FORT MYERS, Fla. – It was a year ago at this time, just after the calendar flipped from September to October, that the Florida Burn organization out of Sarasota, Fla., had decided it was going to make the 2012 Perfect Game tournament season its own.
The Burn won the 2012 16u Perfect Game World Series in early August and then captured the championships at the PG WWBA Underclass World Championship and the PG WWBA Florida Qualifier on successive weekends in early October.
The Burn haven’t gone away, but a couple of other long-standing Florida-based organizations are vying to claim naming rights to the eastern half of the 2013 PG national tournament schedule, and both programs can gain a foot-hold on that pronouncement at this weekend’s PG WWBA Florida Qualifier.
The Florida Qualifier, with its automatic paid invitation to the PG WWBA World Championship across the Florida peninsula in Jupiter on Oct. 24-28 as the grand prize to the event champion, begins its four day run Friday with 14 games at the former Boston Red Sox Player Development 5-Plex, City of Palms Park and Terry Park.
Games will continue throughout the weekend at those venues along with the Red Sox’s jetBlue Player Development Complex, the Minnesota Twins’ spring training facility at the Lee County Sports Complex, and a couple of Fort Myers high school fields.
The 70 teams in the field will play four pool games across Friday, Saturday and Sunday, with the playoffs scheduled to begin Sunday afternoon and the semifinals and championship game slated for Monday morning at the jetBlue Complex.
The powerful Florida Burn Orange and it's brother squad, Florida Burn Navy, are back in the field this year, and their rosters include a total of 10 NCAA Division I commitments from the 2014 class. Three of those commitments are to the University of Florida, led by shortstop Dalton Guthrie, the nation’s No. 91-ranked prospect; catcher Michael Rivera, No. 177; and shortstop Deacon Liput, No. 185. All three play for the Burn Orange.
The Burn certainly promise to be a factor again this weekend. There are also at least two more established Florida-based organizations that look loaded with enough high-profile prospects to make sure the Florida Burn don’t repeat as PG WWBA Florida Qualifier champions.
The Altamonte Springs, Fla.-based Orlando Scorpions program has two teams at the event: the Orlando Scorpions ’15 Prime and Orlando Scorpions ’15 Purple. Orlando Scorpions teams won Perfect Game national championships this summer at the PG WWBA 17u National Championship and the 16u Perfect Game World Series and were runners-up at the 18u PG WWBA Memorial Day Classic.
The Scorpions ’15 Prime certainly look primed to challenge for this title with at least 12 2015 prospects and one 2016 player already committed to NCAA Division I schools. And no, this isn’t an underclass event.
Fans of the Florida State and Central Florida universities’ baseball programs might be especially inclined to get out and watch the Scorpions ’15 Prime perform, although the 2015 MLB First-Year Player Draft might push aside those programs’ best-laid plans.
FSU commits (all class of 2015, all Floridians) on the Prime roster include middle-infielder Brendan Rodgers, the nation’s 10th ranked overall prospect; right-hander Cole Sands (No. 34); right-hander Alex Carpenter (No. 100); right-hander Logan Crouse (No. 103) and catcher Jackson Lueck (No. 233).
Among the three Central Florida commits on the roster is top 2016 infielder Joe Skinner, ranked No. 8 nationally in his graduating class. Scorpions ’15 Prime middle infielder Jonah Garrison, a Miami commit, is ranked 126th and fellow middle-infielder Ramon Alejo, an Ole Miss recruit, is ranked 127th.
Historically strong Florida Travel Ball (FTB) out Kissimmee has four teams in the field: FTB Louisville Slugger, FTB Chandler ’15, FTB Rawlings 2015 and FTB 2017. FTB Mizuno-Chandler won the national championship at the 18u PG BCS Finals and FTB Chandler finished second to the Scorpions Prime at the PG WWBA 17u National Championship this summer.
There are 22 D-I commits just between FTB Louisville Slugger and FTB Chandler ‘15. Shortstop Ryan Mountcastle, a 2015 Central Florida recruit playing for FTB Chandler ‘15, is ranked 33rd nationally, and Chandler ’15 2016 shortstop Bo Bichette comes in as the nation’s No. 6-ranked prospect in his class.
FTB Louisville Slugger’s top player is middle-infielder and North Carolina commit Forrest Wall, ranked 99th nationally. Sluggers’ 2014 left-hander Logan Browning has committed to Florida and is ranked 375th nationally.
IMG Academy out of West Bradenton, Fla., features 2014 outfielder Luke Bonfield, an Arkansas commit from New Jersey ranked 48th nationally; 2015 left-hander Logan Allen form North Carolina, a South Carolina commit ranked 118th, and 2014 shortstop Taylor Lane from Virginia, a Florida commit ranked 172nd.
Other more highly ranked prospect expected to perform this weekend include Chet Lemon’s Juice 2014 right-hander Drew Carlton, another Florida State guy ranked 119th nationally, and 2015 left-hander Thomas Szapucki, a Florida recruit ranked No. 24 playing for Gatorball.
At an event like this when no one can be sure which top prospects will definitely be in attendance – especially the top level pitchers who might be shut down until Jupiter – any team in the field is capable of playing into Monday.
A few of the other top contenders – along with the Florida Burn, Orlando Scorpions and FTB – based on history and experience include Chet Lemon’s Juice, IMG Academy, Sarasota Baseball Club and SCORE International. The latter always seems to be playing on the final day of PG events.
This is the 6th annual PG WWBA Florida Qualifier and four alumni of the event have made their major league debuts: Jose Fernandez (2010 Florida Qualifier, Tampa Bay Warriors); Michael Zunino (2008, Southwest Florida Baseball 18u); David Holmberg (2008, West Coast Wave) and Ryan “Scooter” Gennett (2008, Southwest Florida Baseball 18u).
Two-hundred and eight alumni have been drafted and nearly 1,200 moved on to college careers.