Athleticism of Doolittle, Weeks sets Team USA's right side apart
In April, when Virginia traveled to Coral Gables, Fla., to face Miami, the game plan for Cavaliers pitchers was simple: keep Jemile Weeks off the bases. Miami's second baseman had become a focal point in the Atlantic Coast Conference during his freshman season, his legs feared by opposing coaches.
Despite one at-bat lasting more than 10 pitches, Virginia two-way star Sean Doolittle laughs about his success against Weeks, who he retired in all three plate appearances.
"He said I caught him at a bad time of the year," Doolittle said. "I may have, the way he's swinging now. I think I may have gotten lucky."
The two players are now teammates on Team USA, encompassing the right side of the national team's infield. That's just fine with Weeks, who not only no longer has to worry about facing Doolittle at the plate, but also has the opportunity to toss it to the Cavalier in the field.
"He can really pick it at first base," Weeks said. "We both have good range, so I think it's going to be tough for some hits to get through the right side of that infield."
Comments on Doolittle's defense are echoed by many of those around the team, including scouts and coaches. Scouts have compared Doolittle to J.T. Snow because of his defensive prowess, and USA manager Tim Corbin offers even higher praise.
"He's as good a defensive first baseman as I've seen at this level," Corbin said. "He's so reliable and very consistent."
In addition to his defense, Doolittle has the bat and experience to become a team leader.
"I'm not very outspoken, but I'm trying to lead by example and go about my business the right way," Doolittle said. "I feel like, whether I had a hand in it or not, the team's come together really well. We do what we can to pick each other up."
As much of the Team USA roster made a slow transition to the wood bats and Taiwan's style of pitching in their opening seven-game series, Weeks and Doolittle were quick to pick their teammates up, ranking 1-2 on the team in hitting through the first five games.
Doolittle's strong start comes as a small surprise, as the first baseman was among the team leaders a year ago. Weeks, however, is a more unlikely success story. The diminutive second baseman was among the last to be named on the trial roster.
"Jemile jumped in," national team general manager Eric Campbell said. "He deserves a lot of respect because the call was made on Thursday and he was here on Saturday. That says a lot right there."
For Weeks, whose brother Rickie spent two summers (2001 and 2002) on the team, there was little thinking behind his decision to try out.
"Right when I heard, there was no question about it. I told them I would come out here," Weeks said. "I did everything I could at the tryouts to make the team."
Apparently, Weeks was still riding his hot postseason bat, when he had blossomed as a hitter. In 12 postseason games, including the ACC tournament, the second baseman hit .460/.550/.760. His offensive prowess impressed the Team USA coaching staff.
"He showed he can do a lot of different things," Corbin said. "He's got great hands with the bat. He can bunt, he can hit, he can hit for some power and he can run. He's a game changer."
Weeks really turned heads with a pair of early summer home runs. After hitting a home run from the right side during trials, Weeks hit a home run from the left side against Taiwan in Myrtle Beach, a noted pitcher's park. The conversion to wood bats has not been a problem for the Hurricane.
"I feel like it's the same thing, you just need a better mentality of what you have to do," Weeks said. "You have to know what you're doing more with the wood than the aluminum, because mistakes are amplified."
Doolittle discovered such a truth first hand, as some early struggles against Taiwan led to extra work with the coaching staff. Campbell said it was a matter of not centering the ball.
"He's fouled off some good pitches to hit that he knows he can hit," Campbell said. "I'm excited because I know as we go through this summer those balls are going to be hit hard."
Despite an up and down beginning, Doolittle's confidence has never wavered. In fact, he believes as strongly as ever that his decision to take a summer away from pitching was the right decision.
"I think this is good because I can just play first base and not worry about pitching. I can just think about one thing," Doolittle said.
And, of course, Doolittle presumes that he's in a better position now, rooting for Weeks to wreak havoc on the bases, rather than trying to keep him off them.
--BRYAN SMITH2007 Draft Class Looks Good
MARIETTA, Ga.--After the rising senior high school class showed the potential to emerge as one of the best of the decade in two wide-scale events held in the Midwest in June, many of the class' top prospects gathered in suburban Atlanta for the World Wood Bat Association summer championships.
"I think once you sit down and digest all that we've seen so far, this group has some really good players," said a scout with an American League organization. "It does have talent at the top, and there are a lot of players here who aren't in the top tier yet, but have a chance to be very good players."
The 17-and-under tournament in Marietta began on the eve of the Fourth of July and offered fireworks right away. Radar guns were lighting up when Austin Bailey and Kevin Eichhorn met, with both pitchers running their fastballs into the low 90s. Bailey, of Prattville (Ala.) High, got the better of the younger Eichhorn, as his East Cobb (Ga.) Braves beat Eichhorn and the California-based NorCal Blast 2-0. Bailey's fastball touched 93 mph and he complemented it with a hard-biting 75-78 mph breaking ball.
Bailey looks like a baby next to fellow Alabaman Brandon Hamilton of Stanhope Elmore High, a ripped 6-foot-3, 195-pound rising senior righthander from Millbrook, Ala. Hamilton also pumped in fastballs between 91-93 mph, drawing comparisons to Blue Jays righthander A.J. Burnett for his frame, arm speed and delivery.
Eichhorn, a rising junior righthander from Aptos (Calif.) High and the son of former major leaguer Mark Eichhorn, bumped 90 mph and showed an advanced feel for pitching.
