EMERSON, Ga. – The East Cobb Astros 18 need no grand introduction. The organization’s talent and decorated history speaks for itself. Once again, at the 18u Perfect Game-East Cobb Invitational, the East Cobb Astros 18 are playing like the highly reputable club they are, finishing pool play 3-0 and putting an exclamation mark on their most recent win.
The Astros showed off premium talent with a lights-out pitching performance from southpaw Max Wotell, who recorded a career-high 18 strikeouts in his complete game win over the Rawlings Recruits, while getting a bright glimpse of what the future holds for the organization when 16-year-old Thomas Johns connected for a home run in the first inning.
That’s right, Johns is only 16-years-old playing with a bunch of 2014 and 2015 high school graduates, easily making him the youngest member on this Astros team. His youth combined with his advanced skills have his coaches and teammates excited to see what he’ll do.
“I think Thomas Johns is the best power hitter in the 2016 class, hands down,” said coach Jamie Crane. “Nobody in that class right now who I’ve seen can swing the bat like he does. He’s one of our leading hitters right now and it speaks a lot about him, being a 16-year-old playing on an 18-year-old team.”
Johns has received high praise from his coaches and teammates, and rightfully so. Through the three pool games Johns leads the team in base hits (6), home runs (2), batting average (.667), on-base percentage (.700), slugging percentage (1.444), and on-base plus slugging percentage (2.144).
“Thomas is an exciting player,” said teammate Alonzo Jones. “I can’t wait to see what the future has in store for him.”
That’s quite a compliment to receive from a player who is among the best as well. Jones is ranked No. 30 in the country for the 2015 high school class and is committed to play at Vanderbilt University.
Playing up with the older guys, Johns feels fortunate to be able to learn from the more experienced players and said he has appreciated their work ethic and the advice he’s been given.
When asked what that advice was, he said, “Just don’t push it. I’m still young so I gotta just let it fall into place like they have.”
“It’s fun to play with them,” Johns added. “They’re hard workers, and it pays off.”
While Johns gave college coaches a glimpse into the future, Wotell showed them what kind of player he is now.
The lefty sat 88-90 mph (miles per hour) all game while just dropping slightly to 86 mph after around one hundred pitches. He showed an 80 mph slider that was just unfair to hitters. He wasn’t afraid to buckle some knees, starting his slider inside on left-handed hitters before it would sweep over the plate for a called strike. The University of Arizona commit and Perfect Game National Showcase invitee currently ranks No. 66 in the 2015 high school class.
“Max is a grinder,” said Crane. “Every time he goes out he’s gonna give you everything he’s got. He had great tempo today. He controlled the tempo of the game.”
Wotell wowed onlookers with his electric performance, striking out the side in multiple innings and at one point, striking out five straight Recruits hitters. The other three outs were a ground out to Jones, at shortstop, and two flyouts.
“It was my first time down at a Perfect Game event this summer and I was just trying to come out here and fill it up and that’s what I did,” Wotell said. “The fastball was working. I threw 85-percent fastballs today. I was working it both sides of the plate.”
Although the performance of Wotell could not possibly be overshadowed Saturday evening at Perfect Game Park South at LakePoint, Jones showed off his many tools as well with a 3-for-3 performance with the bat.
Jones, known to his teammates and coaches as ‘Z’, displayed incredible speed as two of his base hits were infield singles. He also displayed the hit tool with a triple over the centerfielder’s head in the third inning.
“I definitely focus on speed, especially in the offseason,” said Jones. “It’s a big part of my game. When I get two strikes I just try to put something on the ground and make something happen.”
The Vanderbilt commit will get to show off his speed on one of amateur baseball’s biggest stages next week when he attends the Perfect Game National Showcase at jetBlue Park in Fort Myers, Fla.
“I’m looking forward to meeting the other top-ranked players and playing against some good competition,” Jones said. “I’d like to see how I’m stacking up.”
One thing is for sure; don’t bet against Jones to have possibly the fastest 60-yard dash at the showcase.
Joining Wotell and Jones at the National Showcase next week will also be East Cobb Baseball star Dazmon Cameron, the No. 1 ranked player in the 2015 high school class and son of three-time Gold Glove centerfielder Mike Cameron.
“I’m just looking forward to going out there and playing well and playing hard,” Cameron said.
While Daz may be ranked No. 1, he doesn’t let it go to his head and he doesn’t let it affect the way he contributes to his East Cobb team.
“First and foremost, you gotta stay humble,” said Cameron. “I don’t worry too much about rankings and stuff, but at the same time it’s great to be number one and there are great expectations that come with that.”
Lucky for Daz, Major League presence is something he’s always been around growing up. He’s surely benefitted from the big league atmosphere he experienced when his dad was still playing, and he still gets plenty of words of wisdom.
“My dad gives me lots of advice for things I’ll need to know in the future and for things I need to know now,” Cameron said. “A lot of it is getting me ready for the next big thing coming.”
For now, the East Cobb Astros 18 are focused on a successful summer run, and are hopefully of starting the slate off with an 18u Perfect Game-East Cobb Invitational championship, entering the playoffs with a 3-0 record.
“We have great team chemistry,” said Crane. “They’re not your prototypical summer team. They believe in each other. It’s more of a ‘we’ atmosphere instead of a ‘me’. They’re grinders. They’re all tough kids.”
Established in 1985 by Guerry Baldwin, the East Cobb Baseball program has become an integral part in the travel baseball world.
“We retain kids. That’s the strong point of us is they move through the ranks and they’re loyal and faithful to each other,” Crane added. “I think that’s a testament to who Guerry is as a person. He’s a loyal person and I think that’s why the kids remain loyal.”
A prime example is Cameron, who has been a member of the program since he was playing 14u travel baseball.
“East Cobb’s my family,” said Cameron. “I feel like we have great team spirit and I love playing East Cobb.”
“We all just have fun and play together and I think that’s the best part about it,” added Jones.
With 199 national titles to their name, it would be hard to find a reason not to love putting on an East Cobb Baseball uniform.
Names like Jason Heyward, Buster Posey, Brandon Phillips, and Brian McCann decorate the history of the East Cobb Baseball and surely attract young talent to want to be a part of such a storied organization, with guys like Dazmon Cameron representing the current East Cobb Baseball program.
But the thing about East Cobb Baseball is there will always be talent to keep your eye on, so if you happen to ever catch an East Cobb Baseball team playing, don’t look away because there’s a good chance you might be looking at some future Major Leaguers.