What if we told you that a 2007 All-State baseball team would produce seven players who would be major league draft picks (two first-rounders), including the National League’s 2013 starting All-Star pitcher, the NL’s 2014 leader in home runs among rookies, one of 2014’s hottest rookie pitchers who’s currently boasting a miniscule 2.21 ERA and a catcher who just earned his first big-league promotion?
You might assume that state was California, Texas or Florida. But it wasn’t. It was little ol’ Connecticut.
The New Haven Register’s 2007 All-State baseball team reads like a list of some of the top young players in the major leagues today:
Matt Harvey of Fitch, the Register’s State Player of the Year, who took the NL by storm last year with the Mets, but is sitting out this season after undergoing Tommy John surgery.
Jesse Hahn, also of Fitch, who is 5-2 with that 2.21 ERA after beating the Dodgers in his last start with the Padres.
There’s Mike Olt of Branford, who leads all NL Rookies with 12 homers for the Cubs.
Then there’s Curt Casali of New Canaan, a catcher called up to Tampa Bay from Triple-A Durham on Friday, and Pat Dean of Naugatuck, who pitched well in Triple-A last season and is now back in Double-A with the Rock Cats.
Every other player on the ’07 team would play in college and/or professionally: Max Russell and Brian Kownacki (perhaps best-known for his incredible, acrobatic leap over a catcher), both of Amity; Waterford’s Rob Bono and Pat Epps; Will Jolin of Guilford; Kevin Graveline of Woodland; and Mark Micowski of Xavier.
And that doesn’t even include a New Britain kid who earned All-New England honors that spring as a junior at Avon Old Farms. A kid named George Springer.
“I guess you don’t get to see it as much because you only play 25 games in the season, but it says a lot about the talent back in Connecticut,” said Olt. “I think now, people understand you don’t have to go down South to compete and play good baseball.”
While the state of Connecticut has produced a wealth of big-league talent over the years, from potential Hall of Famer Jeff Bagwell to Mo Vaughn to current young talent like Springer and A.J. Pollock, that 2007 Register All-State team stands out as one of the best ever. Register schools editor Joe Morelli, who picked the All-State baseball teams from 2002-07, agreed.
“I would say yes, based on what’s happened since then,” Morelli said. “At the time, you don’t know. These have to be based on how they did, as much as anything else, and where you lead your team. I always put a lot of emphasis on where you take your team. Those, to me, are difference-makers.”
Russell and Kownacki helped lead Amity to the Class LL state title that year, while Jolin led Guilford to the Class L crown.
Three years after their respective All-State selections, many of the players were high picks in the 2010 MLB Draft. Harvey and Olt were both first-round draft picks out of North Carolina and UConn, respectively, while Dean was a third-round pick by the Twins out of Boston College and Russell a fourth-round pick by the Angels out of Florida Southern. In 2011, Casali was a 10th-round pick out of Vanderbilt by Detroit.
Bono was the only member of the All-State team to go straight to the pros out of high school after he was picked in the 11th round of the 2007 draft by Houston. (Harvey had been drafted in the third round that year by the Angels, but turned down a $1 million signing bonus).
Even the players who didn’t wind up getting drafted had good college careers: Graveline at URI, Kownacki at Fordham, Epps at Central Connecticut, Micowski at Vermont and Georgia Southern and Jolin at Florida and UConn.
What’s even more striking is some of the players who didn’t make the ’07 All-State team. Springer didn’t qualify because he played at a prep school — the Register All-State team is comprised only of players from CIAC schools.
A couple of players who didn’t quite make the Register All-State team that year, but instead earned All-Area accolades, went on to some nice success.
Amity’s Jason Esposito, who’d earn State Player of the Year honors in 2008 as a senior, wound up a second-round draft pick out of Vanderbilt in 2011 by Baltimore. He’s still in the Orioles’ organization, currently at High-A Frederick. And Stratford’s Dan Paolini, who starred at Bunnell, was later a 10th-round draft pick out of Siena by Seattle in 2011 and is now with Double-A Jackson.
The 2008 Register All-State team wasn’t too shabby either, led by Esposito along with Norwich Free Academy’s Dominic Leone, who’s now pitching out of Seattle’s bullpen, and Bethel’s Matt Barnes, a Red Sox first-round draft pick now at Triple-A Pawtucket.
But the 2007 team is tough to top.
“I think the talent in Connecticut gets overlooked,” said Casali. “A lot of people go to Florida, Texas or Georgia and assume that’s where the best players are from, just because the weather is warm. But you find some hidden gems every once in a while, and that class in particular was pretty impressive.”