USA Baseball on Monday unveiled the 40-man group that will go to Minneapolis this August to take part in the 18U National Team Trials. From the trials, the U.S. coaching staff will determine the final roster of the 18U National Team, which heads to Thunder Bay, Canada, to compete in the World Baseball Softball Confederation U-18 World Cup, which takes place from Sept. 1-10.
The 40-man roster includes half of the 80 players who were invited to play in the Tournament of Stars from June 27-July 1.
While having the most talented players is obviously important, versatility was a trait that was brought up often during Monday’s selection show, as a 20-man roster for a 10-day tournament has its own limitations. The team trials begin on Aug. 19 and the final 20-man roster will be announced on Aug. 24.
18U National Team director Matt Blood will help determine the final roster along with returning manager Andy Stankiewicz, who’s the head coach at Grand Canyon, pitching coach Ricky Meinhold, who’s a Cardinals scout, hitting coach Gregg Ritchie, who’s the head coach at George Washington, and assistant coach Bill Mosiello, Jim Schlossnagle’s associate head coach at TCU.
“It’s a great honor,” Stankiewicz said. “Obviously I’m very blessed to be able to coach greatly skilled players . . . One of the best parts obviously is watching these kids develop.
“It’s a very difficult process, but it’s a good one.”
We’ll break down the position groups below, as they were announced on MLB.com’s live selection show. The final 40-man roster can be found below. Four members of the 2016 18U National Team have will compete to play for the team for a second time.
Will Banfield, Adrian Del Castillo, Anthony Seigler, Kameron Ojeda, Austin Wells
The U.S. Team has a deeper catching class than it did last year, and has six full-time catchers to decide between, choosing two of the players from the group above to make the final team.
“Cutting it down from these five to probably two, that’s going to be very difficult,” Blood said.
Banfield is one of the top prospects in the 2018 draft class, mixing elite defensive ability with a clean, simple swing that works well to the opposite field. Del Castillo brings some raw power to the table, while Ojeda, Wells and Seigler are each intriguing players offensively and defensively as well.
Triston Casas, J.P. Gates, Nolan Gorman, Jordan Groshans, Rece Hinds
Casas was on the selection show, sporting the two rings he’s already earned with the U.S. team. During last year’s 2016 COPABE Pan American Championships, he hit more home runs than all of the other teams combined to help the American team win its fourth COPABE title.
“Last year was kind of a blur for me,” Casas said, “just being in the middle of the order not even expecting to be there… It was definitely something that I’ll never forget for the rest of my life.
“It was a once in a lifetime experience.”
While he might think of it as a once in a lifetime experience, Casas will get the chance to do it again in 2017, along with a group of corner infielders that includes Rece Hinds, a 2019 graduate who would be classmates with Casas had he not reclassified to become draft eligible in 2018.
“Rece is one of those underclassmen we’re talking about,” Blood said. “He’s got serious raw power … defensively has one of the best arms out there and we’re going to continue to work with him at third base and see if we can get him ready for the national team.”
Brandon Dieter, Jeremiah Jackson, Brice Turang, Bobby Witt Jr., Gage Workman, Carter Young
Turang, currently the top high school prospect in the 2018 draft class, will have another shot to make the final 18U national team roster after failing to play in games during 2016, thanks to an injury after getting hit in the face with a pitch.
The middle infield group offers some of the much-needed versatility that the coaching staff mentioned, particularly with Dieter and 2019 graduate Witt Jr.
“Dieter had a great Tournament of Stars,” Blood said. “We wanted to see how versatile he was, and he really impressed us . . . He was outstanding (when he pitched in the National High School Invitational) and that’s the day he got his invite to the Tournament of Stars. He truly has the ability to be an impact pitcher and an impact defender, wherever you put him.”
While Dieter can play virtually any position aside from catcher, Stankiewicz said Witt Jr., who is the son of 16-year big leaguer Bobby Witt, would get looks at second base, shortstop and third base.
“He’s a skilled young man,” Stankiewicz said. “Speed, arm strength, got some nice raw power to his bat as well. Great kid . . . He’s got a tremendous future in front of him and he’ll be right in the middle of this thing.
“We’re going to give him every opportunity to show what he can do.”
Elijah Cabell, Joseph Gray, Ryder Green, Jarred Kelenic, Connor Scott, Michael Siani, Alek Thomas
Kelenic, who was the MVP of the the Pan American Championship and homered in the gold medal game, was also at the selection show, and talked about what being on the team meant to him, as he is a favorite to make the team for a second year.
“I think the biggest thing was just being around such a great group of guys,” he said. “But at the same time we’re all competing for the same goal . . . It really betters you, not only as a person, but as a player.”
Siani was also on the team last year, and has the tools to impact the game in a variety of ways according to Blood, but particularly with the glove.
“He’s an outstanding defender,” Blood said. “Instincts, speed, route and his arm is as good as any arm you’re going to see in the outfield . . . it’s a 70 or better.”
