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High School Notebook
Edited by Alan Mathews
East Cobb caps strong year with WWBA Fall title
JUPITER, Fla.—East Cobb’s Dexter Fowler crossed the plate with the Astros’ fourth run in the title game and barely had the energy to exchange high-fives with his teammates.
It was the 18th of 21 innings the senior outfielder from Milton High in Alpharetta, Ga., would play that day; the final of eight games the club played in the span of just over 72 hours. Nonetheless, the East Cobb (Ga.) Astros outlasted the Dallas Tigers 5-2 to win the sixth Perfect Game/Baseball America World Wood Bat Association Fall Championship.
“We’re very tired. And crippled,” Fowler said. “Guys’ arms are hurting, everyone’s tired but we battled it out.”
The two teams qualified from pool play as the eighth seeds in the two eight-team brackets. The Tigers advanced after going 2-1-1 in pool play, and the Astros moved on after barely qualifying as the lone wild-card team after posting a 3-0-1 pool record.
East Cobb proved to be the deeper team. They used four pitchers who had slightly better stuff than their counterparts while also banging out 10 hits in the title game. The victory was a fitting finish to a successful year for the program. The Astros consisted of the same nucleus of players that won the AAU 16-year-old national title in July and the Continental Amateur Baseball Association World Series less than two weeks later.
The Astros overcame an early 1-0 deficit by plating three runs in the second inning on an RBI double by Brad Feltes (Chattahoochee High, Alpharetta, Ga.) and two-out run-scoring singles by Fowler and his Milton High teammate Eddie Prasch.
Junior righthander Tyler Musselwhite (Gainesville, Ga., High) was the winning pitcher for the Astros. In his second appearance of the tournament, Musselwhite touched 89 mph, striking out two and allowing one run in three-plus innings.
“I think it takes a lot of pitchers to play this type of tournament,” East Cobb coach Guerry Baldwin said. “We were pretty fortunate that we had some kids that hadn’t pitched since the first day.”
Astros shortstop Taylor Harbin (Traveler’s Rest, S.C., High) drove in Fowler in the fourth to push the lead to 4-2 and pick up his seventh RBI of the tournament. Harbin, a Clemson signee and the all-time South Carolina career high school home run leader, went 9-for-20 and was named the tournament MVP. His role was amplified when East Cobb’s regular shortstop, Chris Nelson (Redan High, Stone Mountain, Ga.) had Tommy John surgery in September.
“Taylor is just a great player,” Baldwin said. “He had some big shoes to fill ‘cause he took Chris Nelson’s place. But he did it well.”
The title tilt was the last of 165 games played in an event that included 75 teams and more than 1,500 high school sophomores, juniors and seniors from 43 states, plus Canada, Curacao, the Dominican Republic and Puerto Rico. Some 500 scouts and college recruiters were in attendance.
The final outcome might have been different if the Tigers had their ace righthander available. Yovani Gallardo, a 6-foot-2, 180-pound senior from Trimble Tech in Fort Worth, was named the tournament’s co-outstanding pitcher. Gallardo earned two wins in the four-day event, allowing one run off five hits with 11 strikeouts in 12 innings. He blanked Louisiana All-Star Baseball 4-0 in a quarter-final game.
Houston Heat righthander Sean Morgan (Clements High, Sugar Land, Texas) shared the honor with Gallardo. A 6-foot-1, 185-pound senior who has committed to Tulane, Morgan went 2-0, 0.00 with 17 punchouts in 12 innings. In a battle of 5-0 teams in the quarterfinals, Morgan blanked Team Florida USA 4-0 on two hits, striking out 10.
The top teams from each of the 15 five-team pools advanced to the round of 16, along with one wild-card team—the Astros.
East Cobb immediately dispatched the South Carolina Diamond Devils, the lower bracket’s No. 1 seed, 4-0 in the first round of the playoffs on a three-hitter by junior righthander Buster Posey (Lee County High, Leesburg, Ga.). Posey, clocked at 93 mph, struck out nine. Dallas beat the Wisconsin Blazers, the upper bracket’s No. 1 seed, in the first of two tie-breaker games the Tigers won in the playoffs.
