going to give our best players the extra cuts." This advanced-placement course in baseball is serious from the first time the players take the field. Hank Blalock can attest to that. "The kids know what to expect going in there so it's like 'Dude, if you're going to go in there and mess around, don't even show up in the first place,' " Hank Blalock said. At Rancho Bernardo, Sam Blalock's teams have won three CIF-San Diego Section Division I titles along with producing dozens of pro prospects. But Blalock's reputation as a coach who can develop talent precedes the school's existence. Before kicking off the Broncos' program, Blalock coached for 16 years at Mt. Carmel High, the school across Interstate 15 where he mentored the likes of current A's general manager Billy Beane (a No. 1 overall pick in 1980) and Padres pitching coach Darren Balsley. Blalock is the all-time winningest coach in San Diego County history, surpassing the 600-win milestone last year. Blalock says his approach has developed over time, but the idea always has been to get the kids to learn to play baseball at the highest level. "We constantly counsel kids about what they want to get out of baseball and provide a means of getting there," Blalock said. The beauty, Blalock says, is that it's really the success the kids have beyond Rancho Bernardo that passes the desire to succeed along to the next generation of players. "When you're a sophomore and you see a senior and he gets drafted or goes on to college, you say, 'Hey, I can do that, too,' " Blalock said. "It's the kids who are the motivators. They're our best instructors."
John Schlegel is a reporter for MLB.com. Reporter Jesse Sanchez contributed to this report. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.