Majors might call on Erbe before star gets to Miami

THE BALTIMORE SUN

Things have changed at a very fast pace for McDonogh's Brandon Erbe since last spring - nearly as fast as one of his 95 mph fastballs.

Erbe has gone from being one of the top pitchers in the metro area and a second-team All-Metro selection (5-3, two saves, 1.29 ERA, 84 strikeouts in 65 innings) to one of the top pitchers and pro prospects in the nation in a matter of months.

Baseball America currently has Erbe, who signed with the University of Miami last September, ranked as the 33rd high school prospect in the nation, which projects him as a No. 1 draft pick come June.

There hasn't been as much excitement around McDonogh baseball since Kenny Cloude was an All-Metro right-hander taken in the sixth round by the Seattle Mariners in 1993.

The way it's going for Erbe, he may never wear the green and orange of the Hurricanes because he would be worth millions as a No. 1 draft pick.

"If I go high, I will probably sign, but I still intend to graduate from college with a degree in business," said Erbe, who carries a 3.0 grade point average, scored 1,120 on his SAT, and plays a guitar in his leisure time.

Erbe, a 6-foot-4, 187-pound right-hander, went from throwing 83 mph as a sophomore to 90 as a junior last spring. During the summer, he consistently threw 93 to 95 mph as a 16-year-old on the 21-and-under national champion Maryland Orioles coached by Baltimore Orioles scout Dean Albany.

"I think what helped me get faster was a lot of long toss the last couple years that strengthened my arm," said Erbe, whose release point also has improved.

The demand for Erbe's time and pitching schedule and directions to the fields have gotten so intense that McDonogh coach Chet Janiga has set up a personal listing for Erbe's schedule on the baseball portion of the Eagles' Web site, www.mcdonogh.org.

"This is a once-in-a-lifetime kid, a really good kid who has worked hard to get where he is, and I'm just trying to take pressure off of him and his parents [Brent and Patricia] by handling all of the phone calls and e-mails," said Janiga, who will prepare bulk mailings to keep major league teams abreast of Erbe's schedule.

Erbe's first Maryland Interscholastic Athletic Association A Conference game will be on Tuesday at McDonogh when his opponent will be Steve Johnson and St. Paul's. Johnson is a three-time All-Metro pitcher who has signed with Boston College and who also is expected to be drafted.

There will be plenty of radar guns behind the screen that day as the scouts will jockey for position to get the most accurate readings on the two standouts.

Janiga said he doesn't mind providing his cell and home numbers to scouts to "protect Brandon as much as I can because I want him to enjoy his senior year."

Erbe said he "really appreciates" what his coach is doing and said he always had a dream of playing major league baseball, but "never thought in my wildest dreams it would get to this point."

His summer with Albany's Orioles, which included an impressive two starts in Johnstown, Pa., at the All-American Amateur Baseball Association national tournament, was followed by an eye-opening performance in August in Las Vegas.

There, at the Team One National Showcase, Erbe had major league and college scouts buzzing over his fastball, and he was named the No. 1 pro prospect at the event.

"It was pretty amazing watching Brandon develop over the summer," said Albany, who is not allowed to give an assessment of Erbe's potential as a prospect.

"He's a great kid with a great makeup, and he's only going to get better."

The scouts love Erbe's fluid delivery that makes it appear effortless as he's reaching the mid-90s. He also throws a nasty slider, circle change and curveball.

Erbe started playing baseball at age 10 with coach Frank Vellegia's Maryland Orioles, but he didn't start pitching until he was 13.

"When I got to McDonogh, I made varsity as a sophomore pitcher-shortstop," said Erbe, who was 4-2 that year for the Eagles with 43 strikeouts in 44 innings and was cut that fall by Albany's showcase team, the Oriolelanders.

"I didn't have expectations of making it that year."

That seems so very long ago.

RANKINGS

1. Mount St. Joseph

Last season: 28-6, ranked No. 2

The Gaels are deep in pitching with Kyle Timme (7-1) leading five left-handers.

2. Calvert Hall

Last season: 23-10, No. 6

Scott Krieger, Mike Newton and Mike Dougherty are three big bats. If the pitching comes through, the Cardinals will fly high.

3. Old Mill

Last season: 18-5, No. 4

An already strong team got a big boost when speedy outfielder Derek Goughenour returned from a year at Riverdale Baptist.

4. Severna Park

Last season: 16-8, No. 13

The Falcons have an excellent blend of experience and youth with returning All-Metro choice Chris Crum the team's No. 1 pitcher and hitter.

5. St. Paul's

Last season: 21-14, unranked

After falling out of the poll last year after two consecutive MIAA A Conference titles, the Crusaders should be back with their solid pitching and defense.

