RAPIDS, Iowa – While most of the focus for scouts at this moment is
on the class of 2014, there is growing sentiment that the graduating
class of 2015 in and around the Chicago area could be pretty special.
nine Division I recruits, and five more expected to be secured in the
next four weeks, as well as 11 players ranked among the top 500
prospects on Perfect Game's ranking of the high school class of 2015, Elite Baseball Training 2015's roster boasts much of that
talent at the 2013 WWBA Kernels Foundation Championship.
Baseball Training founder Justin Stone, a former two-sport (football
and baseball) athlete in college at Eastern Illinois, has a broad
baseball career and has been around the area long enough to know just
how good the 2015 class is. In addition to serving as an assistant
coach at Indiana State, he was the co-founder of the Chicago White
Sox ACE program and served as a special assistant for the White Sox.
been in Chicago for 10 years, and this is the strongest in Illinois
and Indiana that I've seen the last 10, 15 years,” Stone said in a
recent phone interview with Perfect Game.
made the most of his experiences to open his own private facility,
Elite Baseball Training, serving as the lead hitting instructor with
Travis Kerber overseeing the pitching instruction. In addition to the
instruction they provide, Elite Baseball also embraces new
technology, using high-speed video analysis, or Digital Motion
Analysis (DMA) as a way to slow-down baseball athletes in action to
our background we've been able to combine our baseball experiences
with the biomechanical side, and with that we use high-speed digital
motion analysis that gives us something a little different than what
a lot of people do,” Stone said. “When you're talking about
complex movements of the pitching motion or the swing, which are
extremely complex movements in a short amount of time, if you're not
big into the technology end of at this time you're a dinosaur.
want to take the guess-work out of it. At one time or another we've
had seven guys in the 2015 class throw 90-plus. And that's not by
chance, that's the work they're putting in and also the efficiency of
the movements that they're learning that comes from our pitching
coach and our technology team.”
is a big part of what Stone and his staff at Elite Baseball do, and
he's quick to recognize that baseball, which more often than not
adheres to old-time adages and methods, can benefit by embracing
I worked on the pro side for the White Sox that was kind of my niche,
digital consulting for the motion analysis,” Stone said. “Even
there, and not necessarily with the White Sox but around baseball, it
frightened some people. (For) a lot of the coaches at the highest
level they certainly had the playing background, but they may not
have educational background to break something down like that.
teams like the Milwaukee Brewers are bringing in consultants on the
biomechanics side to try and identify what players are at risk for
injury, or getting (better) efficiency in the swing or the throw, and
I think you'll see more pro clubs doing that moving forward.”
travel teams that Stone and his staff assemble are a smaller part of
the business model, but still a very important aspect of what they're
trying to achieve. In a short time they have had great success making
an impression on young players looking to take their game to another
the background of our coaches and their player development
background,” Stone said of his staff. “We do consider ourselves a
national program. We provide exposure and we compete on the national
scene. We do it 12 months out of the year. We shut down our arms
after the Perfect Game Underclass (World Championship) and then at
Thanksgiving we basically start back up again.
get kids scholarships is always part of what we do, (but) our goal as
a program is to (prepare the player) when they step on campus their
freshman year they're ready to compete and they're ready to line up
as a freshman and give something back to that school.”
the most part, the players on the roster are the same ones that have
competed together over the last two years. They finished the 2012
15u BCS Finals in Fort Myers, Fla. as the tournament runner-up, and
they are using this weekend's event as a tune-up for the WWBA
Underclass World Championship to be played two weeks from now, again
in Fort Myers.
Baseball 2015 Head Coach Phil Wright is one of the many talented
coaches and instructors that Stone has surrounded himself with as
part of his fast-growing venture. Wright, who played at the
University of Arizona, served as the Head Coach at Canyon Del Oro
High School in Arizona, where he won two state titles and coached six
eventual big-leaguers, including Ian Kinsler as well as both Shelly
and Chris Duncan. He also served as the assistant coach for the USA
Baseball 18u National Team in 2000, where he coached future MLB stars
J.J. Hardy, Jeremy Bonderman and Joe Mauer.
an assistant principal at Lake Park High School, Wright serves as the
Field Manager for the Elite Baseball Training 2015 team. His son,
Cory, a first baseman and lefthanded pitcher that is also one of the
talented members of the 2015 class, also plays an integral role for
been able to keep them together from the development piece of it,”
Wright said of the squad he's managing at the WWBA Kernels Foundation
Championship. “That's a big thing, when they get older sometimes
kids start moving around.
