With 85 of the top teams in the United States, Canada, and Puerto Rico all coming together for one weekend of baseball, the challenge of ranking the teams and picking an eventual champion is a challenging one.
So to dodge that responsibility, we’ve broken up the field into what we see as the top 30 championship contenders, put them into three categories and listed the teams in alphabetical order within the categories.
The Top Contenders are those teams that are coming to Jupiter with the expectation that they can win the championship if everything goes well. A trio of them -- ABD, the East Cobb Astros and the Midland Braves -- have won before. Others, such as FTP Mizuno, Marucci Baseball and Canes Baseball, are up-and-coming programs that have already had a national level impact. Two teams, the Orlando Scorpions and Diamond Devils, have won national level WWBA tournaments but have never won in Jupiter; they were the 3rd place finishers last year.
Present and future Aflac All-Americans dot these rosters and they come with deep pitching staffs that can withstand the need to play eight games in four days.
The Hopefuls are the teams that realistically expect to cruise through pool play and potentially get deep into the playoffs. Once they get into the playoffs, they hope that they catch a break, they play a team with a depleted pitching staff or one of their big hitters dominates all day Sunday.
The Sleepers are all outstanding teams who would expect to win a smaller tournament with the roster they have but probably don’t have the depth of talent, especially in pitching, to compete over the long haul with the Contenders and some of the Hopefuls. But they are certainly looking to make the playoffs and this is baseball, of course, so anything can happen in one game.
That being said, teams that at best would have been in The Sleepers category -- and likely not even there -- have made the championship game the past two years. Cangelosi Baseball, which was thought to be the second best team in an organization that included Bo Jackson Midwest, tore through the playoffs in 2008 and narrowly lost to ABD in the finals. In 2009, ABD’s third team, the Orange County Boxers, lost in the final to ABD’s “young” team playing under the Braves Scout Team name.
So anything can happen over five days in Jupiter!
(teams listed in alphabetical order within each category)
THE TOP CONTENDERS
ABD Bulldogs: The ABD organization has effectively dominated the WWBA World Championships the past two years, with the Bulldogs winning the 2008 championship and the Braves Scout Team (the ABD underclass team) defeating the Orange County Boxers (ABD’s second upperclass team) for the 2009 title. The ever-churning politics of Southern California baseball have cost ABD a couple of key players from last year’s title team, including 2009 Most Valuable Pitcher LHP Henry Owens and SS Christian Lopes, both Aflac All-Americans, but the Bulldogs still have plenty of talent for yet another title run. 2009 Most Valuable Player 1B/LHP Daniel Camarena and top 2011 hitting prospect 3B/OF Travis Harrison are two of the most talented and experienced players in the class. RHP Kieran Lovegrove and LHP Kyle Twomey are 2012s that have the talent to step in and carry a championship pitching staff. Until someone proves otherwise, ABD is the team to beat.
Canes Baseball: Canes has made its mark with the WWBA the past few years, including taking home the championship from this summer’s 16U National Championship, with their deep and talented pitching staff. That staff, led by Aflac All-American LHP Jake Cave and hard-throwing 2012 RHP’s Curt Britt and Josh Sborz, is certainly impressive and deep. But the Canes will score plenty of runs as well. 2B Josh Tobias is one of the top offensive players in the country and Cave has many supporters in the scouting community who think his ceiling as a position player is just as high as it is as a pitcher. 3B Grayson Atwood, 1B Kyle Martin and C David Houser give the Canes plenty of power from their positions as well.
Diamond Devils: The Diamond Devils are just as strong as they were a year ago, as evidenced by their impressive 1st place showing at the WWBA 17U National Championship in July. Their top 2 players from that event, MVP 3B Hunter Cole (not playing this fall) and RF Shon Carson (football) are not with the team in Jupiter but the Diamond Devils have always been more about team depth and strong fundamentals than about individual stars. SS T.J. Costen and C Grayson Greiner, both South Carolina commits, provide high-level talent and leadership in the middle of the field.
