The top prospect from Nevada in the Class of 2011 is currently playing at Class A Hagerstown (Md.).
Had Bryce Harper taken a more conventional route to playing professional baseball, the Washington Nationals' prospect would be eligible for the upcoming Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft. Harper was expected to be the headliner of a deep and talented Class of 2011 from the Las Vegas valley.
Instead, Harper somewhat famously left Las Vegas High after his sophomore year, earned his GED and then dominated for one season at the College of Southern Nevada before being selected by the Nationals with the No. 1 overall pick in the 2010 draft. He is currently among the South Atlantic League leaders in batting average, home runs and RBIs.
Even without an uber-talent such as Harper available, as many as 10 high school players from southern Nevada, led by Sierra Vista (Las Vegas) shortstop Jake Hager
, could be selected when the draft takes place Monday through Wednesday.
"We thought we had a really good group of kids (as freshmen in 2008) and as you started to play around town ... and the more you got to know what everybody really had, it definitely turned out to be a pretty good class," 10th-year Sierra Vista baseball coach Nate Selby said. "Most people who follow these things could see it coming. Certainly on paper it's been a very good year for baseball in Vegas."
Said UNLV baseball coach Tim Chambers, who just completed his first season with the Rebels after a successful 11-year run at CSN: "We've been following this class for two years. Our mindset coming in was, first and foremost, to get going we had to get the best local guys."
The 6-foot-1, 180-pound Hager is expected to be the first player from the area selected and could go as high as the supplemental first round or second round. Hager helped Sierra Vista reach the American Legion World Series last August and hit .547 with 11 home runs, 57 RBIs and 28 stolen bases as a senior for the Mountain Lions (34-5), who were the state's top-ranked team for much of the season and fell one game short of reaching the Class 4A state tournament.
"This year was all about doing everything I can," Hager said. "My main goal was to win a state championship for my team and that didn't happen, but it was a great season and I enjoyed it all with everyone."
Hager was a first-team Class 4A all-state selection and chosen by the area coaches as the 4A Southern Nevada Player of the Year. Most scouting reports on Hager agree he has above-average arm strength and speed, and he projects to be a solid gap hitter at the next level.
But Selby said it is Hager's intangibles that scouts were attracted to this spring.
"There are guys who are taller, run faster and hit farther. When it comes to the physical skills, they do things as well or better than Jake," Selby said. "The things people like about Jake are the other things. He's coachable. He works hard. He's able to get along with others. He's disciplined and all the things that you don't always find with a good athlete. I've coached a lot of kids. Jake is an anomaly."
Hager signed with Arizona State in November but said he could sign a professional contract depending on what happens Monday and during the ensuing negotiations.
"We'll see where I end up," Hager said. "Hopefully everything goes well. We have a number out there, but I'll be happy with either decision. I'm going to play pro ball or go to Arizona State. I'm excited either way."
The most intriguing prospect from Nevada is Findlay Prep (Henderson) pitcher Amir Garrett
. The 6-foot-6 lefthander was a starting forward on the Pilots' nationally ranked basketball team and signed a national letter of intent with St. John's. Garrett is No. 89 on the MaxPreps.com rankings for the Class of 2011.
Garrett was also an elite youth baseball player - he played on the same club team as Harper and many of the city's top players - and attended Sierra Vista before transferring to Leuzinger (Lawndale, Calif.) for his junior year. Findlay Prep does not have a baseball team, but Baseball America reported that Garrett has been throwing for scouts this spring and has shown a 90-94 mph fastball that topped out at 96 mph.
Garrett could be selected in the first 10 rounds, although his basketball commitment and reportedly high bonus demand could scare off teams.
UNLV signed seven high school players from Las Vegas to letters of intent and Chambers is hoping that none are drafted high enough to choose professional baseball.
"Now is when you hold your breath," Chambers said. "Signing them and getting them on campus are two different things."
The most likely to be drafted early is left-handed pitcher Zak Qualls
of Rancho (Las Vegas). A first-team Class 4A all-state selection, Qualls went 5-2 with a 3.35 ERA and 62 strikeouts in 48 innings. Qualls has flashed upper 80s velocity, but at 6-4 and 165 pounds, he is projected by many scouts to throw even harder once he matures physically.
Bishop Gorman catcher Erik Van Meetren
is the top power prospect from the Class of 2011 after batting .505 with 11 home runs and 49 RBIs. Van Meetren tied a national high school record as a sophomore with five home runs in one game. He saw his production dip as a junior before he bounced back and helped the Gaels win their sixth straight Class 4A state title this spring.
The biggest question scouts have about the 6-foot-5, 210-pound Van Meetren is whether he will remain behind the plate or be forced to move to first base, or even a corner outfield position.
Sierra Vista catcher Scott Tomassetti
shared first-team Class 4A all-state honors with van Meetren and emerged as a legitimate pro prospect thanks to a big senior season, hitting .449 with 15 home runs and 70 RBIs.
"This class has a whole lot of good ballplayers," Chambers said. "I don't know how many will go in the early rounds, but I think you could see three years from now six-to-eight kids from this same class taken in the first 10 rounds."
Other UNLV signees from southern Nevada who could be drafted include:
— Bishop Gorman two-way standout T.J. White
(.477, 8 HR, 62 RBIs; 8-1, 1.95 ERA, 70 K, 43 IP).
— Las Vegas High right-hander Erick Fedde
(4-4, 3.12 ERA, 68 K, 49 1/3 IP).
— Rancho infielder Brandon Pletsch
(.504, 5 HR, 56 RBIs).
— Rancho right-hander Eric Holdren
(8-2, 2.30 ERA, 72 K, 70 IP).
And one who is a BYU signee:
— Durango RHP Cameron Coombs
(Second-team Class 4A
all-state pick, .471, 8 HRs and 38 RBIs while
going 3-2 with a 4.59 ERA and 43 Ks in 32 IP).
Another Vegas area prospect is Green Valley (Henderson) shortstop Brett Harrison
. The Hawaii signee helped the Gators reach the Class 4A state championship game and was a second-team all-state pick after batting .408 with 10 home runs and 60 RBIs.
"All the kids from Las Vegas now going (to Division I schools), we all played on the same club baseball team," Hager said. "It's cool to see everyone do their own thing and I know they will be successful. There is a lot of talent here in Vegas. It's very exciting to see Vegas blow up more than it used to."