MARIETTA, Ga. – East Cobb Baseball is fielding 79 teams this summer for young players ages eight to 18. Thirty-three of those teams are playing in this week’s three Perfect Game-East Cobb Invitational tournaments, including 16 in the 17u/18u PG-EC Invitational.
Included in that group of 16 is East Cobb Braves 17u, traditionally one of the best teams in the East Cobb program. After beating East Cobb Patriots 18u to complete a perfect 3-0 run through pool-play, the Braves look like they could still be playing late Sunday afternoon.
“We’re coming together as a team,” Braves coach and ECB operations assistant Kevin Baldwin said before the Braves played the Patriots late Saturday morning at the East Cobb Complex. “It’s still early – we’ve only played 16 or 17 games – and we really haven’t had all the guys together as a unit yet. But so far, so good.”
The Braves will be joined in the 17u/18u Invitational playoffs by at least three other East Cobb teams that went through pool-play unbeaten: Astros 18u, Astros 16u Gray and Orioles 18u. This isn’t the WWBA or BCS, but this is a tournament the East Cobb teams want to do well in if for no other reason than to set the tone for the rest of the summer.
“It’s the first tournament we play in the summer where you actually play to a winner,” Baldwin said. “We do a lot of showcases early in the year to where you just kind of get out there and let the kids play. It’s an important tournament in that aspect because you want to try to lineup your pitching and see what you’ve got to do to get to that championship game and win one.
“Obviously, that’s what you’re going to want to do in the (Perfect Game) WWBAs and the (PG) BCS which is the ‘world series’ we want to win every year.”
The Braves 17u’s roster features eight players from the class of 2012 who have already committed to Division I schools and one from the class of 2011 – right-hander David Sosebee – who has signed with Georgia. Sosebee was drafted by the Boston Red Sox in the 48th round of the recently completed First-Year Player Draft.
Among the notable 2012 prospects are right-hander/first baseman Tucker Simpson, who Perfect Game ranks as the nation’s No. 38 top prospect and the No. 1 prospect in Alabama. He has committed to Georgia Tech. Left-hander James Matthew Crownover is ranked 56th nationally and fourth in Georgia and has committed to Clemson.
Outfielder Skye Bolt (87 nation, 8 Georgia) has committed to Georgia; shortstop Matt Gonzalez (88, nation, 9 Georgia) and middle infielder Jordan Ebert (127 nation, 6 Alabama) has committed to Auburn.
“There are seven or eight guys on the pitching staff that really have the opportunity to make something of a career out of this game,” Baldwin said. “The only thing I can say (about his top) guys is that they’ve worked their butt off to get to where they’re at – it’s a lot of God-given ability but those kids really, really work hard and they’ve earned everything they’ve got.”
And then there is outfielder Nathan Mikelas from Kenosha, Wis., who is ranked 129th nationally and No. 1 in the state of Wisconsin. A veteran of 24 Perfect Game events and PG wood bat leagues in Wisconsin, Mikelas, who has verbally committed to Louisville, plans to spend the summer playing for the Braves.
“I was excited I got asked to play with the Braves, and it’s a good experience and a lot of exposure and it’s a chance to get better,” Mikelas said. “It’s a great experience meeting new people and a chance to get a lot, lot better. Baseball down here is a lot better than it is back home.
“The coaches here have helped me a tremendous amount, more than you can even imagine, just with the little things they’ve seen.”
That’s the way it’s always worked in the 20-plus years East Cobb Baseball has been around. Young players flock to the organization and it helps develop their skills. ECB then works with Perfect Game to help develop opportunities for those young players as they get older and their skills become even more defined.
“It seems like we get a little bit bigger every year and the talent level always grows every year, and we’ve got great coaches and great kids, and that’s really what it’s all about,” Baldwin said.
While many of the players in the ECB organization have already made their college choices, like those on the Braves 17u, they continue to play in PG events in an effort to further establish their profiles. Prospects can never know who might be watching them play for the first time.
“It’s all about the kids moving on,” Baldwin said. “Of course we like to win (tournaments) and we strive to win every year, but when it comes down to it, it’s about getting the kids exposure, it’s about getting them to that next level, whether it be college or getting them exposed to some (professional) scouts. If we win, that’s just gravy.”