6. McDonogh

Last season: 17-13, unranked

If Brandon Erbe lives up to his billing and gets help from some younger pitchers, the Eagles could be the sleeper in the MIAA A.

7. Centennial

Last season: 21-4, No. 1

The defending 3A state champion Eagles are banking on right-hander Scott Swinson and left-hander Alex Bechta.

8. Eastern Tech

Last season: 16-6, No. 15

A strong returning nucleus has the Mavericks fired up.

9. Atholton

Last season: 11-13, unranked

The Raiders appear ready for prime time with ace pitcher Ed Bach.

10. Archbishop Spalding

Last season: 23-10, No. 3

The Cavaliers will reload with a strong junior class led by pitcher-shortstop Danny Palumbo.

11. Arundel

Last season: 16-5, No. 5

The Wildcats will be bolstered by three Riverdale Baptist transfers who already lived in the Arundel district.

12. Glenelg

Last season: 16-6, No. 7

A strong returning nucleus makes the Gladiators a Howard County and Class 2A South contender.

13 . Fallston

Last season: 18-6, No. 12

The Cougars are after the Harford County title and their third 3A North region title in four years.

14. Parkville

Last season: 15-6, unranked

Senior left-hander Andrew Vaught and senior right-hander Josh Price make the inexperienced Knights one of the top 4A teams.

15 . Dulaney

Last season: 13-8, unranked

Returning All-Metro outfielder Steve Bumbry (.468, 32 stolen bases) makes the Lions a Baltimore County contender and a threat in the 4A North.

PLAYERS TO WATCH

Alex Buchholz

Old Mill, infielder-pitcher

Headed to Delaware, Buchholz batted .455 with 27 runs, 18 RBIs and six extra-base hits and was 4-0 with a 2.90 ERA.

David Caldwell

Loyola, catcher

Caldwell batted .321 for the Dons with 14 RBIs. He is headed to Virginia.

Chris Crum

Severna Park, third base-pitcher

Crum hit .540 with an Anne Arundel County-leading 33 RBIs and 17 extra-base hits and was 4-0 with a 2.04 ERA and 35 strikeouts in 34 innings.

Brandon Erbe

McDonogh, pitcher-infielder

The right-hander, who has signed with Miami but could go high in the June draft, was 5-3 with two saves, 84 strikeouts and a 1.29 ERA in 65 1/3 innings.

Aaron Gabrielian

Century, first base-pitcher

This left-handed hitter batted .509 with nine homers, seven doubles and 28 RBIs.

Steve Johnson

St. Paul's, pitcher-infielder

This right-hander, who has signed with Boston College, can become the first player to be named All-Metro all four years of high school.

Scott Krieger

Calvert Hall, third base-outfielder

All-Metro as a junior, Krieger led the metro area in homers (10), hits (53) and RBIs (45).

Mike Newton

Calvert Hall, center fielder

Newton ignited the area's most potent offense with 11 doubles, 27 RBIs, 46 runs scored and 26 stolen bases.

Brad Rifkin

Park, first base-pitcher

Rifkin batted .490 with 10 doubles, 20 runs scored and 19 RBIs.

Gerard Sokolis

Eastern Tech, pitcher-first base

The left-hander has been the ace of the Mavericks since his sophomore year and was 8-1 with a 1.60 ERA and 57 strikeouts in 55 innings last year as a junior.

Other notables

Matt Amuszewski, Liberty; Bryan Bernstorf, St. Paul's; Stephan Bernstorf, St. Paul's; Jason Baumler, Old Mill; Jake Brown, N. Harford; Jason Burns, S. Carroll; Neal Davis, Catonsville; Dino DeAngelo, Harford Tech; Ryan Farrell, C.M. Wright; Andrew Ferris, Severna Park; Aaron Gabrielian, Century; Dan Gerjets, S. Carroll; Duane Herr, Glen Burnie; Layton Hersh, Francis Scott Key; Cody Holliday, Havre de Grace; Ryan Kent, Fallston; Ken King, Long Reach; Jacob Kuperstock, Westminster; Tim McMullen, Old Mill; Vic Meyer, St. Paul's; Jim Mudgett, Century; Joe Murray, Pallotti; Brad Pendock, Arundel; Jim Plantholt, N. Harford; Kenny Primeaux, Perry Hall; Sherman Reid, Catonsville; Steve Rice, Century; Akeem Richards, Overlea; Evan Richter, Severna Park; Mike Roberts, C.M. Wright; David Sells, Severna Park; Weston Szymanski, South Carroll; Scott Tolliver, Fallston; David Walters, River Hill; Chris Wuthrich, Arundel.

AROUND THE AREA

Anne Arundel County

With a wealth of experience and good pitching, Old Mill (18-5) and Severna Park (16-8) are expected to be the teams to beat in the county.

