Young Guns

Underclassmen win World Wood Bat title

JUPITER, Fla.—The showcase circuit's biggest event is officially known as the World Wood Bat Association World Championship.

Everyone just calls it "Jupiter," because the event sprawls across the 13 fields at the spring-training home of the Cardinals and Marlins, with some games played at Roger Dean Stadium and most at the 12 surrounding fields of the complex. It takes five days and 60 hours of games, but the sheer volume of talent on the 85 teams always draws plenty of scouts, agents, college recruiters and even media.

The event is a well-oiled machine and a good opportunity for colleges and major league organizations to see many of the top players in the country. That's why teams typically have 10 or more scouts on hand for the event, and if you don't show up early for a prime pitching matchup, it can be difficult to even see the field through the mobs of scouts, coaches and their respective golf carts.

The most highly anticipated teams coming into the event were those loaded with top players for the 2010 draft, but the 2011 class stood out nearly as much and a team of underclassmen ended up winning the tournament.

The Texas Scout Team Yankees, the favorites coming in, were without top righthander Jameson Taillon—he wasn't hurt but wanted to rest after leading Team USA's 18-and-under team to a gold medal in the Pan American tournament in Venezuela earlier in the month. Texas Scout Team Yankees still had plenty of talent in outfielder Josh Sale from Bishop Blanchet High in Seattle, Dominican outfielder Wagner Mateo and first baseman Austin Southall from University High in Baton Rouge, La. The team went 3-1, but missed making it into the playoffs.

East Cobb Baseball was also loaded with talent, including four players in Baseball America's 2010 high school Top 25—righthander/third basemen Stetson Allie from St. Edward HS in Cleveland and Kaleb Cowart from Lakeview Academy in Adel, Ga., outfielder Chevez Clarke from Marietta (Ga.) High, and righthander Karsten Whitson from Chipley (Fla.) High. East Cobb also went 3-1. Its only loss came to the Louisiana All-Stars, and ended up being the tiebreaker that sent Louisiana to the playoff bracket.

Royals Baseball Club had perhaps the most impressive collection of talent, but the parts far outweighed the sum over the weekend, as the team went 1-3 in pool play and was outscored 17-3.

The winner this year was the Braves Scout Team, who defeated the Orange County Boxers, 7-1. It was a win-win situation for Southern California's ABD Academy, as both teams were mainly composed of players from the prestigious program. The Braves Scout team won another WWBA championship in 2007, and the ABD Bulldogs won in 2008.

"It was kind of a weird one, actually," Braves Scout Team head coach and ABD Academy director Mike Spiers said. "You come in here with expectations. Everybody knows our ABD Bulldogs is one of the top teams in the country coming in, (so) not getting into the championship round . . . can easily happen with this format, because there's so many quality teams coming in to begin with. But before the tournament I was telling these guys and our OC Boxers team that it wouldn't surprise me if either of these teams win the tournament, because of our quality players."

Underclassmen Win It All

The Braves Scout Team featured all underclassmen, including 6-foot-5 lefthander Henry Owens from Edison High in Huntington Beach, Calif., who was named the tournament's most valuable pitcher, and outfielder/lefthander Daniel Camarena from Cathedral Catholic in Bonita, Calif., the tournament's most valuable player.

"We've got a good nucleus and the majority of the top young Southern California players have played in our program," Spiers said. "It's kind of a validation stamp that we don't just have the Bulldogs, but that some of the other teams in our program are just as good."

Spiers said that the Braves Scout Team was put together with the help of former Braves scouting director Roy Clark (now an assistant GM with the Nationals) and former Braves west coast crosschecker Tom Battista. Spiers said Southern California's 2011 high school class will be very strong.

"This group here is probably the best we've ever had in our program," Spiers said of the 2011 group. "This team here is without two of our better players, Christian Lopes and Travis Harrison, so this is a testament as far as this group, without two premier players, still is able to play and do well in the tournament."

