EMERSON, Ga. – The talent-rich Georgia Roadrunners 17u team drew the eyes of most onlookers Friday morning at Perfect Game Park South at LakePoint during pool play of the Perfect Game-East Cobb Invitational. The roster, peppered with highly ranked high school players and several who have made Division I college commitments already, grabbed the attention of scouts from top to bottom. While that all looks nice on paper, they showed why they’ve earned such high marks on the field.
The 17u Roadrunners squad jumped on the East Cobb Patriots, scoring three runs in the first two frames, and they never looked back. Behind a stellar pitching performance from right-hander Russell Klein, they were able to capture a 6-1 win and improve to 1-0-1 in pool play.
Klein showed off a lively mid-80s fastball with devastating breaking stuff -- a 10/4 curveball and a sweeping slider that catches right-handed hitters chasing on two strikes. He went five innings, giving up just two hits and an unearned run, while walking one batter and striking out 11.
“He’s got a live arm. He’ll throw that curveball for a strike and then finish guys off at times with his slider, which makes it tough,” said coach Paul Meade. “The good thing about him, with us today, is he was hitting his spots.”
Klein kept hitters guessing the whole game, getting five of his 11 strikeout victims looking. He was at the peak of his performance when he struck out the side in the top of the third, throwing seven straight strikes to finish off the inning.
“My offspeed stuff worked really well,” said Klein. “I got the curveball and slider going. Really everything was working today. I felt like I was keeping batters really off-balance with everything I was throwing.”
The fast start for the Roadrunners offense, combined with Klein’s mound presence, was exactly what Meade was hoping for.
“It gave us a chance to put our eyes on Russell Klein and give him some innings and let him and our catcher work together,” Meade said. “He got some good work in and what was nice was being up a couple runs and giving us a chance to have (Zach) Bitzer, our lefty, come in and chew up the last few innings. It gave him a chance to work on his changeup, which was keeping some guys off-balance.”
Klein’s performance certainly stole the attention of college coaches in attendance, but surprisingly he isn’t even one of the team’s highest ranked players.
The two-three-four hitters in the Roadrunners lineup are as good as any trio in the tournament, if not the entire country. Blakely Brown, Seth Beer, and Brandt Stallings are all attending the invite-only Perfect Game National Showcase in Fort Myers, Fla. next week. Talk about having to face THAT part of the Roadrunners lineup.
Brown has been on a tear to start of the tournament, with 2-for-3 performances on each of the first two games. He has a double, a triple, an RBI, and two runs to go along with his .667 batting average.
“I’m focused on relaxing a little bit, not going up there tense, and just seeing the ball and hitting the ball,” Brown said.
Brown may be tearing the cover off the ball, but hitting is not even his best tool. Perfect Game ranks the University of Georgia commit No. 159 in the 2015 high school class as a right-handed pitcher, topping out at 91 miles per hour (mph).
Following Brown in the talent-stacked lineup is Georgia Tech commit Brandt Stallings, who is ranked No. 80 in the 2015 high school class. Stallings will be a name to remember a year from now in the next MLB First-Year Player Draft.
Rounding out the powerful punch is maybe the Roadrunners most prized prospect: Seth Beer. Ranked No. 4 in the 2016 class, Beer was a finalist for MaxPrep National Player of the Year and earned Georgia Region 6AAAAAA Player of the Year. He is one of the few 2016s invited to the National Showcase, an event usually reserved for the elite players eligible for the next draft.
“I would like to get a first look at the guys I’m gonna be competing with at the next level, meet some friends, and start relationships with guys all around the country,” Beer said about attending next week’s prestigious showcase held at jetBlue Park, Spring Training home of the Boston Red Sox.
“I’m gonna go out and play hard and show out a little bit,” added Stallings. “I’m looking to really see what we’re up against this summer and for years to come.”
These guys could be considered the core of the organization that continues to build a strong reputation as one of the better travel ball programs in the country. While their talent on the field may help the team out in a big way, it’s the way they exemplify the meaning of team that makes the Georgia Roadrunners not a good, but a great organization.
“What I love about this organization and why we’re such a good program is probably the same answer: it’s because we’re all a family,” said Stallings. “We play for each other. We play for what’s on the front of our shirts, not what’s on the back.”
“All these guys, even the new guys, I love like a family, like Blake (Brown) over here, except he’s committed to Georgia so I’m not sure how I feel about him yet,” Stallings jokingly added. “I play my hardest for them and they play their hardest for me and that’s a big reason why we’re so good.”
Beer pointed out that none of them go to the same high school, which makes it that much more fun when they come together in the summer to win game together.
“I think it’s a great experience to be able to be on the same side as some guys that you have to hate during the high school season and then all of the sudden we are brothers during the summer season,” Beer said.
The 15u Georgia Roadrunners team finished the 2013 campaign ranked No. 6 in the Perfect Game 15u travel team rankings. This year’s 17u team has a chance to achieve similar, possibly even higher, accolades.
“We’ve been really fortunate to have Paul Byrd as a part of our program to get things going for years now and we’ve had some really strong players in our program,” Meade said. “We’re thrilled with the team this year. We’re excited about the summer and playing. We’ve got a good group of kids who like to compete and play hard.”
All three players share similar summer goals of continuously improving their game, while putting team first. Klein list of summer goals, however, includes getting exposure from colleges. After all the attention he got today, it’s safe to say he’s off to a good start to the long summer slate.
Lucky for the Roadrunners, their summer schedule begins with three straight games at the new LakePoint Sports Complex.
“There’s nothing like this. Even for a guy that’s been around baseball for a while, it’s a special place,” said Meade. “You can already sense it and feel it. Our guys love it. They really love it.”
The Georgia Roadrunners 17u team has provided LakePoint with exceptional baseball appropriate for the first week of baseball at the state-of-the-art Perfect Game Park South. With much more baseball to be played, this Roadrunners team will be one to watch.