After six days of trials in Houston, USA Baseball selected its 18U National Team 20-man roster to defend its consecutive gold medals (2012-2013) and attempt to win three straight for the first time in U.S. history.
Team USA could become the only team beside Cuba (1984-1987) to win more than two in a row.
The initial 40-man roster for the trials was divided into two squads for five games and six days of workouts at the University of Houston’s Cougar Field.
Team USA started a four-game series against Team Canada Saturday before leaving for Mexico on Sept. 3. Games will be held at the Urban Youth Academy (Saturday), Minute Maid Park (Sunday), home of the Houston Astros, and Cougar Field (Monday and Tuesday).
The 10-team 18U COPABE Pan American Championship in Cabo San Lucas, Mexico, starts on Sept. 5 and ends Sept. 14.
The team will be led by Grand Canyon University head coach Andy Stankiewicz, who served as the assistant coach on the 2012 Collegiate National Team that won bronze at the Haarlem Honkbal Week tournament in the Netherlands. The three assistant coaches are Jayson King, Jamey Shouppe and Burt Call. King has been the head coach at Franklin Pearce for 14 seasons. Shouppe is the head coach at Florida A&M and will serves as the team’s pitching coach. Call has been the head coach at Mater Dei (Santa Ana, Calif.) for 11 seasons, winning the National High School Invitational in 2012 and 2013 and the 2013 Boras Classic.
18U National Team director Shaun Cole will oversee the team.
“Our coaching staff spent a lot of time picking these guys apart and we left no stone unturned,” Cole said. “Up until the last night there were some arms that threw and made this really tough. And I am glad that they made it tough. We couldn’t ask for anything more than these players to make it tough on us because that means that they are performing and competing. A couple of kids came out with a lot of fire and made strong pushes for the final cut. But these are guys that are earned it. Hopefully we will do our part in representing USA and come back with a Gold Medal.”
With the smaller roster size, positional versatility is critical to maneuver through a 10-day event. Last year, for example, seven players saw time on the mound and as position players. Luken Baker, Gray Fenter and Austin Bergner could fill similar roles and are listed as two-way players.
The outfield defense has a chance to be a strength of the team, as all four outfielders saw time in center field at the Tournament of Stars and have at least above-average speed underway.
“If a flyball gets down in the outfield I will be surprised,” Cole said. “Watching that outfield is going to be impressive. Pitchers should not be afraid to throw a strike in there and let those guys run and track it down. Trenton Clark and Daz Cameron can really track it, and Mitch Hansen is someone who separated himself with his defense, as did Blake Rutherford.”
The full roster is below and has a description of every player. Cole discussed how the specific players performed over the trials or how they will be used internationally.
Kolby Allard, lhp, San Clemente HS, South Coast, Calif.
“He can really pitch and having lefthanded pitching is huge,” Cole said. “He has a good fastball and his strikeout pitch is his curveball. You are talking about a guy who could potentially go out there and be a frontline starter. He can run the fastball up there pretty good and throw that curveball to finish you off.”
Allard has positioned himself as one of the top lefthanders in the class with a very easy delivery, striking-throwing ability and a fastball that routinely sits 90-92, which he compliments with a breaking ball that is at least plus.
Luken Baker, rhp/inf, Oak Ridge HS, Conroe, Texas
“First of all, he is a great kid with high character who is willing to do anything,” Cole said. “He caught for us during the Trials to see if we could potentially have that third catcher. It looked easy for him back there. He is going to be able to play first, get behind the dish, pitch and obviously he has shown some extreme raw power at the plate. I went to the All-Star weekend and was there during the high school home run derby. That was impressive to watch him do that because before that we had him slated only as a pitcher. For him to do the things he has done this summer it has been really impressive.”
The big, strong and physical Texan won the MLB Junior Select Home Run Derby and the Under Armour All-America Game Home Run Derby, displaying plus-plus raw power. He can run his fastball up to 94 mph with downhill plane and some sink in the lower half of the zone, which he compliments with a breaking ball that flashes at least average potential.
Austin Bergner, rhp/inf, West Orange HS, Winter Garden, Fla.
“For him to walk into this venue at his age with guys that are a year older than him is huge,” Cole said. “His fastball is electric. He flashed some 96s and 97s. His composure is ahead of his age on the mound. He has the athleticism to play short if we need it, or to play first base. That brought value to the table also and he may get some innings in the field. He swung the bat fairly well also.”
Bergner is one of two underclassmen on the roster. The athletic, strike-throwing Bergner has a quick arm and hides the ball well in his delivery, featuring a three-pitch mix with a fastball that sat in the low-90s at the Tournament of Stars. He has a plus arm at shortstop and feel for the bat.
Kale Breaux, lhp, Sulphur (La.) HS
“I think took it up a whole level for the Trials,” Cole said. “His composure and poise on the mound are impressive. He just looks like he doesn’t get rattled. He is pretty much a flat liner and he is even like that off the field and he has some toughness to him. He has definitely moved himself up from potentially being a bullpen lefty or situational lefty to a candidate to be a starter.”
