Jesuit shortstop/pitcher Lance McCullers is this year’s winner of the Jackie Robinson Award, given annually to the top rising senior high-school player in the country.
McCullers was given the award at the Perfect Game All-America Classic awards banquet Saturday night at the San Diego Hall of Champions. The award is presented annually to the player who exhibits outstanding character, leadership, is involved in his community and embodies the values of being a student-athlete. McCullers was presented the award by former major league pitchers Trevor Hoffman and Tommy John.
"It is one of the most amazing feeling and achievements I have ever experienced and it is something I will always remember," McCullers said late Saturday night by text message. "To win this award means the world to me since Jackie Robinson was such an amazing player and person."
McCullers, ranked the nation's No. 1 2012 draft prospect by Perfect Game, became the third player from Hillsborough County to earn the honor since the award began in 2004. Former Plant standout and current Orioles farmhand Mychal Givens received the award in 2008 and former Hillsborough OF and current Nationals minor-leaguer Michael Burgess won in 2006.
Past recipients of the Jackie Robinson Award include 2010 No. 1 overall pick Bryce Harper and Arizona Diamondbacks All-Star OF Justin Upton, who was the No. 1 overall pick in 2005.
McCullers, along with King senior 1B/DH Keon Barnum, played for the East team in Sunday evening’s Perfect Game All-America Classic, which is seen as the top high school showcase event in the nation, at PETCO Park in San Diego. McCullers was the starting pitcher and threw one inning, his fastball reaching 96 mph.
It marks the sixth straight year a Hillsborough County players has participated in the game. Recent participants that include Alonso's Jose Fernandez (2010), Tampa Catholic's Shane Rowland (2009), Plant's Mychal Givens (2008), Riverview's Anthony Ferrara (2007) and Hillsborough's Michael Burgess (2006). All were drafted the following June.
McCullers is committed to the University of Florida and recently said playing for the Gators is a serious option, but he was recently ranked the No. 1 senior draft prospect in the nation by Perfect Game – he was also ranked No. 1 as a junior – and his fastball recently hit 100 mph at the East Coast Showcase in Lakeland. Last summer, he was one of just two juniors to play in the Under Armour All-American Game at Wrigley Field. McCullers has received national attention since he threw 97 as a 16 year-old sophomore.
McCullers, the Times' All-Suncoast Pitcher of the Year, guided Jesuit to its second straight Class 4A state final last spring. He hit .422 with seven homers and 24 RBIs while pitching to a 2.02 ERA and striking out 79 in 52 innings.
The other finalists for the award are Las Vegas Bishop Gorman IF/RHP Joey Gallo, Dayton (Ohio) Butler RHP Taylore Cherry, Santa Monica (Calif.) Harvard-Westlake RHP Lucas Giolito, Spring (Texas) Collins IF C.J. Hinojosa, Marietta (Ga.) Pope RHP Duane Underwood, LaMarque (Texas) Ball OF Nick Williams and Santa Clarita (Calif.) Valencia IF Trey Williams.
-- EDUARDO A. ENCINA (firstname.lastname@example.org; Twitter: @EddieHometeam)
(Photo courtesy of Perfect Game)