Owens pitched in three games during the tournament for a total of nine scoreless innings. He allowed four hits and struck out 13.

"It's been a long weekend, you know a lot of games," Owens said. "Coming out here with a lot of juniors and a couple sophomores, a lot of people didn't expect us to do anything, but we weren't intimidated by the seniors and came out here and did the job."

Camarena went 2-0, 0.00 with 13 strikeouts over 12 innings. He also played outfield and had a few hits during the tournament.

"It's amazing, coming all the way out from California, being the youngest team, coming out on top. It's awesome," Camarena said. "This is the top tournament I've been to. It's a good experience, with all the scouts around, the golf carts."

Showcasing For No One

Aside from the tournament, the weekend also featured a new program called the Bo Jackson Five-Tool Championship. Several top players were selected to participate in the event, held in Roger Dean Stadium.

The players each ran a 60-yard dash, threw balls to home plate from the outfield, fielded balls either in center field or at shortstop, and took two rounds of batting practice to showcase their hitting and power ability. The players were judged and received points for each event, with an overall winner crowned at the end of the night.

While the event has promise, the first edition of it proved clunky, as it lasted four hours due in part to setup time between events. By the end, there were fewer than 20 people left in the stands, and some of the players had less than nine hours to turn around play a game the next morning. Also, the players used metal bats during BP, which was ironic considering it's the World Wood Bat event.

Mateo, a Dominican who signed a $3.15 million deal with the Cardinals that the club later voided contending he has vision problems, won the event, followed by Clarke and Cowart. The 16-year-old free agent got a very small measure of payback with a long home run that bounced off the Cardinals' offices beyond the right-field wall. The story had grown by the time the event ended, as scouts buzzed that the ball hit off St. Louis scouting director Jeff Luhnow's window.

Those scouts and fans that did stick around for the whole Five-Tool Championship were treated to some impressive performances. Mitchell Shifflett from Cosby High in Midlothian, Va., ran a 6.38-second 60-yard dash, and Clarke wasn't far behind at 6.55. Cowart registered a 100 mph reading from right field and there were some fun moments during the hitting portion. Catcher Eric Arce from North Oconee High in Marietta, Ga. hit some huge, towering home runs during the hitting portion, but tired out and didn't hit any during the home run derby. Outfielder Kevin Jordan from Northside High in Columbus, Ga., won the derby with six home runs.

Big League Crowd

Along with Jackson being in attendance for the inaugural five-tool competition, there was a smattering of other big leaguers who made an appearance. A few had sons in the tournament while others were involved with a participating team.
Ten-time all-star first baseman Steve Garvey was in attendance to watch his son, Ryan, play for the Braves Scout Team. He even offered his thoughts on adjusting to wood bats. "The first obstacle is to simply get accustomed to wood," he said. "Aluminum bats all have thin handles and hollow barrels and produce more exit speed. Wood bats are solid throughout, particularly in the barrel.

"Kids also need to acquire strength in their hands, wrists and forearms. It's critical to do exercises to develop that area. Next, the most important thing is to learn to gradually build momentum in the swing, and then accelerate the bat head just as the bat contacts the ball. Finally, kids have to work at it—play and practice with wood as much as possible."

Two members of a major league coaching staff were spotted a few times. White Sox manager Ozzie Guillen's son, Ozney, was on the Kentucky Baseball Club. Ozzie was behind the backstop chatting with some scouts during an intriguing matchup between righthanders Gabriel Encinas (St. Paul HS, Santa Fe Springs, Calif.) and Luke Jackson (Calvary Christian Academy, Ft. Lauderdale). Detroit pitching coach Rick Knapp caught a few of his son Ricky's games as he was playing for the Orlando Scorpions. Carl Everett Jr.'s father was also among the game crowds and served on the five-tool judges panel as well.

Dante Bichette frequented the fields when FTB Mizuno was playing. His son, Dante Jr., pitched and played third base for them.

