Stay tuned to Perfect Game over the next several days and through the weekend as we provide detailed coverage of the 2011 WWBA World Championship. David Rawnsley and Kendall Rogers will also step into the chat room Wednesday at Noon, CT, to take your questions surrounding the championship tournament. You can also view the main event page, schedule page and Pool breakdown feature while also reading about some of the more notable college players that have participated in the WWBA World Championship in recent years as well as a historical perspective of the talent that has participated in the event.
This is an exercise fraught with potential controversy, ranking the top 20 contenders for the 2011 WWBA World Championship. This will be my 11th consecutive trip to Jupiter and this is assuredly the deepest and most talented field yet ever assembled by Perfect Game. That’s a tribute to not only the Perfect Game staff but to the entire baseball community at this level: The travel team organizations, the college coaches and the professional scouts, all of whom want to see the best high school players in the country competing in one spot.
Most of all, if you disagree with the order of the teams below, don’t worry about it. It’s the opinion of one person (albeit a person who has seen most of these players perform) and the only thing that matters is what happens on the field between now and Monday afternoon. Every team and every player down in Jupiter has already achieved plenty in baseball and is worthy of respect.
The key to winning an event where the champion and runner-up will play 8 games in less than 5 days is a combination of talent and depth, especially pitching depth. And while some of the most talented teams at this event, as at past WWBA World Championships, are the equivalent of All-Star teams put together to play together once, history also shows that teams that play together during the summer and fall have the most success. In fact, only one “All-Star” type team, the Reds Scout Team in 2006, has won the championship since 2002.
If you look over the 20 teams listed below and don’t find your own team, don’t be discouraged, either. The 2009 Orange County Boxers and the 2008 Cangelosi Baseball would not have been found on a similar pre-Championship list in the years that they made it to the championship game before losing. This is baseball, after all, and the New York Yankees and Philadelphia Phillies aren’t playing in the World Series either.
1. FTB MIZUNO/CARDINALS SCOUT TEAM
FTB Mizuno, with all due respect to the Texas Rangers and St. Louis Cardinals, are somewhat like the New York Yankees of travel ball. You know they are going to have all the talent they need to win on paper, it’s just whether that will get it done on the field. And much like the 2011 version of the Yankees, the potential soft spot for Mizuno is their pitching. RHPs Robert Whalen and Zach Eflin are two of the most underrated pitching prospects in the 2012 class and scouts would be well advised to flock to the fields where they are scheduled to pitch, but Mizuno’s overall chances might end up resting on the shoulders of a quartet of young 2013 hurlers; LHP Alex Hagner, LHP Sean Brady and Tampa Jesuit HS teammates LHP John Kilichowski and SS/RHP Spencer Trayner. Coach Jered Goodwin’s offense will be fun to watch, though. The All-American outfield of David Dahl, Albert Almora and Jesse Winker is peerless at this level and SS Avery Romero and IF/C Alex Bregman might even be better present hitters.
2. MIDLAND REDSKINS/ROYALS SCOUT TEAM
If FTB Mizuno has the top line up of position players at this championship, the Midland Redskins have the most impressive pitching staff. Not to mention the biggest and most intimidating. 6-9/260 RHP Taylore Cherry, 6-8 LHP Matt Smoral, 6-5/250 RHP Kayden Porter, 6-9 LHP Chase Mullins and 6-4 RHP Ryan Burr could be an offensive line or a basketball team but when joined by RHP Lucas Sims and RHP/OF Tony Blanford are a 7-member pitching staff that will have every game the focal point of the pro scouting community. Porter and Blanford are two of the team’s top bats, along with stud 2013 catcher Reese McGuire and 3B Joe DeCarlo. The danger for the Redskins will facing another team’s top pitcher, as their lack of offensive depth could prove costly in a low scoring game. An edge for the Redskins is that many on the current roster played on the organization’s 2011 Connie Mack National Championship team; they know how to win as a team.