There are a number of other exciting outfielders in this group, including Gray’s toolsy profile, Cabell’s power and arm strength, and Scott’s smooth stroke out of the lefthanded batter’s box. Thomas can be an impact center fielder and has a strong background in baseball, while also translating skills to the diamond that he learned on the gridiron.
Slade Cecconi, Chandler Champlain, Jonathan Childress, Mason Denaburg, J.T. Ginn, Ethan Hankins, Adam Kloffenstein, Matthew Liberatore, Landon Marceaux, Joseph Menefee, Jack Perkins, Kumar Rocker, Davis Sharpe, Lenny Torres, Mike Vasil, Ryan Weathers, Cole Wilcox
On paper, the strength of the 18U team seems to be on the mound, regardless of how the coaching staff decides to filter it down to a final eight-man staff—one of the bigger challenges of finalizing the roster.
While acknowledging the difficulty of the task, pitching coach Meinhold noted that it wouldn’t be a challenge for the wrong reasons. “It’s a fun one because there are so many talented players.”
Start with Hankins and Rocker, travel ball teammates on Team Elite and two of the top arms in the 2018 draft class, both of whom excelled during the Tournament of Stars.
“(Hankins) is a great athlete,” Blood said. “He loves to play outfield whenever he’s not pitching in high school . . . For a kid that tall to have command of his fastball at this age is impressive . . . He’s another one of these tough kids who you trust when he’s on the mound.”
Another pitcher with huge stuff who hasn’t been as highly praised as Hankins and Rocker—but who could easily be trending in that direction—is J.T. Ginn, who averaged the highest fastball velocity during TOS.
“With J.T. he came in and, startling would be the word,” Meinhold said. “We brought him back in later in the week and he had even better stuff (than his first appearance).”
In addition to pitchers with impressive numbers on the radar gun, the U.S. coaching staff has the luxury of deciding between others who have an advanced feel for pitching, most notably LSU commit Landon Marceaux.
“Landon’s a true pitcher,” Blood said. “He’s got five or six pitches, which is kind of crazy to say but he throws them all for strikes . . . He’s a very reliable guy. We’re excited to have him too.”
Denaburg has the added value of being a catcher as well as a righthander pitcher, who can get into the mid 90s with regularity. Having essentially a third catcher as a member of the pitching staff would be a great depth option for Team USA.
Blood and the coaching staff will continue to monitor the 40 players invited to trials (as well as the 80 TOS participants, as injuries and other issues could allow players to get late invites or team spots) over the next several weeks before winnowing down the final roster and getting the team adjusted to a system that will try and afford the team as much success as possible.
“I think you have to do it rather quickly, obviously,” Stankiewicz said of the two-week window to prepare for the World Cup. “You have to be careful that you don’t overcoach so to speak . . . We’ll get after them pretty good and we’ll challenge them to see how they react in those moments to make sure we got the right guys.”
For Meinhold, the challenge will be to try and evaluate the best arms, while simultaneously preparing each of the pitchers to be ready to throw when Sept. 1 rolls around.
“I’ve just got to make sure we’re in a good spot with them,” Meinhold said. “We’ve got to get ready for the tournament, so I can’t go crazy with them and cook them too hard (during trials).”
The players will workout at the University of Minnesota, which should help players get used to the cold weather they can expect from Thunder Bay in September. The Twins will host the players for a game at Target Field on their first day, before the 40 players will split into two teams of 20, get to know the other players if they haven’t already, learn about the coaches and the system that will be implemented, and most importantly show why they should make the final team.
“Congratulations,” Blood said to the 40 players invited. “We need you to come to Minnesota 100 percent and ready to make this team. That is very, very important.”
William Banfield V
Winter Park, Fla./Winter Park
Pembroke Pines, Fla./American Heritage
Oviedo, Fla./Trinity Prep
Coto De Caza, Calif./Santa Margarita
Adrian Del Castillo
Merritt Island, Fla./Merritt Island
Covina, Calif./South Hills
Brooksville, Fla./Nature Coast Technical
Glendale, Ariz./Sandra Day O’Conner
Knoxville, Tenn./Knoxville Christian
Cumming, Ga./Forsyth Central
Mobile, Ala./St. Lukes Episcopal
Waukesha, Wis./Waukesha West
Peoria, Ariz./Mountain Ridge
Anthony McNair Seigler
Richmond, Texas/George Ranch
La Mirada, Calif./St. John Bosco
Watkinsville, Ga./North Oconee
Tampa, Fla./H.B. Plant
Dacula, Ga./Mill Creek
Glenside, Pa./William Penn Charter
Chicago/Chicago Mount Carmel
Wellesley, Mass./Boston College
Henderson, Nev./Bishop Gorman
Bobby Witt Jr.
Colleyville, Texas/Colleyville Heritage
Queen Creek, Ariz./Basha