John Cangelosi, who played 13 seasons in the majors, was on hand to see the Cangelosi Baseball squad play. He and Chet Lemon—the head coach of Chet Lemon's Juice—also served as judges in the tools event.

Only seven prospects on BA's current 2010 high school Top 25 did not go to Jupiter. BA staffers were able to see almost all of the Top 25 players who were in Jupiter, plus more than 100 others for the 2010 draft class and beyond. Here are a handful of players that stood out:

Robbie Aviles, rhp, Suffern (N.Y.) HS (2010)
With an ideal pitcher's frame, Aviles has a presence on the mound. He stands 6-foot-4, 205 pounds and gets good use out of his long arms. In his first outing he sat 90-91 mph with his fastball while mixing in a good changeup that sat at 82 and a slurvy breaking ball that was 78-80. His changeup was hard and down in the zone. He struggled with his command in the first inning, but settled after a quick meeting with his coach. His command was also better when he pitched later in the week.

Drew Cisco, rhp, Wando HS, Mt. Pleasant, S.C. (2010)
Business as usual. Cisco carved up the All-American Prospects team that included top 25 hitters Yordy Cabrera and Nick Castellanos. The 6-foot-2, 195-pound righthander threw seven scoreless innings, allowed four hits, no walks and struck out eight. He breezed through the first inning of his start, retiring the side in order on 11 pitches, 10 of which were strikes. He spots his 90-92 mph fastball well and adds a 74-76 curve and 80 change. Cisco has obviously been taught well (his grandfather Galen was a big league pitcher and pitching coach), and his pre-release mechanics are of professional quality.

Jacob Felts, c, Orangefield HS, Orange, Texas (2010)
Felts looks the part of a catcher with his 6-foot, 190-pound frame. He has a powerful physique and uses his strength well in games. He has a strong arm as he consistently achieved pop times under 1.9 seconds in between innings. He has strong forearms which contributes to his quick, short stroke at the plate.

Luke Jackson, rhp, Calvary Christian HS, Ft. Lauderdale, Fla. (2010)
Traditional scouts may be turned off by Jackson's baggy uniform and overalllook, but as a pitcher he is legit. Jackson was brilliant in a Friday night game against a talent-laden ABD Bulldogs squad from Southern California. The 6-foot-3, 185-pound Jackson fires an 89-92 mph fastball, which is difficult to pick up and jumps at the hitter as it reaches the strike zone. He adds a hard, downward biting high 70s curve, which is murder on righthanded hitters.

Kevin Jordan, of, Northside HS, Columbus, Ga. (2010)
Even though he didn't place in the top three, Jordan was still one of the most impressive players at the Bo Jackson five-tool event. The 6-foot, 180-pounder reeled off a blazing 6.51 60-yard dash and displayed a powerful lefthanded swing. Fundamentally sound at the plate, Jordan employs a short stride and compact backswing, and does an excellent job of accelerating the bat head at contact. His full extension and picturesque high finish give him additional driving power.

Dashorn Lake, rhp, Charlotte Amalie HS, St. Thomas, Virgin Islands (2011)
Though they were on different teams, Lake pitched in the same game that featured Dylan Covey, so it there was very little room behind the backstop. A 6-foot-2, 170-pound righthander from the U.S. Virgin Islands, Lake sat 92-94 with his fastball and also showed an 82 mph curveball. He's still a bit raw, and no hitter looked particularly anxious to step in against him.

Mark Podlas, of, Westhampton Beach HS, Remsenburg, N.Y. (2010)
An athletic and rangy outfielder, the 6-foot-2, 190-pound Podlas has committed to Virginia. He runs well, shows fine defensive ability in center field and displays a sweet lefthanded swing.

Josh Sale, of, Bishop Blanchet HS, Seattle (2010)
Sale continued to show that he's one of the best hitters in this year's class, both for average and power. As usual, he showed a good understanding of the strike zone and when he got his pitch, he hammered it—like he did for a three-run blast against the Kentucky Baseball Club in the first inning of Sunday's game.

