By Aaron Lommers Herald Writer
Eds. note: 2013-14 Stars is a summer series about local prep athletes The Herald expects to have breakout seasons in the 2013-14 school year, focusing on their summer activities to stay busy in their sport and what their expectations are for the upcoming season.
LAKE STEVENS — Brandon Kelliher seldom takes time away from baseball, but the 17-year-old Lake Stevens High School pitcher wouldn’t have it any other way.
Kelliher has spent the early parts of the summer — and will spend most of what remains of it — juggling obligations to various elite-level baseball teams as he not only prepares for his senior year on the mound for the Vikings, but also tries to boost his draft status with Major League Baseball scouts.
At a time of year when most kids his age want to be out enjoying the warm weather, Kelliher’s focus remains on baseball.
“We have a lake house and we barely get to use it because I’m always gone,” he said. “I’m always traveling.”
Even when Kelliher finally gets away from the diamond, baseball isn’t far from his mind.
“I love baseball,” he said. “I love just being around it. I will even watch it on TV when I’m home.”
Kelliher plays for Laces Baseball Academy in the Seattle Elite League as well as Marucci Elite, a Baton Rouge-based elite team that features some of the best prep baseball talent in the country.
“They are really well known, so that’s how I get a lot of exposure going down there and pitching with that team,” Kelliher said of the Marucci Elite.
This summer he also tried out for the USA Baseball 18-U team in North Carolina, which featured nearly 150 of the top prospects in the country. The first tryout narrows that group down to 40 players. Kelliher finished just outside the cut.
“It was a close one, but it didn’t go as well as I had planned,” he said.
He may have missed the cut, but according to his mother, Jenni, one of the coaches said his pitches hit 94 miles per hour on the radar gun, which is the fastest he’s been recorded throwing to date.
After returning from the USA tryout, he was back to work with Laces, pitching the first inning and driving in the team’s only run in a recent 6-1 loss to the Everett Merchants.
Kelliher’s college decision already has been made. He’s verbally committed to the University of San Diego, and his goal for the summer is to impress the scouts at the Major League level.
“I’m just trying to get more exposure and show the scouts from the MLB what I have and everything,” he said. “I already committed to the college that I want to go to. For the summer, it’s mostly about getting that exposure to get drafted, to get into the lower rounds.”
How Kelliher pitches this summer and in the spring of 2014 for Lake Stevens High School will go a long way toward determining where he is selected in the MLB draft. If he is selected in the lower rounds, he will have a decision to make.
“I’m half and half right now,” Kelliher said. “I don’t really know. It depends on where I get drafted or not. I do want to go to school, that would be a really good experience. But if (I was drafted) in the lower rounds and they offered me a good amount of money that I couldn’t refuse, I would definitely do it.”
Getting selected in the lower rounds of the draft is looking like more and more of a reality every day. Kelliher is in the top 150 of many of the national rankings and according to the Baseball Northwest Top 50, he is the No. 3 prospect in Washington State for the Class of 2014.
Next up for Kelliher are the Area Code tryouts this next week at PK Park in Eugene. If he makes the cut, as he did a year ago, he will again get the chance to showcase his talent against some of the best players in the country with numerous major league scouts on hand.
Lake Stevens head coach Rodger Anderson also expects no shortage of scouts when Kelliher pitches for the Vikings next year.
“From just what I have heard and seen, I would imagine there is going to be quite a few,” Anderson said. “Especially if he grows a couple more inches between now and next spring, than I think there is going to be a lot. I think that is the one thing that I’ve heard, the one negative, is that guys think he’s too small. If he gets up to 6-foot-2 by next year then he might have 20 to 30 scouts at a game.”
Anderson said if Kelliher’s curveball is working, then the scouts will be impressed.
“He’s got what I would consider a very good high school changeup,” he said. “But his curveball, when his curveball is on and when he is throwing it for strikes he is untouchable.”
While scouts will be there to see Kelliher pitch, they shouldn’t overlook his skills at the plate. This past season he hit in the cleanup spot for the Vikings.
“Last year, we didn’t have someone who was truly a No. 4 hitter, we just needed somebody to fulfill that role — and he did it,” Anderson said. “He never complained or anything like that. It was just kind of the spot where we could just build in and around him and that really, really helped us.”
It helped the Vikings so much that after a slow start to the season, they got hot in the playoffs and won the 4A District 1 championship.
“Once playoffs hit, we were in the zone,” Kelliher said. “In league play, we just kind of coasted by, but once playoffs started we really buckled down. That’s what we need to do all season next year.”
The Vikings will have to do that — and Kelliher will have to lead them — if they are to accomplish what the team has already set as its goal for 2014.
“We made it further than we thought (we would this past season),” Kelliher said. “But this year, I’m hoping to lead our high school to a state championship.”
Anderson said that sentiment was echoed by all of Kelliher’s teammates following the Vikings elimination from the state tournament in May.
“Every single one of them said they will be satisfied with nothing less than a state championship,” Anderson said. “That’s what the guys are thinking. Brandon, obviously, is going to play a huge role in that. He will be our number one pitcher and I think where he might get overlooked, being a real leader at the plate for us too.”
Aaron Lommers covers prep sports for The Herald. Follow him on twitter @aaronlommers and contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.