LAKEWOOD, Calif. --
At 6-foot-4 and 200-plus pounds, Shane Watson
of Lakewood (Calif.)
typically intimidates teams with his sheer size once he steps to the mound. Rest assured, he does not merely look the part. The senior right-hander plays the part.
His first pitch, a fastball registering in the upper-to-mid 90's, backs the batter off the inside portion of the plate. Strike one!
An off-speed offering in the low-80's on the opposite side follows and essentially freezes the opponent in his tracks. Strike two!
Up next: Watson unveils a cut-fastball from his repertoire and the tricky movement confuses his counterpart. Strike three!
Three pitches. Three strikes. Another batter retired by Watson. The scenario has played on numerous occasions this season, seemingly too many to count. He possesses a well-rounded stable of pitches that few of his peers from around the country can match.
As a result, the USC commit has emerged as one of the nation's premier prospects in the high school game. Moreover, Watson appears poised to test the proverbial waters in the 2012 Major League Baseball Draft if the right opportunity presents itself.
"He's a real warrior. He starts all of our big games, the ones that count,'' Lakewood coach Spud O'Neil said. "For me, personally in my 29 years, I haven't seen many pitchers much better than Shane. I would have no problem with giving him an A-plus.''
Watson and Lakewood (24-6 overall) finish regular season play Tuesday against Compton (Compton Calif.) in a Moore League game. Beyond that, the Lancers figure to go as far as he takes them in the upcoming CIF Southern Section Division I playoffs.
"Every game, it's basically the same. It doesn't matter if it's the regular season, postseason or a league game either,'' Watson said.
"First, I try and picture how the game is going to play out the day before. Then, I come out and start off aggressive, challenging hitters from the first pitch. Staying confident the whole game is very important. When I'm on my game, I think I'm tough to beat. That's being confident, not cocky. That is the key. It might sound simple, but it's important to me.
"I'm fiery, kind of like Nolan Ryan was. I'm not as good as he was. No one was as good as he was. I'm not trying to compare myself to him. He had a great demeanor on the mound though. I like to keep my head in the game and let my talents do the work.''
Some of those talents were on display in last week's showdown with fellow USC-bound hurler Chase DeJong from Wilson (Long Beach, Calif.). The match-up caught the attention of those within Southern California baseball circles, of course. Not many observers were willing to pass the opportunity to see a pair of potential future Trojans throw in the same game.
Watson is No. 80 by Maxpreps in its 2012 Top 100 baseball players list. DeJong, on the other hand, is no slouch. The right-hander is ranked No. 86.
DeJong got the better of Watson in a 3-0 victory in nine innings. Still, Watson went the distance in the loss, refusing to give an inch. While things didn't necessarily work out for him, Watson doesn't plan on changing his approach to the game anytime soon.
His towering frame is an asset and using that size to overpower opponents comes naturally. Watson has been doing it for so long, he knows no other way.
Wins in seven of nine starts thus far and an earned run average hovering around 1.00 are indications Watson has figured out a formula that works well.
"Shane is the most competitive player I know, he doesn't like losing. Not at all,'' Lakewood teammate J.P. Crawford said. "Some people are born with that desire, he's one of them. He gets the job done. We always feel like we can win with him on the mound.''
The Lancers have, in fact, been in a favorable position to win with Watson on the bump for the better part of the last three years on the varsity level.
He opened plenty of eyes as a sophomore. Eight wins in 13 appearances and a 1.34 ERA were obvious signs of the immense upside within Watson.
An encore effort as junior followed. As the ace of the staff for Lakewood, he had 10 victories and 1.16 ERA. The crowning achievement for Watson was win against highly-touted Henry Owens of Edison (Huntington Beach, Calif.) during postseason play. Owens ended up being selected in the 2011 MLB Draft, No. 36 over by the Boston Red Sox.
Watson's high school days, however, are coming to end. Sooner, rather later, that is. Worth mentioning is the fact that he could be heading in the same direction as Owens should he decide to forgo college life and choose a path in the professional ranks.
"I get phone calls about Shane from different MLB organizations all of the time,'' O'Neil said. "He has a bright future ahead of him, I can tell that much.''
In the meantime, it's business as usual for Watson.
"I never would have thought I'd be in this kind of position, with a chance to go to my dream school USC or maybe play in the big leagues,'' he said. "As for my decision, I'm not sure yet. I have heard that I could be a first-round pick or a second-round pick.
I had some personal goals this season and I'm close to achieving them. Bottom line, baseball is a team game, I'm more concerned with helping the guys around me win. The individual stuff, the stuff people say, all the hype, I don't worry about those things.''
One thing is fairly certain: Opponents worry about Watson when he steps on the mound. His presence, along with his reputation, certainly precedes him.