PHOENIX, AZ-- The 2012 summer travelball season kicks off in Ft. Myers, FL and Phoenix, AZ with the WWBA East & West Memorial Day Classics. The east event has run since 2009, while the western edition in Arizona gets set to kick off its second run.
With the high school season wrapped up in Arizona, and over for most of the players in California (save for the teams who have made it deep into the playoffs), the summer season opens with these two highly competitive regional events. In the short history of the east Memorial Day Classic, the event has already produced five first round draft picks, with several more likely to join the ranks this June. The West Memorial Day figures to produce similar results thanks to the proximity to arguably the most talent rich hotbeds in the country; Southern California.
Tournament rosters include several players that have already made a name for themselves with the scouting community on a national level, with several more set to do the same this weekend. Perfect Game will provide a post-tournament top prospect list with scouting reports at the conclusion of the tournament next week.
Be sure to follow the tournament live online with real-time boxscores via GameChanger, daily scout blogs (insider subscription required) and on twitter at @TGold_PG for real time scouting information.
Pre-tourney favorite: Tucson Ballerz
2012 18U WWBA West Memorial Day Classic
Pre-tourney favorite: Arizona Diamondbacks Elite Scout Team
On paper the squad put together by the Arizona Diamondbacks scouting department looks like a heavy favorite. Their pitching staff features a couple of very interesting underclassmen in 6-foot-7 2013 RHP Sean Rackoski (Hamilton HS) and projectable 2014 RHP Ryan Castellani. 2013 MIF Riley Unroe (Desert Ridge HS) could be a high pick in the 2013 draft thanks to his impressive switch hitting ability and quick athleticism. Unroe will team with Pepperdine commit Jamie Westbrook (Basha HS) for a highly talented double play combination.
But as is often the case with the WWBA World Championship tournament in Jupiter, we find that scout teams tend to underachieve as their goal is to showcase their players to scouts and get them reps against quality competition, rather than emphasizing winning in the short term. Whether or not they take home the hardware, the Dbacks will be fun to watch.
Dark Horse: Nogales Roadrunners
The Roadrunners don't always get as much attention from scouts as they should. This is largely due to the fact that the team that is based out of Nogales, a town that straddles the US-Mexico border recruits talented players from Mexico. This area is something of an in-between location for scouting departments, as southern Arizona where most of the Roadrunners players hail from are the responsibility of the four corners area scouts, while the players from Mexico fall under the International scouting department's responsibilities.
This team took third place at the 2012 MLK Championship in January in spite of featuring a lineup that consists primarily of underclassmen. While the age difference is a disadvantage, the Roadrunners feature a lot of talent and have played together enough to overcome the age disadvantage.
All-Star Baseball Academy 18u also looks strong on paper, but the defending champs don't really fit the description of a darkhorse.
Marquee Matchup: AZ Dbacks Elite Scout Team vs So Cal Elite, Friday May 25, 7:30 PM, Goodyear Complex
The favorite on paper sends their top two pitching prospects (Rackoski, Castellani) to the hill to split up the large task of trying to shut down the strong So Cal Elite lineup.
2012 16U WWBA West Memorial Day Classic
The Ballerz made some noise at the 2012 PG MLK Championship in January, earning the No. 1 seed in the tournament before being upset in the semifinals. 2014 C Lazaro Nunez (Tucson, AZ) was a huge part of that success for the Ballerz, hitting .455 with 5 Runs and 6 RBIs in their four game run, and he will be counted on again this weekend to play a major role both at the plate and behind it defensively.
Dark Horse: Playa Vista Orioles
The Orioles from Southern California drew a tough pool, landing with the Arizona Prowlers, one of the stronger teams in Arizona, especially at the younger ages. The Prowlers dominated at PG tournaments in the Phoenix area last season, suggesting that the Orioles will be fighting an uphill battle. But the roster composed of players who just finished their season of playing against the highest level of high school baseball in the nation in Southern California should be well prepared.
Marquee Matchup: AZ Prowlers vs Playa Vista Orioles, Sunday May 27, 1:00 PM, Goodyear Complex
The final game of pool play is likely to have playoff implications, and the matchup of what appear to be two of the top teams in the field (both of whom could make a case as the Pre-tourney favorite) has the potential to be the most exciting game of pool play in the 16u division.
2012 14U WWBA West Memorial Day ClassicPre-tourney favorite: SoCal National Travel Team
The job that Scott Luke and his coaches have done over the past decade of finding and assembling highly talented rosters year in and year out is very impressive. Typically SoCal NTT has a very national flavor, drawing together players from all over the country, but this weekend the roster will be built primarily upon players from Southern California.
Dark Horse: So Cal Bombers
The Bombers have an especially young roster, comprised of 2016 and a few 2017 grads. Without a single player who has begun his high school career the Bombers appear to be at a disadvantage on paper. But their talent level gives them a chance to surprise.