PHOENIX -- In the early spring of 2012 when the discussion turned to the baseball program at Portland (Ore.) Westview High School, it usually centered on two questions: Could the Wildcats repeat as the Oregon Class 6A state champions and just how high was senior Rawlings First Team All-American third baseman/right-hander Carson Kelly going to go in the 2012 MLB First-Year Player Draft?
In the early spring of 2013, as Westview head coach Steve Antich prepared his team to play a game at the Perfect Game-sponsored Coach Bob National Invitational Tournament on Tuesday afternoon at North Canyon High School, the focus had changed to two somewhat different questions:
Can the Wildcats win their second Oregon Class 6A state championship in three years after coming up short in 2012 and is there any way sophomore shortstop/right-hander Parker Kelly can match his older brother's high school-level accomplishments over the next three seasons?
The question of the state championship will be answered in about three months. The question of Parker Kelly's accomplishments has three years to work itself out. But expectations are already high for young Parker Kelly, who will celebrate his 16th birthday next Monday, April 1. Perfect Game ranks Kelly the No. 42 overall national prospect in the high school class of 2015, and the No. 1 sophomore prospect in the state Oregon.
"He got a lot of good experience last year as a freshman, and this year as a sophomore you can see a ton of growth just in his maturity; the sky's the limit," Antich said Tuesday. "He's still young but he's been hitting the ball really well and he's our No. 2 guy (in the pitching rotation). He's a great kid; nobody works harder than he does. He's got awesome support from his family and between Carson and Parker, you couldn't ask for two better people -- forget about baseball."
Carson Kelly was one of the most highly regarded high school prospects to come out of Oregon in nearly a generation. PG ranked him as the 29th overall national prospect in the 2012 class and he had signed to play collegiately at the University of Oregon. He never made it to Eugene after the St. Louis Cardinals selected him in the second round of the 2012 MLB amateur draft (86th overall) and he accepted a $1.6 million signing bonus to become a professional ballplayer.
According to several online reports, he became the highest draft pick among Oregon high school seniors since South Medford's Steve Bechler was taken in the third round in 1998. Grant Pass HS pitcher/first baseman Matt Smith was the last Oregon prep senior to be chosen in the first round, in 1994.
Carson Kelly played in 56 games with Johnson City (Tenn.) in the Rookie-level Appalachian League last summer and had played in three spring training games with the Cardinals big-league club in Jupiter, Fla., through Tuesday. He is still only 18 years old.
Parker Kelly has watched his older brother's every move with appreciation and respect.
"He's had a big impact on me and he's been there every step of the way," Parker said Tuesday. "I can remember playing catch with him in the backyard when I was 3 or 4 (years old) and he's been there for me every single game. Even though we're separated right now ... I'll get a text or a phone call; he knows me better than anyone else and with just one conversation something might click and it's just kind of a family bonding thing."
The Westview High School baseball team left its rainy home several days ago to spend at least a week in the ceaseless sunshine that dominates the Phoenix metropolitan area the locals simply call the Valley. The Wildcats were at North Canyon High School Tuesday to take on Arizona entrant Prescott.
Westview started its season in early March back home in Portland, and won three of its first four games before arriving in the desert. It opened play at the Coach Bob National Invitational with a win over Highlands Ranch (Colo.) and was scheduled to play at least one more game in the tournament before returning home.
"This is a great experience," Antich said. "We're allowed to go out of state every other year and we come down here anytime we can. We've always had a great time here in Arizona; you can count on good weather just about every time you're here."
Antich is his seventh year as head coach at Westview after spending the previous six years in the same position at South Bedford High School in southern Oregon. The program won an Oregon state championship in 2011 with Carson Kelly leading the way.
"There's some pretty good baseball played in the Portland-Beaverton area," Antich said. But having said that, it's always nice to get away from home and see how the rest of the country rocks.
"I love coming down here," Kelly said. "You get to get out of the rain in Portland, Oregon, and you get to come down here and play against some of the good teams from all around the United States ... it's just been great. We want to come down here and represent our school well and show that we've got some players in Oregon. We want to represent our school and all our friends and show everyone that we can play a little bit."
The Wildcats will enjoy themselves while they're in the Valley. They've gone to spring tournaments in Las Vegas and Orlando in the past, and enjoyed the sights and sounds of every one of their destinations -- they were planning on attending an Angels-Diamondbacks spring training game Tuesday night at beautiful Salt River Fields. But make no mistake, this is a business trip.
"It's always baseball first; this is where we're trying to get ready" Antich said. "When we get back we open league play and we need to make sure that we're ready and playing good baseball. ... It's baseball first but after that we make sure they have a life-changing (experience) and the teams are always closer and better-bonded in the years we get to travel and do this sort of thing."
Westview is one of the largest schools enrollment-wise in the state of Oregon and plays in Class 6A, the state's classification for its largest schools. That ensures the Wildcats will see the top teams in the state every season.
"We're pretty excited about competing for a state championship every year because the state championship is always the goal," Antich said. "There's good ball up there, and it's funny because it's so rainy and wet that we have to focus on fundamentals and it pays off in the end. We usually compete when we go play teams that are much further along than we are, and I would definitely -- if I could switch spots -- rather be on my field every day and in the sunshine.
"We're going to kill ourselves because we're out in parking lots and getting rained on but it doesn't ever to really seem to put us at a disadvantage."
The tradition of the school's program isn't lost on any of the players on the current Wildcats' roster.
"There's a very rich history and a lot of great players have come out here," Kelly said. "When you put that Westview uniform on you want to represent yourself and the school well, because that's the way things are at Westview."
Kelly, listed at 6-foot-1, 185-pounds, attended with 2011 PG Northwest Showcase as a newly minted 14-year-old. Westview senior catcher Kyle Henderson attended the same event a year ago, and they are the only two Wildcats with any PG experience.
Kelly plans on doing much more over the next two summers -- Carson Kelly was at three PG showcases, including the 2010 PG Junior National, 2010 PG National Games and the 2011 PG National Showcase -- and Parker know the importance of being surrounded by players from all across the country.
"Every baseball game you're always learning, and when you step over the lines it is a baseball game but you're learning from everybody," he said. "You're watching guys take infield and thinking, 'Oh this guys does this and I kind of like that and I might try it for myself,' and it's real beneficial for our whole team to come down and see other teams act and see how we want to represent ourselves and our school."
Both Carson and Parker Kelly were/are two-way prospects in high school. The Cardinals ultimately drafted Carson as a third baseman but Oregon had recruited him as a two-way guy. Parker has distinguished himself as both a pitcher and a shortstop, and Antich is glad to have it that way.
"It was the same way with Carson," Antich said. "All the way until the end no one knew what he was going to do and Parker's the same way. He's still got the rest of this year and then his junior and senior years for that to all work out, and a lot of the times on the mound you become a little more ready than you do at the plate. But the growth he's shown this year at the plate means to me that he's got a very good shot of being an everyday position guy.
"I'm hopeful that he's good enough as a pitcher and a defensive guy that at the next level they get to figure that out and I can just sit back and enjoy both sides of that argument."
By early spring in 2015, one of the primary questions surrounding the Westview High School baseball program is likely to be how high senior Parker Kelly will go in the 2015 MLB June amateur draft, or if he will end up at some yet-to-be-committed-to college. It's a long ways off.
"It's been my dream ever since I can remember to play college ball and then hopefully moving on to professional ball," he said. "That's the way my family has set it up and that's been my dream, just like it was with my brother."