The Key Players

Ranked as the third-best high school team in the nation by Baseball America entering the regular season, Edison High School, a Southern California baseball powerhouse, has since dropped from the latest rankings. However, with the strength of a trio of juniors—Henry Owens, and Eric Snyder, and Christian Lopes, a Valencia High transfer—the team is still stacked to compete in both 2010 and 2011. The defending Sunset League champs reached the Southern Section finals in 2009 before falling to Capistrano Valley and the 11th overall pick in the draft, Tyler Matzek.

Junipero Serra (JSerra) Catholic High School (ranked 47th in the preseason) has four players committed to Division-I schools: Austin Hedges (UCLA), Bret Dahlson (Loyola Marymount), and Clay Williamson and Grahamm Wiest (Cal State Fullerton). Last season, the team won its first-ever Trinity League championship.

What They’re Saying: JSerra

Dahlson, a 6-foot-1, 195-pound senior, serves as an offense-oriented first baseman and right-handed pitcher for JSerra. He started the game against Edison at first base before taking over pitching duties, hurling seven shutout innings and getting the win.

Dahlson has a slingshot delivery and throws a fastball, slider, and changeup. This season, he has been tinkering with a slider. His head coach, Brett Kay, says that his changeup is his best pitch.

"He can locate it (his changeup) at both sides of the plate. It’s a pretty good pitch for a high school pitcher. Granted, he does show it a little bit sometimes, and he’ll let you know when he’s throwing it, but he’s pretty good on that—velocity is pretty good and command is pretty good to both sides of the plate."

Wiest, a 6-foot-2, 195-pound senior, is a right-handed pitcher who doesn’t throw hard—"probably 84 to 87," according to Kay—but commands both sides of the plate and features good run on his pitches. Like Dahlson, Wiest has a slingshot delivery.

Williamson, a 6-foot-1, 175-pound center fielder, is a 16-year-old junior still growing into his body. Right now, Kay rates his speed as a 65 or 70 on the 20-80 scale.

"He’s still trying to find his body," Kay says. "He’s got long legs, so his stride is long. He can run, and now it’s just fine-tuning it."

Hedges, a 6-foot-1, 185-pound junior catcher, gets high marks for his ability behind the plate from Kay, who describes him as the best defensive catcher he has seen. His arm is a plus tool.

"He’s a 79 [on the 20-80 scale]," Kay says. "He’s so quick, and he’s probably the best defensive catcher I’ve seen; that’s going back to my days at Cal Sate Fullerton, going back to my days in the minor leagues. Joe Mauer was obviously very offensively gifted as a catcher. Austin, right now as a junior, is the very best I’ve seen."

The comparison to Mauer, much less a rating of 79 on the 20-80 scale, is incredibly high; Kay was rating Hedges based upon his current level of play rather than how his skills translate at the next level. During the game, Hedges did display a strong arm behind the dish, but at the collegiate or professional level, the rating would, of course, decrease.

What They’re Saying: Edison

Christian Lopes, rated a five-star prospect by Baseball America, should be able to stay shortstop long-term. The six-foot, 190-pounder has displayed the ability to hit for power, recently winning the National Classic Home Run Derby. Head coach Steve Lambright compares Lopes’ style of play to a well-known Yankees third baseman.

"He reminds me a lot of Alex Rodriguez," Lambright says. "He’s very similar in terms of his style of play. He’s not on the same level, but I think Christian’s on the same path in terms of the way he plays the game."

Rodriguez, who attended Westminster Christian in Miami, is one of those once-in-a-generation talents. From what I saw, Lopes displayed a quality approach to the game. I do believe that he will be drafted in the first few of rounds in the 2011 draft, but in terms of actual baseball ability at the high school level, Lopes is unlikely to stack up to A-Rod’s raw talent.

While Lopes is undoubtedly talented, like any developing player, there are still some stumbling blocks in his game that need to be ironed out. As for Lopes, Lambright believes it would be hitting an inside fastball.

"All hitters have weaknesses," Lambright says. "I think his thing is that he has to make sure he can handle the inside fastball. I think that if he can get his hands out and get extended, I think that’s when he becomes a better hitter. He’s a complete player, but if he can work on that part of it, I think he can take it to another level."

Lopes’ little brother, Timmy, is a sophomore second baseman on the team. Lambright believes that he is a comparable player to his older brother.

"I think that Timmy’s going to be a very well-known name in the baseball world in high school," Lambright says. "Probably the biggest strength of those two kids (Timmy and Christian) is their attitudes. I think Timmy has a bright future here."