East Cobb Astros: The Astros have to be considered among the favorites for any event they attend and the 2010 World Championships is certainly no exception. The team is an interesting combination of top-level experience (RHP John Magliozzi, OF Dwight Smith, LHP Matthew Crownover) and up-and-coming young talent such as RHP Tucker Simpson, 3B/RHP Travis Demeritte and SS Matt Gonzalez. The one thing that East Cobb does better than any program in the country is to balance out their pitching rotation and in Magliozzi and Crownover, a 2012 who has been around seemingly forever, they have two of the best single-game performance pitchers in the country.
FTP Mizuno/Cardinals Scout Team: On paper it is easy to argue that Mizuno has the most talented team in the field; a team that scouts will flock to see by the hundreds this weekend. That being said, most of the team has been playing together all year and has yet to win a major WWBA championship, so that important barrier still remains unbroken. The team has six Aflac All-Americans, including SS Francisco Lindor, 3B Javier Baez, C Tyler Marlette, RHP Jose Fernandez, RHP Deshorn Lake and LHP Henry Owens Despite all that talent, the pitcher and player that Mizuno would most likely want on the mound or at the plate at a key moment would be RHP Hudson Boyd and 1B Daniel Vogelbach. And if not that duo, the answer to that question might be RHP Justin Shafer or 3B Dante Bichette. That’s how deep Mizuno is this year.
Marucci Elite:Marucci is one of the up-and-coming programs in the country and while their base is in Louisiana, their roster includes key players from as diverse places as California, Florida, New York and Ohio. Marucci has won two talent-filled events this year, the East Cobb Invitational and the Underclass World Championships and made title runs in other events as well. RHP’s Austin Nola, Rookie Davis and Wes Wisler lead a very deep pitching staff, while SS Drake Roberts, OF Jo-El Bennett and the catching duo of John Clay Reeves and Tyler Moore will be counted on both offensively and defensively.
Midland Redskins/Royals Scout Team: The most important championship to the Midland program each year is the Connie Mack World Series, which the Redskins won in 2010. They have a deep and talented roster that will rely heavily on 2012 talent. Juniors RHP/SS Lance McCullers and RHP/1B Kayden Porter are two of the best two-way prospects in the country regardless of class. The powerful offense will be led by Aflac All-American C Brandon Sedell, 3B Patrick Leonard and CF Dakota Smith, while RHP Dillon Howard and LHP Kevin Matthews are experienced big-game pitchers.
Orlando Scorpions: The Scorpions shared 3rd place in 2009 with the Diamond Devils, an appropriate distinction for two very similar programs. They will, like the Diamond Devils, be missing a couple of key ingredients from their regular roster in Jupiter (SS Austin Slater, RHP Michael Kelly). There is still plenty of pitching depth and offensive firepower to make a deep playoff run, however. Aflac All-American 3B Sean Trent and powerful 1B/C Sikes Orvis will lead the offense, while RHP’s Walker Weickel and Ryan Meyer are key starting pitchers. 19 members of the Scorpions roster are listed as having Division I commitments.
Royals Baseball Club: The Royals don’t quite have the overwhelming depth of talent that they had last year, but it’s hard to argue with a pitching staff that could run out LHP Daniel Norris and RHP Michael Kelly, two of the top handful of pitching prospects in the country. SS Julius Gaines and OF Derek Fisher are both potential first-round picks in 2011 and give the Royals two premium athletes to build their lineup around. Pitching depth will be the key, as the Royals don’t seem have the personnel to go too deep without saving Norris and/or Kelly for Sunday play.
Texas Scout Team Yankees: SS/RHP Ricardo Jacquez, RHP/OF Dylan Davis and LHP/OF Michael Howard are each among the top two-way players in the country and their dual skills should carry Texas a long way by themselves. Of particular interest to scouts will be LHP Andrew Suarez, an Aflac All-American who missed the entire summer with a tender arm but whose base level talent ranks with any pitcher in the 2011 class. Pitching won’t be in short supply, but unlike many teams at this level it might be the ability to score runs that hampers the Yankees.
