July is National Age Group Championship Month for the WWBA and Perfect Game. Week long tournaments to crown national champions in the 2010/15U through 2007/18U age groups will kick off July 3-9 in Marietta, Georgia with the 2007/18U event and move down the age group scale to finish with the 2010/15U championship July 23-28.
This year’s 18U and 17U events will feature what is believed to be the largest pool of teams ever brought to one site for a national championship, with 152 teams from across the country competing for the respective championships. With that kind quantity and cross section of the country, it’s guaranteed that the quality of competition and prospects will be at an all time high.
The expansion of the 16U WWBA National Championship highlights the rapid growth of the WWBA events. It was the last of the four major WWBA age group events to get off the ground, holding its first national championship at a complex south of Chicago in 2004 with 12 teams. This year’s event will feature 96 teams from across the country.
Here is a quick overview of each National Championship:
2007/18U National Championship (July 3-9)
The big question with the 18U will be “Can any team beat the Florida Bombers?” The Bombers have won the event four of the five years it’s been held, with the streak interrupted only by the South Carolina Diamond Devils in 2004. The Diamond Devils team that year entered the championship round as the last of the 16 seeded teams but rode talents such as C-RHP Matt Wieters (Cubs, 1st round, 2007) and 1B Justin Smoak (probable 2008 1st rounder) to the championship.
While the Bombers have featured their share of top prospects, the key to their continued success has always been a deep pitching staff comprised mostly of Miami area pitchers and excellent defense. So while there may be teams with more highly acclaimed prospects on their rosters to start the tournament, the Bombers will be the event favorite until someone beats them on the field.
As much as any event on the WWBA schedule, the 18U championship lends itself to unheralded teams making strong championship runs. In 2003 it was the Indiana Yankees and their shortstop Eric Campbell (now a top Braves prospect). In 2004 it was the Diamond Devils. Last year, the Florida Magic behind championship MVP 3B Gary Gustavson made an improbable run all the way to the championship game before they lost to the Bombers.
It would take too long to list all the future first round draft choices that have played in the 18U championships over the past five years. Some of the future Major Leaguers who have performed in front of the hundreds of scouts and college coaches include C Brian McCann (East Cobb Tigers), RHP Brandon Morrow (NorCal), LHP Scott Kazmir (PG Gold), OF Jeremy Hermida (East Cobb Yankees), RHP Zack Greinke (Team Florida USA), LHP John Danks (Austin Baseball Club), RHP Matt Capps (East Cobb Yankees), OF Billy Butler (Jacksonville Royals), RHP Jonathan Broxton (Diamondplex A’s), OF Lastings Milledge (PG Blue), LHP Andrew Miller (PG Blue), RHP Micah Owings (East Cobb Yankees), C Jarrod Saltalamacchia (PG Royal) and RHP Chad Billingsley (PG Blue).
2008/17U National Championship (July 10-16)
All American Prospects, a Florida based team, hasn’t established the same sort of dominance over the 17U age bracket that the Florida Bombers have over the 18U’s, but they’ve got a start. They shared the 2005 championship with NorCal when rain washed out the championship game, then came back in 2006 to sweep through the field with a 9-0-1 overall record and a championship game win over the previously undefeated Dirtbags team.
All American Prospects will return a very strong roster of prospects, including two key players from last year’s team; IF Rolando Gomez, the 2006 Most Valuable Player and RHP Ryan Weber, who was the winning pitcher in the championship game and narrowly missed being named Most Valuable Pitcher (the award was won by Hammertime LHP Craig Gullickson).
Like the 18U tournament, the 17U’s will feature 152 teams from across the country and over 2,500 individual players. Because the event is spread over so many fields over a week’s play, it’s more difficult to get a handle on just how many scouts and college coaches are in Marietta as compared to the WWBA World Championships in Jupiter in October, which is held at one central complex over a shorter time period. The overall number isn’t that much different, however.
2009/16U National Championship (July 17-22)
The growth of the 16U championship in three years has been incredible, as noted above. With the location of the event so important, it is only fitting that the two-time defending champions are the host East Cobb Astros.
The 2006 tournament was extremely competitive, with East Cobb defeating the Brentwood A’s in the championship game, 2-1. Brentwood RHP-3B Navery Moore was named the Most Valuable Player for going 3-0 on the mound while hitting .407 with 10 Rbi’s as a hitter. The Astros depth was formidable, though, as they featured 2007 1st rounder OF Jason Heyward, plus top 2008 prospects such as LHP Brett DeVall (the championship Most Valuable Pitcher), RHP Michael Palazzone, 3B Ethan Martin, OF Xavier Avery and 1B Chase Davidson.
The 2005 Astros defeated the Richmond Braves in the championship game. Astros OF Cody Johnson shared the event Most Valuable Player honors with Braves IF-RHP Jacob Mayers and later went on to win MVP honors at the 17U championships as well while on his way to being the Atlanta Braves 2006 1st round draft pick.
2010/15U National Championship (July 23-28)
Team Georgia won the 2006 WWBA 15U championship in the most unlikely of ways. They only qualified for the 12 team championship round on a tie breaker from three other teams with identical 2-2-1 pool play records. Their opponent in the championship game, the Indiana Bulls, were the 11th seeded team after pool play. It’s believed to be the only time in WWBA championship play that the final game featured the two highest seeds. Team Georgia OF-LHP Kyle Pelhank was named the Most Valuable Player while Bulls RHP Nick Cunningham was the Most Valuable Pitcher.
The most memorable 15U game ever was the semifinal game in 2004 between eventual champion NorCal and the defending champion East Cobb Aztecs. The pitching matchup was 2007 1st rounder Michael Main for East Cobb against future Aflac All-American Erik Goedell for NorCal. The two 15 year olds traded 90 mph heat (Main touching 93) for 6 innings before NorCal eventually won in 8 innings on a squeeze bunt by another future Aflac RHP, Kyle Blair. The talent on the field for that age group of baseball was simply incredible.
Of course, the same thing could happen again in 2007!