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Tournaments : : Story

Published: Thursday, October 25, 2012

JUPITER, Fla. -- While hundreds of arriving scouts claimed their respective golf carts Thursday afternoon, and before a gusting 30 mph easterly wind blew in heavy rains spawned by Hurricane Sandy out in the Atlantic Ocean, John Sternagel prepared himself for his second appearance at the PG WWBA World Championship.

Sternagel, a senior third baseman at Rockledge (Fla.) High School, is wearing the uniform of the Orlando Scorpions Purple at this year's 15th annual PG WWBA World Championship, The 85-team tournament puts an international spotlight on the best travel-ball teams and top prospects from the United States, Puerto Rico and Canada.

The Scorpions Purple, coached by Orlando Scorpions owner and operator Matt Gerber, are considered one of the favorites to win the WWBA World Championship for the first time in organization history with a 27-man roster that includes 24 prospects with college commitments, including the Florida-bound Sternagel.

He has been a regular on Orlando Scorpions teams for the last three years but came to this event last year with the EvoShield Force. Even with heavy rain imminent, Sternagel was thrilled to be back at the Roger Dean Sports Complex for a second go-around at the WWBA World.

"This is about as good as it gets," he said with a wide smile. "The amount of scouts and players and the quality of the teams, this is pretty much the tournament on 'day one' you put your sights on to make sure you can pull off a good run in this one. This is the cream of the crop, you could say," while adding that an event of this caliber does require some inner perspective.

"You always do your best when you can step back and take a deep breath, and you see everything and you know that it's just a game," he continued. "You go out here and give 110 percent and you leave it in God's hands and you know everything will work out right. But you still get fired up because as soon as you pull in (to the complex) you see all those golf carts and it's just crazy."

This is an excellent team Gerber has assembled for a run at the title, with 16 prospects from the classes of 2013, 2014 and 2015 ranked among the nation's top-300. Right-hander Jesse Lepore from Beverly Hills, Fla., is ranked No. 68 nationally in the class of 2014 and is one of the three Scorpions that hasn't committed to a college yet.

Right-hander Andrew Karp, a Florida State recruit from Winter Garden, Fla., is ranked No. 40 in the 2014 class, and is another of the 12 primary pitchers Gerber has brought here. Top position players include shortstop Tate Blackman, a 2014 ranked No. 46 who has committed to Mississippi; outfielder J.B. Woodman, a 2013 ranked No. 102 and also an Ole Miss commit; and first baseman Gunnar McNeill, a 2013 ranked No. 237 who has committed to Florida Atlantic.

Many of these Scorpions Purple players were on the team that won the 17u PG BCS Finals championship over in Fort Myers in July and some of the younger guys were on one of the two Orlando Scorpions teams that advanced to the final eight at the PG WWBA Underclass World Championship in Fort Myers earlier this month.

"The thing we like about (this roster) is that these are all the guys that have played with us for a long time," Gerber said. "This tournament has kind of evolved into teams picking guys up and adding guys, but this is a group that essentially is our group that plays with us the year around."

Gerber especially likes the depth his roster boasts.

"I think depth is important if you can make a run through pool-play, but the great thing about this event is that every game you play you can get beat," he said. "The depth helps, but at the same time it only helps once you get out of pool-play and start to make a run. We take every opponent in n our pool very seriously and know that anybody can beat us."

Sternagel, a 6-foot-2, 195-pound right-handed hitter, is already accustomed to playing on many of amateur baseball's biggest stages. He played for the East Team at the Perfect Game All-American Classic presented by Rawlings in August, performed at the 2012 Perfect Game National Showcase in Minneapolis in June, and at both the PG Junior National Showcase and PG National Games-Class of 2013 in 2011.

He called his experience at the PG All-American Classic in San Diego among the best in his young life.

"If I had to pick one spot in my baseball career so far that I'll never forget, it would be that event," Sternagel said. "On and off the field, that was about as fun as it could get, with a ton of scouts and the best 48 kids in the whole country. That's an event that I'm so grateful and blessed to have been a part of."

After Sternagel was included among the final 40 players for the USA Baseball 18u National Team following play at the Tournament of Stars in June, PG National Scouting Director David Rawnsley wrote:

"Sternagel looks and plays like a big leaguer both offensively and defensively. He’s very skilled and mature in all areas, performs and has the tools as well. He’s just a very solid overall talent."

The words "solid" and "perform" are heard often during assessments of Sternagel's abilities.

"John's a great kid, first of all," Gerber said. "We've had the pleasure of having him in the program for three years, and we've watched him grow and achieve what he has so far. Offensively, he's probably one of the better right-handed bats in the country, and I think one of the things that gets overlooked a lot about him is his defensive ability.

"I've heard comps to Scott Rolen and David Freese and guys like that. I think that's true because he really can play defensively at a high level at third base."

Sternagel credits Gerber, Orlando Scorpions founder and coach Sal  Lombardo and Perfect Game for helping him achieve most of his goals to date.

"I came from a little town where travel ball isn't really known about, so once I got into the Scorpions organization, they kind of guided me into playing in the Perfect Game events and going to the Junior National and the National (showcases) and, thankfully, getting into the All-American Game," he said. "They really guided me onto the path where I needed to be."

The choice to commit to Florida and head coach Kevin O'Sullivan was an easy one for Sternagel. He said it became obvious to him early in the recruiting process that the Gators program offered the "best fit" and that O'Sullivan was one of the best at being able to accelerate a player's development.

Perfect Game ranks Sternagel as the No. 114 overall prospect in the 2013 MLB First-Year Player Draft (No. 43 among high school seniors). The possibility is there that he could be selected in one of the draft's first three or four rounds and, consequently, may never make it to Gainesville.

Avoiding speculation surrounding the draft is difficult.

"With all the questionnaires and the letters, it kind of hits you, 'Wow, I'm getting that close to my dream,' but at the end of the day, this is still the game I've played since I was about 2 years old," Sternagel said. "Of course, your ultimate goal is to go out and be a star in MLB, but I try not to look too much at it and take it day by day and work as hard as I can every day to improve. But that's my goal, playing in the bigs."

And he's got another goal, as well. He wants to win a PG WWBA World Championship title with this group of Scorpions.

"Our (roster) is stacked and we've got a great group of kids, so I'm ready. We're going to bring it," he said.

 
 
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