JUPITER, Fla. – Tim Dulin doesn’t do anything hastily. He has built the Cordova, Tenn.-based Dulin Dodgers Baseball club based on a sound philosophy that he seldom strays from, if ever. He builds Dodgers teams one way for the summer events and takes a slightly different approach in the fall.
If the approach varies, the expectations and results almost never do. Dulin Dodgers teams always walk into a Perfect Game tournament sitting on a roster full of prospects, almost all of whom will play collegiately if not professionally, and they will contend at the highest level against the best teams from around the country.
The Dulin Dodgers/Rockies Scout Team is at this weekend’s PG WWBA World Championship, and it’s a squad capable of contending for a spot in the 16-team playoffs. After four pool-play games with one more to go on Sunday, the Dodgers/Rockies are one of three teams in the five-team Pool G with a 2-1 record, meaning the pool champion won’t be decided until each team plays its fourth game Sunday.
This is typical of the PG WWBA World Championship, an elite tournament that brings together 85 of the best travel ball teams from the across the United States, Puerto Rico and Canada. It’s also typical that any squad with Dulin Dodgers in its name would be in the middle of the fray.
“We’ve been coming down here since the inception,” Tim Dulin said Saturday morning from the St. Louis Cardinals’ side of the Roger Dean Stadium Complex. “Our philosophy with our organization has always been to bring a mix of our top upper classmen that are kind of getting ready for their senior year and the draft, and want to be exposed to all the scouts and all the pressure and anxiety of performing in front of those guys.
“And then we also bring in a mix of some of the younger kids that we feel are ready for the competition and who are also ready to be exposed (to the scouting community).”
This year’s entry fits that approach to a tee. There are seven seniors (2014s), eight juniors (2015s) and two sophomores (2016s) on the official online roster and seven of those representing all three classes are ranked in their respective top-450 nationally.
There are also nine prospects on the roster that have already committed to NCAA Division I schools: four to Mississippi, three to Austin Peay (Tenn.) and two to Mississippi State. The committed Dodgers/Rockies come from Mississippi, Arkansas and Tennessee.
The three most highly ranked prospects on the Dodgers/Rockies’ roster are all from Mississippi, have all committed to state schools and represent each of the three classes.
2014 outfielder Clay Casey from Southhaven is ranked 98th nationally in his class and has committed to Ole Miss; 2015 right-hander/third baseman/catcher Austin Riley hails from Hernando, is ranked 51st in his class and is a Mississippi State recruit; and 2016 shortstop Grae Kessinger out of Olive Branch is another Ole Miss commit who is ranked 61st among the country’s top sophomores.
Casey is an especially intriguing case in point. The 6-foot-3, 205-pound senior at Desoto Central High School was a prominent football quarterback until this past summer when he decided to follow the advice of people who know these kinds of things and pursue a baseball-only route.
“I’ve always been a two-sport athlete but people always told me that baseball is going to be my sport; then I had people saying I should stick with football because I’m good at that, too,” Casey said Saturday. “I thought I’d ride it for as long as I could but then I got some notoriety this summer in baseball and I thought there was no point in getting hurt, so I might as well go ahead and go full at it in baseball and see what I can do with that.”
Casey didn’t play summer or fall baseball for three years until this past summer. He completely understands the hard work it takes to become a high-level quarterback, but he has even more of an appreciation for what is required to become a top baseball prospect.
“We work so hard on our technique (at the plate) just to fail seven out of 10 times and be considered good,” he said. “It’s just an amazing game and there’s nothing better. You get to play in this beautiful weather, you get to play six games a week instead of one game in football – everything about it is just awesome.”
You can count Dulin among those who feel Casey made the right decision.
“He just brings so much to the table,” Dulin said. “I’ve heard scouts compare him to (former Mississippi State star) Hunter Renfroe – he’s a 6.5 (seconds) runner (60-yard dash) and he gets to full speed really, really fast. He’s got great instincts; he’s a plus defender with a plus arm; he’s got some raw power. Obviously, scouts love seeing a guy like that because they definitely can project that. … He’s got something special and I think he’s a got a chance to be something really special.”
Riley is another player Dulin is high on. He calls the 6-foot-3, 210-pound junior teammate of Casey’s at Desoto Central High “probably one of the most talented players that I’ve had in the organization” while adding: “He really excites me the way he has the ability to slow the game down and really make adjustments as a hitter from pitch to pitch and at-bat to at-bat.”
Riley has been playing with the Dulin Dodgers for the past two seasons and is especially appreciative of the opportunities the Dodgers organization and Perfect Game have given him.
“It’s been amazing,” Riley said of his association with Dulin. “They treat you just like you’re one of their kids and anything that’s theirs is yours. They treat you really well.”
As for the Perfect Game contribution, Riley added: “All the pro scouts have seen me from these events. The Atlanta tournaments this past summer (PG WWBA), I played there in the 16s, 17s and 18s and I got to meet a lot of new people and stuff and it was really beneficial.”
Kessinger certainly possesses the necessary bloodlines. His father, Kevin, is a former minor league player and his grandfather, Don, enjoyed a 16-year major league career in the 1960s and 70s, most of those years spent as the starting shortstop for the Chicago Cubs.
The Dulin Dodgers are coming off one of their best summers as an organization after winning Perfect Game national championships at the PG WWBA 18u National Championship and the PG WWBA 15u National Championship and finishing third at the PG WWBA 14u National Championship.
“It was probably one of the best years for our organization,” Dulin said. “It’s just a tribute to our entire staff and Curtis Copeland, our director of baseball operations, does a great job. We really work very hard to try to identify the right player, the right families and explain and make them understand that it’s a journey, and it’s been fun.”
For a player like Casey who got a late jump on the whole recruiting scene, teaming up with Dulin and PG has been a life-changer. The former quarterback –turned-top-baseball-prospect and future Ole Miss Rebel can’t believe how much his fortunes have changed.
“Before this summer I had no college looking at me,” Casey said. “And then started playing with Tim (Dulin) and he’s got Ole Miss, he’s got (Mississippi) State – he’s got all these people looking at me. I know he did that by talking to people on the phone; Tim’s just an awesome guy. There’s so much baseball knowledge on this team and all the guys are great. It’s just an awesome organization.”
While he might not always be able to contend specifically for a PG national championship at the PG WWBA World Championship every year, Dulin is proud of who includes on the team roster that makes it to Jupiter every year. It goes back to the original philosophy under which he operates.
“At this event, we really don’t get outside of our Dulin Dodgers teams,” he said. “In the summertime our roster base expands into the Southeast and in some cases further than that. For this event, we have (17) guys down here and it’s all about them getting the exposure. Obviously, we like to compete but we really never bring a team down here and load up a roster to try to win it. I was talking to a lot of our parents and I told them that two hours of this is priceless. (Friday) night there were literally about 150 scouts right behind home plate and giving the kids a chance to play on that kind of stage is huge.”
Riley and Casey don’t need to be convinced.
““The atmosphere is amazing with all the scouts and stuff, and it’s definitely competitive with a lot of great players,” Riley said. “ I’ll get to show my talent (off) and it’s definitely going to be fun. I’m expecting to see really good pitching and a lot of really good hitters. I just need to stay inside of myself, doing what I know I can do and going from there and seeing how it goes.”
“I’m just happy to be down here and be able to play,” he said. “I want to come in here and play my heart out and show people that I’m good. I want to show people what I can do and how I handle myself and carry myself on the baseball field and off the field. I’ll be able to go back (home) knowing that I played my heart out and I left nothing on the field.”