SEE ALSO: Collegiate National Team Roster
CARY, N.C.—When Arkansas’ Grant Koch packed his bags and left Fayetteville for the USA Baseball National Training Complex, he made sure he wouldn’t return home if he didn’t have to.
Even though he was only guaranteed to stay with the Collegiate National Team for about a week, Koch filled his suitcase to the brim.
“I packed for the whole summer, but that’s just me,” the sophomore catcher said. “I plan to stay here.”
USA Baseball’s Collegiate National Team invited 34 players to train from June 21-26. The team needs to cut that down to 28 players for a five-game series against Taiwan, which starts Tuesday, and then make a final 24-man roster for its remaining schedule.
“This year, college, I had to go out in the fall and tryout,” California freshman first baseman Andrew Vaughn said. “It kind of feels like that, a little fall ball in the middle of the summer.”
USA Baseball named UCLA head coach John Savage as the team’s manager in December. Since that time, Savage has studied video, met with his staff, called up college coaches around the country and anything else he could do to get a head start in the evaluation process.
With the search narrowed down to the 34 training camp invites, Savage will get a first-hand look before he makes the final cuts. The team will play five games, including Thursday’s 10-0 win against the Catawba Valley Stars, from Thursday through Monday.
“I think in a perfect world you have about three teams and run through it,” he said. “Then you can really pick your guys. But it’s just not how the things set up. There’s a lot of talent out here and we’ve gotta cipher through it over the next four or five days and see what we got.”
Savage has some experience with the national team to help him make his decisions. He was an assistant coach for the CNT in 2000, when the team went 27-3-1 and won a gold medal at Haarlem Honkbal Week in the Netherlands. That club was led by Mark Teixeira and Mark Prior, among other future big leaguers.
“You’re looking for confidence,” Savage said. “You’re looking for guys who can get to the next pitch, who can handle maybe a poor at-bat and come back and play good defense . . . You gotta start being a professional player.”
Vaughn ended his college season at Cal in late May. After spending time with his family, he went up to Canada to play with the Victoria HarbourCats in the West Coast League to gets some at-bats.
In 2013, Vaughn on the 15U national team with last year’s No. 1 overall pick, Mickey Moniak. With that experience, he is taking a relaxed approach to the extended tryout. He went 2-for-4 with a double and two RBI in the team’s first game.
“Just be myself, don’t do anything special,” Vaughn said of his approach. “Just show up, do what I do every day and don’t be anyone different than myself. Everybody else is already taken.”
Koch had about two weeks to get ready after the Razorbacks were eliminated from the NCAA Tournament on June 5. He lives about 10 minutes from campus and spent the time working out at the team’s facility. It paid off as he homered in one of his two at-bats on Thursday.
“I haven’t really gone through something quite like this, but when it comes down to it, I guess for me, it’s still baseball, it’s still the same game,” Koch said. “I’ve gotta go out there and catch and put together good at-bats and just do the best I can. Once I get on the field, it’s all the same for me. Definitely take it pitch-by-pitch, day-by-day because I’m playing it like this could be the last day. I’m pretty honored to wear this uniform, and I want to keep wearing it.”