Year after year, graduating class after graduating class, “The Factory” keeps churning out a product coveted by each of the 30 Major League Baseball organizations. Of course, calling a high school baseball program “The Factory” sounds too cold, too sterile and too lacking in the human element of over-the-top achievement to be totally fitting somehow.
But the label was slapped on San Diego’s Rancho Bernardo High School sometime in the last decade when more RBHS grads were being scooped up in Major League Baseball’s annual amateur draft than from any other high school in Perfect Game’s Pacific Region, if not the entire country.
It all started in the 1995 June amateur draft when four newly minted RBHS grads were selected – including the Florida Marlins taking outfielder Jaime Jones in the first round – and since then 34 Rancho Bernardo alumni have been drafted, including 22 directly out of high school. There will certainly be one more RBHS graduate drafted this year and possibly as many as three.
The constant through this annual progression of talent and related draft picks – and dozens of other RBHS players went on to play collegiately without getting drafted – is RBHS head coach Sam Blalock.
The 65-year-old Blalock has been at Rancho Bernardo since 1991 – the only coach the school has known – and has won 536 games and seven California Interscholastic Federation (CIF) Section championships in his 23 years there. He previously coached at Mount Carmel High School, where he won 300 games and four CIF Section titles.
“I try to use the same premise that I live by and that I try to teach the kids – I enjoy what I do,” Blalock told PG this week. “If I can help them reach one of their goals it’s satisfying to me, but I’m just happy for them that they reached their goal. I put the responsibility on them and I’m just one of the people that helped them. I’ve got an excellent coaching staff and I let them coach, and I do my job and we try to keep them focused on setting a goal and striving for that. And when you have a talented kid sometimes that works out really well for them.”
Notable Rancho Bernardo alumni include current Philadelphia Phillies left-hander Cole Hamels (RBHS class of 2002), former Texas Rangers third baseman Hank Blalock (1999) – a nephew of Sam Blalock – and former Oakland Athletics outfielder Danny Putnam (2001).
Four other Rancho Bernardo products joined Jones, Hamels and Putnam as first round selections: catcher Scott Heard and right-hander Matt Wheatland (both class of 2000) were teammates selected in the first round by the Texas Rangers and Detroit Tigers, respectively, right out of high school; outfielder John Drennan (2005) was taken by the Cleveland Indians out of high school in the ’05 draft, and first baseman Allan Dykstra (2005), a first round pick of the hometown San Diego Padres in 2008 out of Wake Forest after being selected by – but not signed by – the Boston Red Sox in the 34th round of the ’05 draft.
A total of nine former Broncos were scooped up in the 2012 and 2013 MLB amateur drafts, five in the 2013 edition alone. They include second-rounders Trevor Williams (class of 2009), a right-hander taken by the Miami Marlins after his junior year at Arizona State, and second baseman Gosuke Katoh, a 2012 Perfect Game All-American selected by the New York Yankees just days after his graduation from RBHS last May.
Outfielder James Dykstra (2009) was a sixth-round pick of the Chicago White Sox last year out of Cal State San Marcos. It was the third time Dykstra was drafted, following a 40th-round selection by the Boston Red Sox out of high school and a 50th round pick of the Colorado Rockies out of Yavapai College in 2010.
Right-handed pitcher Parker Bugg, a 2013 RBHS graduate who missed the last half of his senior season with a stress fracture in his right foot, was selected by the Baltimore Orioles in the 34th round of last June’s draft. He didn’t sign, however, and instead honored his commitment to Louisiana State where he is preparing for his freshman season.
Despite not signing, he was caught up in the moment after realizing that he was among five former Broncos to be selected last June.
“It is pretty cool to have five kids get drafted,” he told Michael Bower from pomeradonews.com in a story published June 8, 2013. “It just kind of shows that after we leave RB we keep going. Everyone seems to put themselves in a pretty good position whether they are coming out of high school or college. A lot of high schools get one and it’s cool, but having five is insane.”
