It was a situation of competing precedents in this year’s race for the state’s longest-running State Player of the Year honor for baseball, making it one of the most difficult decisions ever in perhaps the most talent-laden season ever for Southern California. In the end, local consensus carries Hagen Danner of Huntington Beach over the top. It’s not as if what he did as both a hitter and pitcher was not extraordinary, either.
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There are years in which Southern California high school baseball players have been prevalent in the annual Major League Baseball draft of amateur free agents and then there is 2017. It’s the baseball equivalent of 1975 in boys basketball or 1948 in football, which are perhaps the best two years for talent in those sports in state history.
There were as many as six or seven high schoolers in the region who were all mentioned as possible first-round picks during the season and when the actual draft took place two weeks ago it was a 1-2 punch at the top for Royce Lewis of JSerra (San Juan Capistrano) by the Minnesota Twins and Hunter Greene from Notre Dame (Sherman Oaks) by the Cincinnati Reds. One of those other players — Hagen Danner of Huntington Beach — didn’t get chosen until the second round (61st overall) by the Toronto Blue Jays.
But there’s a lot more to deciding on Mr. Baseball than just the MLB Draft. And because Danner had such an impressive season as both a pitcher and a hitter and because he had a clear edge in local consensus, the recent Huntington Beach grad has been named today as the 2017 Mr. Baseball State Player of the Year by Cal-Hi Sports.
Danner becomes the 10th from Orange County to get onto the all-time state player of the year list, which dates back to 1899. Among those he joins are all-time MLB Hall of Fame legend Walter Johnson of Fullerton (1905) along with those chosen in a four year stretch from 2009 to 2012.
In the history of the Mr. Baseball State Player of the Year honor, all of the previous No. 1 overall MLB draft picks, including Tim Foli (Sherman Oaks Notre Dame) in 1968, Jeff Burroughs (Long Beach Wilson) in 1969 and Darryl Strawberry (Los Angeles Crenshaw) in 1980, are also Mr. Baseball club members. The only exception is that 2002 No. 1 pick Delmon Young (Camarillo) was named State Player of the Year when he was a junior. When Young was a senior, Ian Stewart (Westminster La Quinta) got the nod.
Last year, Mickey Moniak of La Costa Canyon (Carlsbad) earned the Mr. Baseball selection after he was the first pick overall by the Philadelphia Phillies. Moniak also was the San Diego Section Player of the Year.
While it is extremely difficult not to similarly list Lewis for this season since he’s been Player of the Year in the Trinity League (probably the best top-to-bottom league in the state) for three straight years and because he was State Junior of the Year for 2016, the precedent that favors Danner is local consensus. That’s the piece of the puzzle in which the selections of those local media members who’ve seen all of these players more than anyone is taken into account. Danner has been named the L.A. Times Player of the Year, the Orange County Register Player of the Year and the SoCal Sidelines Player of the Year.
Danner wasn’t even the highest MLB draft pick from his own team at Huntington Beach since third baseman/pitcher Nick Pratto went at No. 14 overall to the Kansas City Royals. But again, based on what happened on the diamond this season, it just has to be Hagen.
In leading Huntington Beach to the state’s final No. 4 ranking (28-5), Danner tied for the state lead in reported home runs with 12. He also batted .350 and drove in 40 runs. The state lead in home runs is based on the fact that no one in the MaxPreps database is shown with more than 11 homers although other schools other than Huntington Beach may not have reported their stats. One of those others is Eastlake of Chula Vista, which had Grant Holman also with 12. Holman has been chosen this week as State Junior of the Year. Danner’s 12 homers also broke the previous school record of 11 that was held by MLB catcher Hank Conger.
As a pitcher, Danner was equally sensational, finishing 11-1 with a 1.22 ERA. He also struck out 92 batters in 63 1/3 innings and only gave up 34 hits.
“In every single big game, Hagen played not good but great,” Huntington Beach head coach Benji Medure told the Orange County Register. “Every time he was on the big stage he was great.”
Perhaps his most impressive performances were when the Oilers won the Boras Classic tourney state title. In the SoCal bracket of the event, Danner smashed three homers and got one of the pitching wins. Then in the state final vs. Bellarmine Prep of San Jose, Danner pitched into the seventh inning of a 4-1 win with a no-hitter before the Bells put together three hits and scratched out a run.
Heading into the CIF Southern Section Division I playoffs, Huntington Beach was at No. 1 in the state and was the top seed. The chase for a title and a result that probably would have avoided any difficulty in the final Mr. Baseball State POY selection, however, didn’t happen. The Oilers lost in the quarterfinals 4-1 to El Dorado of Placentia.
