FORT MYERS, Fla. – The PG WWBA Underclass World Championship has welcomed new organizations and new teams into its fold regularly throughout the event’s first 11 years and this year, the 12th annual, is no exception. The difference this year is that one of the newcomers is in fact an old friend.
The Indianapolis-based Indiana Prospects have sent a team here for the first time in the program’s history, and its roster is an eclectic blend of relative youth and experience. It’s a mix of top prospects from both the 2015 and 2016 classes brought together from high schools in nine states, most prominently Indiana, Florida and Pennsylvania.
They are playing under the direction of head coach Jeff Surbey, who has been coaching with the Prospects’ organization for eight years. He’s worked with several different age groups in his time with program but has been primarily with the 2015s this summer.
“This is the first team that we’ve brought to the Underclass,” Surbey said Friday morning. “We’ve got a combination of the 2015 and 2016 classes … so we’re excited to be here and we’re ready to rock ‘n roll.”
The makeup of this team puts the capital “U” in the word “Underclass.” While the roster does include six 2015s ranked either in the top-1,000 or as “high follows” nationally – right-hander Leo Lopez from Frankfort, Ind., and first baseman/right-hander Evans Bozeman from Pensacola, Fla., among them – the most highly ranked prospects come from a talented collection of 2016s, or high school sophomores.
“Our 2016 class, (it’s) loaded,” Surbey said. “There are some very talented arms and it’s just a very talented group of kids. We’ve worked really hard identifying talent in that age group and in that class and making sure we get those kids on the team and give them an opportunity to be seen.”
Five of those 2016 prospects are ranked in the top 100 nationally, including three prized pitchers: Reid Schaller, a 6-foot-2, 165-pound right-hander from Lebanon, Ind., ranked No. 11; right-hander Gian Luca Dalatri (6-5, 225) from Wall N.J., No. 53, and lefty Jeffrey Bleday (6-3, 175) from Titusville, Pa., No. 91.
Bleday got the start in the Prospects’ tournament opener against the Orlando Assault Friday morning (a 7-5 Prospects win) and after giving up a pair of runs in the first settled down to throw four innings of four-hit ball with 10 strikeouts and two walks.
Schaller has raised the most eyebrows while climbing the rankings this summer while pitching up for the Indiana Prospects 16u team at four PG tournaments; he also attended the Perfect Game Junior National Showcase in Minneapolis in early June. Being such a highly ranked uncommitted prospect, he’s thrilled the Prospects are in Southwest Florida this weekend.
“I’m very excited about being here,” Schaller said Friday. “All of I’ve been waiting for since the end of July (after the 15u PG World Series) was to come back in October, and we want to win. It’s very important that I’m here. Coming down to these showcases here, I’ve gotten so many looks and the more you keep coming down the more colleges want to come see you. It helps a lot.”
Luca Dalatri and Bleday both pitched on the Indiana Prospects Blue team that finished as runner-up at the 15u PG BCS Finals here in July. He feels like the Prospects can make even more of a name for themselves at this event this weekend.
“People know us already but we want to really make a push and move up there even more,” Luca Dalatri said Friday. “We have a heck of a lot of talent but other teams have great talent also; it’s going to be a battle but I think we can come out with it.”
Two other highly ranked 2016s on the Prospects’ initial roster did not play Friday: Jalen Harrison, a 6-4, 205-pound outfielder from Palmyra, Va., is ranked 21st nationally; Riley Troutt, a 5-9, 160-pound catcher from Lakeland, Fla., is ranked 100th.
It should be noted that no player on the Prospects’ roster from either the 2015 or 2016 class has given a verbal commitment to a college yet but, but offers and commitments are sure to come by the truck load in the coming months.
The Prospects played their opener against the Assault at the Player Development 5-Plex during the early time slot Friday morning, and the four matchups in the quad area attracted more than 70 college coaches and other scouts, according to one unofficial headcount . It’s a turnout like that that makes an appearance at the PG WWBA Underclass World all the more worthwhile.
“This is really just an opportunity for the kids to be seen,” Surbey said. “We don’t have any real high expectations, but we want the kids to show up. This is about them being seen. If we’re fortunate enough to win some games, that’s great, but it’s about the kids being seen.
“It’s about giving kids the opportunity to play at the next level, whether that’s a scholarship or with the (MLB) draft,” he continued. “It’s getting kids to the next level … so whatever opportunity presents itself, we just have to make sure we have the kids in the best situation for them. Being at the Underclass in front of these recruiters is where they need to be.”
Prospects like Schaller and Luca Dalatri have used their experiences with the Indiana Prospects to gauge the progress of their own games. They don’t necessarily pay attention to the rankings but they’re aware of them and they want to stay on pace with their teammates.
“You see the 2015s and you see their rankings, so you just want to come out and get better, and you just want to compete with them,” Schaller said. “I’ve been pleased with my progression: my velocity has picked up every year and hopefully I get more velocity as I keep going up in years.”
“From my high school season to now, I feel like I’ve become a lot better player than I have been; I really couldn’t ask for more,” Luca Dalatri said. “This is my last tournament of the year so I really want to finish it off on a good note.”
The infusion of highly ranked talent shouldn’t come as a surprise. The Prospects, under the direction of Shane Stout, have always preached a strong work ethic.
“You really have to be dedicated; it’s one thing to have the talent but there’s kids out there working six days a week,” Surbey said. “Some kids take the approach that God-given talent will get them there but other kids take the approach that they have to work hard every day.
“This group of kids, they get it, and they realize it’s something they have to work at every day. If they’re taking a day off there’s somebody else who’s working that day to get that scholarship.”
Despite their increased relevance over the past several years, Surbey still referred to the Prospects as an “up-and-coming” organization.
“We’ve won a couple of national championships but if you look at the grand scheme of things we’re relatively the new kid on the block,” he said. “We’re young, but these guys understand the reputation of the Prospects and what it means to put on the jersey of the Indiana Prospects and they take that seriously.”
Schaller couldn’t argue that point.
“It’s an honor because they’re the top prospect team in Indiana and in the country,” he said. “It’s just an honor to be able to play with them.”