Amateur scouts spend the spring crisscrossing the country, trying to see as many players for the upcoming First-Year Player Draft as possible. It's virtually impossible math, with more players to see than days on the calendar before the Draft in June arrives.
So when an in-season event comes that allows scouts to see many players at one time, over multiple days, it quickly becomes a must-stop on the schedule. Since its inaugural year in 2012, USA Baseball's National High School Invitational has become a tremendous resource for both Major League teams and college recruiters. When the 2014 NHSI begins at the National Training Complex in Cary, N.C., on Wednesday and concludes with the championship game on Saturday, expect the stands to be filled with evaluators.
"You only have so many days to see players, so when you get some of the better players in the country in one spot, you save some days," Marlins scouting director Stan Meek said. "You see pitchers, hopefully in good conditions, against better teams. With the hitters, you hope they face the better pitchers for good matchups. You get a lot done in a short amount of time. It's a great event and I think it's something the scouting community really likes."
The NHSI is a team event, as opposed to the showcases that are popular over the summer. It's a single-elimination tournament, with a champion crowned at the end, though every team is guaranteed four games. It provides players with national exposure in addition to providing the opportunity for the best teams in the country to compete against each other.
Mater Dei High School in California, alma mater of Rockies prospect Ryan McMahon and Southern California catcher Jeremy Martinez, won the NHSI title the previous two years. The school is not back for a three-peat, meaning there will be a new NHSI champion at week's end. There are 16 teams, with plenty of Draft talent, that will vie for that honor.
Venice High School (Fla.) is the No. 6 team in the country, according to Baseball America. That program is joined at the NHSI by fellow Top 25 teams T.C. Roberson in North Carolina (15), ThunderRidge in Colorado (18) and Parkview in Georgia (22). Dyer County (Tenn.) and Mountain Pointe (Ariz.) were also in the Top 25 until dropping out of the most recent rakings.
The history of this event shows that many early-round Draft choices will emerge from the teams' rosters at the tournament. The 2012 NHSI saw Max Fried, Courtney Hawkins, Lucas Sims, Joey Gallo and Matt Olson all go in the top 50 picks of the 2012 Draft. The 2013 version saw Austin Meadows and Nick Ciuffo get taken in the first round, with McMahon, Stephen Gonsalves and Cody Bellinger all going in the top four rounds of the 2013 Draft. Josh Hart played in 2012 and was a 2013 supplemental first-rounder as well. This year's Draft prospects like Brady Aiken, Dylan Cease, Braxton Davidson, Justus Sheffield and Jack Flaherty participated as juniors a year ago.
Davidson and Cease were scheduled for a return engagement, but while Milton High School will be in attendance, it will be without its ace. Cease is dealing with an elbow issue that will keep him from throwing for a month. There will be five other names joining Davidson from MLB.com's Draft Top 50 from the fall: Jacob Gatewood, Touki Toussaint, Michael Gettys, Mac Marshall (who played in the 2012 NHSI as a sophomore) and Josh Morgan will all be in North Carolina this week.
top draft prospects
|7||Jacob Gatewood||Clovis HS (Calif.)||USC|
|8||Touki Toussaint||Coral Springs Christian HS (Fla.)||Vanderbilt|
|10||Michael Gettys||Gainesville HS (Ga.)||Georgia|
|13||Braxton Davidson||T.C. Roberson HS (N.C.)||North Carolina|
|34||Mac Marshall||Parkview HS (Ga.)||LSU|
|41||Josh Morgan||Orange Lutheran HS (Calif.)||UCLA|
Four games may not sound like a huge amount, but considering it's usually a one-and-done type of situation for a scouting director, seeing top high schoolers in action for four games in a row is a little bit of heaven on Earth.
"Multiple days for hitters is really important," Meek said. "It's a really good sample size. Any time you see a high school guy, they don't play back-to-back days. You get one look and then you're on to something else. You're killing a lot of birds with one stone."
Most of these top prospects have been scouted repeatedly, from last summer's showcase circuit to the beginning of this spring season. But the NHSI provides something that neither the summer nor the regular season typically can provide: real games, where winning for one's team is all-important, against a very high level of competition.
"Any time you have guys playing and trying to win, the concentration is better," Meek said. "They're going to be playing at the top of their game. The showcase stuff is good to evaluate tools, the games are better to see instincts. This is the best scenario we can get."
Resourceful scouts will even take advantage of the location. The USA Baseball complex is just a quick drive from North Carolina State's campus, so there might be a caravan on Friday night to go see Carlos Rodon pitch (and Trea Turner hit) against Miami. With a little more hustle, they could drive about an hour and a half to watch East Carolina's Jeff Hoffman.
"It makes for long days, but they are good long days," Meek said. "The more looks you get, the better you're going to be as a scout."
Those who can't be in attendance in person, like many from the scouting industry will be, do have the chance to watch the action. Several games will be live streamed on USABaseball.com. Here is the schedule, with only the first day of matchups decided (all times ET):
• Wednesday: Coral Springs Christian vs. Orange Lutheran, 12:30 p.m.
• Wednesday: Parkview vs. Regis Jesuit, 3:45 p.m.
• Thursday: Quarterfinal, 1 p.m.
• Thursday: Quarterfinal, 4:30 p.m.
• Friday: Semifinal, noon.
• Friday: Semifinal, 3:45 p.m.
• Saturday: Championship, noon.