Phillies watch as prep star Groome breezes through opening day

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Barnegat'sJason Groome takes a swing, but it's his pitching arm that has him projected as the top selection in the coming major-league draft, a pick held by the Phillies. MARC NARDUCCI / Staff

BARNEGAT, N.J. - The scouts were lined all around the field. The fans were there with their iPhones snapping pictures at the pitcher. Every pitch drew a reaction.

And this was only the warm-ups.

Welcome to the world of Jason Groome, a 6-foot-5, 230-pound lefthander from Barnegat High School in Ocean County, a player who is capable of drawing a standing-room-only crowd even on an unforgiving 40-degree day.

This was Tuesday, the first game of the final high school season for Groome, a player Baseball America has ranked as the nation's top draft prospect, including college players.

The stakes are high for Groome. But somehow, through this circus-like atmosphere that promises to accompany each of his starts this season, he has remained remarkably grounded. Instead of being stressed out by the attention and pressure, Groome appears to be enjoying the ride.

"The atmosphere was awesome," Groome said of his opening start.

So was the center of attention.

Groome pitched four-plus shutout innings, allowing one hit and striking out 10 in Barnegat's 2-0 win over Point Pleasant Borough.

If he lives up to his enormous billing and is indeed selected first in the June 9 MLB first-year player draft, the rewards are potentially enormous. According to Baseball America, the bonus slot for the No. 1 overall selection is just more than $9 million. A player could sign for more or less than that. But either way, there is a fortune to be made as the top pick.

And holding that top pick are the Phillies, who will be monitoring Groome with close eyes. So it was not surprising that Phillies general manager Matt Klentak and director of scouting Johnny Almaraz were among those at Tuesday's game.

While Groome tries not to get caught up in the hoopla, he conceded it was a big deal to see Klentak at the game.

"I want to get to the big leagues, and I don't want to stop until I get there. But when you have the GM here, it is kind of really cool, because they are the decision makers," Groome said.

Groome was on a 60-pitch limit, and he made it to 59. His fastball was clocked at between 92 and 94 mph, and he displayed a sharp breaking ball that often baffled the hitters.

"As the season starts to heat up he will get better. His command will get better," said veteran Barnegat coach Dan McCoy. "He is a big kid, and he will become stronger, and it will just be free and easy for him when he is throwing."

What has helped Groome deal with the attention and stay levelheaded is that he is used to being the center of attention.

"Jay has done this before," McCoy said. "What he does in the summer, having played on the Area Code team twice, and that gets him ready for that type of environment."

The Area Code games are for some of the best high school players in the nation.

McCoy estimated that there were about 150 Major League personnel attending Barnegat's opening game. Even Millville's Mike Trout, of the Los Angeles Angels, who is considered by many to be the best player in the game today, didn't seem to attract that large of a following when he was a high school star.

"As we move on, it's only going to get crazier," McCoy said. "I think he handles it well and just rolls with it."

Groome, who has committed to Vanderbilt (although most observers would be surprised if he doesn't turn professional), recently received a direct message on Twitter from David Price, the all-star lefthander of the Boston Red Sox.

"He was mainly saying how there has been a lot of buzz about me and to not let it get to my head," Groome said. "He said take it day by day."

Groome was blown away because he is a Red Sox fan and an also a longtime admirer of Price, who attended Vanderbilt and was the first overall pick of the 2007 draft by the Tampa Bay Rays.

There have been players that have wilted under the glare of so many radar guns and all the attention. Groome, whose Barnegat team will compete in the NJSIAA South Jersey Group 2 tournament, seems to be thriving under the pressure.

"I am having fun," he said. "This is amazing to see all these people turn out, even the people from town coming out to watch me play. It is awesome."

Groome, who attended Barnegat as a freshman and sophomore, has returned for his senior year after spending his junior year at IMG Academy in Bradenton, Fla. The reason for returning is that Groome said he wanted to graduate with his friends. He was 5-0 and struck out 77 batters in 43 innings at IMG, according to maxpreps.com.

The lefthander is intent on enjoying every facet of his senior high school season - the frenzied crowds, the horde of scouts and, yes, even the frigid days.

He even welcomes the scrutiny that comes with being a highly regarded prospect.

"I feel [the scouts] are watching my every move," said Groome, who turns 18 on Aug. 23. "I am just taking it day to day, and I go out there and try to make my pitches."

He's been making his pitches for years and by the time the draft arrives, and with the Phillies on the clock, Groome hopes there won't be any roll call before he hears his name.

mnarducci@phillynews.com

@sjnard