difference is that we don't feel that we're just an all-star team,
we're really big in the offseason trying to make sure these kids are
getting better. They're at a variety of high schools, and obviously
some programs are better than others, so they're not necessarily
getting that high level of training. And even just being around other
good players is so important. Now, they're not just the best guy on
the team. There's a standard. Everyone on our team is focused to go
to that next level.”
not all of the players listed on the roster for the Kernels
Foundation Championship have travelled to Cedar Rapids, Iowa, for a
variety of reasons, the roster still stands plenty strong.
of the players who didn't make the trip is Trent Johnson, the highest
ranked player on the roster in the 2015 class (78), who has been shut
down for the fall after pitching for 12 straight months to prepare
himself for the next level of his baseball career. He most recently
pitched at the PG Underclass All-American Games in San Diego, Calif.,
where he peaked at 90 mph with his fastball, and it's easy to see
that there's much more to come given his 6-foot-4, 235-pound frame.
has used the instruction and exposure provided by Elite Baseball to
secure a commitment to the University of Arizona.
Noah Burkholder and lefthander Kyle Ostrowski, currently ranked 167
and 279 respectively in the 2015 class, are two others players Stone
is quick to mention among those that stand to make the biggest impact
at the next level.
pitching staff is unbelievable if you look at the commits,” added
Wright. “That part is really unique.”
as good as the 2015 class is in Illinois and Northwest Indiana, the
highest ranked player on the Elite Baseball 2015 roster hails from
the 2016 class.
Nick Derr, who debuted at No. 25 on Perfect Game's initial ranking of the class of 2016, is a dynamic athlete and former three-sport
star that doesn't look, or play, like a high school sophomore.
Before playing a single game for Geneva Community (Ill.) High School
Derr had already committed to play for Florida State, and also served
as his team's starting quarterback during his freshman year.
keep myself humble about it,” Derr said of his early commitment.
“I don't really think about the commitment. Obviously I have to
get better. But it was pretty exciting and it made me want to work
harder because I want to start there as a freshman. It was a good
feeling though, I don't really have to think about it, it just
naturally comes to me sometimes.”
physically advanced for a kid his age,” Stone said of his star
shortstop. “If you look at him (you see) broad shoulders and biceps
like a 21-year old and you're like 'my god, this kid turned 16 two
is also quick to share praise for Derr, comparing him to Baltimore
Orioles star shortstop J.J. Hardy at a similar point in their
skill-set, his upside is so big,” Wright said. “He can really
run, he's a 6.7 runner. He's got great, great bat speed. For his
age group as a sophomore in high school he swings his bat as well as
anyone in the country. And he can throw. He's still growing as a
shortstop. He's that northern kid that's been an athlete all of his
life. He's still growing and evolving as an infielder. He's not close
to where he's going to end up being.
beauty of him, and I think he can play shortstop if he puts the time
in, but he's such an elite hitter that he can hit at Florida State as
an incredible athlete,” Stone added of Derr. “One of the things
you've seen at Perfect Game (events) is that he's never played at his
own grade level. He had an outstanding WWBA (2013 16u National
Championship) last year. Every ball he hit he hit hard. On the
defensive side he has a lot of room for growth, which is exciting,
because of how good of a player he is now, he has the potential to
get a lot better, and he knows that.”
recognizes that performing at a high level at national events is
important not only for exposure, but also for him to gauge his
overall abilities. It's translated well on the field as well, as he's
been named to two All-Tournament teams while playing at PG events.
a lot of fun,” said Derr. “I love Perfect Game stuff, and the
competition here is even better. It's just a fun experience with my
team, it's another chance to get better in these tournaments.”
has since given up both football and basketball to focus on baseball
in an effort to make sure that he is indeed ready to take the next
step when his time comes, whether that be at Florida State or at the
professional level. For as good as he is playing baseball, the
decision wasn't an easy one.
was really tough, especially telling the coach that,” Derr said of
his decision to focus on baseball. “It took a lot out of me the
first couple of days, but I just knew that it was the right decision
to get better in baseball, and just be the best I can as a baseball
forward, the plan is simple.
every day, not one day off.”