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After injury, Lucas Giolito hopes his arm is still considered golden

Harvard-Westlake's Giolito was considered a top-three draft pick after throwing pitches clocked at 100 mph. Then an elbow injury shut him down for the season. He'll learn Monday how his draft status was affected.

June 03, 2012|By Gary Klein
  • Lucas Giolito pitches in public for the first time since rehabilitation from an elbow injury during a workout at O'Malley Family Field in Encino.
Lucas Giolito pitches in public for the first time since rehabilitation… (Anne Cusack / Los Angeles…)

Nearly two dozen baseball scouts line up against a padded chain-link fence, mirrored sunglasses hiding their eyes, as the boy with the golden arm walks past.

They have congregated at an empty diamond in Encino for one reason: to watch Lucas Giolito play catch.

This spring, pitching for his high school team, Giolito unleashed a fastball that lighted up radar guns at 100 mph, the rare feat cementing his place among the top prospects in the United States.

A week later, the 17-year-old Giolito suffered a season-ending elbow injury.

Now, after months of rest and rehabilitation, he is about to participate in the first of several important auditions before Major League Baseball's draft on Monday. The scouts will take notes and then advise their bosses whether or when to select Giolito. A high pick carries a price tag in the millions.

So the scouts move en masse when Giolito arrives, unfolding his 6-foot-6, 240-pound frame from a white Volkswagen coupe on a warm May afternoon. They tail him from the parking lot to the clubhouse, stationing themselves along the fence as he makes his way toward the immaculately manicured outfield grass.

Giolito, baseball glove in hand, glances over his shoulder.

He feels the scrutiny even as he hooks a band of rubber tubing to the fence and commences stretching his arms, shoulders and back.

"This," he says to a coach who will supervise his workout, "is kind of weird."

Major league pitchers routinely throw a baseball upward of 90 mph. Few reach 100.

Giolito, an affable senior at Harvard-Westlake High in Studio City, flashed golden-arm potential from an early age.

His first Halloween costume, at 4 months, was a baseball uniform and he started playing on his first team at the age of 5. He never wavered from the career goal stated for a fifth-grade class project: pro baseball player.

During Little League games near his family's home in Santa Monica, his mother, actress Lindsay Frost, watched with a mix of pride and fear as her oldest son tried to harness his gift.

"He did throw the ball very hard," she says, "and it wasn't always precise."

His pitches twice broke the thumb of his catcher and struck the bodies of many overmatched batters, sending a few to the hospital.

As he grew older, those pitches were hurled faster and more consistently closer to home plate. After Giolito's freshman season, scouts clocked his fastball at 91 mph. He turned 15 the next day.

"That was cool," says Giolito, who enjoys writing and playing the French horn. "But I also thought, 'I need to start throwing strikes too.' "

Toward the end of his sophomore season, it happened.

Giolito had struggled in his previous outing — "a total meltdown," he says — but as he warmed up for a game against Encino Crespi High, something felt different. Pitches that once evaded the strike zone suddenly lasered to their intended locations.

"That," he says, snapping his fingers, "was kind of like when things clicked."

Two years ago, Giolito's fastball reached 94 mph, then 96. He stayed in that range through his junior season and into last summer, traversing the country to take part in showcase events for high-profile prospects.

By the end of the tour, he had a scholarship commitment from UCLA and analysts tabbed him the best high school pitching prospect in this year's draft.

"He was a lock to be taken in the first three picks," says Jim Callis, executive editor of Baseball America magazine.

So few were surprised on Feb. 28 when Giolito's first pitches against Woodland Hills El Camino Real High registered 98 mph. But then he fired a fastball that became legend.

Scouts behind the backstop looked at the reading on their radar guns and did double takes, a murmur rising.

Did you get that?

A few pitches later, Giolito did it again.

Did you get THAT?

Giolito didn't notice the fuss. Neither did Harvard-Westlake Coach Matt LaCour, until a scout caught his eye.

"He held up three fingers," LaCour recalls. "Triple digits."

Another scout informed the right-hander's father, social media consultant Rick Giolito, who had only one thought: "Oh … my ... Lord."

There was no pain, no telltale "pop" indicating a problem. But a week after throwing 100 mph, something was amiss with that valuable right arm.

In a game against Mission Hills Alemany, Giolito clocked 98 mph in the early innings but struggled with control, walking three and hitting three batters.

With one out in the seventh, he delivered what turned out to be his final pitch.

"Ohhhh," Giolito thought to himself. "That didn't feel very good."

He summoned his coaches from the dugout.

"Everybody's stomach just dropped," pitching coach Ethan Katz said.

Giolito spent the rest of the game on the bench — "I was more upset that we ended up losing," he says — and doctors examined him that night. Tests the next day revealed a sprained ulnar collateral ligament in his right elbow, an injury that once spelled doom for pitchers young and old. But no more.

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