Prep pitcher’s stock on the rise

Published 5:00 am Thursday, April 23, 2009

NEW PORT RICHEY, Fla. (AP) — Patrick Schuster doesn’t have much of a beard to speak of, nonetheless the high school pitcher isn’t about to shave the unruly patches of blond whiskers sprouting all over his face while his streak of four consecutive no-hitters is still alive.

The lanky 18-year-old Mitchell High School senior will try to become just the fifth prep player to toss five straight no-hitters Tuesday when he leads his squad into postseason play.

‘‘The scruff is really bad,’’ Schuster admitted after notching no-hitter No. 4 earlier this week, setting a Florida high school record. The national record for consecutive no-hitters is six: Chris Taranto of Notre Dame High School in Biloxi, Miss., did it in 1961, while Tom Engle did it in 1989 in Lancaster, Ohio.

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Now a 38-year-old producer at ESPN, Engle says it will be more difficult for Schuster to do it because of the national attention.

‘‘I’m from a small town in Ohio, and the media just wasn’t there,’’ said Engle, who wasn’t even aware he owned the record until a couple years ago. ‘‘I think he has a lot more pressure on him now than I ever had.’’

Engle’s advice: ‘‘Don’t change anything. Don’t try and throw a no-hitter. Just pitch your game, and if it comes, it comes.’’

It’s not going to be easy. Mitchell’s district of large schools in the Tampa area is considered to be among the state’s toughest.

‘‘I know he has the capability of doing it,’’ said Mitchell’s senior catcher, Doug Burlett. ‘‘We’ll just have to see if he gets lucky.’’

Even if he doesn’t, Schuster’s stock likely has risen.

The 6-foot-2, 170-pound left-hander is ranked as the 79th best prospect — the 42nd best high school prospect — in the country by Baseball America. Schuster, who has signed with Florida, has a fastball around 90 mph and some nasty breaking stuff delivered with the same slingshot motion. He would likely be a second-round selection in the June amateur draft, said John Manuel, an editor-in-chief at the publication.