Team BA Fails To Defend
Charlotte’s On-Deck O’s advanced out of a pool that included a team sponsored by Baseball America. Assembled with players from across the U.S. and the Dominican Republic, BA struggled to find an identity.
“We’re really all very disappointed,” righthander Josh Copeland said. “It’s pretty tough when you show up and you’re just getting to know each other and you have to play against (nationally competitive) teams.”
Head coach Johnny Rodriguez, who led BA to the 2002 championship, concurred.
“I think the guys were really feeling the pressure of playing with ‘Baseball America’ across their chests,” said Rodriguez, a coach in the Marlins system. “I knew early on that we weren’t going to score a bunch of runs. It wasn’t like last year with (Lastings) Milledge and (Ryan) Sweeney and all those guys where we were going to dominate.”
Copeland nonetheless boosted his stock with a pair of impressive showings on the mound. A 6-foot-2, 200-pound senior from Northgate High in Palmetto, Ga., Copeland touched 93 mph and flashed a plus breaking ball with sharp, late bite.
“I really just go out and try and locate my fastball and curve, and I love throwing changeups to lefthanded hitters,” he said. “(My changeup) really has some good movement away and it worked well for me here.”
Talented Catching Crop
Copeland emerged as one of a handful of talented righthanded pitchers at the event, the deepest position of prospects in the Class of 2004. The crop of catchers gathered in Jupiter showed promise and depth, as well, with two backstops emerging from relative obscurity.
At 6-foot-1, 190-pounds, Ulrich Snyder, a 17-year-old from Curacao, drew attention with good catch-and-throw skills. He has a two-part swing but has enrolled at Trinity Christian Academy in Boynton Beach, Fla., in hopes of refining his tools.
Matt Wieters (Stratford High, Goose Creek, S.C.), a 6-foot-4, 200-pounder for the South Carolina Diamond Devils, has enormous potential. With good catch-and-throw skills and a quick, short stroke at the plate, Perfect Game’s Jerry Ford is convinced Wieters, a Georgia Tech recruit, will be a high-round draft choice in June. “He’s the best high school catcher since Joe Mauer,” Ford said. “This guy moved around behind the plate with cat-like quickness after he threw a complete game, clocked at 88 to 91, the same day. He hit bullets all over the field.”
Contributing: Allan Simpson.
WWBA Fall championship top 10 prospects
The top 10 2004 high school draft prospects at the 2003 WWBA Fall Championship, as judged by BA assistant editor Alan Matthews in conjunction with scouts in Jupiter, Fla.
1. Nick Adenhart, rhp, Willamsport (Md.) HS Another event, another good showing for ’04 top prospect.
2. Giovanny Gonzalez, lhp, Hialeah (Fla.) HS Polished stuff with plus aptitude, Gonzalez boosted his stock.
3. Eric Hurley, rhp, Wolfson HS, Jacksonville Mechanics need work but pitches aggressively with plus stuff.
4. Josh Copeland, rhp/1b, Northgate HS, Palmetto, Ga. Made biggest jump in the class with 93 mph fastball.
5. Greg Golson, of, John Connally HS, Austin Struggled at the plate but boasts the top tools in the class.
6. Billy Butler, 1b, Wolfson HS, Jacksonville “Best hitter in the class” tag placed on stocky Butler.
7. Erik Davis, rhp, Mountainview (Calif.) HS Features explosive fastball from three-quarters arm slot.
8. Matt Wieters, c/rhp, Stratford HS, Goose Creek, S.C. With a great frame, Wieters emerged with good showing.
9. Michael Taylor, of, Apopka (Fla.) HS Like Golson, Taylor’s tools are great but he performed poorly.
10. Mike Rozier, lhp, Henry County HS, Stockbridge, Ga. Projectable lefty with refined repertoire and feel for pitching.