Lucas Giolito and Max Fried, senior pitchers at Studio City Harvard-Westlake, are about to receive the paparazzi treatment, and neither is related to a Kardashian.
“The circus is coming,” Coach Matt LaCour warns.
What has energized professional scouts, baseball fans and opposing teams is the chance to witness a high school version of the Dodgers’ 1960s righty-lefty Cy Young duo of Don Drysdale and Sandy Koufax.
Giolito, a 6-foot-6 right-hander who was clocked throwing a 99-mph fastball in winter ball, is considered the No. 1 prep pitching prospect in the nation. Fried, a 6-3 left-hander, isn’t far behind. Each signed with UCLA in November and is being closely trailed by professional scouts seeking to gauge their interest and evaluate their ability for the June amateur draft. There never has been a right-handed high school pitcher selected No. 1 in the amateur draft, but Giolito is a candidate to change that.
That Giolito and Fried ended up on the same team might make LaCour the luckiest coach in America, because it was made possible only after Van Nuys Montclair Prep dropped its sports program, prompting Fried to join Giolito in a two-man pitching rotation that will be hard to duplicate.
Each is prepared to deal with the scrutiny, expectations and distractions ahead. They saw glimpses of what awaits them in the summer, with radar guns being pointed at them en masse. Together, they hope to support each other.
“I know we’ll have a few people out to watch, but it’s all about playing for your team and getting the win,” Giolito said.
Added Fried: “We’ve become such good friends the past couple of months. I know I’m going to have his back and he’s going to have mine.”
LaCour is going to be the guide into uncharted territory for Giolito, Fried and their Harvard-Westlake teammates who could be swept up amid the onslaught of interest and fascination with having two pitchers blessed with so much potential.
“With the group of guys we have, it’s not as big a challenge keeping focused on a goal as you would think,” LaCour said. “Each has expressed in front of their teammates that this is about the team. This is about us getting better. This is about us achieving a goal, and this is about us pushing each other each day.”
There’s no doubt Giolito and Fried will benefit from the competition of watching each other pitch, then trying to top the other. Giolito ended last season throwing a shutout and a no-hitter in the Southern Section Division II playoffs, providing a sneak preview of his senior year.
“He was outstanding,” LaCour said. “There was no other way to put it. Yeah, he’s grown six inches [since he was a freshman], his fastball has developed, his off-speed stuff is better, but the competitiveness of his game has gone up tremendously.”
Fried, also a good hitter, has added velocity to his 93-mph fastball, making the pitch he has been most known for — his Koufax-like curveball — even more effective.
“The thing that Max is going to learn this year, and started to learn over the summer, is that the velocity of his fastball has made such a significant jump that he is going to now pitch more like a power pitcher,” LaCour said. “The curveball is absolutely a strikeout pitch and something that is a lethal weapon, but he is really going to pound the zone with his fastball.”
Giolito comes from a family used to the celebrity treatment. His mother, Lindsey, has been an actress, his father, Rick, used to be an actor and a video game executive, and his uncle is Mark Frost, a novelist and screenwriter who co-created the 1990 TV drama “Twin Peaks.”
“We’re used to being around people who are well known,” Rick said. “This is completely different, to have a son who has this uncanny natural ability. Nothing prepares you for that.”
Fried has been known for his athleticism since his youth sports days. He was a starting guard for Montclair Prep’s basketball team. As a freshman pitcher he beat another potential first-round draft pick, Chase DeJong of Long Beach Wilson, when the two faced off three years ago, Fried pitching for the Mounties and DeJong pitching for Cerritos Valley Christian.
The days ahead will offer challenges but also opportunities, starting with the season opener Feb. 24.
“I’m just going to go out there and play baseball and try to win every game possible,” Fried said. “It’s my goal, and to embrace everything that’s going on, because not many people have the opportunity we have.”
Added Giolito: “It’s all about having fun with it. A lot of stuff is going to happen. It’s going to be a fun year, an eventful year. We’re both looking forward to it. The team is looking forward to it. It’s going to be a good ride.”