For the first time in more than 24 years, USA Baseball’s 18-and-under national team repeated as world champions after winning the 18U World Cup in Taichung, Taiwan.
With the 20-man rosters used in international play, every roster spot is important for the tournament, during which USA played nine games in eight days. Seven players saw time on the mound and as a position player.
“Every single player we had played a role in winning the gold medal,” coach Rob Cooper (Penn State) said.
Below we have provided a roster recap with comments from Cooper and information on how each player performed.
Brady Aiken, lhp, Cathedral Catholic High, San Diego
“We had Aiken on four days’ rest heading into the championship game and we knew gave us the chance to beat anybody as a starter,” Cooper said. “We felt great about our chances with him on the mound in the championship game. He is an unbelievable competitor. Really handcuffed Korea and dealt against Japan, he gave us two big-time starts.”
The 6-foot-3, 207-pound Aiken threw 12 2/3 innings and allowed just two runs (1.42 ERA). He walked three against 17 strikeouts, the fourth most of any pitcher at the World Cup. Japan entered the championship game averaging nearly nine runs scored a game and had never scored fewer than four runs. Aiken held the Japanese to one run in seven innings in the championship game and registered 10 strikeouts, the most recorded against the contact-oriented Japanese team.
Bryson Brigman, 2b/ss/of, Valley Christian High, San Jose
“Brigman was on the Gold Medal-winning team the year before and he really helped from a leadership standpoint because he told guys what to expect because he had been through it before,” Cooper said. “His leadership was huge but, more importantly, I would give him a lot of credit because he started the first few games and was struggling. But he bounced back and started against Cuba and in the championship and had some big at-bats. He persevered.”
The quick, versatile defender played multiple games at second base, third base and designated hitter. He hit .321/.375/.393 with one triple and as many walks (two) as strikeouts. Brigman was critical offensive component in a key 6-5 victory over Cuba in pool play when he had three of the team’s seven hits and scored a run.
Joe DeMers, rhp, College Park, Martinez, Calif.
“Joe is so competitive,” Cooper said. “Demers kind of struggled when he first got over here but he came in against Chinese Taipei when we were losing and pitched great, which allowed us to crawl our way into the game. We thought that DeMers could be a swing-type guy, where we could start him if we needed to. He had two pitches that could get guys out.”
With a shot to clinch the gold medal game against Chinese Taipei, DeMers entered in the sixth with the U.S. trailing 5-2. He pitched 2 2/3 scoreless innings, during which the offense scored five runs to take the lead. Overall, DeMers, the only rising junior on the team, threw seven scoreless innings across four games, striking out four.
Alex Destino, lhp/of, North Buncombe High, Weaverville, N.C
“Destino swung the bat great for us and pitched very well,” Cooper said. “We would not have had fresh arms for the championship game if he didn’t pitch the way he did the day before against Japan. He shut them down.”
In 10 plate appearances, Destino had four singles and drove in four runs, and got most of his time at designated hitter. He pitched his first two games in relief and struggled with his control against Colombia with three walks in less than an inning pitched. In the aforementioned start against Japan, Destino allowed two runs in six innings and struck out four against one walk.
Jack Flaherty, 3b/rhp, Harvard-Westlake High, Studio City, Calif
“He pitched two big games for us and was huge in those games,” Cooper said. “He played first and third and played really well defensively. He didn’t swing the bat the way he wanted, but he played sound defensively and was a key for us on the mound.”
Flaherty pitched the opening game of the tournament and went six scoreless against Italy, striking out nine against three walks and two hits. The athletic 6-foot-3, 217-pound Flaherty went 2-for-11 (.182/.250/.182) with a walk and a steal.
Marvin Gorgas, rhp/3b/2b, East Hampton (Conn.) High
“He was great and pitched some big innings in key spots for us,” Cooper said. “He is a two-way guy who also saw some time at third base.
With a low-90s fastball, Gorgas was another key reliever for USA. He pitched 6 1/3 scoreless innings across three games. Gorgas, a Connecticut commit, struck out six and allowed two walks.