“No regrets in four years,” Danner told the L.A. Times of his high school experience. “I had a blast. I played with my best friends and a great coaching staff. It’s been awesome.”
If either Lewis or Greene had been able to take advantage of Danner getting handed his first loss as a pitcher and their teams had been able to go on a deep run in the same bracket, then the Mr. Baseball choice might have gone in a different direction. Both JSerra and Notre Dame, however, went out even earlier than the Oilers. Eventual champion El Toro also had a Mr. Baseball finalist in 12-1 pitcher Jake Jackson, but for Jackson to have been a more serious contender to the other three he would have had to have had solid hitting totals in addition to the pitching.
Lewis, who would be the State Position Player of the Year if such an honor was done, also didn’t have the hitting and pitching combination that is usually so essential in overall Player of the Year high school voting. Greene, featured in May on the cover of Sports Illustrated and the State Sophomore of the Year in 2015, had his pitching shut down after only a handful of appearances. There’s no doubt he could wind up as the best one out of this year’s group when all is said and done.
Earlier this week, Danner signed a contract with the Blue Jays and will forgo his scholarship to UCLA. His signing bonus, according to multiple media reports, is worth approximately $1.5 million, which is well above the No. 61 slotted value of $1,043,200. The plan by Toronto’s coaches are to turn Danner into an elite level catcher.
“I feel honored and blessed to be able to pursue my dream with the Blue Jays,” tweeted Danner, who has started working out at the team’s Florida spring training site this week and will soon start playing in minor league games.
We hope you feel the same about being the 2017 Mr. Baseball State Player of the Year.
MR. BASEBALL STATE PLAYERS
OF THE YEAR ALL-TIME LIST
(Selected by Cal-Hi Sports)
2017 – Hagen Danner, Huntington Beach P/C
2016 – Mickey Moniak, Carlsbad La Costa Canyon OF
2015 – Joe DeMers, Pleasant Hill College Park, P/INF
2014 – Brady Aiken, San Diego Cathedral Catholic, P
2013 – Jack Flaherty, North Hollywood Harvard-Westlake, P-3B (Jr.)
2012 – Ty Moore, Santa Ana Mater Dei, P-INF
2011 – Henry Owens, Huntington Beach Edison, P
2010 – Cory Hahn, Santa Ana Mater Dei, P-OF
2009 – Tyler Matzek, Mission Viejo Capistrano Valley, P-1B
2008 – Aaron Hicks, Long Beach Wilson OF-P
2007 – Mike Moustakas, Chatsworth INF
2006 – Tyler Robertson, Fair Oaks Bella Vista OF-P
2005 – John Drennen, San Diego Rancho Bernardo OF
2004 – Matt Bush, San Diego Mission Bay INF
2003 – Ian Stewart, Westminster La Quinta INF
2002 – Delmon Young, Camarillo OF (Jr.)
2001 – J.P. Howell, Carmichael Jesuit P
2000 – Mike Stodolka, Corona Centennial DH-P
1999 – Ryan Christianson, Riverside Arlington C
1998 – Sean Burroughs, Long Beach Wilson 3B
1997 – Jon Garland, Granada Hills Kennedy P
1996 – Eric Chavez, San Diego Mt. Carmel SS-P
1995 – Eric Chavez, San Diego Mt. Carmel SS-P (Jr.)
