FORT MYERS, Fla. – The desire to compete at the highest level possible seems to know no bounds when it comes to twin brothers Austin and Nick Wilhite. They compete on the baseball field during the spring at Buford (Ga.) High School, and in the summertime they continue to compete on the fields of the Southeast for Georgia-based Team Elite Baseball.
They are here this weekend and into next week competing at the 16u Perfect Game BCS Finals national championship with Team Elite Prime, one of the pre-tournament favorites. As members of Team Elite Prime, they are teammates with five elite class-of-2016 prospects ranked in the top-200 nationally.
These 16-year-old identical twins, born on Nov. 7, 1997 to parents Randy and Teresa Wilhite of Buford, share many similarities. Their manner of speech is the same, they carry themselves the same, they have the same tendency to laugh and smile frequently, and they even answer questions basically the same.
In separate interviews conducted about 15 minutes apart Saturday at the Boston Red Sox’s JetBlue Player Development Complex, listen to how the brothers answered a question about their competitive natures and sibling rivalry.
“If I go up there and get a hit, it’s more like he doesn’t want me to out-do him, so he’ll get a hit and then we just go back-and-forth and we just keep it going,” Austin said. “Our whole life is pretty much competition, trying to be a little bit better than the other. It makes us get better at everything, which is good.”
“We both compete. Between us, everything is competition; that’s how we’re similar,” Nick said. “If (Austin) were to go up and hit a double, I’m not going to up there and strikeout, I’m going to try to do the same thing that he did. We feed off of each other, and he’s helping me get better and I’m helping him get better.”
That is music to the ears of Team Elite Prime head coach Shane Hopper, who looks to instill that same sense of competitiveness in each of his talented players -- all from the class of 2016 that are primarily from Georgia, with four from Florida and one from Tennessee.
“My expectation is to come down here and compete at the highest level we can compete at,” Hopper told PG around lunchtime on Saturday. “Do we want to win a championship? Absolutely. Is that the expectation? No. My expectation for a 16-year-old kid is to learn how to play the game the right way; learn how to play at full-speed; learn how to go out there and compete in a tough environment. And develop, not only physically as a player but mentally, as well. That’s my main objective with these guys.”
Team Elite Pride won its first two games of pool-play at the 16u PG BCS Finals by scores of 9-1 and 4-0 over the Naperville Renegades and PBA Black, respectively, certainly not unexpected results. Nick Wilhite went 3-for-5 with a double, two RBI and two runs scored in the first two games; Austin Wilhite was 1-for-5 with a single and a run scored.
The highest ranked prospects on the team are shortstop/right-handed pitcher Aaron Schunk from Decatur, Ga., at No. 108 and outfielder Sawyer Smith, a University of Alabama commit from Cantonment, Fla., right behind at No. 109. Right-hander/third baseman Connor Darling from Suwanee, Ga., is at No. 136.
The Wilhite brothers are certainly there in the mix and separated by just one spot, which shouldn’t come as a surprise either: Austin sits at No. 120 and Nick at No. 121.
When asked what sets this group apart from some of the Team Elite 16u teams he’s coached, Hopper came up with a one-word answer, and it’s a word that certainly applies to the Wilhite brothers.
It is “athleticism” and Hopper went on to say that the 16u prospects in the Team Elite organization this year make up the deepest pool of talent he has had. Team Elite has five teams at the 16u PG BCS Finals: Alpharetta, Black, Louisville Slugger, Prime and Roadrunners.
Hopper credits the outstanding job coach Brooke Richards has done at the 15u level with making the 16u group so strong. He then does some work of his own before passing the players on to general manager Brad Bouras and field manager Romas Hicks at the 17u level.
“Just the athleticism overall with this Prime group that we’ve got down here, it’s one of the more impressive, athletic groups of players that I’ve had,” Hopper said. “I’ve added a couple of pieces for this tournament … and this is the fastest, most athletic team that I’ve ever had.”
Keeping with the whole theme of “similarities” this is the eighth Perfect Game event for both Austin and Nick, and they’ve been the same eight events – including seven tournaments with Team Elite. Both were named to the all-tournament team at their first PG event – the 2012 PG WWBA 14u National Championship – and were also all-tournament at last year’s 15u PG BCS Finals; Nick was named to the all-tournament team at the 16u Perfect Game-East Cobb Invitational earlier this month.
