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High School : : General
Flaherty deals in Cary
Published: Wednesday, March 28, 2012

CARY, N.C.—Led by the dynamic duo of righthander Lucas Giolito and lefthander Max Fried, California’s Harvard-Westlake High was expected to have a pitching staff of potentially historic proportions this spring.

But those plans went awry before the 2012 season had hardly begun when the 6-foot-6, 240-pound Giolito, a leading candidate to be the No.1 overall pick in this year’s draft, was sidelined in his third start, ostensibly for the season, with a strain of the ulnar collateral ligament in his right elbow.

Suddenly, Harvard-Westlake’s chances of becoming the first high school to produce two pitchers both talented enough to be selected in the first 10 picks of the same draft were very much in jeopardy—not to mention the Los Angeles-based school’s chances of producing a potentially-magical season.

But if the loss of Giolito, whose fastball was clocked in triple digits before he was sidelined March 6, was perceived as a hardship for the Wolverines, it hardly showed Wednesday on the opening day of USA Baseball’s inaugural National High School Invitational—arguably the strongest gathering of high-school teams ever assembled in a single tournament.

Nine of the nation’s top 26 teams, as ranked by Perfect Game, are participating in the 16-team event, and No. 22 Harvard-Westlake (10-2-1) had little trouble dispensing of traditional Alabama power Russell County 6-2. Though Russell County is unranked at 24-8 on the season, it had won 17 in a row entering the tournament.

Upwards of 100 scouts in attendance, including scouting directors from a majority of major-league clubs, had initially counted on seeing Giolito pitch the opener for Harvard-Westlake, but instead they got to see another Wolverines prospect with first-round aspirations, sophomore righthander Jack Flaherty. He went the distance, scattering eight hits and striking out six—including three in the final inning.

The 6-foot-3, 190-pound Flaherty is perceived to have a higher upside as a shortstop than as a pitcher, but he more than held his own on the mound, throwing mostly fastballs in the 84-86 mph range and changeups, while mixing in an occasional curveball.

Jack did a tremendous job for us, especially early on in limiting his pitch count,” said Harvard-Westlake coach Matt LaCour. “Obviously, without Lucas and with four games in four days, there are limitations on our pitching staff, and we needed to get the most out of Jack that we could, and he responded. But this wasn’t entirely new to him as he threw a complete game earlier in the year for us, so he was in shape and ready to go as long as he did.”

Flaherty threw his 100
th pitch to get his final out of the game, and labored only in the final inning when he faced six hitters (including one batter who reached on a dropped third strike) and gave up his second run.

Fatigue started to set in by the seventh inning,” Flaherty admitted, “but I’ve always prepared myself to throw this much, and I was definitely prepared to do this.”

Flaherty, who won his fourth straight game this season as a pitcher, recognized the need to pick up the slack with the loss of Giolito. But he still envisions himself more as an everyday player and is slated to take over at shortstop or third base for Harvard-Westlake for the duration of the tournament.

His upside is as an everyday player,” LaCour says, “but he’s definitely good enough to be a two-way player in college.”

Based on his performance this season, especially his impressive outing Wednesday, scouts aren’t ruling out Flaherty eventually becoming a pitcher down the road as he fills out his tall, lanky frame and refines his delivery.

I love pitching,” Flaherty said, “but playing every day in the field is what like best and what I see myself doing.”

With one victory under their belts in the single-elimination event, the Wolverines will turn to the 6-foot-4, 175-pound Fried in Game Two on Thursday.

Fried, who transferred to Harvard-Westlake for his senior year when nearby Montclair Prep abruptly abolished its entire athletic program following the 2011 season, has solidified his chances of being taken in the first 10 picks in June with his performance to date. In Giolito’s absence, he is regarded as the top pitching prospect in the tournament.

His last start was by far his best this season, mainly because of the superior velocity he showed on his off-speed pitches” LaCour said. “He really attached hitters with all his pitches.”

Fried’s fastball has frequently touched 95-96 mph this spring, though he has worked mostly in the 91-93 range.

While Giolito’s return to pitching remains uncertain, LaCour says there’s a good chance that his dynamic duo will be reunited before the 2012 season is complete.

There is no timetable for Lucas, but his rehab is going extremely well,” LaCour said. “We’re optimistic he’ll be back pitching before the draft.”

Should Giolito return and show anything close to the form he demonstrated before being shelved, the chances of Harvard-Westlake producing two pitchers in the top half of the draft in June may happen, after all. That happenstance has occurred only once before in draft history, in 2002 when the tandem of righthander Clint Everts (5
th pick/Expos) and lefthander Scott Kazmir (15th pick/Mets) were selected out of Houston’s Cy Falls High.



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