The Starting Nine: Buxton finishes No. 1

Appling County (Baxley, Ga.) senior outfielder Byron Buxton showcased all his skills this season en route to being named The Diamond Gem, given to the nation's top player based only on on-field performance. Mike Janes/Four Seam Images via AP Images

All season, ESPNHS searched for the nation’s top high school baseball player, regardless of school year and based solely on on-field performance. And every two weeks, we ranked the best nine players in order in The Starting Nine.

Well, The Starting Nine got off to a tough start when the preseason No. 1, Harvard-Westlake (Studio City, Calif.) right-hander Lucas Giolito, went down with a season-ending injury.

After Giolito went down, a number of other top players made compelling cases to grab the top spot. But ultimately, the No. 1 position came down to Appling County (Baxley, Ga.) outfielder/right-handed pitcher Byron Buxton and Jesuit (Tampa, Fla.) right-handed pitcher/shortstop Lance McCullers Jr.

In the end, it was Buxton who edged out McCullers Jr. for The Diamond Gem, our award given to the nation’s most outstanding player, based on his dominating season both at the plate and on the mound.

The Starting Nine — Final Edition

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

OF/RHP, Senior

Preseason spot: No. 3

What he did: The No. 1 player in the ESPN 100 capped off his high school career by striking out 18 in a decisive third-game victory over Pierce County (Blackshear, Ga.) in the Class AA state championship. Buxton finished the year hitting .513 with a .628 on-base percentage, three homers, 35 RBIs, 17 doubles, 68 runs scored and 38 stolen bases. He was 10-1 on the mound with a 1.90 ERA, five saves and 154 strikeouts in 81 innings.

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

RHP/SS, Senior

Preseason spot: No. 4

What he did: The Gatorade National Player of the Year allowed just two earned runs all season while going 13-0 with a 0.18 ERA and 140 strikeouts in 77.1 innings. Opponents hit just .106 off McCullers, who also hit two homers and had 21 RBIs and led Jesuit to the Class 5A state semifinals. The No. 7 player in the ESPN 100 was drafted No. 41 overall by Houston.

3. Kyle Carter, Columbus (Ga.)

OF/LHP, Senior

Preseason spot: No. 8

What he did: Carter played a huge role in Columbus, No. 2 in the POWERADE FAB 50, earning its third straight state title and 12th overall this season. Rated No. 58 in the ESPN 100, Carter went 12-2 with a 0.98 ERA and 116 strikeouts in 86 innings. He also hit .302 with 14 homers and 31 RBIs.

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

SS, Senior

Preseason Spot: No. 6

What he did: A first-round pick of the New York Mets, Cecchini hit at a .467 clip this year while using a wood bat for the majority of the season. Named Gatorade State Player of the Year for the second straight season, Cecchini also had a .527 OBP, seven homers, 32 RBIs and 31 stolen bases while leading Barbe to the Class 5A state championship.

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

RHP/OF, Senior

Preseason spot: No. 9

What he did: Hawkins, who was drafted No. 13 overall by the Chicago White Sox, led Carroll to the Class 5A state semifinals. He hit .421 on the year with a .563 OBP, 11 homers, 39 RBIs and 17 stolen bases. He also went 5-2 on the mound with a 0.95 ERA and 58 strikeouts in 36.2 innings.

6. Kyle Marsh, Spruce Creek (Port Orange, Fla.)

RHP, Sophomore

Preseason spot: Not ranked

What he did: Marsh was spectacular in leading Spruce Creek to a Class 8A state title. He was particularly impressive in postseason play, throwing a perfect game in the district semifinals, a no-hitter in the regional quarterfinals, a two-hitter against then-FAB 50 No. 1 Olympia (Orlando, Fla.) in the regional finals and another two-hitter in the state semifinals. The Central Florida commit finished 11-0 with a 0.43 ERA and 106 strikeouts in 72.2 innings while pitching in Florida’s highest classification.

7. Ty Hensley, Santa Fe (Edmond, Okla.)

RHP, Senior

Preseason spot: On Deck

What he did: The first-round pick of the New York Yankees went 10-0 this season in leading Santa Fe to the Class 6A state semifinals. Hensley, who was named Gatorade State Player of the Year, fanned 111 in just 55.1 innings and was also a force at the plate, hitting .447 with 10 homers and 42 RBIs.

8. Joey Gallo, Bishop Gorman (Las Vegas)

3B/RHP, Senior

Preseason spot: No. 2

What he did: The power-hitting Gallo slugged 21 homers this season while hitting .509 and driving in 80. The No. 11 player in the ESPN 100 had four multi-homer games and led Gorman to its seventh consecutive state title. The Gatorade State Player of the Year was drafted No. 39 overall by the Texas Rangers.

9. Stephen Gonsalves, Cathedral Catholic (San Diego)

LHP, Junior

Preseason spot: Not ranked

What he did: Rated No. 5 in the ESPN 60, the 6-foot-5 southpaw pitched a three-hitter with 8 K’s to lead the Dons to their second straight CIF San Diego Section Division III title with a 3-1 win over El Capitan (Lakeside, Calif.). Gonsalves finished the year 10-0 and struck out 79 in 66 innings.

On Deck

Matt Olson, Parkview (Lilburn, Ga.)

1B/RHP, Senior

Preseason spot: On Deck

What he did: Olson led the Panthers to their second straight Class AAAAA state title with a two-game sweep of Brookwood (Snellville, Ga.). Olson outdueled first-round pick Lucas Sims on the mound and added a two-run homer in the first game and then hit the game-winning homer in the second. He finished the season with a .407 average, 11 homers and 52 RBIs and went 12-1 with a 1.64 ERA and 85 strikeouts in 85.1 innings. Rated No. 97 in the ESPN 100, Olson was drafted No. 47 overall by the Oakland A’s.

Taylor Hawkins

C, Carl Albert (Midwest City, Okla.)

Preseason spot: Not ranked

What he did: Hawkins was dominant this season, hitting .391 with 28 homers and 81 RBIs in leading Carl Albert to its third state title in six years. Hawkins was drafted in the 12th round by Tampa Bay.