Jorden Shipers, lhp, Bethany (Mo.) HS (2010)
With no baseball team at his high school, Shipers has flown under the radar, but he'll be on everyone's follow list after his performance in Jupiter. A 5-foot-11, 170-pound lefthander, Shipers has aggressive mechanics. His fastball sits 90-93 and he mixes in an above-average breaking ball and a changeup that scouts said looked like a splitter because of its late tumbling action. He struck out 13 batters over five no-hit innings.

Mason Williams, of, West Orange HS, Windemere,
Fla. (2010)
Williams caught our eye last year in Jupiter with a home-to-first time of 3.6 seconds on a drag bunt. He's added a little bit of strength since then, but is still very skinny and has plenty to add on. He's wiry and still fleet of foot. He got to first in 3.6 seconds again this year on a bunt and routinely was around 4.0 seconds on groundballs. He also has a very good arm in center field. He can pitch in the low 90s and threw one runner out at the plate, nearly nailing a second late in the tournament. If he can prove he can hit the ball with authority, interest in him should grow quickly.

Jesse Winker, of, Olympia HS, Windemere, Fla. (2012)
Winker stood out among the sophomores in Jupiter, as he's already 6-foot-2 and 170 pounds. He bats and throws lefthanded, limiting him to outfield or first base, but he's a good athlete with a quick, powerful swing.

Kevin Ziomek, lhp, Amherst (Mass.) HS (2010)
Ziomek may have emerged as the top lefthander in this year's class. Ziomek shows great promise despite struggling with his command. He features a 90-91 mph fastball that touched 93 and also has a dirty slider that he can throw for strikes, a 78 change and a loopier 68 curve which adds a different look with its 1-7 break. A concern with Ziomek is his arm action, in which he severely hooks the ball behind his back leg before reaching his release point.

Dace Kime, rhp, Defiance (Ohio) HS (2010)
Built like a linebacker at 6-foot-4 and 220 pounds, the righthanded Kime has a lively arm, firing a 91-92 mph fastball. Unfortunately, Kime's secondary pitches rarely find the strike zone or even the plate. He needs significant improvement on both his curve and changeup up draft boards.

Peter Tago, rhp, Dana Hills HS, Dana Point, Calif. (2010)
Loose and lanky, Tago's easy arm action delivers a 91-92 mph fastball, to which he has added a 76-78 slurve. His curve was not in evidence in the brief glimpse BA bird dog Dave Perkin had of him, but look for more velocity from Tago in the spring. Tago's delivery is so fluid it appears as if he can step on the accelerator and add a few ticks to his fastball any time he pleases.

Karsten Whitson, rhp, Chipley (Fla.) HS (2010)
Whitson's offers a plus 92-94 fastball, but his mechanics are of concern. His arm stroke is long and convoluted, and his finish inhibits his command and control. Whitson's front leg is nearly stiff at the completion of his delivery, halting his forward momentum and causing him to drift to his left. His finish resembles the motion of a carousel (side to side) instead of the preferred straight at the target downward plane finish.

Kevin Gausman, rhp, Grandview HS, Aurora, Colo. (2010)
Tall, lanky and admirably projectable, Gausman struggled early in his first outing, but reportedly was stronger in a later appearance. On Friday, Gausman began his fastball at 88-89 before dialing it up to 91-93. However, while that pitch showed some arm side movement, it did not show the wonderful natural sink that is Gausman's trademark. His 81 curve and 81 change were utilized as well but neither was as sharp as at previous venues. Despite this rare rocky outing, Gausman's frame and usual sinking action on his fastball make him an elite prospect.

Logan Davis, ss/3b, Cactus Shadows HS, Cave Creek, Ariz. (2010)
A lanky and projectable shortstop/third baseman, Davis possesses smooth and easy fielding actions, a fine arm, and a pretty lefthanded swing which stays on plane for an extended period of time. Davis is a 2010 grad.