BY DAVID RAWNSLEY
Thursday October 23, 2008
JUPITER, Fla.—It’s apparent that there are only a handful of teams that come to the World Wood Bat Association fall championship with a realistic expectation of winning. A majority of the 80 teams that are entered are thrilled just to win one of the 16 pools and make the playoffs. Most will do their best to achieve that, but winning 7-8 games in four days is beyond the capability of most rosters.
While winning is important, the primary motivating factor for most teams in Jupiter is the opportunity for their players to be seen and scouted by the hundreds of scouts and college recruiters that are drawn to the event. No tournament anywhere will impact future baseball drafts more than the WWBA fall classic, and a vast majority of the top high school prospects in the draft classes of 2009 and 2010 are in attendance.
There is more high-end talent concentrated on some rosters than others, and perhaps 15-20 teams come to Florida in October thinking that they can win the entire thing. The approach of those teams is a bit different when it comes to setting lineups and pitching rotations.
There are two basic types of teams that compete in Jupiter.
One is the top-level, select team which has a core of players who play together all summer and in many cases during the fall, too. When it is extended an invitation to play in Jupiter or earns a spot by winning a qualifying tournament, almost all these teams supplement their roster of established players with talented players from their geographic area. Invariably, most of these teams add pitching whenever possible in order to be competitive at this high level.
The other type of team in Jupiter is the All-Star Team or Scout Team. These teams are assembled specifically for high-profile events like Jupiter and the players are brought in from all different locations. They have the advantage of being a fantasy-like roster of top prospects whose individual talents are impressive, but such teams are often at a disadvantage because most of the players have never played together before and baseball is, after all, a team game. It often takes these teams a game or two to mesh, and with a roster of diverse players a team also runs the risk of having players who might not be in the best of baseball shape—particularly for a highly-competitive event like this.
History shows that both types of teams have won in Jupiter. All-Star assembled teams have won five Jupiter titles, including the last two (Reds Scout Team in 2006, Braves Scout Team in 2007). More conventional travel teams have won four Jupiter titles, including in 2005 when the two-time champion East Cobb Astros and Chet Lemon’s Juice shared the title when rain washed out the championship game. The Braves Scout Team defeated the Orlando Scorpions, a club team, in the final a year ago.
In handicapping the top 10 teams for this year’s tournament, which begins Thursday and continues through Monday, the pre-championship favorite is the Braves Scout Team—a loose extension of the same organizing center that put together the last two Jupiter champions.
But the Braves are by no means the prohibitive favorites they arguably were the past two seasons. Those who might be rooting for a more conventional travel/select team to win the tournament can pin their highest hopes on such team as California’s ABD Bulldogs, North Carolina’s Dirtbags and East Cobb Astros.
Here’s how we see the 10 teams that have the best chance to win this year’s tournament (full team rosters can be found elsewhere on the Perfect Game/PG Crosschecker site):