Arundel (16-5), Chesapeake and Broadneck also could challenge. Transfers from Riverdale Baptist should bolster Arundel's chances, but Chesapeake lost its ace in All-Metro left-hander Jake Shibilsky to arm surgery, but expects right-handers Charlie Gordon and JV grad Chris Miller to step up. And left-hander Rob Brisentine, also up from the Cougars' JV, should add depth.

Shibilsky can't pitch until August, but will play first base or DH. Broadneck's Bryan Hoffman, who has signed with Maryland, should be one of the top left-handers in the metro area.

Baltimore City

Patterson's Roger Wrenn, 58, has retired after 29 seasons, 339 career wins and 14 Baltimore City or Maryland Scholastic Association titles. Wrenn's replacement, Joe Clark, was last year's softball coach at Patterson.

Poly returns as the A Conference champion, but with a new coach in Corey Goodwin, the former assistant to Digital Harbor's Chris Vaccaro. Digital, led by pitcher-third baseman Brandon Krochone and first baseman Jason Roper, along with Patterson and Mervo, will contend in what is always a tight race for the A Conference crown. Forest Park, last year's B Conference co-champ with Carver, has joined the A Conference.

Carver should contend in the B Conference.

Baltimore County

After being knocked out of the Class 2A state final because of a pitching rules violation, Eastern Tech is ready to right itself and make another run at the school's first state crown.

The Mavericks (16-6) are also the favorites to win the county 2A-1A league with the 1-2 pitching of senior ace and left-hander Gerard Sokolis (8-1) and sophomore right-hander Ryan Rivers. Veteran shortstop Vince Stella will anchor the infield of the Mavericks, who look to dethrone defending 2A-1A champion Hereford.

Dulaney, a state finalist in 2000 and 2001, is ready to challenge Parkville (15-6) and Perry Hall (15-5) in the county 4A-3A league. Senior left-hander Andrew Vaught (6-0, 1.26 ERA) gives Parkville an edge.

Carroll County

Both defending Class 2A state champion Liberty and regional finalist South Carroll were hit hard by graduation. The Lions (20-3) will have to replace seven starters and four first-team all-county players, including top pitchers Shawn Houck and Wade Keenan. The Cavaliers also lost several starters, including county Player of the Year Ryan Harrison.

One team that could step up is Century. A .500 team last season, the Knights feature six returning pitchers, including ace Justin Mudgett, and first baseman Aaron Gabrielian, who led the county with nine home runs.

Francis Scott Key (10-8) features good pitching depth and a number of returning players, while Winters Mill should improve with its first senior class.

Harford County

C.M. Wright tries to take the next step this season after losing last spring in its first state final appearance. The Mustangs - who lost to Centennial in the Class 3A title game - bring back several good players.

Senior pitcher Mike Roberts will anchor the staff while four-year outfielder Ryan Farrell also should help. Coach Bryan Linz said that this year's team already has better chemistry and more depth.

Fallston and Bel Air both should be right there with the Mustangs. For Fallston (18-6), which lost to them in the region finals, 11 players return. Seniors Scott Tolliver (SS) and Andrew Tress (OF) should lead the way. Bel Air (18-6) has a good core with seniors like Nick Repas (SS).

Howard County

Usually the team with the best pitcher wins the county title, and Atholton's Ed Bach and Glenelg's Jeff Dulaney could reach the same pitching level as Centennial's All-Metro Player of the Year last year, left-hander Jonathan Dupski, who is now at Towson University.

Dulaney, a left-hander, was 5-2 with a 0.65 ERA. Bach, also a left-hander, was 6-3 with a 2.97 ERA for an extremely young team. Both are seniors. Glenelg was county runner-up to Class 3A state champion Centennial last season. Atholton went 11-13.

Expect Centennial to remain a prominent contender with Maryland-bound catcher Dan Shillingburg and sophomore outfielder-pitcher Alex Bechta. Mount Hebron also should compete.

Private schools

After winning its first A Conference title since 1987, Mount St. Joseph has the pitching depth to retain its crown, but Calvert Hall, St. Paul's and McDonogh loom as serious contenders.

The Gaels (28-6) have five left-handers among 11 pitchers with Delaware-bound Brad Miller, a right-hander, the ace. Coach Dave Norton is also excited about his position players, mainly the left side of his infield with Bryan Hamilton (3B) and Nick Natoli (SS).

Once again Calvert Hall's lineup will be potent, and if junior left-hander Bobby Lucas and senior right-hander Tim Sexton come on to lead the pitching staff, the Cardinals will be hard to beat. St. Paul's returns three outstanding pitchers in three-time All-Metro Steve Johnson, Nathan Curd and Trey Crabill.

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