3. RED SOX SCOUT TEAM/ELITE SQUAD
The core of the South Florida Elite roster, plus some additions, has this team in position talent-wise to go all the way. There are 8 Miami Hurricane commits on the roster plus three and two, respectively, from Florida and Florida State. Left handed hitting 2013 C/3B Zach Collins has established himself as perhaps the top hitting prospect in his class and scouts will be watching OF Lewis Brinson and C Christopher Chinea carefully, as neither was fully exposed on the summer showcase circuit. Infielders Adrian Marin and Brandon Lopez, both UM commits, will form a slick middle infield duo. 3B Eric Neitzel and 2013 OF William Abreu are also top position prospects. Hard throwing RHP’s Hayden Hurst, Nick Travieso and Alex Lavendaro lead the pitching staff, which interestingly has four primary left handed pitchers with solid D1 commits. Everyone knows that polished southpaws go a long way in a tournament such as this.
4. MARUCCI ELITE
The Elite have won the past two WWBA World Underclass Championships, so there is no question that they can get top young talent on the field. But can they get enough experienced 2012 talent to join 2013 standouts such as SS Christopher Rivera, catchers Adrian Chacon and Andrew Dunlap, OF Matthew McPhearson, OF Corey Ray and SS Oscar Mercado? On paper that looks like a strong “Yes”. Coach Chad Raley has recruited the West Coast hard and landed All-Americans RHP Cody Poteet and OF/RHP Andrew Pullin, along with other top prospects RHP Brent Wheatly, LHP Kyle Twomey and OF Ty Moore. IF Chase Nyman from Mississippi will also contribute to a speedy and versatile offense.
5. HOUSTON BANDITOS
This will be the first year that the Banditos are seriously positioned for a title run at this event and they bear more than a passing resemblance to a Texas version of FTB Mizuno in that they might simply bludgeon lesser teams into submission with their offensive strength. The Bandito outfield of All-Americans Nick Williams and Courtney Hawkins and top 2013 hitter Nicholas Buckner rivals the Mizuno outfield and SS C.J. Hinojosa has the ability, credentials and motivation to be an MVP candidate in his last tournament before moving on to U. Texas. Who steps up on the mound will be the key question for coach Ray DeLeon. RHP Jeremy Kivel is an unheralded pitching prospect to watch carefully.
6. EAST COBB BASEBALL
East Cobb hasn’t won a WWBA World Championship since they shared the title with Chet Lemon’s Juice in 2005 despite winning a constant stream of WWBA and BCS age group championships during that time. Could 2011 be the year? The offense and defense should be in good hands with players such as All-American OF Skye Bolt, hitting machine IF Jordan Ebert, top 2013 prospects 3B Travis Demeritte and OF Josh Hart and do everything OF/LHP Kyle Carter. But despite having a pair of All-American arms in RHPs Duane Underwood and Tucker Simpson, the EC pitching doesn’t seem to be as deep as it has often been in the past and the absence of All American LHP Matthew Crownover, a three-year Jupiter veteran, will hurt. They’ll have to depend on stellar efforts on the mound by two-way talents such Carter and Demeritte to take home the championship again.
7. TEXAS SUN DEVILS
The Sun Devils have had their best year ever, driven by a core of position players that includes SS Gavin Cecchini, C Stryker Trahan, OF Cameron Dishon and OF Kolby Copeland, a group who have played together for years. Cecchini, Trahan and Dishon seem to travel as a trio everywhere and will even be taking their talents together to Ole Miss if pro ball doesn’t interfere first. But the most important thing to the Sun Devils chances this year in Jupiter has been coach Matt Thompson’s ability to bring in quality players from outside the organization’s Southeast Texas/Southwest Louisiana base. RHP Ty Hensley (perhaps not coincidently another Ole Miss commit) from Oklahoma will contribute both with his low 90’s stuff and with the bat, while infielders Max Dutto and Zach Green and RHP Ben Eckels are a trio of Northern California standouts. Their very first game of the tournament, against defending co-champion Chet Lemon’s Juice, could make or break the Sun Devils chances.