1994 – McKay Christensen, Fresno Clovis West OF
1993 – Derrek Lee, Sacramento El Camino OF
1992 – Jason Kendall, Torrance C
1991 – Dmitri Young, Oxnard Rio Mesa 3B
1990 – Mike Lieberthal, Westlake Village Westlake C
1989 – Todd Johnson, Fresno Bullard C-P
1988 – Scott Davison, Redondo Beach Redondo Union P-DH
1987 – Tom Redington, Anaheim Esperanza SS
1986 – Brian Johnson, Oakland Skyline C
1985 – Gregg Jefferies, San Mateo Serra SS
1984 – James Mitchell, El Cerrito OF
1983 – Kurt Stillwell, Thousand Oaks SS
1982 – Bret Saberhagen, Reseda Cleveland P
1981 – Lenny Dykstra, Garden Grove OF
1980 – Darryl Strawberry, Los Angeles Crenshaw OF
1979 – John Elway, Granada Hills OF
1978 – Lloyd Moseby, Oakland 1B
1977 – Craig Landis, Napa Vintage SS
1976 – Rickey Henderson, Oakland Technical OF
1975 – Carney Lansford, Santa Clara Wilcox SS
1974 – Lonnie Smith, Compton Centennial OF
1973 – Robin Yount, Woodland Hills Taft SS
1972 – Scott McGregor, El Segundo P
1971 – Keith Hernandez, San Bruno Capuchino 1B-Semipro
1970 – Terry Forster, Santee Santana P
1969 – Jeff Burroughs, Long Beach Wilson OF
1968 – Tim Foli, Sherman Oaks Notre Dame SS
1967 – Bill Buckner, Napa 1B
1966 – Kemer Brett, El Segundo P
1965 – Bob Boone, San Diego Crawford P
1964 – Willie Crawford, Los Angeles Fremont OF
1963 – Bob Tolan, Los Angeles Fremont P-OF
1962 – Rudy May, Oakland Castlemont P
1961 – Bob Bailey, Long Beach Wilson SS
1960 – Wade Blasingame, Fresno Roosevelt P
1959 – John Boccabella, Kentfield Marin Catholic 3B
1958 – Dick Ellsworth, Fresno P
1957 – Johnny Callison, Bakersfield East OF
1956 – Mike McCormick, Alhambra Keppel P
1955 – Deron Johnson, San Diego OF
1954 – Don Drysdale, Van Nuys P
1953 – Frank Robinson, Oakland McClymonds 3B
1952 – Jim Gentile, San Francisco Sacred Heart 1B
1951 – Ed Cereghino, Daly City Jefferson P
1950 – J.W. Porter, Oakland Technical C
1949 – Paul Pettit, Harbor City Narbonne P
1948 – Karl Olson, Mill Valley Tamalpais OF
1947 – Gus Triandos, San Francisco Mission C
1946 – Jim Baxes, San Francisco Mission 2B
1945 – Jack Harshman, San Diego 1B
1944 – Jackie Jensen, Oakland OF
1943 – Herb Gorman, San Francisco Balboa 1B
1942 – Charlie Silvera, San Francisco St. Ignatius SS
1941 – Bob Brown, San Francisco Galileo SS
1940 – Duane Pillette, San Diego P
1939 – Ferris Fain, Oakland Roosevelt 1B
1938 – Bob Lemon, Long Beach Wilson SS-P
1937 – Rugger Ardizoia, San Francisco Commerce P
1936 – Bobby Doerr, Los Angeles Fremont 2B (Pro)
1935 – Ted Williams, San Diego Hoover OF
1934 – Frankie Hawkins, San Francisco Sacred Heart SS
1933 – Chet Smith, San Diego P
1932 – Gordon Maltzberger, Colton P
1931 – Joe DiMaggio, San Francisco Galileo SS (Semi-pro)
1930 – Athos Sada, San Diego OF
1929 – Arleigh Williams, Oakland Technical C
1928 – Frank Dobranksy, San Diego P
1927 – Willard Hershberger, Fullerton C
1926 – Dick Bartell, Alameda SS
1925 – Louie Almada, Los Angeles P
1924 – Joe Cronin, San Francisco Sacred Heart SS
1923 – Gene Hollister, San Francisco Mission P
1922 – Walter Berger, San Francisco Mission 3B
1921 – Babe Herman, Glendale 1B
1920 – Bernie Viveiros, Oakland Technical 2B
1919 – Ren Kelly, San Francisco Poly P
1918 – Brick Muller, San Diego OF
1917 – Johnny Gillespie, Oakland Technical P
1916 – Ray Lorrigan, San Francisco Poly P
1915 – Frank Schellenback, Hollywood P
1914 – Bert Cole, San Francisco Lowell P
1913 – George Kelly, San Francisco Poly 3B
1912 – Harry Heilmann, San Francisco Sacred Heart SS
1911 – Will James, Oroville P
1910 – Eddie French, San Francisco Sacred Heart P
1909 – Babe Hollis, San Francisco Cogswell P
1908 – Oscar Vitt, San Francisco Wilmerding SS
1907 – Lloyd Burton, Alameda SS
1906 – Mowatt Mitchell, Los Angeles 1B
1905 – Walter Johnson, Fullerton P
1904 – James Schaeffer, Berkeley C
1903 – Mead Hamilton, San Francisco Lowell P
1902 – Mead Hamilton, San Francisco Lowell 2B
1901 – Heinie Heitmuller, San Francisco Lick 1B
1900 – Orvall Overall, Visalia 1B-Town team
1899 – Will Moreing, Stockton P