Dylan Lesko, a high school junior from Georgia, is the 2021 Gatorade National Player of the Year after an undefeated season for Buford High
Dylan Lesko was simply unbeatable in 2021.
The 6-foot-3 junior right-hander went 11-0 for Georgia’s Buford High School, with a 0.35 ERA and 112 strikeouts in 60 innings. Heading into his senior year, Lesko already throws 97 mph and is ranked as the No. 2 high school prospect in the class of 2022 by Perfect Game; ProspectsLive rates him as the top prep arm in the country. He’s committed to Vanderbilt, if the allure of being a top pick in next year’s MLB Draft doesn’t get to him first.
That combination—the velocity, the effortless delivery, the ability to dominate opposing hitters (he struck out 18 in a two-hit shutout in April), and the 4.0 GPA in the classroom—led to him being named the Gatorade National Player of the Year as the top high school baseball player in a surprise call from the New York Mets’ Francisco Lindor on Wednesday.
“I was kind of speechless,” Lesko says. “I mean, when he just popped up on the screen, I was kind of confused at first and then he told me I won the award, all the emotions were going through me. I didn’t know what to say.”
Lesko joins an elite group of past winners that include Clayton Kershaw, Alex Rodriguez, and Zack Greinke. He grew up in Georgia watching pitchers like Kershaw and the Nationals’ Stephen Strasburg and emulating his game after theirs. Last summer, he got to throw with another Georgia native, former No. 1 draft pick and current Braves shortstop Dansby Swanson. The advice he’s received from Swanson and the other major leaguers: continue to be himself.
“They just tell you to take it easy. Keep on working and don’t give up,” he says. “It’s a hard, long process but they tell you it’s possible and you can do it. You’ve just got to believe in yourself.”
Lesko’s rise to the top of the high school ranks started last year. When his season was cut short by the COVID-19 pandemic, Lesko began his summer travel ball early with the East Cobb Astros. His pitching coach, Gary Baldwin, was able to work with him and watch his progress every step of the way. Lesko didn’t play in the fall, the long break allowing him to prepare more for his junior season with Buford. He went through the Driveline program, using a combination of long toss and soft tissue therapy. He led his team to a 32-0 start, giving up only 26 hits and 15 walks; he also batted .417 at the plate.
His repertoire is already advanced for a pitcher with a year of high school left. In addition to the upper-90s fastball, he also throws a changeup and slider. He has a stoic, almost effortless demeanor on the mound. And he’s not done improving. “I mean, I could always make it better and get it better, so I’m still trying to do that,” he says. “But my ability to attack hitters, stay calm, and just be me I guess (is my biggest strength).”
Lindor making it a mission to help out young players
Presenting Lesko with the award is a player who knows all about what he’s going through right now. Lindor was also a high school phenom, a top draft pick who’s turned those expectations into a seven-year MLB career and four All-Star Game appearances. Now, he says, it’s time to give back to the next generation.
“I take a lot of pride,” Lindor says. “This is something I’ve had in mind, once I’m in this position, to be able to help others. Encourage them to play the game that I love.”
The message that Lindor wants to give to young players like Lesko is the road to the big leagues is hard, but it’s worth it. “Continue to work. To continue to do what got them there. Kids that are in high school, continue to be themselves, listen more than you actually talk. And train more than you actually talk and listen,” he says.
“The sky’s the limit. Life up here in the big leagues is amazing. It’s everything that you’ve dreamed of.”
Lesko has the makeup of a pitcher who can one day make that leap to the Majors. He insists he’s not even thinking about what comes next, whether he’ll go to Vanderbilt or begin his professional career. That’s for another day. For now, he’s just like any other teenager preparing for his senior year of high school. He’ll continue playing with his friends, enjoying the experience, and working to get better.
He just happens to have a prestigious trophy, with a lot of elite names engraved on it that now include his own, to show off.