Draft prospect Curiel's five-tool approach pays dividends at NHSI '24

April 13th, 2024

CARY, N.C. -- Derek Curiel had been here before, playing for Orange Lutheran as it tried to win a fourth National High School Invitational in 2022. The Lancers had won it three years running -- from 2017-2019 -- and Curiel was an underclassman on a team trying to four-peat when the NHSI returned post-pandemic that spring.

That team lost in the semifinal to eventual champion Stoneman Douglas. Curiel wanted to do everything he could to make sure he didn’t repeat that feeling.

“Last time, we had a loaded team in 2022, with players like [Red Sox No. 11 prospect] Mikey Romero, Oliver Santos [at the University of Texas], Louis Rodriguez [at Texas Christian University]. Now it’s my turn to be the senior leader,” said Curiel following Orange Lutheran’s eight-inning, walk-off 3-2 win on Friday night against Harvard-Westlake to send them to the title game once again. “Me and Ben Reiland were here as young sophomores. It’s our time to take the throne and help lead this team to a championship. We did that today. We have to move on to the next game.”

Curiel played a large part in making that happen. The Lancers leadoff hitter and center fielder went 3-for-3 with a pair of RBIs and a stolen base and also made a huge defensive play to end a Harvard-Westlake threat. He had gone 1-for-4 in the team’s quarterfinal win, beating the ball into the ground a little bit more than he might have liked. He was able to flush it right away when he led off the bottom of the first with a hard single to right.

“For me to lead off the game with the hard single to the 3-4 hole was big,” Curiel said. “I think it carried over to my other two hits I had in the game. For me, it was a momentum changer.”

Harvard-Westlake had unlocked a scoreless tie with two in the top of the fifth and Curiel came to the plate in the bottom of the frame with a couple of runners on. Long known for his impressive contact skills, there have been some questions about Curiel’s ability to impact the ball. He answered some of them by crushing a 2-2 pitch 101 mph off the bat to deep right-center field that cut the Wolverines’ lead in half.

“Today, I was able to bounce back, be a little more calm in the box, know that people can’t beat me with the fastball and be able to drive pitches to all places of the field,” Curiel said. “I took what happened yesterday and used it today.

“He got 0-2 on me early. But he hung a changeup to me and I did some damage with it. We’re all good hitters here at the NHSI -- good, talented players. You have to locate pitches. And for me, he left one over the plate and I was able to drive it and stay back on the changeup.”

His heroics in the seventh to tie things up with an RBI single -- which set the stage for Vinny Hudson’s pinch-hit game-winner in the bottom of the eighth -- might not have even happened if he hadn’t impacted the game with his defense in the sixth. Top 2024 Draft prospect Bryce Rainer had dumped a single in front of Curiel with a runner on first, but when the runner tried to go first-to-third on the hit, Curiel came up throwing and delivered a laser to third to throw him out by at least 10 feet, ending the inning.

“I take pride in my defense. I always have since I was a little kid,” Curiel said. “You can take away a lot of runs, either diving, or in this case I did it with my arm. We do that in practice day in and day out. When it’s time to do it in the game, I’m prepared and ready to do it. I could help my team with that throw and the momentum carried over. I was able to get a big knock and the dominoes kept falling.

“There are five tools to a baseball player and I try to focus on all five of them. Whether I’m doing bad at the plate, baserunning, whatever it is, I know the other tools are going to carry over for me to stay in the lineup and help my team win.”

Corona advances behind Carlson
This was the first NHSI appearance for Corona High School (Calif.), and they’ve made the most of it, advancing to Sunday’s championship game. In its semifinal victory over Huntington Beach (Calif.), it was junior Billy Carlson at the center of everything.

The team’s shortstop took over on the mound in the sixth inning with his team trailing, 5-4, and using a fastball that touched 97 mph and a breaking ball that topped out with a spin rate of around 2,900 rpm, he tossed two hitless frames. That kept the Panthers in the game, before they tied it in the bottom of the seventh inning.

Carlson, a Vanderbilt recruit, then drilled a ball to right-center (registering at 99 mph off the bat) to win it. He’s gone 3-for-8 (.375) with three RBIs over his first three games at the event.

He wasn’t the only Corona underclassman to stand out Friday, as sophomore center fielder Anthony Murphy picked up three hits. Senior catcher and Oregon recruit Josh Springer also had three hits and a pair of RBIs.