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USA Junior National Team Set
Wrapping Up the Tournament of Stars
By Alan Matthews
USA Baseball wrapped up its ninth annual Tournament of Stars, a comprehensive eight-team event in Joplin, Mo., in late June that serves as a national all-star competition, showcase and Junior National Team trials.
Thirty players from the 18-and-under age category were selected to remain in Joplin to compete for a spot on the final 18-man roster that will travel to Taiwan to participate in the International Baseball Federation AAA World Junior Championship Sept. 3-12. The U.S. finished third when the same tournament was last played in Quebec in 2002.
All-star teams from the American Amateur Baseball Congress (AABC) and Reviving Baseball in Inner-Cities (RBI) advanced to the Tournament of Stars championship game from a pool of eight clubs, seven of which were fielded by nationally-sanctioned youth organizations. AABC defeated RBI 5-4 to take the title.
Jordan Pacheco, a New Mexico high school product who will begin his college career at New Mexico this fall, singled home Brandon Laird (La Quinta High, Westminster, Calif.) in the eighth inning to cap the scoring. Righthander/infielder Zach Putnam of Pioneer High in Ann Arbor, Mich., ripped an RBI triple in the seventh inning to bring AABC back from a late-inning deficit. He was also the winning pitcher and arguably one of the top arms at the event.
Shortstop Justin Upton of Great Bridge High in Chesapeake, Va., and outfielders Andrew McCutcheon of Fort Meade (Fla.) High and Kyle Russell of Tomball (Texas) High were three of the top players from the Class of 2005 at the event who made the initial Team USA cut.
Upton went 3-for-4 with a run and an RBI in the losing effort. He batted .368 with two doubles, two triples and a home run in 19 at-bats during the tournament. He also made four errors in five games at shortstop.
He is the favorite to start at short once the junior squad is finalized. Pacheco and Putnam, however, declined invitations to remain in Joplin for a chance to make the final team due to conflicts.
The timing of this year's World Junior Championship made picking the Junior National Team difficult. Most of the rising seniors and college-bound players would be faced with missing as many as 10 days of school.
Furthermore, standouts such as Justin Bristow of Mills Godwin High in Richmond, Va., and Aaron Luna of Southlake High in Carroll, Texas, play high school football, and elected to decline invitations, as well. Bristow batted .313 with five walks and Luna hit .471 (8-for-17) during the tournament. Both players were key components of the 2003 Youth National Team that won a gold medal in the IBAF World Youth Championship in Taiwan last summer.
"Unfortunately, our selections aren't cut and dry," Team USA junior national team general manager Ray Darwin said. "On top of conflicts with scheduling, a huge factor for us, outside of winning and losing games, is finding people who want to be a part of USA Baseball's mission to develop players the right way.
"These players have so many opportunities to play for themselves at showcases or other events during the year. What we're trying to sell is to play for something bigger than themselves; playing for the team, and for their country."
Lefthander/first baseman Ike Davis (Chaparral High, Scottsdale, Ariz.) and righthander/outfielder Sean O'Sullivan (Valhalla High, El Cajon, Calif.) are veterans of the USA Baseball program and also playing on the youth team last summer. They accepted invitations as two of the 30 players competing for a spot on the final roster.
Davis and O'Sullivan should play integral roles as valuable two-way players. O'Sullivan spun five scoreless innings with six strikeouts during the Tournament of Stars. Davis, son of former major leaguer Ron Davis tossed six shutout innings in two appearances during the event.