Back in 1985, Gatorade established an award honoring the nation's top high school student-athletes. Since then, the Gatorade Player of the Year award has recognized more than 12,500 state and national winners in 12 sports.
Gatorade Player of the Year alumni include household names like Kevin Love, Dwight Howard, Peyton Manning, Derek Jeter, Candace Parker, Kerri Walsh and Abby Wambach — a distinguished group, indeed.
This week, we're catching up with Matt Harvey, Shelby Miller and Jose Fernandez.
Judging high school pitchers by their statistics isn’t always the best way to evaluate their abilities or predict how they’ll fare at the next level. After all, a young hurler with a mid-90s fastball has a decided advantage against many prep hitters who know they are out even before they flail helplessly at the pitcher’s offerings.
But for three young starting pitchers who put up sterling numbers in high school and were subsequently honored by Gatorade as Baseball Players of the Year in their respective states, the Major Leagues are starting to feel a little like high school all over again.
For instance, take New York Mets pitcher Matt Harvey, who lowered his ERA to 1.28 through seven starts after a nine-inning, one-hit, 12-strikeout performance against the Chicago White Sox on Tuesday (he took a perfect game into the seventh). Harvey now leads the National League with 58 strikeouts and a miniscule 0.68 WHIP in 49.1 innings.
The 2006-07 Gatorade Connecticut Baseball Player of the Year when he went 6-1 with a 0.64 ERA and set Fitch (Groton, Conn.) High career records with 21 career victories and 315 strikeouts, Harvey is nicely picking up the slack left by 2012 N.L. Cy Young Award Winner R.A. Dickey, who was traded to the Blue Jays this past offseason.
The buzz Harvey has created throughout baseball was never more apparent than after he outdueled another former phenom in Stephen Strasburg, beating the Washington Nationals ace with seven strong innings. His effort even prompted the New York fans to begin a “Harvey’s better” chant from the stands.
Not to be overshadowed, however, is St. Louis Cardinals rookie Shelby Miller, the 2008-09 Gatorade Texas Baseball Player of the Year, who entered the week with a 4-2 record, a 1.96 ERA and 38 strikeouts in 36.2 innings.
Though it’s still early in his young career, Miller looks every bit of the pitcher who fired 153 strikeouts in 77.2 innings for Brownwood (Texas) High in 2009, prompting the Cardinals to draft him 19th overall.
Throwing strikes and getting ahead of hitters has been the key to Miller’s success this season. His 69.7 percent rate of first-pitch strikes ranks fifth among all major league starters.
Meanwhile, the Marlins’ Jose Fernandez is just two years removed from earning 2010-11 Gatorade Florida Baseball Player of the Year honors for Alonso (Tampa, Fla.) High. He finished 13-1 with a 1.35 ERA and 134 strikeouts in 93 innings as a prep senior.
Fernandez blistered his way through Single-A ball in 2012 (14-1, 1.75 ERA, 158 Ks in 134 innings) and earned a spot in the Marlins rotation this spring. So far, he has not been a disappointment.
The 20-year-old earned his first big-league win last week when he tossed seven innings of one-hit ball with nine strikeouts in a 2-0 win over Philadelphia. Mixing a mid-90s fastball with a deceptive curve, Fernandez left quite an impression on the Phillies.
"It was a case of a guy with a lot of talent and he was on," Phillies manager Charlie Manuel said.
With the Gatorade awards already sitting atop their respective mantles, Harvey, Miller and Fernandez have their share of hardware. But if they maintain their current pace at the major league level, those mantles could soon get crowded.