Following five days of pool play, the 110-team field was whittled to 40, with the top two seeds from each of 18 pools, along with four at-large clubs earning bids to the single-elimination bracket.
The Blast, which carried just 11 players--nine rising juniors and two players from the Class of 2009--got another chance at the East Cobb Braves during the playoffs, and beat them 4-3 during one of the event's most memorable sessions. NorCal's roster had more than a half-dozen rising seniors who profile as Division I prospects, led by third baseman Nicholas Hom of De La Salle High (Concord, Calif.), and righthander Kyle Blair (Los Gatos, Calif., High). Blair's fastball was up to 93 mph, he adds and subtracts from it, and his loose, three-quarters arm action could land him among the top high school draft picks next June.
"One of the most impressive parts about this high school draft class is that so many of these arms aren't just big throwers with velocity. These guys can pitch a little bit, too," said another scout. "Right now, I don't think you'd be incorrect to say there could be more high school pitching in the first round next year than college guys."
Righthander Matt Harvey may have climbed to the top of the list with an outstanding performance during the 18-and-under event. A throng of scouts and coaches gathered to observe Harvey's smooth, balanced delivery and plus-plus stuff. The 6-foot-4, 190-pound rising senior from Mystic High in Groton, Conn., touched 96 mph and pitched between 91-93. Harvey's 75-76 mph curveball has true, hard 12-6 action and he commands both it and his fastball well.
--ALAN MATTHEWSSUMMER SNAPSHOTS
• Righthander Ryan Weber was one of 36 players chosen to participate in this year's USA Baseball youth national team trials (16-under). USA Baseball selects its trials roster from two 72-team tournaments, which were held in Phoenix (the Junior Olympics West) and Jupiter, Fla. (JO East). Of the 36 players that received invitations, 25 were members of the high school Class of 2008, with the other nine representing the Class of 2009. There were 18 players chosen from each JO site. This year's preliminary crop of talent is deeper in players in the mold of Weber, who throws in the low- to mid-80s but carves up hitters with an advanced feel for pitching.
"We really don't have . . . that real fireballer, but we just have a lot of really good pitchers," said USA Baseball's Jeff Singer, who oversees the selection of the youth national team. "We like the pitching across the board."
Following the weeklong trials, which will be held in Fort Lauderdale July 21-28, a final cut will be made of 18 players chosen to compete in the COPABE AA Youth Pan-Am Championship in Barquisimeto, Venezuela, in August. Those 18 players will participate in additional week of workouts and games in Fort Lauderdale before departing for South America on Aug. 3. This year's event serves as a qualifier for the 2007 World Youth Championship, which will also be held in Venezuela. The top three countries and Venezuela qualify for next year's competition.
• Georgia Tech two-way star Matt Wieters turned down an opportunity to try out for Team USA after a star turn following his freshman season. Wieters, a highly rated prospect for the 2007 draft, opted to catch for the Orleans Cardinals. In his first 50 at-bats, Wieters was leading the Cape Cod League in hitting with a .380 batting average.
• Freshman All-American Warren McFadden has had to trade his aluminum bat for a wood one this summer in the Cape Cod League, but the Tulane outfielder still finds the environment more friendly. After spending the season playing in the spacious Triple-A New Orleans Zephyrs stadium and hitting one home run, McFadden has been trading in his high doubles totals (24 this spring) for home runs. With six homers in his first 22 games, McFadden handily was leading the league.
• Controversy saw one player ejected and two runs removed from the scoreboard in the Northwoods League, as the Eau Claire Express' Casey Garms was found to be using a bat with an excessive amount of pine tar. The rising senior outfielder was not suspended, as the league later decided the call was wrong. Garms, an outfielder at Division III Wisconsin-Parkside, was hitting .246 in 36 games.
• Despite his small stature, Adam Ching's bat proved big enough to win the MVP of the Texas Collegiate League all-star game. The Pacific second baseman, a rising junior, had a two-run double and a stolen base to lead the Tris Speaker Division to their first all-star victory. Ching, listed at just 5-foot-7, 155, had four home runs in the league's first half, second in the league.
• Chris Wietlispach is 3,342 miles from Yale, but it appears the righthander feels right at home thus far in the Alaska Baseball League. The rising Bulldogs junior has been fantastic against wood bats, allowing just one earned run and nine hits in his first 25 innings. After tying for Yale's lead in victories during the spring, Wietlispach was 3-0, 0.36 for the Mat-Su Miners this summer.
• New Mexico had one of college baseball's most potent offenses this season, averaging 8.6 runs a contest thanks in part to playing at high altitude. This summer, however, a few of the Lobos' most dangerous hitters are proving they don't need atmospheric conditions to hit. First baseman Dan Stovall was among the league leaders in hitting at the Jayhawk League, hitting .407-5-30 in his first 32 games. Infielder Jordan Pacheco has had success in the Cape Cod League, with six extra-base hits and 12 walks in his first 22 games.
• An RBI single by first baseman Tyler Brown (Mercer) tied the Valley League all-star game at 2-2 in the bottom of the ninth inning, and because both the Northern and Southern division teams had followed the rule requiring they play all position players and the sides were running low on pitching, the event ended in a tie. The North used 13 pitchers in the game, while the South used 11. First baseman Michael Tollison (Florence-Darlington, S.C., Tech), who leads the league with seven home runs, 25 runs and 22 RBIs and ranks second with a .400 average, won the home run derby at the all-star game.Contributing: Alan Matthews, Will Kimmey