CARTERSVILLE, Ga. – If there is one thing that everybody knows about Texas it is the saying that “everything is bigger in Texas.” When it comes to baseball, there is never a shortage of talent from the state. They have produced all kinds of talent: big arms, big bats, and big prospects. It is safe to say that the state of Texas is one of the hotbeds for amateur baseball.
The 17u WWBA National Championship features a total of 35 teams that call the state home. A good amount of these teams come in with big talent. One of the marquee teams with great talent is Twelve Baseball.
Twelve is highlighted by a duo that just by the eye test looks like ballplayers. Luken Baker stands at 6-foot-4, 230-pounds, while his teammate Ryan Johnson possesses a 6-foot-3, 205-pound frame. Both players were on display in the opening game of pool play Friday for Twelve, and they both impressed far beyond the eye test.
Baker, a TCU commit, took the mound for the team against Next Level 17u with a slew of scouts on hand at Old Cass High School in Cartersville, Georgia. He did not disappoint, pitching all four innings in the 11-0 run-rule win, striking out seven and allowing just one hit. His fastball was on point all day consistently sitting between 90 and 92 mph (miles per hour), while also touching 93 mph a few times. Being thrown out there on day one of the tournament exemplified the confidence his head coach Kevin Hodge had in him.
“It feels good,” Baker said of pitching on the opening day of the tournament. “It shows that coach has a lot of confidence in me. It feels good to come out and start the tournament off right, and we’ll just continue going from there.”
Baker was also a force at the plate going 2-for-3 with an RBI to help out his own cause. Being a dual-threat player makes him even more exciting of a prospect. He is the type of player that just simply enjoys playing the game whatever position he is at. His ability to hit allows him to appear in more games and help his team win.
“Luken is a very talented guy,” Hodge said. “We’ve known that for a long time. Obviously, his body gets attention immediately. He’s a big athletic guy. He can really do it on the mound, and he gets in the batter’s box. He can do it in the batter’s box as well. We have a very talented team, but he’s hitting in the three hole.”
“So, when he gets to college, if he goes to college, TCU’s got a guy who can help them on the mound and in the batter’s box. And, the thing about Luken is he’s talented, but he really loves to play. He brings a lot of energy to our team and a lot of energy to the field every day, and he just really likes to compete.”
Recently, he attended the Perfect Game National Showcase where he was able to compare his playing ability to that of the other top talents in the 2015 class. For a guy that was new to the showcase scene, he definitely impressed with his performance. He topped out at 95 mph on the mound, the third hardest velocity of any pitcher who threw at the event. His velocity and his command of his pitches definitely wowed scouts making his trip down to Florida a positive one.
“It was a good experience,” Baker said. “I didn’t plan on going, but whenever I got the opportunity to go it was fun. I enjoyed it. It was the first showcase I’ve ever been to, and it was worth going to.”
Baker’s teammate, Johnson, is another guy that makes this Twelve team a force. In the game Friday morning, he led the offense and displayed great bat control and the ability to hit to all fields in his three plate appearances. He finished the game 3-for-3, falling just a home run short of a cycle. His five RBI were also nothing to take lightly. For him, it was a refreshing day to start the tournament and get back to the way he knows how to hit the ball.
“I was able to just relax a little bit more at the plate,” Johnson said. “Lately I’ve been pressing and kind of fighting against myself. When you go out there, not with a defeated mindset but when you go up there without much confidence, you’re already down. I think it was me just being able to relax and just hit.”
Johnson and Baker have played with and against each other since they were young, and their relationship off the field adds to the great way they play together on the field. Johnson, who is also a TCU commit, may have been a strong influence on Baker’s decision to commit there as well. Since their future in college baseball is set, the two look to continue their relationship into college.
Johnson, like Baker, also participated in the National Showcase earlier this summer. What he took out of the event was mostly geared towards what he needs to change about his mindset and approach to the game. He used the event as a learning experience to help him grow as a player and an individual.
“It was just a really humbling experience to get the opportunity to go out there and compete against the best players,” Johnson said. “I guess the thing I learned most is there is a lot of stuff I have to work on not only on the field but off the field as well. I guess the mental side of my game. But, it was a great experience going out there.”
Johnson and Baker’s organization, Twelve, was started in 2006. The name may seem a little bit interesting to many, but it makes complete sense to the guys in the organization. Hailing from College Station, Texas, the organization’s name is a testament to the kind of people that live in the community that this team plays in.
“It’s just kind of a tie in to our community,” Hodge said. “We’re in that Texas A&M community, and it’s not a Texas A&M tie in, but it’s more about our community and the thing that we represent; hard work and blue collar type of mentality.”
Twelve looks to play off of their opening game success and start a winning streak, as they take on the Illinois Indians at 4:30 p.m. in the second game of their doubleheader Friday. Looking to keep up with the high-profile talent from Texas, Twelve will look to Baker and Johnson as well as a variety of their other committed players to lead them through to the playoff bracket and perhaps a championship in this tournament.