The National High School Invitational (NHSI) has only been in existence since 2012, but it's difficult to envision the prep baseball landscape without the tournament at the forefront.
:: 2018 USA Baseball National High School Invitational ::
The seventh edition of the event, hosted by USA Baseball at the National Training Complex in Cary, N.C., will once again bring the top high school programs in the country together for a four-day, single-elimination tournament that brings much of the scouting world to the greater Raleigh-Durham area. Seven games will be streamed live on MLB.com.
The 16 teams in this year's NHSI come from 10 states and are chock full of Draft prospects. Six of the schools have been here before, including the 2017 champions, Orange (Calif.) Lutheran HS. The Lancers are joined by fellow California schools Mater Dei, which won this tournament the first two years of its existence, in 2012 and '13, and Santiago. There are two schools from Arizona: Mountain Ridge and Sandra Day O'Connor. Florida is represented by returnees American Heritage and Trinity Prep, as well as George Jenkins and Calvary Christian, giving the Sunshine State an NHSI-high four reps. Alabama (Florence), Georgia (Walton), Illinois (Mount Carmel), Louisiana (John Curtis Christian), Mississippi (Hattiesburg), North Carolina (Green Hope) and Virginia (Hanover) each have one school participating.
"It's definitely exciting," said Orange Lutheran head coach Eric Borba about the chance to defend the school's 2017 title. "We didn't know at the end of last year if we were going to be back. Having the opportunity to come back is unlike any other.
"Our guys are fired up. We have 13 kids back who experienced it last year, and they are just really looking forward to going. We're excited. It's great to get out there and see all of the great players that you read about and to get the opportunity to see where we stand against the nation's best."
Broadcast schedule (all times Eastern)
Wednesday (Watch here)
2:35 p.m. Mountain Ridge (Glendale, Ariz.) vs Trinity Prep (Winter Park, Fla.)
6:05 p.m. Walton (Marietta, Ga.) vs Green Hope (Cary, N.C.)
Thursday (Watch here)
10:30 a.m. Quarterfinal (Teams TBD)
1:30 p.m. Quarterfinal (Teams TBD)
Friday (Watch here)
11:30 a.m. Semifinal (Teams TBD)
2:30 p.m. Semifinal (Teams TBD)
Saturday (Watch here)
12:15 p.m. Championship (Teams TBD)
Top 10 Draft prospects
This year's rosters are dotted with a veritable who's who of top Draft prospects, with a number of potential first-rounders slated to compete with their teams. A Top 10 in terms of talent looks like this:
1. Matt Liberatore, LHP, Mountain Ridge HS (Glendale, Ariz.)
2. Nolan Gorman, 3B, Sandra Day O'Connor HS (Phoenix)
3. Brice Turang, SS, Santiago HS (Corona, Calif.)
4. Triston Casas, 1B, American Heritage School (Fort Lauderdale, Fla.)
5. Joe Gray Jr., OF, Hattiesburg (Miss.) HS
6. Cole Winn, RHP, Orange (Calif.) Lutheran HS
7. Alek Thomas, OF, Mount Carmel (Ill.) HS
8. Cole Henry, RHP, Florence (Ala.) HS
9. Luke Bartnicki, LHP, Walton HS (Marietta, Ga.)
10. Raynel Delgado, INF, Calvary Christian Academy (Fort Lauderdale, Fla.)
Note: Slade Cecconi from Trinity Prep (Winter Park, Fla.) would be in the Top 10, but is not expected to pitch due to injury.
"The key part is, not only do they send a lot of the talent, it's from all over the country," one scouting director said. "We get to see them all in one place in a very competitive environment. It's like the summer in terms of seeing them against top competition, but in a team environment. It's a have-to for scouting directors."
• Scouting reports on Top 10 prospects | Top 50 Draft Prospects list
A USA Baseball flair
Many of the best players are not strangers to the National Training Complex. There are six members of last year's gold medal-winning 18-and-under national team who will be coming with their high school squads for the NHSI. Casas and Turang played on that team two years in a row, and they were joined by Delgado, Gorman, Liberatore and Thomas. Gray Jr. participated in last summer's Tournament of Stars as well.
