Jack Flaherty's all-around skill set on display at NHSI
Whatever Harvard-Westlake needs, this talented junior provides it for Wolverines
CARY, N.C. -- Harvard-Westlake (Calif.) junior Jack Flaherty says he loves coming to the USA Baseball National Training Complex, but admits his first visit bittersweet.
A year ago, the Wolverines were two outs away from the championship in the inaugural National High School Invitational, leading 2-1 against Mater Dei (Calif.) when Monarchs first baseman David Tominaga hit a solo homer to right to tie the game.
Mater Dei won in eight innings, and Flaherty has never quite gotten over it.
"The guy came up with a big hit, and they ended up pulling it out, but it did leave a bitter taste, Flaherty said.
Harvard-Westlake and Mater Dei are 40 minutes apart in the Los Angeles area. Each is in an NHSI semifinal on Friday, with the Wolverines facing Venice (Fla.) and the Monarchs going up against The Woodlands (Texas).
The winners will meet in Saturday's championship game.
"I would definitely like to see them again," Flaherty said. "I'm pulling for a rematch." He'd like to see it, even if he has to go across the country to get it. But Flaherty probably needs to get used to traveling to play baseball, and having people watch him do it.
"He's fun to watch. He's kind of electric on that field, the way he can move around and do so many different things," Harvard-Westlake coach Matt LaCour said. "We just sit back and kind of let him go. There's not a whole lot we need to do or to coach him on once he hits the field. We hammer home the mental side of the game, but physically he's got all the tools."
At 6-4 and 205 pounds, Flaherty does a little bit of everything for the Wolverines.
He pitches well enough that he struck out 15 in Wednesday's 3-0 tournament opening victory over Eustis (Fla.), even though he says he's not that kind of pitcher.
"Most of the time I'm just going out there and commanding the strike zone," he said. "I was able to do that, and get them to chase a bunch of sliders."
Tuesday, in a 2-0 victory over Bingham (Utah) in the quarterfinals, Flaherty said he sensed his team needing a spark. After a single to open the second, he stole second and third before scoring on a single by Casey Rosenfeld for a 1-0 lead. He also had a double in the game.
Off the field, LaCour says Flaherty, 17, is polite, a great student, and a supportive teammate.
"That's the stuff nobody gets to see except for us," LaCour said.
Flaherty's all-around skill set earned him lots of attention from college recruiters. He has committed to North Carolina, the No. 1 team in Baseball America's poll.
LaCour said Flaherty and the Tar Heels are a perfect fit.
"The coaching staff at North Carolina, they have a track record of matriculating kids through their program and sending them on to do great stuff," LaCour said. "At the same time, they know how to win, and Jack wants to win, first and foremost.
"You take the academics of a North Carolina and the baseball program, and I'm not sure there's any program in the nation you could compare it to."
Flaherty said he'd love the chance to be a two-way player for the Tar Heels, and LaCour called that "a given" and the college level.
The question becomes where Flaherty fits at the pro level -- and the answer could play a part in whether he ever wears Carolina blue.
"Can he play shortstop? That's going to be the question," LaCour said. "We'll see about that this summer, and we're going to give him the opportunity, and obviously he'll be out at some major events, to get looked at at shortstop."
LaCour said he thinks Flaherty can succeed there.
"And if not, he's really good at third base," LaCour said.
The attention from scouts -- there have been around 100 at the NHSI -- is there, but Flaherty says he isn't paying attention to his draft status.
"It's a long way down the road for me, especially with the season," he said. "Right now it's just strictly baseball, going out there and performing each day. I know that I'm being watched, but I'm not thinking about it."
LaCour and Harvard-Westlake are accustomed to attention from scouts, and to shielding players from it.
The 2012 team featured Max Fried, a left-handed pitcher who was selected seventh overall in the MLB draft by the San Diego Padres, and Lucas Giolito, who missed the NHSI a year ago with an elbow injury before being taken 16th overall by the Washington Nationals.
Flaherty paid attention to how those players handled the attention.
"I definitely took a few pointers from them," he said.
LaCour will be watching out for Flaherty, too, when it comes to the draft.
"It's our players' job to come out and do their job on the field," LaCour said. "We handle all the things that go with it. We'll handle the periphery stuff so he doesn't need to worry."
So what more would LaCour like to see from Flaherty? Other than continued improvement, he'd like to see more attitude.
"I would like to see him play a little bit meaner on the field," LaCour said. "But his nature is just to be a nice guy."
Perhaps that could change if Harvard-Westlake reaches the championship game, with a chance to remove that bitter taste.
If it's against Mater Dei, all the better.
"I'm sure we'll see each other at some point in time, whether it's here or down the road in the playoffs," LaCour said. "We've got a pretty good idea what Mater Dei is," LaCour said. "It's just a matter of going out on the field at the end of the tournament and see what we've got left."
One thing LaCour and Harvard-Westlake have is for sure.
They have Jack Flaherty.