Get to know No. 11 Draft pick Bryce Rainer

July 15th, 2024

Fresh off a remarkable career as a two-way player at a powerhouse California high school baseball program, was selected by the Tigers at No. 11 overall in the 2024 Draft. Here’s what you need to know about the highly touted shortstop.

Position: SS
Ht/Wt: 6-foot-3, 195 lbs.
B/T: Left/right
DOB: July 3, 2005
College: Committed to Texas
High school: Harvard-Westlake (Studio City, Calif.)
Born: Simi Valley, Calif.
MLB Pipeline Ranking: No. 10
MLB Draft selection: No. 11 overall (Tigers)

Iconic freshman season

It’s not uncommon for MLB Draft prospects to be extremely accomplished high school players. But for a player to be as successful as Rainer was, as a freshman, against competition the likes of which Harvard-Westlake was playing against, is a rarity even for the best of the best.

Even before his freshman season started, he was already being hailed by the Los Angeles Times as Harvard-Westlake’s next pitching prodigy (more on that pipeline below), and it would be an understatement to say that he met the hype. Immediately taking over as the team’s No. 2 pitcher, while also playing shortstop when he wasn’t on the mound, Rainer dominated everything in sight for one of the nation’s elite programs.

His most iconic moment came in the semifinals of the CIF Southern Section Division I playoffs, a 32-team, single-elimination gauntlet that’s often referred to as the most difficult high school baseball bracket to win in the nation. Taking the mound against fellow southern California powerhouse Orange Lutheran, Rainer delivered a four-hit, nine-strikeout complete game, leading the Wolverines to a 3-2 win that clinched a spot in the championship game. Harvard-Westlake proceeded to win that game to earn the second CIF-SS D-I title in school history.

“It’s a little nerve-wracking,” Harvard-Westlake head coach Jared Halpert told the L.A. Times about using a rookie pitcher in such a spot, “but I don’t know any other freshman besides that young man that would be so trustworthy.”

When all was said and done, he finished the season with a 9-0 record, along with 74 strikeouts and a 1.46 ERA in 55 2/3 innings of work. When combining that with his .392 batting average and 13 RBIs, he took home MaxPreps National Freshman of the Year honors, wrapping up a season that was just about as successful as a player could possibly have from both a team and individual standpoint.

Positional shift

Coming off that freshman season, it appeared that Rainer was on the brink of an outright legendary high school pitching career. And that’s what made the news in February 2022 such a bombshell to the local baseball world. In an effort to protect Rainer’s arm for the future, Halpert and Rainer’s family collaborated to decide that he would not pitch at all as a sophomore.

Unsurprisingly, the team fared somewhat worse without its expected ace on the mound, bowing out in the CIF-SS D-I quarterfinals to eventual champion JSerra. But Rainer continued to excel even as a one-way player, finishing the season with MaxPreps Sophomore All-America and Cal-Hi Sports Sophomore of the Year honors after hitting .393 with five homers and 21 RBIs.

Given the decision to step off the mound in 2022 for arm preservation, one would think that was an indication that Rainer was leaning toward going all-in as a pitcher -- but the ensuing two years only pointed in the other direction. As a junior, he pitched 21 innings while on a pretty strict pitch count, and while his 0.38 ERA demonstrated that he still had his stuff on the mound, his MaxPreps Junior All-America and Cal-Hi Sports Junior of the Year honors came primarily due to his .436 average at the plate.

Rainer similarly served in spot duty as a reliever in 2024, helping Harvard-Westlake make it back to the CIF-SS D-I title game, though it fell to Corona. As a senior, Rainer hit a career-high .505, earning Baseball America First Team All-American honors, MaxPreps First Team All-American honors and Cal-Hi Sports Senior Player of the Year. His stellar final year led MLB Pipeline to write: “before the 2024 high school season began, people looked at Rainer as an exciting two-way player … [but now], he’s vaulted himself to the top half of the Draft as a position player.”

Does this mean that Rainer’s days as a pitcher are done? Perhaps it’s not a certainty. Entering his senior season, he was still hitting 96 mph on the mound while pitching at showcases, not to mention that one glance at his social media profile seems to suggest this is a player who perceives himself as a prospect on both sides of the ball. But, at a minimum, it’s unquestionable that scouts’ perception of Rainer’s future has shifted since his freshman year, both due to his self-imposed reduction in high school innings and his growing prowess at the plate. In an interview during the 2024 MLB Draft Combine, he expressed that he would prefer to play in the field, but is open to whatever a professional organization would want.

Breakdown of skills

What specific skills does Rainer bring to the table as a pro prospect? It’s easier to ask what he doesn’t bring. As a shortstop, MLB Pipeline ranks him with at least a 50 on the 20-to-80 scouting scale in each of the five tools: contact, power, running, throwing and fielding. Jonathan Mayo of MLB Pipeline rated him as the Draft’s top shortstop prospect.

If one was forced to pick a weakness, fielding is the only tool with a score of exactly 50 (i.e., average), but nonetheless, MLB Pipeline wrote that he still has “every chance to stick at the premium position” based on his defensive improvement. Based on his taller frame for the position, and his status as a left-handed hitter, Rainer has often received Corey Seager comparisons, a lofty standard to meet given that the latter is already a four-time All-Star and two-time World Series champion at age 30.

On the mound, though it appears that this won’t be where his future is, Rainer’s fastball hovers in the mid-90s, while Perfect Game also lauded his mid-70s curveball, slider up to 81 mph, and changeup in the 78-81 mph range with good depth. If he does stray from expectation and pursue pitching at the pro level, an obvious concern will be his lack of competitive innings over the past three years. But regardless, on both sides of the ball, he’s demonstrated a remarkably versatile skill-set, and an ability to put those skills to use on an extremely high stage.

Harvard-Westlake legacy

Across Rainer’s four seasons at Harvard-Westlake, the team finished with a 99-26-2 record, along with three Mission League titles, two CIF-SS D-I title game appearances and one CIF championship. In most cases, if you’re the best player for a four-year run like that, you’re a stud the likes of which your campus has never seen.

But for Rainer and Harvard-Westlake, it’s simply business as usual.

Even MLB fans from outside of California might recognize Harvard-Westlake’s name from the plethora of starting pitchers who hail from there. Current hurlers Jack Flaherty, Max Fried and Lucas Giolito were all first-round Draft picks out of high school in the early-mid 2010s, and they overlapped for one year of high school in 2012 (though Giolito missed almost that entire season with an elbow injury). Notably, the trio each started on Opening Day for their respective teams in 2021, and they have made efforts to support one another throughout their pro careers.

As such, Rainer’s simply the next product of the Studio City baseball factory. With the aforementioned trio, along with current Cubs outfielder Pete Crow-Armstrong, the Wolverines had four players drafted in the first round out of high school since the beginning of the 2010s before Rainer. All four of those players signed with their pro teams instead of going to college, but even if we included picks who didn’t sign, no other school in the country has produced more than two players picked in the first round out of high school in that span.

Crow-Armstrong is just beginning his MLB career, but the other three first-rounders have all established themselves as strong MLB pitchers. Each of Giolito, Fried and Flaherty has made an All-Star team and/or finished in the top five of the Cy Young ballot, and all three have at least 700 innings pitched and 40 wins under their belts.

As such, the standard from that school has not been simply to get drafted, and not simply to make an MLB roster, but also to excel at the top level. Rainer will have a high bar to reach as a result, but he has the tools to meet every expectation in front of him.