"I'm super excited," Liberatore said. "That complex is one of the nicest complexes I've played at, ever. I'm excited for [my team] to get to experience the beautiful weather and play in a stadium that is absolutely amazing."
"I'm always excited to go back to Cary," said Casas, who also came with American Heritage for the 2017 NHSI. "USA Baseball has a great facility there. Any time I can go back to Cary and play there, it's an honor. Whether you go there for the 18U team or your high school team, it's all about winning. So I try to go there with the mindset of trying to help my team win."
Of the past six champions in the National High School Invitational, five have come from California, with Orange Lutheran the most recent winner.
2012 -- Mater Dei (Santa Ana, Calif.) HS
2013 -- Mater Dei (Santa Ana, Calif.) HS
2014 -- The First Academy (Orlando, Fla.)
2015 -- San Clemente (Calif.) HS
2016 -- Huntington Beach (Calif.) HS
2017 -- Orange Lutheran (Calif.) HS
Each of the champions has had players go on to be high Draft picks and/or reach the big leagues. Ryan McMahon, now one of the top prospects in the Rockies' system, was on both Mater Dei title winners. The First Academy was led by Royals lefty prospect Foster Griffin and Phillies 2017 first-rounder Adam Haseley, who was a two-way player in high school (and at the University of Virginia). Braves first-rounder Kolby Allard was hurt when San Clemente had its run, but catcher Lucas Herbert was a second-round pick of the Braves that June. Nick Pratto and Hagen Danner were on the 2016 Huntington Beach squad, and both came back for the '17 NHSI. Pratto was taken 14th overall by the Royals in last year's Draft, while Danner went to the Blue Jays in the second round.
Of course, the non-champions have brought a ton of talent to Cary every year since 2012 as well. There's been a No. 1 overall pick (Brady Aiken, Cathedral Catholic, 2013) and two other top 10 picks (Max Fried, Harvard-Westlake, 2012 and '14; Austin Meadows, Grayson, '13). They are two of 15 players from past participants' rosters who went in the first round or supplemental first round.
• Top NHSI participants in history
"Fortunately for me, I was able to play against a lot of the guys throughout the summer showcase circuit, but there's always a little bit of that competitive edge when you want you and your high school team to go out and play against those guys and try to beat them," Fried said. "I remember it being such a blast, going across the country to play against some of the best teams that you'd heard about your entire high school career, but never had the chance to play. Going to a tournament that can bring all those teams together was something like a dream come true."
Video: Fried discusses National High School Invitational
Fried is one of several NHSI alumni to reach the big leagues. His Harvard-Westlake teammate Lucas Giolito was hurt, but he went on to be a first-round pick of the Nationals and has pitched for Washington and the Chicago White Sox. A third member of that Harvard-Westlake team was Jack Flaherty, a late-first rounder who made his Major League debut last year with the Cardinals. Cody Bellinger, the 2017 National League Rookie of the Year Award winner, played in the 2013 NHSI, while Matt Olson, who finished tied for fourth in the AL voting, came in 2012 and '14.
Facing that kind of talent can be nerve-racking, for sure. Fried has some words of wisdom for this year's NHSI participants that should stand up for years to come.
"I guess looking back at it, it was a lot bigger than I had initially thought it was going to be," Fried said. "I kind of went out there naïve and said, 'I'm just going to go out there and try to win the game for my team,' which is probably the best advice I can give, because when you try to take in too many external distractions, it can become overwhelming.
"At the time, I was just trying to go out there and do the best that I could. Lucky for me, except for maybe one pitch to Matt Olson that I gave up a home run, I did pretty well. It's the only high school home run I gave up and now that he's doing it at the Major League level, I don't feel as bad."
Jonathan Mayo is a reporter for MLB Pipeline. Follow him on Twitter @JonathanMayo and Facebook, and listen to him on the weekly Pipeline Podcast.