8. CANES BASEBALL
The strength of the Canes team can be expressed by a couple of numbers. All 21 members of their roster have D1 college commitments. 8 members of their pitching staff have scholarships to ACC or SEC schools. There is no question that coach Jeff Petty’s team has the talent to win the championship. OF Josh Henderson is the lone Canes All-American and he will be a particular focus of scouts, potentially like Josh Bell was in 2010, in that he is home schooled and doesn’t play for a high school team, thus making it more difficult for scouts to see him play. 2B Max Schrock, SS Landon Lassiter and 3B Xavier Turner form a very strong infield and will support Henderson offensively. LHP Nathan Kirby and RHP Curt Britt headline the deep pitching staff but the key pitcher for the Canes is one that is neither from the organization’s Mid-Atlantic core base or signed with an East Coast school. RHP Mitchell Brown is from Minnesota and committed to U. San Diego but is a big game pitcher who struck out 15 hitters in a game at the WWBA EvoShield championships in Arizona last month.
9. TEXAS SCOUT TEAM YANKEES
The Yankees probably don’t have the pitching depth to make it all the way through the playoffs but they have some dynamic offensive players and a couple of very talented pitchers who have yet to be seen by many national scouts. 1B Austin Dean and IF Dylan LaVelle are two of top right handed hitters in the country and can take over games against any level of pitching, although where they fit best defensively on the field is still to be determined. SS/CF Leon Byrd, a 5-8 high energy on-base machine, should score plenty of runs hitting in front of Dean and LaVelle. RHPs Trey Killian and Kevin McCanna, as well as LHP Ty Culbreth are all late bloomers on the mound who were throwing consistently in the low 90’s at the end of the summer and will be heavily scouted in Jupiter.
10. CHET LEMON’S JUICE
The Juice don’t get the accolades that many other top programs receive because they lack the full roster of All American/High Draft type prospects. What those other programs don’t have on their respective resumes are: “2010 Jupiter Co-Champion/2011 WWBA World Underclass Runner-Up”. The Juice only have two 2012 players, SS Richie Martin (Florida) and RHP Trey Oest (Virginia), who have committed to Division 1 schools, although that is likely to change. However, the two stars of the team could very well be 2013 RHP/3B Tyler Danish, the MVPitcher of the recent World Underclass, and 2014 IF Nicholas Gordon, a young man who has the potential to top both his brother Dee (Dodgers SS) and father RHP Tom “Flash” Gordon before all is said and done. What the Juice will bring to Jupiter is a pitching staff of mid-80’s strike throwers and a full line up of scrappy, fundamentally sound position players who play winning baseball.
No one could be faulted for calling the defending co-champion Dirtbags the “Junior Tar Heels," as they have eight players on their roster who have committed to the University of North Carolina, along with three more to powerhouse South Carolina. With 17 present D1 commits, the Dirtbags will have one of the deepest teams in Jupiter. The infield looks to be the strength of the team with All-American Corey Seager and D.C. Arendas, both USC commits, and 2013 UNC SS Wood Myers, one of the top players at the WWBA World Underclass. UNC commit RHP Reilley Hovis leads a deep pitching staff that includes 15 pitchers who are either primary or secondary hurlers.
12. ABD BULLDOGS
Teams from the ABD organization won the WWBA World Championship in both 2008 and 2009, so the Bulldogs have to be on any short list of title contenders. They will have one of the most powerful offensive teams at the event, with PG All-Americans SS Tanner Rahier and 3B Daniel Robertson anchoring the infield and middle of the lineup, with other offensive standouts such as C R.J. Ybarra, OF Connor Williams and 1B Dalton DiNatale ready to contribute. But coach Mike Spiers’ teams always score runs; what they might be lacking this year is a pitcher like LHP Henry Owens or LHP Daniel Camarena to take the staff on their backs. RHP’s Kieran Lovegrove, Andrew Potter and Justin Garza have the best raw stuff on staff but everyone will have to step up for the Bulldogs to be playing on Monday.
13. SOUTH CHARLOTTE PANTHERS
Any team with 10 ACC commitments on their roster has the necessary talent to go deep into the playoffs. RHP’s Ty Buttery, Wales Toney and Cameron Tekker have the stuff and experience to shut down any team in the tournament if they are on their games and 2013 LHP Alexander Bostic is poised to have his prospect coming out party in Jupiter based on the way he threw last week in Fort Myers. From top to bottom, in fact, the Panthers pitching staff compares to just about any team in the championship. Where the runs are going to come from is open to conjecture, though. It will be interesting to see what type of role 2014 C/RHP Ryder Ryan, a revelation at the WWBA World Underclass, plays, as he is one of only a small handful of sophomores in Jupiter.
