For the past 30 years, Gatorade has honored the nation’s most elite high school athletes for their athletic excellence, academic achievement and exemplary character with theGatorade Player of the Year award. On July 14, the 12 Gatorade National Players of the Year from the 2014-15 season will gather in Hollywood, where the 13th annual GatoradeHigh School Athlete of the Year award will be presented to the best overall male and female athlete. Abby Wambach, J.J. Watt, Draymond Green and other star athletes are expected to be on hand.
In the days leading to the presentation, USA TODAY High School Sports will profile each of the 12 candidates — six boys and six girls.
The last high school baseball player from Texas to win Gatorade National Player of the Year honors turned out to be three-time Cy Young Award winner Clayton Kershaw, so Oak Ridge (Conroe, Texas) senior Luken Baker knows the torch he’s been passed comes with lofty expectations.
And the heat of that spotlight came into even sharper focus when former Houston Astros ace and 2005 National League Championship Series MVP Roy Oswalt showed up at Oak Ridge to surprise Baker with the 2014-15 Gatorade National Baseball Player of the Year trophy.
“This is one of the coolest things that has every happened to me,” said Baker, 18, a TCU signee. “Just awesome. I know a lot of the guys who won in other states personally, and I know how good they are. I’d never really thought about having a chance to win. There are some real studs out there, so this is an incredible honor for me.”
The 6-foot-5, 255-pound right-handed pitcher and first baseman has led the War Eagles to a 29-4 record. Baker owns a 12-0 record with a 1.11 ERA and 121 strikeouts in 88 innings-pitched. Offensively, he’s batting .440 with eight home runs and a .602 on-base percentage.
Playing in the state’s highest classification in one of the nation’s most competitive baseball regions, Baker is a power pitcher possessing an elite breaking ball along with velocity that sits in the low 90s and touches 95 mph. He also boasts raw power and a refined stroke at the plate, winning the Under Armour All-American Classic Home Run Derby at Wrigley Field last summer as well as the MLB Junior Select Home Run Derby during the 2014 All-Star Game in Minnesota.
Baker was named the American Family Insurance ALL-USA Player of the Year by USA TODAY High School Sports.
Baker, 18, has maintained a 3.75 GPA in the classroom and scored a 27 on the ACT. A member of the youth group at Christ Church United Methodist, he has donated his time to The Woodlands Children’s Festival. He has also volunteered in association with the Special Olympics and serves as a peer mentor on behalf of Oak Ridge High’s Safe School Ambassadors Club.
“Luken Baker is a very talented and intriguing two-way player,” says Jim Callis, Senior Writer for MLBPipeline at MLB.com. “He’ll likely be drafted in the first two rounds as a pitcher, which makes sense because he can hit 95 mph with his fastball and back it up with a hard slider. However, he has as much raw power as anyone in this draft as well. With his size, strength and bat speed, he can hit balls to places that only a few hitters can even dream of.”
A 2015 Perfect Game All-American and 2014 Under Armour All-American, he hit .500 with three home runs and 15 RBI as a member of USA Baseball’s 18U National Team at last summer’s Pan American Championship in Mexico, slugging Team USA (12-0) to a third consecutive gold medal in the event. In addition to finishing 19-for-38 in the tournament and posting a .565 on-base percentage, he also contributed on the mound with 2.1 hitless innings, including four strikeouts.