SGV Arsenal offers support, guidance

Tournaments : : Story
Jeff Dahn        
Published: Friday, September 24, 2010

The Perfect Game/EvoShield National Championships at Goodyear, Ariz. (upperclass) and Peoria, Ariz. (underclass) slated for this weekend (Sept. 24-27) are two big-time tournaments that are drawing travel team programs big and small.

The wood-bat event for players in the class of 2011 and younger (upperclass), and 2012 and younger (underclass) attracted 80 teams from 13 states and Canada to the two Arizona cities and is billed as the west’s version of the PG WWBA World Championship held annually in Jupiter, Fla.

San Gabriel Valley Arsenal, a travel team organization based in West Covina, Calif., has two teams in the Phoenix- area this weekend, one in the upperclass tournament and one in the underclass event.

It’s a short and worthwhile trip for the program’s two oldest teams – its class of 2011 and ’12 squads – to make, according to SGV Arsenal founder Mike Viera.

“The Arizona tournament we are definitely looking forward to,” Viera said. “We are taking some relatively strong teams there.”

SGV Arsenal has become known for taking strong teams everywhere it goes, teams built on the skills of intelligent and talented players.

By some measures, it is a small program with just one team in four grade levels put together based on the year the players will graduate from high school.  None of the teams are built according to players’ ages, only by their grade in school. This fall’s teams, for example, are the ‘11s (seniors), ’12s (juniors), ‘13s (sophomores) and ‘14s (freshmen).

Viera started the program 10 years ago with just one 14-and-under team and after three years those players were still together as a 17U team. The following year the organization held open tryouts, and Viera said he expected 40 or 50 kids to show up. To his surprise, 120 kids came out looking for an opportunity to make the team.

His program was experiencing growth but Viera didn’t change its intent or method of operation.

“The basis of our program is to kind of be a support system for the parents and the players,” he said. “We try to guide them toward their goals of playing collegiate or professional baseball, which most programs do. We’re honest with them and give them an evaluation as far as what level we think they should be at collegiately.”

Viera continued: “There’s so much more that goes on than just on the field. That’s only part of the whole process. We have a recruiting guide … and we make sure every parent and player has it. We’re available to all the parents and players to call us or email us for any advice.”

SGV Arsenal has more than 100 players on its four teams but still manages to make each one feel like a member of a small, family-sized group. Older players work closely with the younger ones and parents of the older plays talk with parents of the younger players about dealing with the college recruitment process.

“It becomes an almost self-educating program where the older group (is) kind of helping with the younger group,” Viera said. “The parents and the players are sharing their experiences with each other.

“All of our players generally are friends and get along with each other, their families get along with each other (and) they spend time with each other away from the field.”

SGV Arsenal has a solid relationship with Perfect Game and the organizations have worked together at West Coast tournaments and showcases. Viera appreciates that his players – and players from other organizations – get the exposure they desire at PG events.

“It’s been so beneficial to have the experience with Perfect Game,” he said. “For us on a personal level, (we like) seeing what kind of talent there is out there to compare our guys to what they’re doing. It’s been a great relationship. It’s allowed some of our guys to kind of come to the surface.”

SGV Arsenal enjoyed a good deal of success at each of its grade levels this summer.

The SGV Arsenal ’12 team won the AABC 16U Mickey Mantle World Series in McKinney, Texas, in early August and finished No. 7 in Perfect Game’s final 2010 16U national rankings.

SGV Arsenal beat DBAT Mustangs, 12-2, in the championship game and won the tournament without two of its top players – Rio Ruiz and Lucas Giolito – who didn’t make the trip because they were playing in the Area Code Games in Long Beach, Calif., at the same time.

Giolito (2012, Santa Monica, Calif.) is a 6-6, 220-pound right-hander who has had his fastball clocked as high as 96 mph and has committed to UCLA. He is ranked fourth nationally and second in the state of California in Perfect Game’s most recent Class of 2012 national rankings.

Ruiz (2012, Covina, Calif.) is a versatile 6-2, 190-pound third baseman and right-handed pitcher described as an “excellent” hitter whose fastball has reached 93 mph, and who a Perfect Game scout characterized as “the highest-level two-way prospect.” He has committed to Southern California and is ranked the No. 5 top prospect nationally and No. 3 in California by Perfect Game.

At least three other current SGV Arsenal players have verbally committed to D-I schools: Right-hander Scott Heineman (2011, Pacific Palisades, Calif.) to Oregon; middle infielder Eliot Lowell (2012, San Diego) to San Diego State; and catcher and right-handed pitcher C.J. Saylor (2012, West Covina, Calif.) to San Diego State.

Not only are SGV Arsenal players successful on the field, but they excel in the classroom, as well. Viera said almost all of his players at every level have a GPA of 3.0 or higher.

“That’s something we’re very proud of,” he said.

SGV Arsenal has had seven players selected to play in the Aflac All-American Classic high school all-star game since 2007: Aaron Hicks (’07), Gerrit Cole  (’07), Ricky Oropesa (’07), Chris Amezquita (’07), Jonathan Singleton (’08), Dylan Covey (’09) and Aaron Sanchez (’09).

San Gabriel Valley Arsenal shares the common goal of reaching and performing well at the WWBA World Championship in Jupiter next month with every other elite travel team organization in the country. It’s the biggest stage of all and every team longs for the spotlight.

But SGV Arsenal also likes to think it is unique in the way it goes about its business.

 “We’re a completely, totally all-volunteer coaching staff, we are probably one of the least expensive programs to play in (in) the country and we have personal relationships with all our players and their families,” Viera said.


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