Edison’s 6-foot-6, 195-pound left-handed pitcher, Henry Owens, consistently hits 90 mph on the gun, and Lambright believes that as he fills out, he could consistently hit the mid-90s. The four-star prospect is tinkering with a slider and has a changeup, but his top two pitches are his fastball and curveball.

According to Lambright, since joining Edison’s team, Owens’ command has improved.

"He throws a lot more strikes now," Lambright says, "and when he gets his curveball over, he’s really tough to hit. The thing about Henry is that he’s a fierce competitor—the bigger the game, the bigger he is. He really thrives on that competition."

Lambright compares his lanky lefty to Randy Johnson in terms of mound presence and command. Johnson, as it is known, took over five big-league seasons to develop command over his arsenal due to his 6-foot-10 frame. As Owens continues to grow, he is sure to experience more kinks in his delivery and difficulty in finding the zone.

I did not see Johnson-like control (the later years, of course) when I watched Owens, but with many more years of development ahead, it is quite possible that he will be able to harness his stuff. He is still very raw and young, growing into his body and facing aggressive, young competition. Owens’ overall command will need to improve over what little I saw (small sample size alert!), but with his raw stuff and physical characteristics, I can see every team taking a gamble with him.

Snyder, a six-foot, 170-pound center fielder, will be bound for UCLA if he isn’t drafted. The four-star prospect is a line-drive hitter who tied Jeff Kent’s school record for batting average by hitting .500 (53-for-106) as a freshman. Though he was plagued by injuries last season, he has been healthy this season.

Lambright rates Snyder’s arm as a 70 on the 20-80 scale and believes that he can stay in center long-term.

"I think he's a great center fielder because he can cover a lot of ground," Lambright says. "His speed helps him cover the gaps very well, so I think he’s a center fielder at the next level."

The Game

On March 15, JSerra (currently 18-7) and Edison (currently 17-7) clashed at Cal State Fullerton’s Goodwin Field for an evening doubleheader. The first game of the doubleheader, which I was fortunate to attend, turned into a 12-inning marathon lasting over four hours. Joe West can almost be heard saying both teams “take too long to play.”

With Wiest on the mound for JSerra, Edison jumped out to a quick lead on the strength of an RBI double laced into left-center gap by DH Josh Lesinski, scoring Christian Lopes from second.

Wiest exited the game after three innings and the score knotted at two. Edison greeted his replacement, Corey Miller, with two runs to surge to a 4-2 lead, but JSerra scored once in the bottom of the fourth to chip the lead to one.

Still clinging to a 4-3 lead, Lambright brought in Owens in the seventh. Owens, however, struggled with his command, hitting a batter before Hedges drilled a double, setting up runners on second and third. Choosing to attack the hitter rather than loading the bases to set up a force, Owens walked Williamson to load the bases.

Dahlson was due up with no one out, and he managed to lift an offering deep into center field, allowing the runner at third to score and for Hedges to tag up.

Though they had the chance to blow the game open, JSerra attempted to take the lead on a suicide squeeze. Hedges was able to evade the tag and scurry back to third, but Clay Williamson, who had been on the move, got hung up halfway to second and was tagged out. Owens wormed out of further trouble with a strikeout, ending the inning and his night after one inning.

From the bottom of the seventh until the 12th, both teams had multiple opportunities to win. Edison loaded the bases twice against Dahlson in the ninth and 10th but failed to score, and JSerra failed to execute a second suicide squeeze.

Hedges led off the 12th with a triple to deep right. The relay throw from Timmy Lopes got away from third baseman Tony Giovinetti, allowing him to come around to score the go-ahead run. JSerra would score twice more in the inning and kept Edison at bay in the bottom half to take the first game en route to sweeping the double-header.

Sights and Sounds of the Game

 I’m looking into attending additional high school and college games as the playoffs near, and I’m also interested in hopping over to some California League games. I have a few items on deck, but if there are any prospects you would like to know about in the Southern California area, games you feel I must see, want some footage or pictures of a particular player, or if you have any other suggestions for me on how to improve this feature, please feel free to throw them down in the comments or at my Twitter account.   

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A high school coach comped one of his kids to A-Rod-lite and another to Randy Johnson? Either very large cajones, crazy, or laughable...
Heh, I'd have to agree. I think that coaches do get attached to their players and want them to get attention, or else they're looking for a recognizable name to make a comp and end up making egregious exaggerations. In another piece I'm working on, a coach compared a pitcher to Maddux. I believe that pitcher got bombed the night I watched him...