Breaux is a competitive strike-thrower whose fastball sat in the mid-80s early in his TOS outing before sitting 82-83 later, offering a three-pitch mix.
Daz Cameron, of, Eagle’s Landing Christian Academy, McDonough, Ga.
“He has tools and instincts and his instincts are ahead of the players his age in my opinion,” Cole said. “There is a book I read a long time ago named ‘Outliers’ that talked about 10,000 hours. I don’t want to say he has 10,000 hours in already but I think his reps are up there and it shows on the field. To be honest, and he would probably admit this too, he may not have hit as good we thought he was going to or he thought he was going to coming into this. But his on-base percentage was still very high and he is very selective at the plate. Once he gets on base he is always a threat to steal. He is pretty darn good in center field.”
Cameron has above-average bat speed and hard hit ability from the right side. He is an above-average runner underway, though his speed plays closer to average out of the box, with an arm that projects as at least average. His speed and instincts impacted games on the bases at TOS.
Trenton Clark, of, Richland HS, North Richland Hills, Texas
“You always want lefthanded bats and he is going to play defense and he has a strong arm,” Cole said. “He is going to put pressure on the defense with his speed and athleticism. Just another kid that I don’t think he is going to miss a beat with him running down balls in the outfield.”
Clark has tremendous instincts for the game and a well-rounded skill set with the potential to remain in center field. He has a strong build and shows home run power to his pull side with feel for the bat and strike zone. Clark has a magnetic personality amongst his teammates.
Joe DeMers, rhp, College Park HS, Pleasant Hill, Calif.
“We talked a lot about what he brings from a leadership standpoint in our meetings,” Cole said. “You can’t duplicate his experience in any other way. He has been there and he was a setup man for Luis Ortiz last year. He is strike-thrower who has an attack mentality on the mound. He will come after you and he is not going to be rattled by anything that happens over there.”
DeMers is the only member of this year’s squad who was on the team last year. DeMers sits in the low-90s with sink to his fastball that touched 96 this summer. He offers a four-pitch mix with the potential for two above-average offerings.
Gray Fenter, rhp/inf, West Memphis (Ark.) HS
“He is going to be a back-end bullpen guy,” Cole said. “This is another guy who can come out and can attack you also. He has a pretty good breaking ball. There is so much value in bringing a guy in on the back end who can throw an offspeed pitch for strikes, and you can call it multiple times in a critical situation. You can bring him into a critical situation and he will say ‘here it is, now try to hit it.’”
Fenter has a quick arm and can sit in the low-90s in short stints, touching 94 with downhill plane. His breaking ball shows above-average potential and has one of the highest spin rates in the class, according to TrackMan.
Mitch Hansen, of, Plano (Texas) Senior HS
“Hansen is someone who separated himself with his defense,” Cole said. “He made a diving catch in left field that was really impressive. He is a lefthanded bat that has gap-to-gap power and at times he can run into one to put it out. He has good game instincts and is a smart kid who is going to Stanford.”
Hansen is one of the headliners in a deep class of Texas outfielders. He has a smooth, quick lefthanded stroke and flashes above-average raw power. The athletic Hansen was a standout football player as an underclassman, offering above-average speed.
Ke’Bryan Hayes, 3b/1b, Concordia Lutheran HS, Tomball, Texas
“He grows on you as you watch him because he is that quiet guy where you may not notice what he did that day until you check the box score and he performed,” Cole said. “He has a good swing that stays in the zone a long time. It really covers the plate and there is some pop in there too. He plays third base really clean and it is easy for him. He is interchangeable from third to first base. He is another good one with instincts and that is probably a credit to his dad and growing up around the baseball environment.”
Hayes has a quick, easy righthanded stroke with an up-the-middle approach, flashing average raw power to his pull side and producing quality at-bats in game action. The Tennessee commit has an above-average arm at third base and has improved his speed significantly over the last year.
Lucas Herbert, c, San Clemente HS, South Coast, Calif.
“You have a catcher whose ability to catch and throw is really solid,” Cole said. “Teams are going to have a tough time stealing on him as long as the pitchers do their part on the mound and control those times to the plate because he will have a chance to throw runners out. You also have a catcher who has some ability to be pretty offensive. The fact that he is offensive is just a cherry on top because his defense is very strong.”
Herbert hit a home run in game action at TOS and showed bat-to-ball ability by not striking out during the event. He above-average arm strength and has played at that level in game action.
Peter Lambert, rhp, San Dimas (Calif.) HS
“He looks so young but he has poise and composure on the mound,” Cole said. “He repeats his delivery and has a three-pitch mix that he throws for strikes. He will really be able to chew up some innings. He pitched extremely well at the Trials. He just threw strikes and he gets a lot of groundballs with that downward plane on his fastball.”
The loose, quick-armed Lambert has a lean, projectable build with strike-throwing ability and a fastball that sat 88-91, touching 92 at TOS from a high three-quarters arm slot.
Xavier Legrant, inf, Berry Academy of Tech, Charlotte, N.C.
