Rob Cooper, recently hired at Penn State after nine years and seven consecutive 30-plus-win seasons at Wright State, has served as an assistant coach of USA Baseball Collegiate National Teams twice before, in 2007 and 2009. In June, he said managing a USA Baseball national team was a career goal, and he’ll take the field in that capacity for the first time this week.
USA Baseball announced its provisional 40-man roster for the 18U National Team on June 23 following the Tournament of Stars in Cary, N.C., and Friday these 40 players will convene in Los Angeles for trials that will trim the roster to 20 players. With Cooper as manager, the final roster will travel to Taichung, Taiwan, in late August to compete in the International Baseball Federation’s 18U World Cup.
Pitching is the strength of the 2014 high school class and the 18U Team is replete with good arms. Tyler Kolek, a 6-foot-6, 250-pound righthander, has been up to the high-90s with his fastball. Righthanders Keith Weisenberg, Sean Reid-Foley and lefthander Justus Sheffield have fastballs that have touched 94 mph or better.
Lefthander Brady Aiken, who has been up to 93 mph with a good curveball, and third baseman Jack Flaherty, a North Carolina commit, were initially invited to the Under Armour All-America Game in Chicago on Aug. 24, but bypassed the opportunity to compete for a spot on the National team.
Last year the 18U team, led by Giants first-round pick Christian Arroyo and Pirates first-rounder Reese McGuire, among others, won the World Championship for the first time since 1999. This year’s edition will have practice Friday, followed by five straight days of games that will be played in four large venues; Long Beach State’s Blair Field, Goodwin Field at Cal State Fullerton, Dodger Stadium and the University of San Diego’s Fowler Park.
Before the team travels to Taiwan to begin exhibition play on Aug. 26 against Chinese Taipei, the roster will be trimmed to 20. Positional versatility and two-way players have tremendous value with the smaller roster limits.
Five straight days of pool play begin on Aug. 30 against Colombia, Korea, Italy, Australia and Cuba. The medal games will be played on Sept. 8.
The only holdover from last year’s team is Bryson Brigman, an infielder from Valley Christian High in San Jose. Lefthander Carson Sands from North Florida Christian in Tallahassee, Fla., was a member of the 2012 team and was named an alternate this year.
Two players on the initial roster are not members of the 2014 class. Joe DeMers, a 6-foot-2, 230-pound righthander who has been up to the low-90s, is the only member of the 2015 class to make the initial roster. Chris Viall, who graduated in 2013 and was drafted in the 39th round by the Giants, is young for his class and will not turn 18 until late in September. The 6-foot-9, 230-pound Viall, who is committed to Stanford, has been up to 93 mph.
The coaching staff is rounded out by assistant coaches Mike Maack, Eric Munson and Kevin Wilson. Maack, who coaches at Prestonwood Christian Academy (Texas) and coached collegiately for 27 years, will serve as the pitching coach. Munson, who played in the majors in parts of nine seasons, was a two-time member of the Collegiate National Team in 1997 and 1998 before becoming the third pick of the 1999 draft. Wilson played professionally for six seasons and now runs Kevin Wilson Baseball, a developmental program in Philadelphia.
The 18U trials roster is here.