11th annual NHSI tourney loaded with '24 Draft talent

April 9th, 2024

CARY, N.C. -- Max Fried played here. So did Jack Flaherty, on the same team as Fried. Joey Gallo, Cody Bellinger, Touki Toussaint, Garrett Mitchell and Nick Pratto are just a handful of the wide assortment of players who participated in USA Baseball’s National High School Invitational and eventually went on to make it to the big leagues.

Every year, scouts pour into the National Training Complex to watch this team tournament, which kicks off for the 11th time on Wednesday, to see top prep talent in a team setting against the best competition in the country in four games over four days. Over the past 10 editions of the event, 180 players who participated were taken in the Draft. Just last year, the NHSI welcomed in Noble Meyer, Ralphy Velazquez and Adrian Santana, who were taken in the top 31 picks of the 2023 Draft.

This year will be no different. The 16 high school programs in attendance are all cream of the crop in their regions, if not nationally, with hundreds of players up and down rosters committed to playing college ball. Some may not make it there because they’ll get drafted by an MLB team and begin their pro careers.

The top player here this week is Harvard-Westlake’s Bryce Rainer, No. 39 on the Draft Top 100. A talented two-way player, Rainer has taken a huge step forward as a position player this spring. He’s a strong and physical left-handed-hitting shortstop who has a chance to stay at the position, with a ton of power projection at the plate. Some scouts think he’s ascended to a top-half-of-the-first-round kind of pick. His teammate, right-hander Duncan Marsten, is another name on the rise. Harvard-Westlake has never won this tournament, even with the aforementioned Fried and Flaherty on the roster, finishing as a runner-up three times previously, and the California school will undoubtedly lean on this duo to try to end that streak.

Other potential 2024 Draft picks to keep an eye on this week are No. 74 Draft prospect Ethan Schiefelbein (Corona HS, Calif.), No. 65 Derek Curiel (Orange Lutheran, Calif.) and Burke Mabeus (Bishop Gorman, Nev.), though there are always players who make a name for themselves during this tournament, not to mention countless underclassman who will jump on the radar for the scouting industry to put high on their follow lists for future Draft classes.

Curiel helps lead an Orange Lutheran team that has won the NHSI three times previously, with a three-year streak from 2017-2019. The talented outfielder is one of the players on a young roster who was here in 2022, when the team actually didn’t win it all (Florida’s Stoneman Douglas took the trophy that year, one of only two times a team not from California has won).

“They talk a lot about it,” Orange Lutheran coach Eric Borba said. “We have a couple of kids who were here in ’22 and actually experienced our last loss here. Losing in the semifinals was tough and a couple of those guys were a part of that team. Having that experience with guys who have been here and describe the environment, helping them prepare the guys is huge.

“I think any time we come here, we expect to do well, we want to do well, and our guys put a little emphasis on this time of the year. This tournament is a big part of the season. Hopefully we can go out and play well and have a good week.”

In order to do so, Orange Lutheran might have to get past Harvard-Westlake in a semifinal, not to mention 2023 Tennessee state champs Farragut in the first round. The overall field has three other former state champs in Casteel (Ariz.), Bishop Gorman (Nev.) and St. John’s Country Day (Fla.).

The biggest obstacle for the Lancers to become four-time winners might be Huntington Beach, another SoCal entry, which won the NHSI a year ago (and also was the last team standing in 2016). Head coach Benji Madure has been here for all six previous times the school has competed. He didn’t hesitate when asked if the team would come back to try to defend its crown, and he knows just how hard it is to win four games in four days to do it.

“I was asked five minutes after we won last year,” Madure said. “It was a quick decision.”

“Honestly, you have to be a little lucky,” he continued about hard it is to win the NHSI. “I told them there are going to be some things that are not going to go our way that are out of our control. But I think the biggest takeway is if you can overcome your mistakes. Can we battle through the mistakes, play all seven innings and be able to withstand the momentum swings that happen in the game? And some teams that are inexperienced, they don't do that. They make a mistake and they fold. And so hopefully our guys don't fold.”