FORT MYERS, Fla. – A couple of months after Coach Shane Stout led the Indiana Prospects 15u team to the 2010 Perfect Game 15u BCS Finals championship, he was already thinking about 2011.
“It’s exciting and we’re going to do it again next year” with a 16u team, Stout told a reporter last October. “Our goal is to put (the players) out there in Perfect Game events in front of everybody and play the best competition in the world, and put them in front of the college coaches that are in attendance.
“It’s about credibility and (people) know when you show up at a Perfect Game event and you do that well, you’re playing the best.”
The Prospects, based in Indianapolis, were the northern-most travel team to ever win a BCS Finals championship.
The Indiana Prospects 16u squad is back here for the 2011 16u BCS Finals, which began its six-day run Saturday (July 2) at venues including Terry Park, the Boston Red Sox Player Development 5-Plex, the Lee County Sports Complex, City of Palms Park and an assortment of area high schools. The 14u BCS Finals are running concurrently with the 16u event.
Since the Prospects won the 15u Finals last year they enter this year’s 16u tournament as the favorite. It’s not something Stout or his players dwell on.
“We just want to play the best baseball we can play, for the tournament itself and for the colleges, and to play the game the right way is more important than anything,” Stout said before the Prospects tournament opener Saturday morning at Terry Park. “The national championships are secondary to me and college scholarships are primary. We’re going to run them out there and we’ll play who’s ever across the diamond and just see how it goes.”
The majority of the players on the Prospects’ 16u roster this year were on the Prospects 15u team that won the BCS Finals last year. Stout added a few more arms to the core group and said he has five pitchers who are throwing 90-plus right now.
Some of those top arms belong to right-hander Zac Ryan from Valparaiso, Ind., and left-handers Trey Ball (New Castle, Ind.) and Max Knutson (Arden Hills, Minn.). Perfect Game ranks Ryan the nation’s 20th top prospect (No. 1 in Indiana) in the class of 2013. Ball is 48th nationally and third in Indiana, and Knutson is No. 57 nationally and No. 1 in Minnesota.
Knutson pitched a perfect seventh inning in the Prospects' 7-2 win over the Collier Prospects Saturday, striking out all three batters he face.
The 18u, 17u, 16u and 15u BCS Finals are requiring the use of BBCOR bats for the first time in their histories this year, the same bat that was mandated into use by the NCAA this spring. Stout said he will use the tournament as a learning experience – both for him and his players.
“This is the first time we’ve used it. My thought is, you’re going to have to coach a little bit more, play a little bit more small-ball – true baseball,” Stout said. “We’re ready to adapt, and everybody’s on the same gig. I don’t see it being a problem.”
Stout is confident the college coaches and recruiting coordinators at the Finals will also appreciate watching the high school players swing the BBCOR bats.
“They’re looking at apples-to-apples now instead of the juiced bats (used in high school),” he said. “That (batted) ball that doesn’t get (stopped), the one that kind of flails through the 5-6 hole, well it doesn’t flail through the 5-6 hole with this bat. They’re recruiting and they’re seeing what they need to see to play on their level.
“They’re swinging BBCOR in college so why not let (the colleges) see BBCOR now. I think it’s a good thing and I think it’s an ingenious to thing to go ahead and make us use them.”
Stout also takes the Prospects to the PG WWBA National Championship to let them swing the wood bats. He thinks it’s important the young players get acclimated to both types of bats.
“The game of baseball is a funny thing and you have to stay humble,” he said. “Any given day there is someone who can take you down and we just try to keep our kids focused and do things the right way regardless of what kind of tournament we’re at.”
After winning the 15u BCS Finals in early July of last year, the Prospects played in the PG 2013 Grads/15u WWBA National Championship at the East Cobb Complex in Marietta, Ga., where they advanced to the semifinal round of the playoffs before being eliminated.
Based on their finishes at the BCS Finals and WWBA National Championship, the Indiana Prospects finished 2010 on top of Perfect Game’s final 15u national rankings. This year’s Indiana Prospects 16u team is ranked No. 1, as well.
“We’re very honored to be there, but that being said there are probably a handful of teams where you could say, ‘Yeah, that team’s No. 1,’” Stout said. “With our pitching staff, I throw them out there against anybody. But it’s an honor, and it doesn’t happen much with northern teams, but yesterday doesn’t mean anything.”