Legacy. Tradition. A who’s who of American sport. As the Gatorade Player of the Year program enters its fourth decade 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 14,000 State Players of the Year and 280 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.
Next week, Gatorade will announce this year’s National Baseball Player of the Year. To get fans in the mood, we’re catching up with some former baseball POYs-turned-standout MLB relief pitchers.
Clayton Kershaw may be the best closer in baseball. Confused? Bear with us.
The three-time Cy Young Award winner, former Gatorade National Player of the Year and consensus top pitcher on planet Earth has already racked up three complete game shutouts in 2016. That means he’s closed out as many victories for the Dodgers this season as the entire Minnesota Twins bullpen has saves.
Our hunch is that L.A. has no plans to move Kershaw to the pen any time soon. But did we mention that he has struck out 95 batters and walked just five to this point in the season? That’s a 19-to-1 strikeout-to-walk ratio. In the big leagues. Just let that sink in for a moment.
Be that as it may, you don’t have to be the best pitcher in baseball or the most decorated of all Gatorade Baseball Player of the Year alumni to make a significant impact in the sport. A quick scan around MLB reveals a number of ex-Gatorade POYs who have found success in the bullpen.
Left-hander Josh Osich’s road to The Show hasn’t been an easy one since he earned Gatorade Idaho Baseball Player of the Year honors for Bishop Kelly (Boise) in 2007. He underwent Tommy John surgery in 2010 while playing for Oregon State, but was drafted a year later by the San Francisco Giants. He has since become a dependable member of the Giants’ relief corps, compiling a 2.23 ERA spanning 58 appearances and 44.1 innings over the last two seasons.
There may be no pitcher, however, who has overcome more adversity than Dylan Bundy, who was just 19 years old when he made his Major League debut for the Baltimore Orioles in 2012. That came on the heels just a year after winning 2010-11 Gatorade National Baseball Player of the Year honors playing for Owasso (Okla.). After undergoing a Tommy John surgery of his own and enduring numerous health setbacks, the now 23-year-old Bundy has found a home in Baltimore’s bullpen. A handful of recent rough outings have made Bundy’s numbers (5.09 ERA in 13 appearances) look minor-league-option-worthy, but he has been solid otherwise, posting a 2.02 ERA through his first 10 games.
But there has been perhaps no pair of POY alumni more impressive than Andrew Miller and Dellin Betances, who (alongside closer Aroldis Chapman) make up two-thirds of the New York Yankees’ potentially historic back end of the bullpen. Miller (2002-03 Gatorade Player Florida Baseball Player of the Year) and Betances (2005-06 Gatorade New York Baseball Player of the Year) have combined to throw 40 innings for the Bronx Bombers in 2016 and have struck out 75 batters, an average of 16.8 whiffs per nine innings. For his part, Miller has posted a 0.96 ERA and walked just one batter against 33 Ks in 18.1 innings.
Who does he think he is, Clayton Kershaw?
Other Gatorade winners who have proven themselves as solid relievers include the Red Sox’s Robbie Ross Jr. (2007-08 Gatorade Kentucky Baseball Player of the Year) and Neil Ramirez (2006-07 Gatorade Virginia Baseball Player of the Year), who despite being designated for assignment by the Chicago Cubs last week still owns a 2.20 ERA in 77 career appearances and is unlikely to be out of a job for long.
That should be a relief.
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.