All American Prospects/Indians Scout Team: All-American lacks immediate name recognition but features an extremely deep roster that features at least 15 players with Division I commitments, nine of those to Florida, Florida State or Miami. That kind of talent alone should pull All-American deep into the playoffs. SS Giovanny Alfonzo and 3B/RHP Jose Brizuela, both Florida State commits, are experienced performers at this level but it is hard to identify who is going to step up from the pitching staff to win the big games.
Chet Lemon’s Juice: The Juice were co-champions in 2005 and are a strong contender to reach the playoffs in any event they enter. They will be riding some momentum after winning the Florida Qualifier in mid-September over a strong field, where they were led by that event’s Most Valuable Player, 2012 SS Richie Martin. The Juice can always be counted on to have a deep staff of mid to upper 80’s pitchers who pound the strike zone. Their top two pitchers, LHP Corey Stump and RHP Luke Weaver, can beat any team in the tournament when they are on.
Dallas Patriots: SS Trevor Story and CF Josh Bell give the Patriots two of the most physically talented middle of the field players in the tournament, and scouts will be flocking to whichever field the Patriots play at to see Bell in particular, who missed most of the summer with a leg injury. RHP John Curtiss will likely get the ball in the Patriots’ first big game, but the team has plenty of pitching depth after that.
Dirtbags: The Dirtbags have a total of 14 players committed to three schools; North Carolina State, North Carolina and South Carolina and the six players committed to North Carolina State might be the highest amount on any team committed to a single school. The two-way talents of 1B/LHP George Carter and RHP/OF Adam Griffin, both UNC pledges, will come into play strongly for the Dirtbags, as will the all-around play of SS Mikal Hill and C Brett Austin. RHP’s Logan Jernigan and Benton Moss lead a deep pitching staff.
Florida Legends/White Sox Scout Team: The Legends are one of the younger teams in the championship and have a distinctly Miami flavor to their roster. OF Alberto Almora and C Chris Chinea are two of the top 2012 prospects at their position in the country, while 2012 SS Adrian Marin isn’t very far behind. SS Tyler Greene brings experience to the team. Pitching depth will be a question mark, especially with the team’s relative youth.
Houston Banditos: The Banditos have long been a powerhouse program at the younger levels and are starting to move into the upperclass high school age brackets. 2B Chris McFarland is one of the most dynamic offensive middle infielders in the country in the 2011 class and SS C.J. Hinojosa fits that description for the 2012’s. It isn’t known how much of an impact top 2012 OF prospect Nick Williams will have, as he is also a top football prospect back in Texas. Pitching depth would appear on the surface to be an area where the Banditos may struggle.
Houston Heat: Many of the top pitching prospects from around Houston come to the Heat to work with renowned pitching coach David Evans and that is the strength of the team. RHP Bryan Brickhouse, LHP Cody Glenn, Riley Ferrell and big 6-7 2012 RHP Mitchell Traver form the nucleus of the staff, while many scouts feel that Aflac All-American C/RHP Daniel Mengden has a brighter future on the mound than behind the plate.
Ohio Warhawks: The Warhawks, as always, have a star-studded roster from around the country, with a particular emphasis on the Southwest. Interestingly, there isn’t a single player from Ohio among the 14 states represented. The Warhawks have a history of struggling to score runs at times but will have no lack of power in the middle of their lineup with 2012 3B Joey Gallo, C Greg Bird and 1B Elliot Richoux. SS Jake Hager is another player to keep a close eye on. LHP Porter Clayton, Cole Wiper, Eric Holdren and RHP Jake Reed lead a very deep pitching staff that should be well positioned for performing late into the playoffs…if the Warhawks make it that far.
San Gabriel Valley Arsenal: The Arsenal shouldn’t have much trouble scoring enough runs to advance deep into the playoffs. SS Christian Lopes, OF Eric Snyder and 3B Ty France are experienced and versatile performers in the middle of the order and they will have plenty of help. The question will be the depth and quality of the San Gabriel pitching staff, which should be sufficient for getting out of pool play but will be challenged in the playoffs.
