In 2009, Team USA swept gold medals in international competitions at all three high school-aged divisions—14U, 16U and 18U. The quest to repeat that feat in 2010 begins Friday in Thunder Bay, Ont. with the IBAF 'AAA' 18U Junior World Championship. After the Tournament of Stars, USA Baseball selected an 18U trials roster and whittled down to 20 before the team hit the road for some tune-ups.
Team USA went 5-0 against the Greater N.Y. Alliance All-Stars, a collection of New York-area high school seniors and college freshmen. After the New York swing, the team headed to Minnesota to play some summer teams as well as three friendlies against Canada. Team USA went 6-1 there with the one loss coming in a 4-3 decision against the Canadians.
During the tour, Blake Swihart led the team in hitting with a .464/.467/.789 clip. Swihart is an athletic, switch-hitting catcher that can also play the infield, making him a versatile threat for Team USA.
Pitching should be one of Team USA's strength in the tournament. All but one of the pitchers had less than a 2.00 ERA during the exhibition games. Of the regular starters, lefthander Henry Owens led the staff in ERA (1.20) and strikeouts (27) in 15 innings. Owens is a tall, lanky southpaw that works with an 88-91 mph fastball and good, two-plane curveball. Righthander Lance McCullers Jr., one of two 2012 graduates on the team, figures to be the closer. In six appearances he logged 6 2/3 innings, striking out seven and allowing no hits. He works with a mid-90s fastball, a devastating low-80s curve as well as a good changeup with fade.
Team USA was scheduled to play Australia on Saturday at 2 p.m. local time, but Venezuela did not show up so the schedule was being reworked accordingly. The championship game is scheduled for Aug. 1, allowing any draftees to be back in time for the Aug. 16 signing deadline. Those players include infielders Tony Wolters (third round, Indians) and Marcus Littlewood (second round, Mariners), outfielders Michael Lorenzen (seventh round, Rays) and Brian Ragira (30th round, Rangers) and righthanders A.J. Vanegas (seventh round, Padres) and John Simms (39th round, Nationals).
Team Canada also has a handful of 2010 draftees on its roster, most notably Rangers first-rounder Kellin Deglan, a lefthanded-hitting catcher that signed for $1 million, and lefthander Evan Grills. Grills signed with the Astros for $150,000 in the 10th round.
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