This year’s Rancho Bernardo potential draft class is led by catcher/outfielder Alex Jackson, a 2013 Perfect Game All-American and University of Oregon signee ranked the No. 3 overall national prospect in the class of 2014. Jackson is a lock to become RBHS’s eighth first-round draft pick, barring some sort of career-ending injury.
Jackson is a 6-foot-2, 210-pound athlete who occupies the No. 3 position in Perfect Game’s class of 2014 national prospect rankings (No. 8 in the overall draft prospects rankings). At the Perfect Game National Showcase in Minneapolis last June, he ran a 6.83-second 60-yard dash, threw 98 mph from the outfield and 91 mph from behind home plate, and recorded a 1.75-second catcher’s Pop time.
In his first three varsity seasons at Rancho Bernardo, Jackson batted .372 with 36 home runs, 96 RBI, 112 runs scored and 17 stolen bases. He hit .343 (37-for-108) with 14 home runs, eight doubles, 33 RBI, 50 runs scored and eight stolen bases last season.
“It’s been an amazing experience in high school. The kids and young men I’ve played with were special and I have learned all types of things. Now it’s time for me to make my dreams come true,” Jackson told bigleaguefutures.net in a story posted after he had announced his commitment to Oregon.
“First of all he’s a veteran – he’s played varsity since he was a freshman and he’s been very successful each year,” Blalock said of Jackson’s strengths as a ballplayer. “He has great power … and he possesses a great throwing arm. And just his experience with (Perfect Game’s) program and other programs, he’s played in a lot of big-time games, so he’s kind of use to the exposure in those situations. He’s really a quality kid and quality player.”
Blalock said Jackson certainly has the ability to continue to catch at the next level, but if he signs professionally Blalock thinks he will become a full-time outfielder where both his arm and his speed can be utilized to the fullest extent.
It’s unlikely that any other Bronco seniors will be selected in June’s draft. First baseman Niko Holm joins Jackson as the Broncos’ top returning hitter after batting .356 (36-for-101) with two home runs, eight doubles, 31 RBI and 29 runs in 2013. Right-hander Casey Henderson returns after finishing 7-2 with a 1.52 ERA and 33 strikeouts in 64 2/3 innings and righty Alex Homick, a 6-foot-6, 215-pounder, is back after finishing 6-1with a 2.22 ERA and 35 strikeouts in 34 2/3 innings. None of those three have reported college commitments to PG.
Two former Broncos playing at the NCAA Division I level this spring could be drafted. University of San Diego junior infielder Andrew Daniel and University of Washington red-shirt sophomore first baseman Branden Berry – both RBHS class of 2011 – will be draft eligible in June.
Blalock said several factors come into play when it comes to identifying reasons why so many Rancho Bernardo prospects are drafted. He praises his coaching staff, including long-time assistants Mark Furtak, Rick Ray and Dan Kelly – Furtak has been with him for 25 years – for the stability they bring to the program. He also is quick to cite a realtors’ mantra of “location, location, location!”
“I think the weather element is huge; it’s going to be 80 degrees again today,” he noted while speaking on Feb. 12 when most of the rest of the country – including the South – was in the throes of another winter storm.
“I think it really helps that they can train the year-round if they want to. I’m an old-school guy … and back in my day I used to play football and then I’d play basketball and then I’d play baseball; that’s what you did. … There’s baseball the year-around out here so a lot of them at an early age stick with the one sport they like.”
And they become very good at it. Rancho Bernardo should continue to pump out draft-ready prospects in the foreseeable future as long as the kids maintain their passion for the game and outstanding coaches like Blalock are there to guide them.
“We try to get the kids to focus on the ‘now’ and on what they’re doing at the present,” Blalock said. “We try to get them to work hard and to set high goals for themselves and for our program, and to work to achieve those things. We want to try to teach them how to handle failure, because that’s a very important part – we call it ‘embrace failure’ because it teaches you.
“We just generally try to give them a love for the game and work on the process of playing and enjoying the game and learning the game,” he concluded. “We want them to take pride in focusing on learning the fundamentals and enjoying the process of doing that.”