Legacy. Tradition. A who’s who of American sport. As the Gatorade Player of the Year program celebrates its 30th anniversary year of honoring the nation’s best high school athletes, fans can count many a household name on the roster of former award-winners. Over the past three decades, prep sports’ most esteemed honor boasts Super Bowl, World Series, NBA, WNBA, MLS Cup, NCAA and Olympic champions among more than 13,000 State Players of the Year and 270 National POYs across 12 sports. Let’s not forget the scores of program alumni who have gone on to capture league-MVP, All-Star and All-American recognition. Today, we’re catching up with a handful of Major League Baseball catchers and catching prospects who captured Gatorade State Baseball Player of the Year honors at the prep level.
No one ever said it was easy being a catcher. Even if squatting behind home plate is theoretically among the quickest routes to a shot at a Major League Baseball career, it’s hard to envy anyone absorbing countless foul tips and short-hops to unwelcome places.
For those reasons—coupled with this week’s arrival of most pitchers and catchers at spring training—we pay tribute to a handful of Gatorade State Baseball Players of the Year making their mark behind the dish. Not to mention, something tell us that folks in certain parts of the country might welcome a wayward foul tip over seeing another flake of snow.
Earlier this winter, the Cincinnati Reds rewarded backstop Devin Mesoraco’s hard work with a four-year, $28 million contract extension. The payday comes after the 26-year-old’s breakout All-Star campaign for the Reds in 2014. When the season was said and done, he led all big-league catchers with 25 home runs and 80 RBI while toiling 109 games behind the plate.
Of course, Mesoraco has been at this a while. As a high school senior in 2007, he captured Gatorade Pennsylvania Baseball Player of the Year honors, leading Punxsutawney High to the PIAA Class AAA state title while batting .426 with five home runs and an .852 slugging percentage.
Still, if a handful of other players have anything to say about it, Mesoraco may have some competition for the unofficial title of top Gatorade POY catching alumnus in the majors. For his part, 2010-11 Gatorade New Mexico Baseball Player of the Year Blake Swihart was recently named the top catching prospect in the game by MLBPipeline.com. A Rio Rancho (N.M.) Cleveland High graduate, Swihart batted .293 with 13 home runs and an .810 OPS while splitting 2014 between the Boston Red Sox’ Double-A and Triple-A affiliates in Portland, Maine, and Pawtucket, R.I., respectively.
And Swihart isn’t the only Gatorade alum on that list. Slotted No. 5 on MLBPipeline’s rankings is Tampa Bay Rays minor-league catcher Justin O’Conner, who earned 2009-10 Gatorade Indiana Baseball Player of the Year honors after batting .479 and slugging 1.020 for Muncie (Ind.) Cowan High. Two spots below him is 2012-13 Gatorade Washington Baseball Player of the Year Reese McGuire, who batted .417 with three home runs and 29 RBI as a Kentwood High senior.
All in all, it’s a good time to be a Gatorade State Baseball Player of the Year catching alumni. Now, if only any of them could do something about all the snow. Normally, we’d turn to Punxsutawney native Mesoraco in that situation, but it looks like a certain hometown rodent pal of his has bigger problems at the moment.
To see the legacy for yourself, visit the Gatorade Player of the Year winner archive, where you can relive history and see which future stars won their first national recognition as high school athletes. To see the cream of the crop, visit the roster of Gatorade High School Athlete of the Year winners, showcasing Gatorade’s top male and female National Player of the Year honoree, selected annually from each POY class.