MORE: Baker dishes about home run derbies, buttering bread and being one of the guys
PHOTOS: Luken Baker surprised with Gatorade Baseball POY trophy
VIDEO: 14-15 Gatorade National Baseball POY – Luken Baker
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 29-2 record and the Class 6A Regional Final, scheduled for June 6. Baker owns a 12-0 record with a 1.02 ERA and 120 strikeouts in 82 innings-pitched. Offensively, he’s batting .448 with eight home runs and a .632 on-base percentage through 31 games.
“This is the best part, right here,” said Oswalt, 37, a three-time All-Star who pitched for four teams during his 13 seasons in the league. “You’re finishing high school and starting your career. It’s a long road and when you’re doing it, you have that one goal of getting to the big leagues. But when you look back, it’s all about the ride and that all starts today for Luken with this award.”
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, 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.”
Baker has driven in 16 runs this spring and is slugging .844 entering the state semifinals, drawing 33 walks while fanning just four times in 114 plate appearances. 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.
The Gatorade Player of the Year award recognizes outstanding athletic excellence as well as high standards of academic achievement and exemplary character demonstrated on and off the field. Baker is now a finalist for the Gatorade Male High School Athlete of the Year award. USA TODAY High School Sports administrates the nationwide selection process in collaboration with Gatorade.
Baker is a TCU signee. He’s been projected as a first- or second-round selection in this month’s Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft, but sent an email to all big league clubs late last month that spelled out his intention to honor his commitment to the Horned Frogs. Stopping short of formally withdrawing from the draft, Baker is technically still eligible to be selected, but teams may be reluctant to expend a high pick if signability is a potential issue.
Baker becomes the fourth Texan to win Gatorade national honors in baseball and the first since three-time Cy Young Award-winner and 2014 National League MVP Clayton Kershaw won for Highland Park (Dallas) in 2005-06. He is the 30th prep athlete from Texas across all sports to win Gatorade national honors, joining an impressive in-state alumni list that includes current University of Texas running back Johnathan Gray (Aledo), the 2011 winner in football, and Olympic track and field silver medalist Kerron Clement (LaPorte), who won in 2003.
California, with 63, has produced the most Gatorade national winners across the program’s 12 sports, followed by Texas, Florida (21), Illinois (15) and Indiana (13).