Triston Casas (Photo courtesy of USA Baseball)
There are just two days left for the 40 players invited to Team USA’s 18U National Team Trials in Minneapolis to stand out.
Just two more practices, and two more games, to try and become one of the 20 members of the U.S. National Team that will head north to Thunder Bay, Canada, to try and win the 2017 U-18 World Cup, after taking home the gold medal in the COPABE Pan American Championship in Mexico last year.
The final 20-man roster will be announced live on MLB.com after Thursday’s final trials game, which will take place at Target Field and will also be broadcast live on MLB.com, starting at 7 p.m. ET.
“It's been very competitive, high-intensity,” said Matt Blood, the 18U National Team director. “The players have worked really hard and taken it very seriously. All the guys here, they want to make the team. Unfortunately they won't because it's a numbers game. This is a very talented and deep group of players. And we just have to continue to see them play and see which ones fit the different roles that we're looking for.”
The group invited to the 2017 trials is a deeper and more balanced group than 2016 was, and while that should make for a more talented team in the end, it makes the selection process more difficult for Blood and the coaching staff, headed by manager Andy Stankiewicz (head coach at Grand Canyon). That’s particularly true when it comes to settling on an eight-man rotation.
“Pitching is definitely a strength of this group,” Blood said. “But the thing that's staggering about it is the depth of pitching. We have a lot of options; of hard-throwers, of strike-throwers, of guys with stuff and makeup. And ultimately we can only take so many, because we need guys to play in the field as well.
“So it's going to happen where a handful of guys that probably would have made a team in the past or deserve to be on the team, they're not going to make it.”
The trials have seen a number of talented arms throw well, including lefthanders J.P. Gates (Nature Coast Technical, Brooksville, Fla.) and Joseph Menefee (George Ranch High, Richmond, Texas); and righthander Brandon Dieter (South Hills High, West Covina, Calif.)—all of whom have racked up six strikeouts and have yet to allow an earned run during their first looks on the mound.
Three righthanders also have impressed—Slade Cecconi (Trinity Prep High, Winter Park, Fla.); Lenny Torres (Beacon, N.Y., High); and Jack Perkins (Kokomo, Ind., High). Cecconi struck out four batters and surrendered only one hit in three innings, Torres did the same while showing a sharp breaking ball, and Perkins threw three no-hit innings with four strikeouts.
Still, the final decision on the pitching staff will involve more than looking to see who has the best statistics over one or two appearances on the mound. The coaching staff has an excellent history on all of the players involved, and righthanders such as Ethan Hankins (Forsyth Central High, Cumming, Ga.) and Landon Marceaux (Destrehan, La., High) should still be considered favorites to land a spot despite not having the most impressive numbers in an extremely small sample.
Offensively, several players have had a loud first three days, including infielder Nolan Gorman (O’Connor High, Phoenix)—who has gone 5-for-7 with 11 total bases and two home runs in just two games—and infielder Carter Young (Selah, Wash., High), who’s 5-for-14 with a pair of doubles and five runs scored. Young, fittingly, is the youngest player at Trials, and a member of the 2019 draft class.
Triston Casas (American Heritage High, Plantation, Fla.) has impressed at corner infield while Alek Thomas (Mount Carmel High, Chicago) and Mike Siani (Penn Charter High, Philadelphia) have showcased their abilities in the batter’s box and with impressive defensive play, offering a glimpse of how impressive Team USA’s outfield defense could be.
“I'm pleased with the way those guys are playing,” Blood said, “but I'm not surprised by the way that they're playing. They're all elite-level players, with elite-level ability. It's just nice that they're playing well and I expect as we continue during the training process for everybody to keep improving, and hopefully we'll hit on all cylinders as we move into the tournament.”