Thundering Herd arrive at No. 5
As part of Perfect Game's preseason High School Baseball coverage, the top 10 teams in the nation will be profiled leading up to the release of the top 50 teams in the nation. Once the national rankings are released, Perfect Game will provide previews of each of the 10 regions across the nation. Please visit the High School page for all of Perfect Game's high school baseball based content.
Team Nos. 6-10
Team No. 4 - Jesuit Tigers (Tampa, Fla.)
Team No. 3 - Mater Dei Monarchs (Santa Ana, Calif.)
Team No. 2 - Cathedral Catholic Dons (San Diego, Calif.)
Team No. 1 - American Heritage Patriots (Plantation, Fla.)
National Top 50
No. 5 Elk Grove Thundering Herd (Elk Grove, Calif.)
State Association/League: California Interscholastic Federation (CIF) Sac-Joaquin Section Division I/Delta Valley League
Head Coach: Jeff Carlson (14th season as head coach)
2012 Results: 20-9 overall record; Delta Valley League Champion; Sac-Joaquin Section Division I playoff quarterfinalist
Key Losses: LHP Jordan Koch; RHP Craig Dowell; OF Andrew Horne; 2B Trever Hicks
Top Returning Players: Sr. 1B/OF Rowdy Tellez (Southern Cal); Sr. SS/C Dom Nunez (UCLA); Sr. RHP David Smith; Jr. OF Derek Hill; So. 2B/SS Nick Madrigal
Notable Matchups: Feb. 23 vs. Pioneer; March 9 at Valley Christian; March 16 at Campolindo; March 25-28 vs. Boras Baseball Classic of California; April 13 vs. Boras Baseball Classic of California championship; April 25 at Franklin; May 3 vs. Davis.
AT 6-FOOT-4 AND 230 POUNDS, Elk Grove High School left-handed swinging first baseman Ryan “Rowdy” Tellez finds no need to ad-lib when he’s cast into the role of prolific slugger. It’s a part he plays with natural aplomb and to rave reviews.
But Tellez, an Elk Horn senior, 2012 Perfect Game All-American and 2012 PG National Showcase rock star, did more than lead the Thundering Herd in hits, home runs, RBI, on-base and slugging percentage during his junior season. He was also an effective left-handed starter, No. 2 in head coach Jeff Carlson’s rotation behind right-handed junior David Smith.
Those days toiling on the mound are over for Tellez, however. Carlson will use Tellez only at first base and in right field when Elk Grove begins its 2013 season, a campaign that will kick off Feb. 16 with the Herd holding down the No. 5 spot in the Perfect Game National High School Preseason Rankings.
“Hopefully we can end up there,” Carlson said of the high preseason ranking during a telephone conversation with PG last week. “That’s when it really counts.”
When speaking of Tellez, Carlson said that he possesses “phenomenal physical tools” – Tellez, a Southern Cal signee, is being projected as an early round draft prospect (PG ranks him as the No. 68 overall prospect in the 2013 MLB amateur draft). Carlson also noted that Tellez possesses surprising speed and quickness for a young man his size, and he did steal 11 bases in 11 attempts as a junior.
“I’m going to play him a lot out in right field this season just to show that he has the ability to transition out there,” Carlson said. “He runs well enough for his size and he has a plus arm.”
Tellez hit an eye-popping .568 (46-for-81) with seven home runs, 47 RBI, a .664 on-base percentage and 1.000 slugging percentage in 2012. Best known for his power, he won the Rawlings Home Run Challenge at the 2012 Perfect Game National Showcase at the Metrodome in Minneapolis with several upper-deck blasts, and was a finalist in that event at the PG All-American Classic at PETCO Park in San Diego.
“This was crazy,” Tellez said after winning the Challenge at the PG National. “Everybody here is challenging you. You get this opportunity to come out here and you’ve got to take advantage of it.”
And then there is this pitching thing. Tellez is talented enough to be the Herd’s No. 2 starter this season if Carlson chose to use him there – he was 1-3 with a 3.00 ERA in 42 innings during his junior season.
“We’re not even going to throw him at all this year,” Carlson said. “The guys I have can get the job done, and his future potential, obviously, is not on the mound. It might be at some point in his career, but right now (the scouts) want to see him hit with that power … and I just think for the betterment of him and his future that he doesn’t need to pitch.
“Yes, it would help our team tremendously … but I feel like I have the guys capable of doing what we need to do, and for his future I think the best thing for him is to let him man first base and right field and let the scouts see what he can do out there.”
Elk Grove graduated pitchers Jordan Koch and Craig Dowell from the 2012 squad – they combined for a 6-2 record in seven starts and 54 2/3 innings. But the righty Smith (6-foot-4, 185-pounds) returns after going 6-0 with a 1.03 ERA and 33 strikeouts against eight walks in 47 2/3 innings.
Another guy Carlson will rely on heavily this season is Dom Nunez, a senior shortstop/catcher who is ranked No. 186 nationally in his class; another alumnus of the PG National Showcase who has signed with UCLA. Nunez won his second career Gold Medal with USA Baseball in the fall, this one with the Team USA 18u squad.
A left-handed hitter and right-handed thrower, Nunez hit .429 (39-for-91) with 10 doubles, nine triples, 29 RBI and 44 runs, stole eight bases and pitched 9 2/3 innings, striking out nine.
“What makes Dom so valuable is that he can play pretty much every position on the field at a high level,” Carlson said. “He started out as a second baseman for us as a freshman, he transitioned over to shortstop and that’s where UCLA recruited him, and he played third base for us last year.
“But I think Dom is also our best catcher; he can go behind the plate and have the ability to catch, and I think he could be an impact player next year for UCLA as a freshman behind the plate.”
Carlson has also decided not to pitch Nunez this year.
“The knock from people around the area is probably our pitching staff, not using Rowdy or Dom,” he said. “Rowdy and Dom, along with David, would be our top three (pitchers), but I’m not going to throw Rowdy or Dom at all this year because of their future potential and what’s going with them.”
Sophomore shortstop Nick Madrigal has played for USA Baseball age-group teams the last two years and, according to Carlson, is being “heavily courted” by numerous schools, including many in the Pac-12. Madrigal hit .379 (36-for-95) with 18 RBI and 34 runs as a freshman. Junior outfielder Derek Hill is also back to build on a sophomore season in which he hit .451 (32-for-71) with two home runs and 19 RBI.
“They’re a cohesive group, which I like,” Carlson said. “We have real good senior leadership, which I was really lacking last year … and I feel like this is going to be a very good group, very solid.”
Elk Grove has won four CIF Sac-Joaquin Section Division I championships with Carlson as the head coach, including three in a row from 2005-07 (it also won in 2003); the Thundering Herd have also won the last three Delta Valley League championships. Last year’s group won the league title, but came up just short in the Section playoffs.
“It was a great run,” Carlson said. “It didn’t end like we wanted it to, obviously, but we accomplished (a lot). It was a success as far as what we wanted to accomplish and what we wanted to do, and a lot of young guys got valuable playoff experience and league experience.”
One of those guys was Tellez, who can at times seem to be a larger-than-life presence.
“Sometimes he gets a little bit of bad rap as being maybe being a little bit arrogant, but that’s just him being hard on himself,” Carlson said. “He works tremendously hard outside of practice; he goes to an indoor facility here and hits two hours a night. There isn’t a day that goes by when he isn’t swinging a bat or doing some kind of baseball activity.”
Just don’t look for him on the mound. Not this spring, anyway.