High school statistics are meaningless to professional evaluators. Scouts want tools and players who they can dream on, kids who they can envision as adults as regular major leaguers or at least major league roster contributors.
That’s what they see at Edison High School in Huntington Beach, where shortstop Christian Lopes and left-hander Henry Owens could become the third tandem of high school teammates to become first-round picks since the amateur draft began in 1965 -- but if only if they can lead their top-ranked 22-3 team deep into the CIF playoffs first.
When teams evaluate Lopes, they see an everyday middle infielder. Some will see him as a shortstop and some will see him as a second baseman depending on organizational need. They will note this season that Lopes worked hard to train and trim his body, losing about 20 points and greatly enhancing his athletic actions at shortstop, where his smooth defensive ability is seen in proper footwork, enough range to go to his right, soft hands, and a solid average throwing arm. Lopes won’t be a burner, but he won’t be a clogger, and his speed will be enough to first to third or score from home.
But the biggest drawing card for Lopes is the bat, which produces a clean, compact and efficient swing that gives off consistent hard contact. He projects as a gap hitter with occasional power who can play second base or shortstop.
Owens is a 6-foot-7 left-handed starting pitcher who wears size 17 cleats and has long fingers that he jokes remind him of NBA star Dwight Howard. Owens’ combination of pitch-ability, polish and power is what makes him attractive to major league scouts. For two summers he has pitched in the Area Code games, where his fastball has routinely comfortably worked in 90-92 mph range with a couple of different versions of his curveball – slow and slower. He throws a version of his curveball that serves as a slow change and also throws a straight change. Occasionally, he will put a touch of sink on his change-up to add an extra look of deception.
They are both different personalities as well as prospects. Owens is a loose lefty who walked up to take batting practice as a summer showcase event with a piece of athletic tape and the words "GRIFFEY JR" taped over his name.
“I was just trying to have a good time,” Owens said. “Be kind of comical, typical lefty kind of deal. I hit a home run but it was foul. I was the only pitcher to hit a home run.”
Owens definitely has a way of cracking up Lopes.
“He’s just Henry,” Lopes said. “You can’t describe that. He does what he does. He’s loose off the field and he gets on the field. You have to have that. He has it.”
Lopes is stoic and serious on the field. His mannerisms convey passion and dedication.
“He’s the hardest worker I’ve ever seen,” Lopes said of Owens. “More than anyone I’ve ever known, off the field and on the field.”
Lopes takes his commitment to baseball seriously.
“When I play, it looks like I’m so serious and I’m not having fun, but this is my life,” he said. “I live to play this game. Ever since I was born, ever since my dad showed me my first bat, I just loved it. I can’t explain it other than that.”
Lopes and Owens have a chance to become the third pair of high school teammates to be selected in the first round. In the 2006 draft, the Kansas City Royals drafted outfielder-DH Billy Butler and pitcher Eric Hurley from Wolfson High in Jacksonville, Fla. Hurley went to college and Butler is a regular for the Royals.
In 2007, Mike Moustakas and Matt Dominguez from Chatsworth High were both picked in the first round. Moustakas is expected to join Butler on the Royals this season to make his major league debut. Dominguez is in the Florida Marlins organization.
Both players exude confidence. Said Lopes: “You’ve got to have that edge.” Owens thinks he can be very similar to Cole Hamels of the Phillies.
“You have to have faith in what you throw and when you throw it,” Owens said. “And you have to have fun while you’re doing it.”
Lopes has been no secret since he was about 14. He transferred from Valencia to Edison after his sophomore season. His high school career has had highs and lows, but Lopes has learned to maintain an even keel through layers of expectations. It’s a fine lesson for an aspiring pro to learn while still in high school -- take the good with the bad and remember that critics don’t play the game.
“My freshman year I hit 10 home runs, my sophomore year I hit 15 home runs. I mean, now I’m realizing what my swing is, how I do it, why I do it, so I can self-correct,” Lopes said. “That’s one of the things that, I mean last year, obviously. I didn’t do well last year, but I didn’t do atrocious. Writers are going to say stuff. It’s no big deal to me. I know where I’m at and I’m going to be a big leaguer. I know in my heart I will be.”
John Klima is a freelance writer based in Los Angeles.