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Lucas Herbert is competing for a spot on the USA Baseball 18U National team this week in Cary, North Carolina. Photo by Brian Park
Lucas Herbert is competing for a spot on the USA Baseball 18U National team this week in Cary, North Carolina. Photo by Brian Park

San Clemente catcher Lucas Herbert to compete for spot on USA 18U Baseball National team

By Steve Breazeale

San Clemente baseball head coach Dave Gellatly knew that the incoming sophomore transfer from Milton, Georgia would be a special talent. At 16-years-old Lucas Herbert, the soon to be starting catcher for the Tritons, had already committed to UCLA and played for the USA Baseball 14U National team that captured a bronze medal at the COPABE Pan Am Championships. When he arrived on campus, whispers of his power swing and ability behind the plate ran their way through San Clemente’s preseason practices.

In his first game with the Tritons Herbert quickly turned those whispers into shouts.

Gellatly recalls a preseason tournament in Fresno, when Herbert first sat behind the plate with an opposing runner on first base. Herbert received a pitch in the dirt then waited for the base runner to make a move. After the runner hesitated, Herbert fired a bullet from his knees to the first baseman who laid down the tag on the stranded runner for the out.

“We didn’t really know who he was and we heard all these great stories,” Gellatly said. “He blocked a pitch then waited for the runner to make a decision, which most high school catchers don’t have the patience to do. Most catchers would immediately throw to first or second and Lucas just waited. Then he just threw him out at first.”

Herbert batted .280 with three home runs and 11 RBIs during his sophomore campaign, a year that was hindered by a hand injury, and played an integral role in the Tritons run to the second round of the CIF-SS Division II Championships.
W
ith the hopes of keeping his strong age 16 season going, Herbert set off on June 18 to try and win a coveted spot on the USA Baseball 18U National team roster.

Herbert, along with 143 other players, were invited to the USA Baseball’s week-long Tournament of Stars in Cary, North Carolina, which puts the top 18U players in the nation on display. From there, USA Baseball will whittle the number down to a select 40 players to compete in the 18U National Team Trials. Of the 40 players who advance to the trials, 20 will eventually be selected to represent the 18U National team.

Having spent time on the roster of USA Baseball’s 14U team back in 2009, Herbert is eager to get back to that level and join the ranks of the stars and stripes.

“It would just be a great experience and be an honor to wear the uniform that all the great players have worn,” Herbert said.

Herbert and the other players will be divided into eight teams and will play four games a day for four days straight with an evaluation day set for June 21.

At 16, Herbert will be among the younger players in the crowd at the Tournament of Stars. A good deal of the players attending will be entering their high school senior season while Herbert prepares for his junior year. That hasn’t weighed on the standout catcher’s mind, as he prepares to face some of the top pitching talent in the nation.

“I don’t’ feel like there’s extra pressure. All I can do is play my hardest and hope for the best,” Herbert said. “I’m just going to be more aggressive and not let them intimidate me too much. It’s just baseball.”

Lucas Herbert blocks the plate during a May 9 game against Aliso Niguel at San Clemente High. Photo by Kevin Dahlgren
Lucas Herbert blocks the plate during a May 9 game against Aliso Niguel at San Clemente High. Photo by Kevin Dahlgren

Aside from stepping into the batter’s box to take on potential collegiate and professional pitching arms, the nature of Herbert’s position dictates he work with those players as well.

As a catcher Herbert has impressed Gellatly and the Tritons coaching staff to the point that they let go of the reigns when he is behind the dish. Usually, Gellatly and his staff like to relay what pitch to throw to the catcher from the dugout, who then passes that along to the pitcher on the mound. But after just a few games the Tritons coaching staff realized that Herbert was more than capable of calling his own game.

Although he missed several games because of his hand injury, the battery of Herbert and the Tritons’ pitchers proved to be effective. The pitching staff compiled a 13-7 overall record and boasted a 1.88 ERA. Tritons senior Shane Elias-Calles was a regular fill-in at catcher in Herbert’s absence.

Now Herbert will have to get to know several pitchers as quickly as he can in order to show off his communication and physical skills behind the plate.

“I like catching good pitchers. I like guys that hit their spots, it will be fun,” Herbert said. “It will be a good experience working with new guys.”

The USA Baseball staff is expected to make their selections for the Team Trials early next week with the final roster of 20 to be announced later in the summer. It all culminates in a trip to the IBAF 18U World Cup in Taiwan in August.

For updates on Herbert’s progress at the Tournament of Stars, visit www.sanclementetimes.com.

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