Austin and Nick were also at the Perfect Game Junior National Showcase at JetBlue Park a couple of weeks ago where Austin was named to the Top Prospect List; Darling was also named to the same list.
At the Jr. National, Nick ran a 6.63-second 60-yard dash, threw 90 mph from the outfield and recorded an 86 mph fastball from the mound.
“Nick is a really, really good outfielder who runs well and has a really good arm, takes great routes to the ball and swings the bat extremely well,” Hopper said. “He’s 90-91 (mph) from the outfield and he’s been up to 91 on the mound for me; as a left-handed pitcher that’s pretty stinkin’ good.”
Austin ran a 6.76-second 60, threw 85 mph across the infield and delivered an 88 mph fastball from the mound at the Jr. National. The similarities persist, although it is worth noting that Austin does everything right-handed and Nick does everything left-handed.
“Austin, he could play anywhere,” Hopper said. “He can play the outfield, he can play the infield; he does a great job at short, second, third. I could probably put him behind the plate – he’s my emergency catcher, so he’s kind of a super utility guy, if you will.”
The brothers are basically inseparable. Nick remembered a time not long ago when he attended a camp at Clemson that Austin was unable to attend due to a minor injury – that week apart was the longest separation either could remember.
“We’re best friends and we’ve always done everything together,” Nick said. “We’ve always been teammates in baseball and we’ll try to keep doing that into college if we can; we’ll always try to stick together.”
Austin added: “We do everything together; I don’t think a day goes by that we’re apart for more than an hour. He’s always there for me.”
Austin Wilhite is listed at 5-feet, 9-inches and 155-pounds; Nick Wilhite at 5-9, 160. The nearly identical heights and weights almost certainly contribute to the similarities in the way they play the game.
“Both of them run really well, both of them have good arms, both have bat speed and they’re both very skilled at their positions,” Hopper said. “Both of them have power for their size … and they’re going to continue to grow; they’re both good on the mound, too, with three different pitches.”
Similar physical attributes aside, it does seem maybe the brothers have slightly divergent personalities, even though they really can’t agree on how the other should be described. An outside observer, Coach Hopper, put it this way:
“Austin is very serious about everything, and then you’ve got Nick who is more a free spirit, so to say. They both always have a smile on their face and they enjoy the game. They’re different as far as personality goes but other than that they’re both very good baseball players.”
Nick tends to agree with his coach:
“On the baseball field, (Austin is) more serious while I tend to joke around more,” he said. “I don’t like taking it too seriously … I just like being who I am.”
Austin isn’t so sure:
“We’re pretty similar personality-wise,” he said. “(Nick is) a little bit more aggressive, I’d say, and I’m a little bit more calm on things; other than that I think we’re pretty similar.”
Baseball isn’t the brothers’ only athletic endeavor at the moment. They are also members of the Buford High School swim team, a pursuit they say keeps them in great condition while also helping to strengthen their shoulders.
But now it’s summertime and it’s all about baseball, a game being played this week in the sweltering Southwest Florida heat with no complaints from the players themselves.
“This is the one thing that I’ve been looking forward to this summer,” Nick Wilhite said. “All the fields are perfect, you get to play in front a lot of scouts and you get to play against other teams from all over the country, so you get to different talent levels and get to know where you’re at. You get to see what other people have and you get to enjoy it and compete.”
“It’s been good so far and I’m looking forward to the next games so we can keep playing,” Austin Wilhite said, echoing his brother’s thoughts. “Team-wise, we just want to go out and play hard, and if we don’t win then we don’t win, but we have to give it our all. If we don’t do that then we’ll feel like we didn’t give it our best and that’s never a good feeling. Individually, I go out there and give it 100 percent every day.”
There’s that competitive nature coming through again, that sibling rivalry that when channeled properly can only lead to great things. Again, it’s music to Hopper’s ears.
“We enjoy playing in all the Perfect Game events, whether it’s WWBA, BCS or the invitationals – they put on a great tournament with really good competition,” Hopper said. “You bring the guys to these tournaments and with that you’re going to get the exposure. We do a pretty good job of that ourselves, exposing our guys at our small tournaments but these are a whole different level.
“Our history kind of speaks for itself as far as getting guys signed and committed to colleges and on to the draft,” he concluded. “We’re very fortunate and very blessed to have good players, good parents and guys that are willing to get out here and get after it.”