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All-American Braves

Nick Kappel

Published: Wednesday, August 08, 2012

CEDAR RAPIDS, Iowa — The East Cobb Braves have enjoyed a great deal of success this summer. The Braves’ 17u squad won the 18u BCS Finals in Ft. Meyers, Fla. last month and then finished second at the 17u PG World Series in Peoria, Ariz. the following week.

This weekend, four of the Braves’ top players will compete in the most prestigious high school event of the year, the Perfect Game All-American Classic presented by Rawlings at PETCO Park in San Diego. The game will air live Sunday, Aug. 12 at 8:00 p.m. central time on the CBS Sports Network.

Kevin Davis, Josh Hart, Brian Navaretto and Travis Demeritte will represent the East Cobb Braves in the game for the East squad, an annual event since 2003 that’s seen former Braves such as Matthew Crownover, Duane Underwood, Skye Bolt, Tucker Simpson, Javier Baez, Kaleb Cowart, Zack Wheeler and Xavier Avery.

Chris Oakley and Clinton Hollon have played sparingly with the Braves this summer — Oakley in the 18u PG BCS Finals and PG/WWBA 17u/18u National Championships, Hollon in the 17u PG World Series — and will join their East Cobb teammates in San Diego this week. All six of them were mentioned among the top prospects at last week’s East Coast Professional Showcase.

Players are selected to the All-American Classic based partially on their performance at the PG National Showcase. Prospects like right-handed pitcher Kevin Davis, however, have been on scout’s radar much longer.

Davis made his PG debut at the 16u East Cobb Invitational in 2010, and then participated in the Junior National Showcase as a 2013 graduate a few days later. The latter was an experience he’ll never forget.

Going to the Junior National with all the 2012 kids and seeing all the scouts and coaches, it was exciting,” he said. “Especially throwing against Lance McCullers (who was drafted No. 41 overall by the Houston Astros in the 2012 MLB draft), that was really humbling. I went out there in the first inning and threw 91 mph or so. I felt pretty good and thought I was throwing hard. And then Lance goes out there and throws 95 and I’m like, ‘OK, here we go.’”

Earlier this summer at the National Showcase, two years after his first PG experience, Davis was clocked at 94 mph. But as the two-sport athlete explains
he also plays quarterback for his high school football team — his velocity fluctuates quite a bit.

Normally during the high school season when I’m behind the baseball, it’s got a little tailing action to it, it’s not cutting. But during the summer (when he’s more used to throwing a football), I’m not staying behind the ball, so it comes out of my hand and tends to cut.”

Luckily, he’ll have a few days between his last football practice this week (Wednesday) and the game (Sunday) to make the adjustment.

Davis has worked on improving his changeup this summer, and now — in addition to his fastball and curve — he has three quality pitches to attack hitters with. On Sunday, he’ll use them against the best in the 2013 class and hopes that Hart, Navaretto and Demeritte will be on the field with him when he pitches.

If a ball is hit in the air, it better go off the wall because Josh will run it down,” Davis said. He takes hits away and has a huge impact on the game defensively. And Brian, he’s awesome to throw to. He pretty much shuts the running game down all by himself.”

Demeritte has also received positive marks for his defense. According to one PG scout, the third baseman has “Quick defensive actions, very good arm strength and an accurate arm with plus carry.”

As part of the All-American festivities, all 48 players will participate in the event at Rady Children’s Hospital in San Diego in which the proceeds are donated to aid in treatment of pediatric cancer.

For the East Cobb Braves, giving back is nothing new. Braves’ assistant coach, Matt Dale recently founded S.M.A.R.T. — “Socially Mature Athletes Reaching Thousands” — in an effort to make young ballplayers more aware of their surroundings in the community.

Everywhere we went (this summer), we tried to visit a children’s hospital or a homeless shelter, whether it was in Ft. Myers, Auburn, Nashville or Arizona,” Davis said. “Being able to do it on the field is one thing, but S.M.A.R.T. is focused on what kind of person you are off the field.”

Like S.M.A.R.T., the event at Rady Children’s Hospital this week will give the players a chance to do something special.

That allows us the opportunity to give back and make an influence, just to spend some time with people who are less fortunate,” Davis said.

Every Perfect Game All-American past and present participates in the event at a children’s hospital. That includes former PG All-Americans such as Buster Posey, Andrew McCutchen, Jason Heyward and more recently, Bryce Harper and Carlos Correa.

When reminded that 117 All-Americans have been selected in the first-round of the MLB Draft, Davis offered a bit of humility and wisdom.

It’s a huge honor to be placed even in the same category as those guys,” he said. “Of course you’re going to think about (the draft), but I try not to. I just go out there and play. If you stress about it, the time you’re stressing about it you could use to be getting better.”

While Davis, Hart, Navaretto and Demeritte will all most certainly draw interest from major league teams in next year’s draft, they’ll have the option to get an education first. Davis is committed to Auburn, Hart to Georgia Tech and Demeritte to South Carolina. Navaretto has yet to commit.

In the meantime, Davis — who models himself after Roy Oswalt because they’re similar in size and are both “competitors” — is working to improve his delivery.

Sometimes I’ll rush to the plate or instead of staying over my back leg, I’ll get out front and start rushing to the plate,” he said. “It’ll cause my back side to collapse and my head to drop.”

Davis is excited to show how he’s improved on the big stage this Sunday, but his summer won’t end there. He’ll fly back to California next week to find out if he’s among the 20 players who will play for Team USA at the World Championship in South Korea later this month.

I’ve been beyond blessed this summer to have my family back me and have the opportunity to play in all the different events and different places,” he said. “Before this summer, I’d never been on a plane before. And now I’ve flown from Minnesota to North Carolina to Arizona to New York and now California, it’s been fun. I’ve been blessed and it’s been really humbling.”

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