GLENDALE, Ariz. – The nation’s premier wintertime tournament event returns to the Phoenix Metropolitan area this weekend when a total of 80 teams in three age divisions will play for titles at the 18u, 16u and 14u Perfect Game MLK Championships and with weather forecasts calling for cloudless skies and mid-January temperatures in the upper 70's.
This marks the third year for the three PG MLK Championships and each year the tournaments grow in power and prestige. The first of more than 120 pool-play games in all three tournaments will be played at the Camelback Ranch Complex – the Cactus League spring training home of Los Angeles Dodgers and Chicago White Sox – and seven area high schools Friday morning. The tournaments conclude on Monday with playoff and championship games.
There is star power up and down most of the rosters at all three tournaments with the younger age divisions (16u and 14u) boasting some of the top teams and talents from primarily the western part of the country. But it is the 18u PG MLK Championship field that hogs the spotlight.
That tournament features 28 teams from 10 states, including the defending champion San Diego Show, which will here with a roster bordering on glamorous. There are two teams from Los Angeles-based Garciaparra Baseball Group (GBG) Marucci (Blue and Navy); two from the Vadnais Heights, Minn.-based Minnesota Blizzard (Black and Blue); two from Los Angeles-based So Cal (Cavs and Cavs Blue); and two from Team Citius (Corpus Christi, Texas-based USA and Los Angeles-based ICE).
The AZ Baseball Club Dodgers from Phoenix, AZ Prowlers from Peoria, and the AZ Pilots 18u Red and AZ Pilots 18u White from Surprise will defend their home turf in the Valley of the Sun.
The Show’s official roster includes a couple of 2013 Perfect Game All-Americans in catcher Alex Jackson, the class of 2014’s No. 3-ranked national prospect and an Oregon commit, and left-hander Brady Aiken from Cardiff by the Sea, Calif., a UCLA commit ranked No. 24.
It also includes a trio of 2014 Pepperdine commitments: middle-infielder Austin Bernard (Valley Center, Calif.), right-hander Jonathan Pendergast (San Diego) and right-hander Kiko Garcia (Chulu Vista, Calif.).
GBG Marucci Navy is in the 18u field with many of the same players that won the title at the 2013 16u PG MLK Championship. Some of Navy’s top players, all in the class of 2015, include catcher Michael Hickman (Katy, Texas), an Oklahoma commit ranked No. 12; outfielder Kyle Dean (San Diego), a U. of San Diego commit ranked No. 18; third baseman Brendon Davis (Lakewood, Calif.), ranked No. 24; and right-hander/first baseman Saturnino Santa Cruz (Sahuarita, Ariz.), an Arizona recruit ranked No. 29.
Standing tall amongst many of the other powerhouse teams in the 18u field is the Kyle, Texas-based Prospects National Team. The Prospects’ top guys include left-hander Alex Verdugo (2014 Tucson, Ariz.), and Arizona State recruit ranked No. 17; outfielder Jaren Kendall (2014, Holman, Wis.), Vanderbilt, No. 76; and shortstop Nicholas Shumpert (2015, Lone Tree, Colo.), Kentucky, No. 8.
2013 Perfect Game All-American outfielder Marcus Wilson, an Arizona State recruit from Los Angeles ranked No. 21 in the 2014 class, will play for Team Citius ICE. Right-hander/shortstop Garrett Fulenchek (2014, Howe, Texas) is a Dallas Baptist recruit ranked No. 83 nationally, is one of five prospects on the Dallas-based ABD Texas roster that have committed to NCAA Division I schools.
Another 28 teams from 10 states and Saskatchewan, Canada, will compete for the title at the 16u Perfect Game MLK, including another San Diego Show team that features four players that have already committed to D-I schools.
Among them is 2016 outfielder Mickey Moniak from Encinitas, Calif., a UCLA recruit and the No. 7-ranked national prospect in his class. Pendergast, the 2015 right-hander and Pepperdine commit, is included on both the Show’s 18u and 16u rosters and is expected to play in both tournaments.
In terms of top talent at the 16u event, no team is sitting prettier than California Baseball Academy (CBA) Marucci 2016. The roster includes outfielder Blake Rutherford (2016, Simi Valley, Calif.), a UCLA commit ranked No. 5 nationally; right-hander Reggie Lawson (2016, Adelento, Calif.), ranked No. 14; outfielder Josh Stephen (2016, Chino Hills, Calif.), a Southern Cal commit ranked No. 22; and catcher Blake Sabol (2016, Aliso Niguel, Calif.), ranked No. 37.
Washington, Utah, right-hander Dakota Donovan, the No. 15-ranked national prospect in the 2016 class, is expected to be pitching for the Las Vegas Elite, and third baseman Spencer Steer (2016, Long Beach, Calif.), an Oregon recruit ranked No. 25, will be playing for GBG Marucci Navy.
The field at this year’s 24-team 14u PG MLK Championship is the strongest in the event’s three year history, with squads coming in from seven states, including Florida (the Central Florida Gators). There will be at least five teams here that are attending their first PG event, including Highland, Utah-based Clutch Performance, El Dorado Hills, Calif.-based Sierra Valley Storm Elite and the Bremerton, Wash.-based West Hills Vipers.
Nationally recognized and traditionally strong programs like the San Diego Show, NorCal Baseball and Team Northwest have teams entered, as do local favorites ASBA 14u (Peoria), AZ Pilots 14u and Warriors Baseball Academy 2018, among others.