Six Observations From Team USA Training Camp
Team USA wrapped up its Arizona training camp on Monday with the last of its four scrimmages. The team went 4-0 against local colleges, beating Arizona State, 7-3, Arizona, 9-7, Central Arizona JC, 16-5, and Gateway (Ariz.) JC, 12-1.
Team USA will now head to Guadalajara, Mexico for the first round of Premier12, the qualifying tournament for the 2020 Tokyo Olympics. Its first game is Nov. 2 against the Netherlands.
Team USA needs to finish first or second in the four-team pool in Mexico to advance to the Super Round in Tokyo. There, it must finish highest among the participating teams from the Americas to earn an Olympic bid.
Here are six observations from Team USA’s scrimmages, and what to watch for as it attempts to qualify for the 2020 Olympics.
1. Team USA Can Mash
Team USA hit eight home runs in its four scrimmages, many of them tape-measure shots. While that’s not a surprise given they are professionals who were playing college teams, the power of Bobby Dalbec, Jo Adell, Alec Bohm, Andrew Vaughn and Brent Rooker is very, very real and can match up with anyone. If the final two scrimmages were any indication, Dalbec, Adell and Bohm have settled into the Nos. 3, 4, 5 spots in the batting order, respectively, with Vaughn and Rooker mixing in lower. With power up and down the lineup, Team USA has a chance to hit home runs in bunches and put up big offensive numbers in the 5,138-foot elevation of Guadalajara.
2. Starting Pitchers Need To Get Up To Speed
None of Team USA’s four starting pitchers—Parker Dunshee, Clayton Richard, Brian Flynn and Tanner Houck—topped 92 mph in their outings, and all experienced varying levels of trouble as a result. Dunshee gave up three hard-hit doubles and didn’t make it out of the third inning against Arizona State, Richard got tagged for nine hits and seven runs in four innings at Arizona, Flynn allowed six hits in four innings to Central Arizona JC—although three were infield singles—and Houck surrendered a first-inning home run against Gateway JC before striking out three of his next four batters. Dunshee, Richard and Flynn are all building arm strength back up after six weeks off, and Houck is at the end of a long year in which he threw 131 innings between the regular season and the Arizona Fall League, so not being in top form was completely understandable. Still, Team USA doesn’t have the luxury of time for its starters to get built up. Its first game is only three days away.
3. Xavier Edwards Looks Like He Belongs
Xavier Edwards is the team's youngest player at 20 years old, but he plays above his age. The speedy Edwards took mature at-bats, consistently put the bat on the ball and showed the ability to adjust to any situation throughout Team USA’s scrimmages. When he needed to put a bunt down, he laid down a perfect one. When the team needed him to drive in a run, he showed the ability to drive the ball hard to the gaps for extra bases or back up the middle for a single. Edwards was sharp defensively at second base, and he made all of the routine plays in his looks at shortstop. Even though he’s the youngest player on Team USA’s roster—outfielder Drew Waters is also 20 but is nine months older—Edwards has made a strong case for a starting spot.
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4. Defense Will Be A Strength
Team USA’s pitchers will be able to rest easy knowing they have a good defense behind them. Catcher Daulton Varsho showed eye-opening quickness, athleticism and arm strength from behind the plate to make plays on bunts and other balls in front of the dish. Bohm, whose ability to stick at third base has previously been questioned, made a number of sharp plays at the hot corner and showed he was more than up to the task at the position. Edwards at second base and Jake Cronenworth at shortstop were particularly solid up the middle, while Dalbec saw time at both first and third base and remains a vacuum at both spots with a cannon for an arm. Adell in left field, Drew Waters in center field and Mark Payton and right field all have the speed and range to run down balls in every direction, cementing an all-around stout defense that is capable of making a game-changing play at any time.
5. Pitching Decisions Loom
Team USA’s pitching prospects largely outperformed those with major league experience during the scrimmages, both in terms of stuff and performance. Noah Song, Penn Murfee, Wyatt Mills, J.P. Feyereisen and Clayton Andrews all showed well in particular, while veterans Richard, Flynn, Brooks Pounders and Caleb Thielbar were more mixed, at best. Manager Scott Brosius will have a decision to make during Premier12: Will he trust the savvy and experience of the veterans or the better raw stuff of the prospects?
6. Chemistry Is Strong
Team USA was only together for a week in Arizona, but by the end, the team's growing chemistry was visible. Team USA played loose, free and easy throughout the scrimmages, with the dugout a frequent source of laughter, friendly ribbing and supportive words and gestures. Younger players specifically credited Erik Kratz for setting the tone as a veteran fully invested and playing with energy, and the presence of high-makeup prospects such as Adell, Murfee and Song only helps. As Team USA heads to Mexico, and potentially Japan, the growing camaraderie keeps getting stronger by the day.