MLB.com Columnist

Jonathan Mayo

Top prep talent packs 2016 NHSI

Event brings together country's best high schoolers, has featured prime-time prospects in past

Top prep talent packs 2016 NHSI

To understand how important USA Baseball's National High School Invitational, which begins for the fifth time on Wednesday at the National Training Complex in Cary, N.C., has become, perhaps looking at the Atlanta Braves' farm system would suffice.

Five of the Braves' top 20 prospects participated in the national team event held each March -- Kolby Allard would have been six had he not been hurt a year ago. To a man, they talk about the experience of the four-day tournament fondly.

"It was so much fun," said Max Fried, whose Harvard-Westlake club played in 2012, the first year of the NHSI. "It was my last time as a hitter. I played the outfield on the days I didn't pitch. It was one of those experiences, playing on that USA field again -- I had played the previous summer on the trials team -- it was so awesome. Looking back on it, it was definitely one of the highlights of my senior year."

"It was awesome," said Braxton Davidson, a 2014 NHSI participant. "All of my high school buddies I grew up with got to experience the same experience around scouts and colleges that I got throughout the summer. It was great exposure for them. USA Baseball always puts on a great tournament with a lot of great talent. It was special to be a part of it."

"It was fun," fellow 2014 NHSI alum Touki Toussaint said. "That first game was kind of wild. It was 36 degrees, 1-0 game. We were looking forward to it and we came out with a win. There was a lot of good competition there."

The Braves aren't the only team with NHSI talent in their system. The Pirates took back-to-back first-round picks in Austin Meadows and Cole Tucker after seeing them in North Carolina in 2013 and '14. Meadows joins the Rangers' Joey Gallo as prospects in the top 20 of MLBPipeline.com's Top 100 Prospects list who also played in the NHSI.

The NHSI has become a must-see event for scouts, because it affords them the opportunity to see some of the top high school players in the country compete in a team setting rather than a showcase format. That can speak volumes about how they respond to the pressures of vying for a championship, one that will be crowned in Saturday's title game, which is set to take place at 12:15 p.m. ET. It's one of seven games that can be seen live on MLB.com. Regardless of how far they advance in the single-elimination tournament, each of the 16 teams participating is guaranteed to play four games.

The NHSI brings together 16 teams from 10 states across the country. Florida leads the way with four schools present -- Flanagan, North Broward Prep, Trinity Christian and The First Academy, which won it all in 2014. California has three representatives -- Chaminade, Huntington Beach and two-time NHSI champion Mater Dei. Two schools from Georgia, Allatoona and Walton, join teams from Alabama (Florence), Colorado (Rocky Mountain), New York (Poly Prep), North Carolina (Topsail), Tennessee (Houston), Utah (Bingham) and Virginia (Liberty Christian).

Players to watch

There are three members of MLBPipeline.com's Top 50 Draft prospects list, published last fall, who will be in attendance, headlined by No. 7 Blake Rutherford, an outfielder from Chaminade. He's joined by Florence lefty Braxton Garrett (No. 41) and Walton third baseman Carter Kieboom (No. 50). There's plenty of talent beyond this trio. Some prospects to keep an eye on:

Daniel Bakst, INF, Poly Prep, 2016
Hagen Danner, RHP, Huntington Beach, 2017
Cole Henry, RHP, Florence, 2018
Zach Hess, RHP, Liberty Christian, 2016
Kyle Jacobson, OF, Allatoona, 2017
Nick Kahle, C, Chaminade, 2016
Josh Stephen, OF, Mater Dei, 2016
Nicholas Storz, RHP, Poly Prep, 2016
Greg Veliz, RHP/INF, North Broward Prep, 2016
Mark Vientos, SS, Flanagan, 2017

Broadcast schedule
Games streamed live on USABaseball.com

Wednesday
Florence vs. Liberty Christian, 11 a.m. ET
Huntington Beach vs. Poly Prep, 2 p.m.

Thursday
Quarterfinal, 1 p.m.
Quaterfinal, 4:30 p.m.

Friday
Semifinal, 12 p.m.
Semifinal, 3:45 p.m.

Saturday
Championship, 12:15 p.m.

Jonathan Mayo is a reporter for MLBPipeline.com. Follow @JonathanMayo on Twitter. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.