Texas Sundevils: The Sundevils have just about replaced the Dirtbags as the WWBA bridesmaids, as they consistently play late into the playoffs (such as their 3rd place finish at the 2010 18U National Championships) but haven’t won a championship trophy yet. This year’s hopes rest on a pair of precocious 2012 middle infielders, Gavin Cecchini and Zach Green, plus another 2012 standout, C/1B Stryker Trahan. RHP Carson Baranik is the most recognizable prospect on a pitching staff that may be tested if the Sundevils make it deep into the playoffs.
Baseball U.: Baseball U boasts 11 Division I commits on their roster, an impressive total for any program. Opposing pitchers will not look forward to the projected middle of the Baseball U lineup, which could feature 6-5, 225 lb 1B Keon Barnum, 6-4, 210 lb/C Chris Harvey and 6-3, 190 lb OF Mike Papi. Both Barnum and Harvey are top 2012 prospects.
Dallas Yankees: The Yankees are one of the “old school” travel teams that pre-date most other teams in the field. Their core of talent is strong, especially Aflac All-American IF Matthew Dean, C Skyler Ewing, RHP Adrian Houser and OF Gage Green.
East Cobb Braves: This is not the same East Cobb Braves team that contended for titles all summer, as the summer Braves and East Cobb Astros rosters have been combined to a large extent. Still, this roster has many of the elements of the team that lost to Marucci Elite in the WWBA World Underclass Championship two weeks ago in Fort Myers. RHP/OF Sean McLaughlin is an outstanding pitching prospect who can swing the bat and CF Skye Bolt is a top hitter from the leadoff spot.
Florida Bombers: The Bombers prioritize the WWBA 18U National Championships as their most important event, but still bring competitive teams to Jupiter. Their pitching looks especially strong this year with RHP Alex Viera, RHP Alex Miller and 3B/RHP Sean Hurley leading the staff. 2012 middle infielders Avery Romero and Carlos Garmendia, already verbally committed to Florida and Miami, respectively, lead the defense.
LIDS Indiana Bulls: The Bulls rode Aflac All-American/2010 1st rounder Justin O’Connor the past few years but have reloaded well without him. OF Max Kuhn is one of the best pure hitters in the country and should be a more than satisfactory replacement in the middle of the Bulls lineup. RHP/OF JerrickSuiter will be the Bulls’ ace on the mound and contribute power to the lineup. 6-4 RHP Ryan Gallagher and 6-5 LHP Jared Miller will be looked on to win pool games.
Louisiana All-Stars: Louisiana has seven primary left handed pitchers on their roster, always a good recipe for success, including LSU commit Aaron Johnson and Underclass World Championship Most Valuable Pitcher Hunter DeVall. OF Chase Davis and C/1B Kyle Bracey will lead the All-Stars offense, which usually features a number of high-level athletes who haven’t ventured onto the national stage yet.
Mid-Atlantic Rookies: Mid-Atlantic made everyone notice during the summer with a run to the semifinals at the 216-team WWBA 17U National Championship and their underclass team reached the final 16 teams at the Underclass World Championships two weeks ago. Their players will have confidence and are unlikely to be intimidated by the spectacle of Jupiter. While Aflac All-American C Cameron Gallagher is the unquestioned leader of the team, it will be interesting how the team handles 2012 C Manny Colon, who was one of the top prospects at the Underclass World Championships.
Orioles Scout Team: The Orioles Scout Team is composed of players primarily from the Virginia, Maryland and Pennsylvania area and has an impressive total of five pitchers who are committed to high-level DI schools, including three left handers. If those pitchers are in shape and effective, the Orioles could be a surprise team. OF A.J. Lardo will lead the offense.
Rangers Midwest Scout Team: The Rangers put together a solid group of players for this event and this year should be no exception. The core of the players are from Illinois, including RHP Nick Burdi, one of the hardest-throwing pitchers in the country. If Burdi can handle the team’s most difficult pool play game, the depth of talent on the team should be plenty to reach the playoffs.
South Charlotte Panthers: The Panthers are loaded, as usual, with solid DI caliber players all over the field, with SS Logan Ratledge being the standout. Blossoming 2012 prospects 3B/RHP Jackson Campana and 1B/LHP Kyle Whitman, both early Clemson commits, could hold the key to the Panthers’ chances with their ability to stand out on both sides of the ball.