Adam Haseley, of/lhp, The First Academy, Windermere, Fla.
“It didn’t matter who was pitching, he put together some of the best at-bats I have ever seen,” Cooper said. “There were some pitchers from a lot of different countries that made hitters look uncomfortable but he always looked comfortable in the box and he had great at-bats. He made one of the best catches I have ever seen in the championship game. He robbed one from going out of play down the left-field line in the bullpen. He pitched two innings in the first game against Japan, which allowed us to set up our pitching for the championship game.”
Haseley was the leading hitter of the event with a .484 average (.484/.515/.800). He also finished second in extra-base hits with six (three doubles, two triples and an inside-the-park home run). He also contributed two steals and pitched two innings against Japan. The 6-foot, 176-pound Haseley is committed to Virginia.
Scott Hurst, of, Bishop Amat, Glendora, Calif.
“Because of his swing and his ability to repeat his swing, we felt that he would be able to hit against any type of pitching in an international environment, where there are so many different styles of pitching,” Cooper said. “He had big hits and some big walks and sac bunts. He had so many quality at-bats.”
The 5-foot-10, 167-pound lefthanded-hitting Hurst hit .346/.500/.462 with a double and a triple. Hurst, a Cal State-Fullerton commit, added four walks, the second most on the team, a steal and played center field.
Kel Johnson, of/1b, Home schooled, Palmetto, Ga.
“You can’t find a better kid or more team-oriented player,” Cooper said. “Not a guy that is used to not playing but I am glad he was a part of it because he brought a lot to the table as a teammate and he started against Japan.”
The 6-foot-3, 199-pound Johnson, a righthanded hitting slugger with plus raw power, had a hit in 10 at-bats but chipped in two walks and a steal. The Georgia Tech commit has the ability to play an outfielder corner or first base.
Trace Loehr, 2b/ss, Putnam High, Milwaukie, Ore.
“If you look at his average it is not what he is used to doing, but he was one of our emotional leaders and plays the game hard,” Cooper said. “Whether it was defensively or working a key walk. He is the essence of what a baseball player is.”
Loehr was a key contributor offensively despite a low batting average with a .212/.366/.242 line because of his team-leading six walks and four steals. The 5-foot-9, 169-pound second baseman played errorless defense and turned four double plays.
Mac Marshall, lhp, Parkview High, Liburn, Ga.
“He pitched a huge game for us against Colombia,” Cooper said. “He started feeling sick the next morning and he found out he had appendicitis and they had to take his appendix out.”
The athletic 6-foot, 182- pound Marshall threw 6 2/3 innings across two games, striking out six and allowing three earned runs. Marshall, a Louisiana State commit, has a fastball that can sit in the low 90s and touch 94 with a breaking ball and changeup that both have above-average potential.
Keaton McKinney, rhp/1b, Ankeny (Iowa) High
“When we first kept him we looked at him more as a pitcher than a hitter but he kept giving us reasons to give him at-bats,” McKinney said. “He got a huge hit in the gold medal game to get the third run across. He showed a willingness to sacrifice and do more and play multiple roles.”
McKinney, who has a physical 6-foot-4, 223-pound build, hit .308/.345/.346 in 28 plate appearances. He walked twice and scored seven runs. He started one game on the mound, allowing one earned run in 4 2/3 innings and struck out four.
Jacob Nix, rhp, Los Alamitos (Calif.) High
“He had one appearance the whole tournament and it was huge,” Cooper said. “We were down 3-0 against Cuba and he shut them down and gives us a chance to come back and take the lead. That was his only appearance in the tournament but if he doesn’t have that we are not in a position to win.”
Nix threw 5 2/3 scoreless innings against Cuba and struck out five against four walks. The big, physical 6-foot-4, 205-pound UCLA commit has a 90-93 mph fastball that can touch 94.