14. MARLINS SCOUT TEAM
The Marlins have a rather eclectic roster of players made up mostly from New York and the Long Island Storm organization and from California, so jelling quickly will be important. If they do, this could be one of the surprise teams of the tournament. There will be no shortage of power with big sluggers such as 3B Ron Miller, 1B Tony DiMartino, OF Dominic Smith and OF Mathew Goodson in the lineup. RHP’s Paul Blackburn, Cal Becker and Felipe Perez are not house-hold names in the prospect community but all are strong armed and polished Californians who are going to pitch in the low 90’s and put the Marlins in a position to win games. Keep an eye out for California RHP Zachary Jemiola.
15. ORLANDO SCORPIONS
The Scorpions will bring a deep and experienced pitching staff into the event and will expect to win any game that All-American RHPs Walker Weickel and Carson Fullmer pitch, along with expecting the same results with RHP Jonathan Sandfort or LHP Anthony Seise on the mound. This will not be the Scorpions best offensive team in recent years, though, and they will have to scratch for runs. Getting production from IF Max Moroff and C Walker Haymaker will be key for the offense.
16. OHIO WARHAWKS
The name “Ohio” Warhawks is a bit of a misnomer as the team has more players from Minnesota (1) than Ohio (0) on their roster and features 15 players from California, most from working with the San Diego Show organization. However, Ohio resident Ron Slusher has assembled his usual talented team built around Californians All-American 3B Corey Oswalt, 3B Fernando Perez and 2013 LHP/OF Stephen Gonzalves. What team gets to face All-American RHP Ryan McNeil is in for trouble, as reports out of California this fall say that McNeil has taken another step forward with his stuff. The Warhawks looked even more formidable until recent word that All-American 3B Trey Willams would not be making the trip cross country.
17. ROYALS BASEBALL CLUB
The Royals Baseball Club (as opposed to the Midland Redskins/Royals Scout Team) is comprised of players from 16 different states and will be learning each other’s names as they take the field for their first game on Friday. But you can’t ignore the talent that Kansas City Royals scouting department has put together, especially in a number of players who perhaps aren’t fully recognized yet in the national scouting community. While everyone knows who big power hitting All-American 1B Keon Barnum is, fewer know about talented outfielders Bralin Jackson and D’Vone McClure. C Clint Coulter is one of the best hitting catchers in the country, while precocious IF Drew Ward is already recognized as the top prospect nationally in the 2014 class. Pitching will be at a premium, though, especially after RHP Teddy Stankiewicz and RHP Collin Wiles take the mound.
18. TEAM ELITE
The Georgia based Team Elite will be a fun team to watch play, as they have some singular talent, although probably not enough depth to make it deep into the playoffs. All-American RHP Clate Schmidt has one of the most dynamic arms in the country, while infielders J.T. Phillips and 2013 Clint Frazier have the offensive potential and athletic ability to move quickly up prospect lists with good performances this weekend.
19/20. SYRACUSE SPORTS ZONE CHIEFS/BASEBALL U
No team north of North Carolina has ever won the WWBA World Championship, but both Baseball U and Syracuse Sport Zone Chiefs from the Northeast have strong clubs who are coming off successful summer seasons. Baseball U has an impressive depth of position talent, including power hitters 1B Chris Shaw, OF Joe McCarthy and 2013 1B Joe Dudek. The Chiefs line up in the opposite direction, with a deep pitching staff led by RHP Karl Keglovits, RHP Jared Price, LHP Max Tishman and RHP Seth Lamando. All-American OF Rhett Wiseman could win a game or two by himself if he gets hot for Syracuse.
ALSO RECEIVED VOTES CATEGORY (alphabetical order): Diamond Devils, Houston Heat, Kentucky Baseball Club, Midwest Scout Team, MLS All-Stars, PG Mid-Atlantic, Northwest Scout Team, Puerto Rico Baseball Academy, San Gabriel Valley Arsenal, Team Mizuno Puerto Rico, Texas PG Teal, Tri-State Arsenal.