“He has the ability to swing it with an ability to play up the middle,” Cole said. “He and (Nick) Madrigal look comfortable together. These next few days against Canada they are going to have to build that rapport and figure out how to turn that double play with one another. He has the element of speed where he can put some pressure on the defense too. He has just been consistent from the TOS to the Trials.”
LeGrant was one of the top offensive performers at TOS, employing a professional, line-drive oriented approach in batting practice that translates to game action as he hits hard liners to all fields. He plays the game with energy and shows defensive aptitude at second base.
Nick Madrigal, mif, Elk Grove (Calif.) HS
“His game instincts are through the roof,” Cole said. “He is really motivated by the will to win and he is a guy that I pulled aside to tell him that he needs to lead this team. He is going to be a leader. I even told coach Casey at Oregon State that Nick is going to come in and lead his team for three years. Some might question if a guy of that size can be a leader. But he has that motor and is a leader. I was roommates for the last week with David Eckstein and he seems like David Eckstein out there.”
The 5-foot-7 Madrigal is one of the top prep shortstops, offering plus-plus range and incredibly quick hands. The plus runner has some of the best bat-to-ball ability in the class and offers tremendous feel for the game.
Elih Marrero, c, Coral Gables HS, Miami
“Switch-hitting catchers are obviously a premium,” Cole said. “He has the bat and his dad (Eli Marrero) has big league experience. I have a feeling by watching him, and I don’t know because I haven’t asked him, that he has been around a lot of big leaguers. I really watched him a lot and the way he manages the pitchers and sits very well back there. He is a good one. But that goes back to his dad (who) played in the big leagues and he has learned.”
Marrero has a loose, short and wristy stroke that produces gap power from both sides of the plate, buoyed by instincts for the game. His arm is at least a 55 on the 20-80 scouting scale, according to evaluators.
Kyle Molnar, rhp/of, Aliso Niguel HS, Aliso Viejo, Calif.
“He commanded his changeup extremely well and it is an equalizer,” Cole said. “He can run it up there pretty good with his fastball. He is another guy with a lot of experience in big games. Being from SoCal he has obviously faced a lot of good talent and competition. Iron sharpens iron. He is someone else who is a candidate for one of those frontline starting roles.”
The athletic Molnar can sit in the low 90s with his fastball that touched 94 this summer with glove-side run. He offers a plus changeup with a curveball that has one of the highest spin rates in the class, according to TrackMan.
Blake Rutherford, of, Chaminade College Prep, Canoga Park, Calif.
“He led the trials in hitting and he also had two or three really strong assists from the outfield where he threw guys out in critical times of the game,” Cole said. “He is a lefthanded bat and plays ahead of his age.”
He is a well-rounded athlete at 6-foot-2, 180 pounds. The lefthanded-hitting Rutherford posted plus run times to first and offers at least an average arm. Rutherford has power to the gaps and showed considerable bat-to-ball skills, striking out only once in 19 plate appearances at TOS.
Austin Smith, rhp, Park Vista Community HS, Lake Worth, Fla.
“At times he can be 88-91 and at times he can run it up there to 94 or 95,” Cole said. “He is a big, physical kid who throws strikes. If he can command that breaking ball he can be a guy that can comes out to eat some innings. He has character with a good attitude and is a good team guy. He is going to be helpful from a team standpoint on the bench.”
The strong 6-foot-3, 231-pound Smith touched 96 with his fastball at the Perfect Game All-American Classic, per TrackMan. He offers strike-throwing ability and a breaking ball that shows average potential.
Logan Tolbert, mif, Wren HS, Piedmont, S.C.
“He is going to be a utility guy because he has proven that he can move around and play on the infield,” Cole said. “He is another lefthanded bat, which is a separator. When he went on onto the mound he looked comfortable and threw strikes. That increased his value dramatically. When he went out and pitched I looked at him like ‘Geez, you like you should have come here and been a frontline pitcher.’ It looked really good and it was loose arm action and some arm-side sink with some feel for a changeup and a slider. He threw strikes and had a presence on the mound.”
Tolbert, the MVP of the Under Amour All-America Game, has a loose, athletic and projectable build that started to show more power to his pull side at the end of the summer. He offers a three-pitch mix and fastball that was 87-89 earlier in the summer.
Max Wotell, lhp/of, Marvin Ridge HS, Waxhaw, N.C.
“He is deceptive, has that funky delivery and he hides the ball,” Cole said. “Hitters don’t see it and it really sneaks up on them. He has to throw strikes consistently and if he does that left and righthanded bats have trouble with him. He showed that in the trials. With his funkiness in his delivery it is just so deceptive.”
Wotell has one of the more unique deliveries in the class. The lefthander sets up on the first base side of the rubber and then walks into the beginning of his leg lift that starts after he ends up on the far third base side of the rubber (a +1 who walks into a -3, in J.J. Cooper parlance). His fastball largely sat 88-89 at TOS, touching 91 with natural life and some downhill plane from a slot that gives lefthanded hitters a tough look. He was mostly a two-pitch pitcher with a curveball that shows shape.