Luis Ortiz, rhp, Sanger (Calif.) High
“It was huge for us to know that we could give the ball a guy at the end of games and he could close us out,” Cooper said. “Luis was our closer because he has a swing-and-miss fastball because of the velocity and a swing-and-miss slider. We felt like we could use him in short bursts, with his two pitches and with his stuff that was a perfect mix for a closer-type guy.”
Ortiz was named the World Cup MVP with three saves in his five appearances. In 8 1/3 innings, Ortiz struck out 12 against one walk and allowed three runs. The Fresno State commit’s fastball sits between 92-94 mph and touches 95 and a slider with plus potential.
Jakson Reetz, c/of/rhp, Norris High, Hickman, Neb.
“There is another guy that when we first got over there he was struggling to find his swing and he didn’t play the first few games over there,” Cooper said. “He worked hard to find his swing and then he really swung the bat well. He was a key component for us offensively those last four games.”
Reetz finished with a .435/.533/.739 line in 29 plate appearances. He led the team with four doubles and hit a home run in the first game against Japan. The athletic, versatile 6-foot, 193-pound Reetz is typically a catcher but saw most of his time in right field. Reetz, who has a good arm and a fastball that can sit in the low 90s, pitched one scoreless inning against Japan. He drove in the go-ahead run in the championship game.
Michael Rivera, c, Venice Senior (Fla.) High
“He was unbelievable for us and had some really big hits,” Cooper said. “Not many home runs were hit over there and he had a big home run against Taipei. He had a bunch of hits against Cuba. He played third and caught and played good defense.”
The 5-foot-7, 196-pound Rivera was named to the World Cup first team at third base. He hit .367/.429/.500 with nine singles, a double and a home run. Rivera drove in nine runs, which led the team and was fourth among all players. The U.S. beat Cuba 6-5 on Rivera’s walkoff single.
J.J. Schwarz, c, Palm Beach Gardens (Fla.) High
“He was pressing when we first got over there because he wanted to do so well,” Cooper said. “He had a huge hit for us against Cuba. He went 5 for 5 against Japan. He was big for us and did a good job behind the plate.”
A righthanded hitting catcher, Schwarz had the second-most hits on the team with 12 and a .429/.452/.536 line with three doubles. The 6-foot-1, 189-pound Schwarz also drove in nine to tie Rivera for the team lead.
Justus Sheffield, lhp, Tullahoma (Tenn.) High
“Going into it, we lined him up against Cuba because we felt that he was a good matchup because his skill set lined up best with a fastball-curveball left side,” Cooper said. “He didn’t have the outing he wanted to against Cuba. He wanted it so badly that he tried pitching differently than what he is capable of. But there is not a better teammate or competitor. He is a leader.”
The 5-foot-10, 196-pound Sheffield has a low-90s fastball that can touch 94 and feel for multiple off speed offerings. Sheffield, a Vanderbilt commit, allowed eight earned runs and five walks in 6 2/3 innings and struck out four.
Lane Thomas, of, Bearden High, Knoxville, Tenn.
“Lane didnt get off to the kind of start he wanted but was a great teammate,” Cooper said. “Against Japan, he had an unbelievable day. Lane Thomas is going to be a great player.”
The outfielder went 2 for 4 against Japan, his only hits of the tournament, but did chip in two walks in other games. Thomas, who is 6-foot, 170 pounds, is committed to Tennessee.
Cole Tucker, ss/3b/2b, Mountain Pointe High, Phoenix
“His passion for the game comes out and is infectious for his teammates,” Cooper said. “People look at how much he loves to play, how hard he plays and that hair, but the guy can really play. He had some big hits. In the international game, you have to have a calm demeanor and he did a great job for us. He was a leader because of his pure love and enjoyment for the game.”
The long, rangy 6-foot-3, 180-pound Tucker played every game at shortstop and committed a lone error. The switch-hitting Tucker, who is committed to Arizona, batted .214/.281/.286 with five singles and a triple. Tucker’s previously mentioned hair resembles a young Anderson Varejao with curly locks that extend well below his hat.