It’s pure speculation and gratuitous hype to label a 15-year-old freshman baseball player as a “can’t miss” professional prospect.
But identifying a top freshman and pointing out that he has the physical and mental maturity to be an immediate varsity standout is fair game, and 6-foot-3, 175-pound freshman Jack Flaherty of North Hollywood Harvard-Westlake deserves the early attention.
He has the cool, calm, confident demeanor of a young Trevor Plouffe, who started as a freshman for Encino Crespi and went on to become a first-round draft choice of the Minnesota Twins.
Whether standing in the batter’s box facing a senior pitcher or sitting in the dugout staring into the lens of a video camera, Flaherty is steady and certain how to proceed.
“Being able to start on varsity as a freshman is a challenge but also a privilege,” he said. “You know the coaches think highly of you. It’s a big achievement in my mind.”
As if Coach Matt LaCour needed any reinforcement for his decision, Flaherty had a double in his first high school at-bat during a scrimmage last month against Valencia and later hit a home run. Once the season began, he has continued to fulfill high expectations.
He’s batting .367 with two home runs and nine runs batted in. On the mound, he’s 2-1 with a 3.15 earned-run average in 13 1/3 innings.
“There’s not a whole lot of weaknesses in his game,” LaCour said. “That being said, he’s a freshman. He’s got a lot of maturing to do on the baseball field.”
Word began to spread about Flaherty’s skills during summer ball, and he has grown close to three inches since September. LaCour put him in center field as the replacement for Austin Wilson, one of the top pro prospects in Southern California last season who ended up enrolling at Stanford.
Flaherty is expected to spend a season in center field before becoming the team’s starting shortstop in 2012 while also learning how to pitch.
“Because he can do some little things on the field, the speed of the game didn’t hold him back,” LaCour said. “He jumped right into the mix against varsity-caliber pitching.”
And what about the pressure of a 15-year-old trying to perform against 18- and 19-year-olds?
“We kind of have a philosophy it doesn’t really matter how old you are,” LaCour said. “It’s how good a player you are. He’s gone out there and proved he’s one of our nine-best guys without a doubt, so he gets to start as a freshman.”
For Flaherty to already possess excellent speed, size and power adds to the excitement of trying to project and predict how good he might be by the time he graduates high school.
“Once that strength kicks in, he could be pretty special,” LaCour said.
There’s a softball version of Flaherty, and her name is Maddy Jelenicki of Valencia. She’s going to set the standard for excellence in softball by the time she graduates in 2014.
In her first high school tournament last month, playing in the Tournament of Champions in Arizona, Jelenicki earned tournament most-valuable-player honors by hitting a home run in all five games for the Vikings. She became the first freshman to win the award.
She has 26 hits, 19 RBIs and seven home runs for Valencia (13-1). She committed to UCLA in September.
Coach Donna Lee is trying to keep Jelenicki low profile, though that’s going to be difficult.
“I’m going to just let her be a freshman this year,” Lee said. “High school is about having fun.”