The Starting Nine: March 15th Edition

Jesuit (Tampa, Fla.) senior right-hander Lance McCullers Jr. is 4-0 with a 0.00 ERA and has helped the Tigers to the No. 2 spot in the POWERADE FAB 50. Courtesy of Nate Castro

ESPNHS has begun its search for the nation’s top high school baseball player, regardless of school year and based solely on on-field performance. Every two weeks, we’ll rank the nine players in order in The Starting Nine. And at the end of the season, whoever is in the top spot will be crowned The Diamond Gem, our award given to the nation’s most outstanding player.

Only one player dropped out of The Starting Nine in our first update of the season, but it was a big one. Our preseason No. 1, Lucas Giolito of Harvard-Westlake (Studio City, Calif.), was taken out of the running after spraining the ulnar collateral ligament in his right elbow in last week. Taking his place at No. 1 is Peach State prodigy Byron Buxton of Appling County (Baxley, Ga.), who opened the season on a tear at the plate and on the mound.

David Dahl of Oak Mountain (Birmingham, Ala.) is the one new face on the list, entering The Starting Nine at the No. 5 position. Courtney Hawkins of Carroll (Corpus Christi, Texas) made the biggest jump of the week, catapulting to No. 4 from No. 9 thanks in large part to blasting five home runs in the first 10 games of the season. Hawkins' cross-town rival, Wyatt Mathisen of Calallen (Corpus Christi, Texas), is also off to a fast start and takes the On Deck position as the next player set to enter the rankings should one of the top nine stumble.

Through games of March 12

1. Byron Buxton, Appling County (Baxley, Ga.)

OF/RHP, Senior

Previous spot: No. 3

What he’s done: Buxton hasn’t seen much to hit (hence his zero homers), but he’s still batting .593 with a .718 on-base percentage, six doubles, three triples and eight RBIs. On the mound, he’s 4-0 with a 1.67 ERA and 41 strikeouts in 21 innings.

2. Joey Gallo, Bishop Gorman (Las Vegas)

1B/3B/RHP, Senior

Previous spot: No. 2

What’s he’s done: Gallo, who hit .471 with 25 homers and 78 RBIs as a junior, opens his senior season this week.

3. Lance McCullers Jr., Jesuit (Tampa, Fla.)

RHP/SS, Senior

Previous spot: No. 4

What he’s done: McCullers has been a force on the mound for the POWERADE FAB 50 No. 2 Tigers, going 4-0 with a 0.00 ERA and 32 strikeouts in 19.1 innings. He’s struggled some at the dish, hitting .278, but he does have two homers and eight RBIs.

4. Courtney Hawkins, Carroll (Corpus Christi, Texas)


Previous spot: No. 9

What he’s done: Hawkins has been big time for FAB 50 No. 3 Carroll, hitting .514 with five homers and 17 RBIs. He’s also scored 21 times and recorded a .585 OBP. On the mound, he’s 1-0 with 15 strikeouts in only seven innings.

5. David Dahl, Oak Mountain (Birmingham, Ala.)

OF, Senior

Previous spot: NR

What he’s done: One of the top all-around mashers in the country, Dahl jumps into The Starting Nine after starting the year hitting .447 with a .596 OBP, 19 runs scored, seven doubles, two triples, a homer, four RBIs and nine steals.

6. Gavin Cecchini, Barbe (Lake Charles, La.)

SS, Senior

Previous Spot: No. 6

What he’s done: Barbe got off to a slow start after Cecchini missed the first six games of the season recovering from an offseason injury. Since his return, Cecchini and the Buccaneers are on a tear. The Bucs have won 10 straight and Cecchini is hitting .381 with a .552 OBP, a homer, nine RBIs and seven stolen bases in seven attempts while playing flawlessly in the field.

7. Kyle Carter, Columbus (Ga.)

OF/LHP, Senior

Previous spot: No. 8

What he’s done: Carter is a big reason why Columbus currently sits at No. 4 in the FAB 50. He’s hitting .350 with three homers and five RBIs and is 3-0 on the mound with one save, a 1.65 ERA and 21 strikeouts in 17 innings.

8. Kayden Porter, Spanish Fork (Utah)

RHP/OF, Senior

Previous Spot: No. 5

What he’s done: Spanish Fork has just started its season, and Porter has seen limited action on the hill. But in the four innings he’s worked, he’s fanned 10 and hasn’t allowed an earned run. He’s also got a pair of doubles and driven in two.

9. Max Fried, Harvard-Westlake (Studio City, Calif.)

LHP/OF, Senior

Previous spot: No. 7

What he’s done: Fried had one hiccup on the mound (allowing eight earned runs in 3.1 innings in his second start of the year), but other than that he’s been a beast. Fried has fanned 22 in 14.1 innings, while also contributing a .439 average, 10 RBIs and six stolen bases.

On Deck

Wyatt Mathisen, Calallen (Corpus Christi, Texas)

C/SS/RHP, Senior

What he’s done: What hasn’t he done? As the top player on the No. 6 team in the FAB 50, Mathisen is leading the way at the dish and on the bump. He’s hitting .465 with five doubles, 19 RBIs and six steals, and he’s 3-0 as a pitcher with a 1.83 ERA and 34 K’s in 23 innings of work.

Dropped Out

1. Lucas Giolito, Harvard-Westlake (Studio City, Calif.)

RHP, Senior

Previous Spot: No. 1

What happened: Giolito looked like the front-runner for The Diamond Gem in the early going, but last week came the tough news that he will likely miss the rest of the season with a sprained ulnar collateral ligament in his right elbow.