Juniors Go For Gold In Cuba
ATLANTA--USA Baseball has triumphed--singularly so, among American
sports organizations--in its pursuit to keep winning associated with
the stars and stripes during an amazing summer.
In August, both
the youth and college national teams captured a god medal in their
annual international competitions. Then a blue collar bunch of minor
leaguers marched to Cuba and left with a third gold medal as well as an
invitation to the 2008 Olympics.
All of which makes the
upcoming World Junior Championship in Sancti Spiritus, Cuba, slightly
more significant that it might be most other years.
national team, which features players 18 and under, is the fourth and
final of USA Baseball's teams to compete this year, and as the club
completed its trials Thursday night, the 18 players who made the final
cut turned their focus to their role as the anchor of Team USA's
"Bringing home the gold from the youth
team and the college team and the pros, it's unbelievable," said
infielder Mike Moustakas (Chatworth, Calif., HS), the team's best
hitter entering the event. "I just hope we finish the job."
1997, the first year USA Baseball fielded a 16-and-under team that
participated in an international event, the organization has never
swept all four tournaments in one year. Should the junior team win gold
at the World Junior Championship, it would complete the trick.
the team doesn't have history on its side. Since winning gold in 1995,
the last time the U.S. hosted the 18-and-under event, it's won its
annual event only once, in 1999. But its difficulty capturing gold
hasn't been due to a lack of talent. The list of prospects who have
worn the country's colors at the junior level is long and
distinguished. And Jeff Francoeur, Joe Mauer, Scott Kazmir and Delmon
Young are just a few of the stars who walked away wearing a medal made
of something other than gold.
Talent is once again in
abundance among this year's high school class. Choosing the initial
32-man trials roster meant leaving off some very good players, and when
coach Jason Hisey (Pima, Ariz., CC) and his staff had a week to trim 32
to 18, the cuts included two lefties with electric stuff in Utah's
Tanner Robles and Georgia's Josh Smoker, as well as one of the most
powerful amateur hitters in the country in Miami prep catcher Danny
The team that is headed to Cuba, which includes 17 seniors
and one college freshman, is representative of the class' balance and
Righthanders Blake Beavan (Irving, Texas), Matt Harvey
(Fitch, Conn.) and Neil Ramirez (Virginia Beach) are expected to start
Team USA's first three games, with Beavan slated to start the
tournament opener Monday against Taiwan. That leaves five righties--Tim
Alderson (Phoenix), Michael Main (Deltona, Fla.) Jarrod Parker
(Bluffton, Ind.), Greg Peavey (Vancouver, Wash.) and Kevin Rhoderick
(Scottsdale, Ariz.)--all of whom throw 90 mph or harder, available as
relievers. Alderson, who has the staff's best command and an extremely
deceptive delivery, likely will fill the team's closer role.
that group of pitchers, Team USA might not need much offense, but
Moustakas and his Chatsworth teammate, third baseman Matt Dominguez,
are two of the team's major offensive threats.
"We'll be playing
in bigger parks than we're accustomed to where the air is heavy and the
grass is thick," Hisey said. "We tried to pick the guys who understood
that 350-foot flyballs are outs in this tournament. We have lots of
versatility, and I think we've got the right group of guys to
accomplish our goal."
The junior national team competes in two
international events in bi-annual cycles--the COPABE Pan-Am
Championship, which serves as a qualifying event for the bi-annual
International Baseball Federation World Junior Championship, this
year's event. The junior team in 2005, which featured two
first-rounders (Clayton Kershaw, Max Sapp), finished second in the Pan
Am Championship in Mexico. Cuba beat Team USA 2-1 to claim the gold