Their talent is the draw.
Derek Hill and Matt Trask can’t play in a baseball game without a flock of big-league scouts in tow. The scouts form a crowd behind the backstop, most armed with stopwatches, radar guns and notepads.
As a center fielder for Elk Grove, The Bee’s No. 1-ranked team, Hill is a 6-foot-1 senior who has the skills big-league clubs covet: he can run, throw and hit.
Trask is an intriguing prospect at pitcher. The 6-3 senior for No. 3 Davis has a curveball, his teammates say, that is nastier than the laundry piles that snake out of their closets.
Hill and Trask are rivals and former summer-travel teammates who appreciate each other’s efforts from afar. They are defined by their composure and success, and they will continue to have scouts on their trail through the Sac-Joaquin Section Division I playoffs that start next week. It’ll stay that way until their final game that could be on the eve of the Major League Baseball draft.
Hill leads the area in hitting with a .535 average, though it is his ability to beat out routine ground balls and run down fly balls in the outfield with remarkable speed that sets him apart. Trask (4-1) is regarded as the area’s top pitcher with big wins against the best teams in the region, including Elk Grove last month.
On Tuesday at Davis, Trask pitched six scoreless innings before departing, and Hill had two hits and scored in a 6-4 Thundering Herd victory in extra innings. The scouts were there, as well as A’s general manager Billy Beane.
On Wednesday in Elk Grove, Giants general manager Brian Sabean was among the spectators as the Herd and Blue Devils played for the Delta Valley Conference championship. After Elk Grove defeated Davis 8-5, Sabean watched Hill take extended batting practice.
“I love the pressure,” Hill said. “I know they're watching, but the thing is, don't let them see you sweat."
In a sport where failure is the norm, isn’t sweating part of the game?
“It’s how you deal with failure that the scouts are wondering about by now, and they’re watching your every move: what you do, how you do it, how you handle things,” Hill said. “When I go to a game, I’ll look to see who’s here – you can’t miss it – and then get to work. I feel very fortunate to be in this situation. It’s a lot of fun.”
Fun is having options. Hill and Trask do. They have signed scholarship letters with Pacific-12 Conference teams, Hill with Oregon and Trask with UCLA. Playing in college would offer a safety net and leverage in relation to the draft, too.
Hill is projected to be the area’s highest area draftee this season, high school or college. Some projections have him going in the first round, and an army of big-league scouts and general managers have paraded through his house in recent weeks to talk signing bonus.
Trask’s household hasn’t had that sort of traffic, though he regularly speaks to scouts after games.
“I know the scouts and baseball people are there for every game, and I think I had 20 looking at me earlier in a game,” Trask said. “But you can’t let it get to you. Just act like they’re fans cheering you on. If you overthink it, it’ll beat you. I’ve always handled it pretty well. It’s how I am.”
His father, Mike, says he’s amazed at his son’s composure through all the success and attention.
“He handles this way better than I do,” said Mike, who is a bundle of nerves when his son pitches. “I couldn’t be more proud of Matt as he has always been such an even-tempered kid. No matter the outcome, he stepped up and competed. We’ve learned what the scouts look for. Scouting is so much about the measurables, the character and the makeup.”
Jeff Carlson has coached 15 seasons at Elk Grove, a run that includes scores of scholarship players and big-league draftees. He says it’s Hill’s combination of skill and calm that have scouts buzzing.
“You better believe it,” Carlson said. “How you handle adversity is the biggest thing scouts look for once they see that you can play. ‘Will he melt down after a strikeout? Will it trigger a three-week slump? Will he lose confidence and ability?’ Derek handles it so well.”
One of Hill’s biggest influences has been his father, Orsino, who coached him in youth ball.
“I’m so proud of Derek and how he handles this,” said Orsino, who played 12 minor-league seasons as an outfielder. “The hardest thing to do in sports is to play well when you have such great expectations on you. The industry knows Derek has the ability to do this, and the fact that he is doing so well despite all the pressure, it speaks volumes.”
Davis coach Dan Ariola said Trask is as talented a player as he’s had in his 19 seasons coaching his alma mater. Trask beat Elk Grove twice last season with walk-off hits, making him a complete player.
“Matt has great demeanor, and the scouts like that,” Ariola said. “Matt’s given us so much. Just great, beautiful. We’re all excited about his future.”
As well as being good baseball players, Hill and Trask have proven to be role models.
Hill is the only senior in the starting lineup for the Herd. He leads by example, playing the game hard and having fun. Diving for balls hit in the gap for outs, Hill has emerged from games with sore wrists, bruised shoulders and a tender back.
“It’s always an adrenaline rush out there,” he said, “and you have to give it your all.”
Trask’s work ethic and sportsmanship stand out, his teammates and coaches say. He is mobbed by his younger brothers and sisters – ages 3 to 7 – after games.
If baseball doesn’t work out, Trask has eyes on another adventure.
“I’d love to be a firefighter,” he said. “I don’t want to be in an office doing a desk job. I want to help people, and the idea of saving lives does that. I like that people look up to me. My siblings, pretending to be me, pitching, having fun, that’s awesome. Kids looking up to me makes me keep going even harder.”
Follow Joe Davidson on Twitter @SacBee_JoeD.